What Happened to the Great Movie Soundtrack?

What happened to soundtracks?

Do you remember how soundtracks used to be extreeeeeeemely dope? The movie would come out, but half the time, the movie went to another level because of the soundtrack. Obviously, y’all know I have a great affinity for the Belly soundtrack. But then there was the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack, which justifies it’s very existence off the strength of “U Will Know” by Black Men United and “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” by K-Ci.  Forget the fact that the soundtrack included Mint Condition, Brian McKnight, Spice 1, Scarface, and Oleta Adams. You can even forget the fact that I’ve already called out K-Ci’s rendition of “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” is one of the great song snatchings of all time. Just think about one thing– “U Will Know” by Black Men United–and how it’s the only song they ever made. It’s like “We Are the World” for the neighborhood. Look at the names: D’Angelo, who wrote it when he was about 19 or 20 years old, plus Aaron Hall, After 7, Silk, D.R.S., H-Town, Gerald Levert, El Debarge, Johnny Gill, Joe, Lenny Kravitz on guitar, Stokely from Mint Conditon, Tevin Campbell, Keith Sweat, Boyz II Men, Al B. Sure, and some more people who are totally underrated. There was Christopher Williams, Intro, Portrait,  Damion Hall, and Silk (whose “Meeting in My Bedroom” was >>>>. I don’t know what happened to that CD.) Thin about how great that was, then think about how today, there are no R&B groups–everybody wants to be solo. And think about how BMU was a group of groups, a choir full of all stars. It’s like when you’re playing NBA 2K and you can draft whoever on your team, so you have a team with Michael Jordan and Shaq and Kobe and Lebron and Magic Johnson and everybody…the team’s so good you have Bill Russell and Larry Bird coming off the bench. Well, that’s what Black Men United did with “U Will Know.” You’ve got stars singing background, just to be a part of this. It’s unfair. Not only did they get people there to record it, but they got them all together for the music video. And they did all this for a soundtrack. Excuse me, I’m going in:

Then there was the Love Jones soundtrack, which includes one of my favorite songs: “Inside Your Love,” performed by Trina Broussard. (And this is likely the first link anybody has made to MySpace or My____ or whatever they call it now in 7 years. But if you like Trina, you can go over there to  hear a couple of more tracks by her, including “All I Need Is You.” ) Of course, the original from Minnie Riperton is beautiful. But Love Jones: The Music also featured Wyclef and the Refugee All-Stars, Lauryn Hill with “The Sweetest Thing,” “Hopeless” by Dionne Farris, Maxwell with “Sumthin’ Sumthin,” plus Groove Theory (“Never Enough”), The Brand New Heavies, who I love, (“I Like It”), and finally, one of the best songs ever by anybody: “In A Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. I could go on: the Boomerang soundtrack had Babyface, P.M. Dawn, Toni Braxton withhttp://www.wordsaboutsounds.com/wp-admin/post-new.php “Love Shoulda Brought You Home,” and maybe most importantly: Boyz II Men with “End of The Road.” Think about this: “End of The Road” is one of the best songs in R&B and Motown History. And it was recorded for a soundtrack.

But you don’t have to stop at the 90’s: Blacksploitation soundtracks were the business. I mean, where would we be without “I Choose You” from The Mack? Can you really blame that generation of boys who grew up thinking pimpin’ wasn’t easy but sure was fun? The soundtrack to pimping was incredible. Three 6 Mafia, OutKast, and UGK did a great job with this sample on “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)” , but just like the original, it offered hope of love (or something similar enough) even for the most ice cold stone cold pimp.  Or what about everything from Superfly? Or Shaft? Think about this: these low-budget Blacksploitation films had Willie Hutch (underrated, unsung, underappreciated), Curtis Mayfield, and Issac Hayes putting in some real work. Earth, Wind, and Fire did the whole soundtrack for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. A little known fact: Earth, Wind, and Fire’s album That’s The Way of The World was actually recorded as a soundtrack for a movie of the same name. But when EWF saw that the movie was wack, they went ahead and released the album early to prevent any association between them and the movie. They made a great album–a breakthrough album, even–for a terrible movie. None of this is throwaway music for a quick buck. These are classics we’re talking about.

I Choose You

Now let me ask: when was the last movie that made you say, “Oh, I HAVE to get this soundtrack!” I can tell you three: Drive– which I knew I had to have when Iheard “A Real Hero” by College and Electric Youth (check it out below) and “Nightcall” by Kavinsky (also below) , The Lincoln Lawyer,  and ATL.

Now, let me tell you about ATL: I heard the score and was impressed. I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually really like that movie, and part of it is probably due to to the music. I mean, it had everything you need for a summer in the South: “Before I Let Go” and  “Southern Girl” by Frankie Beverly and Maze, “Blackberry Molasses” by Mista (the lead singer of which grew up to be the guy we know today as Bobby Valentino), five pieces of music by Issac Hayes III (Issac Hayes’ son), “Georgia” with Ludacris and Field Mob with Jamie Foxx on the hook, “Gold Teeth Shining” by a group I had never heard of called D Large and the Crunkettes, “And Then What” by Young Jeezy and Man-M-Mannie Fre-Fricky-Fricky Fresh, “Move B*tch” by Ludacris, “Git Up Git Out” by OutKast, “At Your Best” by Aaliyah (I could listen to Aaliyah’s version 8 times in a row and I’m pretty sure I have),  “I Ain’t Heard of That” by Slim Thug over a Neptunes beat, and of course, “Ride Wit Me” and “What You Know” by T.I. There was also spoken word by Big Rube, “Do It To It” by Cherish, whose album I bought and, well, “Do It To It” is a great song, “Must Be Nice” by Lyfe Jennings, “Presidential” by the Youngbloodz,  and a lot more, including a song by Xscape. If you have these songs, you can pretty much put this album on and let it ride.

Of course, when I went to cop this soundtrack, I could never find it. Finally, I asked about it and found out: there was no soundtrack coming: T.I. just decided to release his King album and let that be the “soundtrack”. Boooooooooooooo. Not that King isn’t a good album–it’s one of T.I.’s three best, in fact. Along with Trap Musik and Urban LegendKing may even be the best of all his albums. But there was enough room for both an album and a soundtrack to breathe. I guess cats need that promotion, but T.I. was hot at that time and would’ve gone platinum anyway off the strength of his buzz plus the quality of the music on that album. But that’s when I realize that the soundtrack was pretty much dead. People really aren’t getting amped up for these R&B and hip hop soundtracks anymore, because a) artists aren’t bringing their best like they used to b) the buying public seems to appreciate a coherent expression in the form of an album less and less and c) R&B and hip hop in general seem to have people less excited than before, which is too bad. It’s like people got excited for Kendrick Lamar after they realized Good Kid, M.a.a.d City was amazing–but a few years ago, people would have been waiting and fiending for this joint, looking forward to it and getting it on the day it came out. (Don’t you miss Tuesdays the way Tuesdays used to be?) Instead, Kendrick seems to have caught a lot of people by surprise.  It’s too bad. Soundtracks used to be an integral part of the movie.  Maybe there’s a d) many of the best stories aren’t on the big screen these days–they’re on TV, especially cable. But soundtracks don’t seem to tie in as well–I’d love it if some of these shows dropped a soundtrack a season. How good could a Mad Men soundtrack be if the show decided to be creative about it? The Game is also an excellent candidate–I remember hearing John Mayer’s “Dreaming With A Broken Heart” and India.Arie’s “I Am Ready For Love” on there used to absolutely perfect effect. But there are a ton of shows that could do great things with a soundtrack, especially because we’re in a golden age for television right now. Just think about your Netflix queue: there are probably ten TV shows you’ve been meaning to catch up on. I just wish more of them used music well. If you think about it, TV shows don’t even have theme songs anymore, and if they do, they’re almost guaranteed  to always be forgettable instrumentals. I mean, without people taking theme songs seriously, we’d never have gotten the theme from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which is the one song ALL the kids and their parents could rap along with. One notable exception to the bland theme songs: Portlandia, which features interesting musical artists likeAimee Mann generally speaking, but even more importantly used Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around”  as its theme song.  Please understand that to me, this song is perfect in every way. It feels like I want all my days to feel. There’s actually a picture of me, relaxed at a sidewalk cafe in San Diego, which captured a moment the weather was perfect and my mind was completely at peace. I felt like I could have stayed in that moment forever. “Feel It All Around” is the soundtrack for that picture. And I like Washed Out because…the dude has a degree in Library Science and pretty much made the album while he was living with his parents after college. As a matter of fact, let me just…

So I guess more than anything, I’m pleading for soundtracks to come back, and for both filmmakers and musicians to take them seriously. We all have music that’s part of the soundtrack to our lives, but part of the reason that we can even conceptualize that is because soundtracks were real and great in the first place. Honestly, I remember summers by my soundtracks…there was that one girl that one summer, where “Cupid” by 112 had this weird habit of coming on at moments that I couldn’t have planned any better, and where Al Green’s Greatest Hits album helped me get over her when it didn’t quite work out. There was the summer in a beach town that featured Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane, and where I drove down a coastal highway with no plans other than to drive in one direction until Juvenile’s 400 Degreez played in its entirety and then drive in the other direction until Jay-Z’s Blueprint had done the same–that same summer when one of my friends, drunk, decided to attend a party and speak only in Jay-Z lyrics. But if soundtracks fall off, what will future generations think? We’re already in a world where people just get singles from iTunes and albums just sound like a formulaic collection of said singles. Let’s hear it for the coherent art form known as an album…and for the feature film. When those two things get together and work in perfect harmony, it’s a beautiful thing. Bring back the soundtrack.

One thought on “What Happened to the Great Movie Soundtrack?

  1. Daddy’s Little Girls, Coach Carter, LIFE, Freedom Writer’s, Set It Off, Soul Food, Above The Rim, Original Gangster, Boomerang are some that come to mind as solid. I liked your writing. Very enjoyable work!

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