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Ten Classic Movie Soundtracks From the 1990s

‘One of the things I do when I am starting a movie, when I’m writing a movie or when I have an idea for a film is I go through my record collection and just start playing songs, trying to find the personality of the movie, find the spirit of the movie,’ explained noted filmmaker Quentin Tarantino on how music has always played such an integral role in each of his motion pictures. ‘Then, boom, eventually I’ll hit one, two or three songs, or one song in particular, ‘Oh, this will be a great opening credit song’…So I’m always trying to find what the right opening or closing credit should be early on, when I’m just even thinking about the story. Once I find it that really kind of triggers me into what the personality of the piece should be, what the rhythm of this piece should be.’

While the score has always been an important part of the cinematic experience, with pre-talkies relying as much on the music as the visuals to help both tell a story and create an atmosphere, it would not be until the 1980s that the soundtrack would become a marketable concept. Whether it would be the romantic action of Top Gun or the teen angst horror of The Lost Boys, movies would begin to capitalise on the popularity of both rising and established pop and rock artists to help boost their profile. But as the next decade began this would almost become an art-form in its own right, with the music not merely accompanying a scene but now becoming its own character. ‘It was a good ten years for film music, no doubt,’ recalled Den of Geek. ‘But scratch the surface of 1991 through 1999 and there are tons of good scores ready to spring a surprise on your ears. Some were attached to sorely underrated movies, others were overshadowed by wildly successful ones and some have simply been forgotten in the passage of time.’

Whether introducing a new generation to a mixtape of classic artists or catering to modern trends, an effective soundtrack can often eclipse the success of its big screen counterpart and find its own audience as an independent entity. The songs included on the album are often a collection of personal favourites that the filmmaker has chosen to help establish the tone of the story and help to express the unspoken emotions of its characters. ‘Whether it’s a beautifully orchestrated score or a chart-topping hit, certain songs fit with certain movie scenes in a big way,’ summarised Coming Soon on the important use of music in cinema. ‘Movie soundtracks have become so common, many movies go into production with the album already in mind. Many directors have already picked out songs for certain scenes before they even film them.’

PUMP UP THE VOLUME

Following the success of Heathers, Pump Up the Volume saw rising star Christian Slater once again rebelling against the mediocrity and banality of high school life but this time as a pirate DJ, who broadcasts his own radio show from the basement of his parents’ home. In between musings of adolescent angst and outbursts of sexual innuendos he subjects his loyal listeners to all manner of late 1980s alternative music; whether it be the gut-wrenching croons of Leonard Cohen or the call-to-arms of Bad Brains, Slater’s Hard Harry had something for everyone. Among the artists that would feature on the accompanying soundtrack were Sonic Youth, Pixies and Soundgarden, while the movie would also boast the likes of the Beastie Boys and Ice-T. ‘Pump Up the Volume was kinda in a way ahead of its time,’ Slater would later admit on the Sam Roberts’ Show when looking back at the movie he would rather be most remembered for.

RESERVOIR DOGS

When Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut Reservoir Dogs first emerged in the early 1990s it soon became a cultural phenomenon, with its posters adorned over student walls around the world and other filmmakers desperately attempting to recreate its winning formula. One of the main appeals of the film, however, was its retro soundtrack, with many of the songs playing a critical role in key scenes. Opening with George Baker Selection‘s Little Green Bag and featuring such classics as Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, a song that has since been reused on Ally McBeal and Guardians of the Galaxy, arguably the most popular track to emerge was Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel, which would feature during a notorious scene in which a police office is tortured by a sadistic criminal. ‘That’s one of the things about using music in movies that’s so cool, is the fact that if you do it right, if you use the right song, in the right scene; really when you take songs and put them in a sequence in a movie right, it’s about as cinematic a thing as you can do,’ the director would later explain. Tarantino would continue to create soundtracks throughout his career, with Pulp Fiction soon following in its wake.

SINGLES

By the time Singles hit cinemas in the summer of 1992 grunge had already transformed itself into a worldwide phenomenon due to the overnight success of Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Cameron Crowe, a former Rolling Stone critic-turned-filmmaker, utilised the Seattle music scene as the backdrop for his Generation-X drama about a group of twenty-somethings and their failed romances and dreams. Opening with Alice in Chains‘ recently released Would?, other notable participants were Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam and their short-lived predecessor Mother Love Bone, the latter contributing their eight-minute masterpiece Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns. And while other bands associated with the grunge scene would be present, a notable omission was Nirvana. ‘The music and the city and the people are all kind of beautifully twisted roots around each other. But the music was always there,’ Crowe would explain to his former employers in 2017. ‘The whole concept for the soundtrack was definitely a mixtape that you would give to a friend and not something that you would sell.’

WAYNE’S WORLD

A decade after the Saturday Night Live sketch the Blues Brothers became a critical and commercial success at the box office, the long-running comedy show returned to the big screen with another feature length adaptation of a popular skit, Wayne’s World. Catering to a similar demographic as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the movie saw The Decline of Western Civilization director Penelope Spheeris returning to the world of rock ‘n’ roll and its soundtrack would boast many artists ranging from the 1970s to the hair metal scene circa 1990, the latter represented with the inclusion of both Cinderella and BulletBoys. Legendary acts Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and the Jimi Hendrix Experience would make an appearance but it would be the re-release of Queen‘s 1975 classic Bohemian Rhapsody that would cement the film’s reputation in popular culture. ‘I had a chance to write and be in a movie, Wayne’s World and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I would love that to be the song,” star Mike Myers told Stephen Colbert when looking back on the infamous scene in which several characters would sing along to the Queen hit. ‘And the studio went, ‘No…We want Guns N’ Roses.’ Who I love, but it wasn’t something I grew up with so I really fought hard for that to be the song.’

JUDGMENT NIGHT

While the pairing of Run-DMC and Aerosmith‘s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry in 1986 first demonstrated the successful marriage of hip-hop and rock, it would not be until the dawn of the following decade with the rise of Rage Against the Machine that the industry would truly embrace the pairing of the two genres. One pivotal moment in the evolution of this sound would come with Judgment Night, an underrated urban thriller whose soundtrack would feature a host of artists, both newcomers and established, melding their styles together to create an eclectic collection of rap-rock tracks. While noted contributions would come from Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, it was the Faith No More/Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. composition Another Body Murdered that the movie is perhaps best remembered for. Other bands that would in the movie included Living Colour, Dinosaur Jr. and House of Pain. ‘The film would promptly fade into memory and rap-metal would eventually show more macho and mooky muscles,’ claimed Rolling Stone. ‘But for a brief moment here was the brilliant potential of a rap-rock crossover episode: a utopian oasis of beats, rhymes and riffs.’

THE CROW

The 1990s was a troubled era for the superhero genre, with comic legends Marvel facing bankruptcy while a slew of uninspired adaptations of iconic titles would fail to make an impression on cinema audiences. Alex Proyas’ 1994 fantasy The Crow, based on the acclaimed series from writer James O’Barr, starred Brandon Lee in his final role as a man who returns from the grave a year after his murder to claim vengeance against those responsible for not only his own death but that of his fiancée. The film immediately struck a chord with the alternative metal scene, both through its visual aesthetic and the use of goth and industrial artists. Commencing with Burn, one of The Cure‘s finest moments, the album would also feature strong material from Rage Against the Machine, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Stone Temple Pilots, while Nine Inch Nails would contribute a cover of the long-forgotten Joy Division b-side Dead Souls. Both the movie and soundtrack would conclude with It Can’t Rain All the Time, a haunting-yet-beautiful ballad co-written by singer Jane Siberry and composer Graeme Revell.

TRAINSPOTTING

Despite documenting the sleazy and sordid lives of a selection of heroin addicts in a rundown area of Edinburgh, Danny Boyle’s sophomore feature Trainspotting would become the unlikely hit of 1996 and the zeitgeist of British culture in the mid-1990s. Told from the point-of-view of its young protagonist Mark Renton as he attempts to withdraw from both his addiction and circle of toxic friends, the movie’s soundtrack would come to personify the so-called Britpop scene, boasting the likes of Blur, Pulp and Sleeper, along with acclaimed dance acts Underworld and Leftfield. Veteran artists Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Brian Eno would also be represented, while a second album would be released containing further cuts from David Bowie, Heaven 17 and Joy Division. The film would help introduce Pop’s Lust for Life and Reed’s Perfect Day to a new generation of music lovers. ‘The impact of the first film’s soundtrack was obviously something that we never expected…we just put all our favourite tunes on it, saw that it works and everybody loved it,’ explained Boyle.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO + JULIET

For so many children the writings of William Shakespeare were a tedious and confusing experience that was forced upon them by high school teachers. But in late 1996 that all changed when Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, then best known for the romantic hit Strictly Ballroom, unleashed his postmodern adaptation of Romeo + Juliet upon the world. Set in modern day and featuring rising stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the eponymous roles, the movie became a box office sensation and earned numerous accolades, yet arguably one of its most celebrated aspects was its soundtrack. The Cardigans, who had spent the first half of the decade struggling through relative obscurity, would finally break into the mainstream with their feel-good hit Lovefool, while You and Me Song, a track originally released in 1994 to little acclaim, would bring similar success for fellow Swedish group The Wannadies. Alongside rock bands Garbage, Butthole Surfers and Radiohead, another popular selection would be Kym Mazelle’s reworking of the 1976 disco classic Young Hearts Run Free. ‘Capturing the volatile, hormonal and highly randy vibe of the film itself, it’s also a perfect snapshot of where music was at in 1996,’ recalled NME twenty years later.

SPAWN

In much the same way that Judgment Night had marked the coming together of rock and hip-hop artists, the soundtrack to 1997’s Spawn, an ultimately disappointing adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s celebrated comic series, would capitalise on the then-popular industrial scene by combining the forces of metal and dance artists that would create an uneven-yet-fascinating result. While the movie would fail to meet the expectations of the fans, The Album would soon gain a cult following through its inclusion of such popular late-’90s artists as the Prodigy, Korn and Silverchair. The two most memorable tracks, however, would come with the collaborations between Filter and the Crystal Method, reworking the dance duo’s Trip Like I Do and The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, a memorable mash-up of Marilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps. ‘In a sense, this strategy perfectly fit Spawn,’ stated a retrospective published by the A.V. Club. ‘Like the character himself, the soundtrack was a hodgepodge of things kids found cool at that very moment.’

THE MATRIX

By all accounts 1999 was supposed to belong to Star Wars. The long-awaited prequel The Phantom Menace was one of the most highly-anticipated cinematic events in recent years, yet ultimately it would become overshadowed by a science fiction action thriller called The Matrix. The defining release of the year and one that would change the film industry forever, the movie would also feature some of the most popular alternative acts of the late 1990s, such as Marilyn Manson, Deftones, Rob Zombie and Rammstein. Elsewhere, there was a selection of dance acts that would include Lunatic Calm, Rob Dougan and the Prodigy, while an edited version of Spybreak! by Propellerheads would provide the backdrop to the iconic lobby scene. In much the same way that Star Wars had dominated popular culture two decades earlier, The Matrix would become a cultural phenomenon that would come to define the first few years of the twenty-first century. ‘When I saw the movie, it was so impactful and wonderful that I knew I had to do something of a harder-rock nature,’ the soundtrack’s co-executive producer Russ Rieger claimed to MTV at the time of the film’s release. ‘I knew this would be a successful picture and touch a lot of people and I knew the music had to live up to the impact. If the soundtrack was not as compelling as the movie nobody would remember it, because the movie is such a rollercoaster ride.’

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