There are scores, and there are soundtracks. Soundtracks, in my opinion, are really sort of a collection of songs that are loosely tied to the marketing of a movie. I still run into a lot of people whose first exposure to The Flaming Lips was on the Batman Forever soundtrack, which has our song “Bad Days” on it. Our song for Ender’s Game we wrote for the movie, so you’re given these guidelines of potential inspiration, and lyrically, you’re guided by what you think are the points of the story—or the points of the meaning of the story. That’s fun.
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Here are my favorite movie scores and soundtracks:
The Graduate (1967)
This is probably the best example I could come up with of a movie using songs that were fairly unknown at the time by Simon & Garfunkel that became very iconic because of the movie. The movie connects to the song, and gives it this unmovable meaning. The music attached to the movie is also given this great meaning because its connected to this classic storyline. “Mrs. Robinson” had another name in it when they wrote it, but because the movie had Mrs. Robinson in it, Paul Simon just changed it to that, and now you can’t separate one from the other.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
The score to the movie—it’s kind of a cornball movie—but there’s some very extraordinary, strange music done by Jerry Goldsmith. It has to be our absolute favorite. It’s strangely recorded, and just wonderful. The movie itself, without the music in it, probably seems pretty dumb, but when you hear the music, there’s something disturbing, futuristic, and mysterious about it. It’s really fuckin’ evocative music.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
When you’re watching the movie, you’re not aware of how much the music is affecting the concept and the meaning of what you’re watching. The opening, Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, is now known as the theme that Elvis would take the stage to or the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And, there’s a collection of strange, eerie, out-of-tune voices used at the conclusion of the film.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
There’s the Harry Nilsson song “Everybody’s Talkin’” that really jumps along, but there’s this sense of longing. The main character, Joe Buck, really does love these people he runs into, even though they’re a bunch of seedy weirdos who all seem very lonely, and he accepts them as people and tries to love them. He’s the victim of his own innocence—which we all are—and I think that’s why the music works so well. No matter what happens to him, you can’t knock him down.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Jonny Greenwood, from Radiohead, did this and it’s more like a score—it’s connected to the movie, and that has all this other meaning that’s evoked because of its ties to the movie. It’s such a weird soundscape—this big, scraping soundscape—that works on you the whole time. It tells you something that the visuals can’t do on their own. Some movies spend too much time trying to capture the look, feel, and smell of the era in the sound, but it didn’t try to be music of the time, which is an abstract, powerful statement.
As told to Marlow Stern.