A Sly Little Trick - 02.06.98

Music and songs have been coupled with motion pictures since their beginning many, many years ago. Even before the advent of sound in movies, there was often a person that sat to the side of the theater and played the piano or organ to coincide with what was going on up on the big screen. After sound was introduced, musical scores were introduced directly into the picture to help convey emotions better at key points in the film. Now, the music and film industry walk hand in hand, each trying to capitalize off each other. Advertisements for movies contain the phrase, "featuring the new song by (insert band name here)" and DJs on the radio introduce songs by saying, "as featured in the new film (insert film name here)."

The movie soundtrack or score is no longer a way for artists to showcase their ability at writing music that pertains to a certain theme. Instead, it has become a way for music companys to release an exclusive or remix version of a song in order to sell another album. Even though it is corny to me now, I almost look back in happiness to the way that Queen devoted themselves to Flash Gordon. They didn't just do one song, they did the entire cheesy score. I can't guarantee it, but I doubt there's a whole lot of groups out there that would consider spending a whole lot of time working out music if they decided to make Flash Gordon 2.

Several musicians have tried this type of commitment in recent times to varying degrees of success. Ironman Neil Young created a soundscape of guitar washes to provide the score to the under-advertised Dead Man. Peter Gabriel did undertake the task of providing the score to The Last Temptation of Christ. Passion was a massive project in itself, due to the large amount of musicians and varying styles. Even more recently, Dave Grohl did a group of instrumental songs for the movie Touch. More recently Michael Brooks worked out a group of songs to go with the Kevin Spacey movie Albino Alligator.

The thing that gets me all upset these days is that a song doesn't even have to appear in a movie in order to make the soundtrack. This is the part that I don't understand. Like I'm sure that all these bands have grandeouse visions of movies that haven't even come out yet and they decide to write a song about it.

Just in the past year, there are two grand examples. One of these is the mega- blockbuster Batman Forever. Only one of the songs on the soundtrack was even included in the film (Flaming Lips). Not even the mega-hit, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," by U2 made the movie (or did this song grace the credits, I forget?). The song did, however, give U2 the excuse to make a video that was a shameless promotion of the movie. MTV in turn, picked up the video and made it a buzz-clip. The same thing goes with the Seal song entitled, "Kiss From A Rose." Was his song inspired by the motion picture? Probably not, since it was contained on his album that came out almost a full year before the movie. Coincidentaly, the album had virtually dropped off the charts until his shameless Batman Forever promotion video started getting mega airplay on VH-1 and MTV.

Another example of this strange phenomena has occurred with the movie Twister. I watched the film (unfortunately) and as I can recall, I only heard one song in the movie that appears on the soundtrack. The soundtrack did allow artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Belly to strut their unreleased stuff, though. It also allowed Tori Amos to release a remix of her song "Talula" (aptly titled the tornado mix--how novel). The Goo Goo Dolls also included a minimally different version of, "Long Way Down" from their album A Boy Named Goo.

As if all this weren't bad enough, television shows have followed the trend of movies, adopting a groups of songs for their very own. Just think, an album like this inspired the spawn-of-satan song, "I'll be there for you." There weren't even plans for an album of Friends music until bands starting donating music, knowing that millions of addicted viewers would be forced to sit through their songs. It's like watching a bad, half-hour music video.

Don't get me wrong, I do own movie soundtracks and there are exceptions to the rule. Hypocritically, I own both the Strange Days and The Crow Soundtracks. I bought into the fact that there are cool unreleased songs on both of the albums, even though about half the songs on each album are available elsewhere. Those movies were basically two- hour rock videos anyway (main characters in each of the movies were in a band, also). I don't have as big of a problem with soundtracks if they actually contain songs that were in the film. The thing that bugs is when a group of songs are simply thrown together to have an excuse for an album (Mission: Impossible).

Some movies even have the nerve to release two different discs--one containing the actual musical score and the other containing a bunch of songs, "inspired by the film." Simply put, it's a way to trick younger kids (that most likely wouldn't buy the score) into buying some film merchandise. Once again, Batman Forever is a great example. If you liked the actual music in the film, you can pick up the musical score. I'm willing to bet that the album, "full of today's hottest alternative artists" sold a few more copies, though, despite that fact that only one of the songs actually appeared in the show. One very recent example of a score doing well by itself is the Titanic score by James Horner. Although there is a Celine Dion (egad) song, the rest of the platinum-selling disc is instrumental.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for a good musical score. Part of the reason that makes a movie enjoyable comes down to the score and how well it increases the viewers emotions. Often, if I see a good movie, I go and pick up the score and end up enjoying it for one of two reasons.

1. I have a psychological link between the music and the film that I really enjoyed. When I listen to the music, it reminds me of the movie--kind of like the Pavlov dog experiment.
2. It is some damn fine music.

So what is my solution for this whole mess? To tell you the truth, I don't really know. Until enough people actually say, "What the heck?" the record companies will still throw groups of songs together, label it a, "soundtrack," and jack up the prices to the hungry masses. Yes, I'm a sucker for unreleased music, but I'd still rather settle down to a John Williams score, than buy into a marketing scheme.