1. Singles – The 1990's were my formative decade for music. Prior to that I had no discernible “taste” beyond a hand-me-down love of classic rock (mostly the standards – Zeppelin, Floyd, Bowie) and an eclectic mix of stuff I stumbled upon and claimed as my own, ranging from Night Ranger to Duran Duran, Debbie Gibson to Richard Marx. It was a dark time. And then I made two discoveries (at around the same time the rest of the world did) – Nirvana and Pearl Jam. And as much as I loved (and love) those two bands, I might not have gone any further than that had it not been for Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film Singles, and a soundtrack that introduced me to Mudhoney, finally got me to appreciate Soundgarden (thanks in large part to Chris Cornell’s beautiful “Seasons”) and gave me a sneak preview of Paul Westerberg, who I’d later discover fully when I picked up The Replacements’ All Shook Down. That I loved the movie was one thing, but rarely has a soundtrack had that level of impact on me.
2. Lost Highway – Speaking of Bowie, it was my love of his underrated Earthling album that steered me toward the soundtrack to David Lynch’s bizarre and characteristically impenetrable 1997 film Lost Highway. The album opens with a leftover from an earlier Bowie album, “I’m Deranged” (1. Outside) that fit perfectly with the rest of the more Nine Inch Nails/Trent Reznor-influenced (and performed) tracks. Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, and Rammstein also make appearances, and the darkly angry and oppressive collection perfectly evokes the feeling of Lynch’s film.
3. Once – A credible argument could be made for this being more akin to a cast-recording of a musical, than a standard soundtrack. Unlike the usual mix-tape style of most soundtracks, singer-songwriter, and the lead of the film, Glen Hansard wrote or co-wrote all but one song on the album. But it does exactly what I want a soundtrack to do, which is both evoke the film that it’s from and simultaneously function as a fantastic collection of songs. The standout track is “Falling Slowly” co-written and co-performed by Markéta Irglová, who starred opposite Hansard in director John Carney’s 2007 film. The track would go on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song.
4. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World – They are Sex Bob-Omb and they are here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff! But, really, they’re the fictional band (featuring Michael Cera on bass, Alison Pill on drums, and Mark Webber on guitar and lead vocals) performing songs written by Beck, the musician-poet who transcends genres even as he re-invents them. And they’re great songs. Even better, director Edgar Wright surrounds them with tracks by Metric, Plumtree, Black Francis, and more. This is possibly my all-time favorite film (despite my best efforts to stick with something more film-y) and the light and breezy and endlessly listen-able soundtrack is a big part of why.
5. Baby Driver – And now we reach the soundtrack that inspired the writing of this list. Once again, Edgar Wright effortlessly links sound and visual in a way that’s not only technically impressive (though it is) but also flows perfectly from one track to the next. Unlike some other soundtrack-heavy films that feature the most obvious of needle-drops (looking at you, Watchmen and Atomic Blonde), Wright pulls some deep cuts from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Damned, Bob & Earl, Young MC, and Simon & Garfunkel (with the title track). I spent the summer driving for a rideshare company and this was on a loop for a week straight without boring me once or feeling repetitive.