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Movie Soundtrack Gems

Updated on March 22, 2012

It goes without saying that music is a vital part of any good film. Every now and then, however, a film comes along whose soundtrack is so amazing that it steals the show.

Don’t live your life without having heard these movies.

#7 Donnie Darko

A few well-placed and amazing songs turn this captivating story in to something beautiful.

"Mad World": Years before this little number catapulted Adam Lambert to the national spotlight, it was featured here as a cover by composers Michael Andrews and Gary Jules. The cover revived the song’s popularity and served as a poignant backdrop to the emotional climax of this film.

"The Killing Moon": An eerie but catchy track from British post-punk band Echo & the Bunnymen, this turns an ordinary scene of a lazy small town morning into a cinematic experience.

"Head Over Heels": An already amazing song by Tears for Fears combined with an expertly crafted scene that sets the backdrop for our story. This scene stands on its own.

#6 13 Going on 30

Seriously, there is not one bad song on this track. The theme of the movie is the 1980’s, and the music delivers in every way. You’ll be rapping to “Ice Ice Baby”, dancing to “Thriller” and “Burning Down the House”, and belting out “Love is a Battlefield” with a smile on your face. The beautiful and bittersweet “Vienna” by Billy Joel puts the icing on this delicious musical cake.

#5 Without a Paddle

Ah, this one never gets old. This stupid-funny comedy rocks to beats like “Hold on Loosely” (.38 Special) and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (Rolling Stones). “Ooh La La” by Faces (with Rod Stewart) may be the happiest song you ever hear, and “No Rain” (Blind Melon) is another addicting and upbeat melody. Throw in some white man’s rap with “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” and “Bump N Grind” and you’ve got yourself a barrel of fun.

# 4 High Fidelity

John Cusack owns a record shop in what IMDB calls a “hilarious homage to the music scene” . . . yeah, this one’s a no-brainer. You’ve got to watch this to really capture the non-stop barrage of good music, so I’ll just mention the tip of the iceberg. There’s the hauntingly beautiful and southern-bluesy feel of “The River” by Bruce Springsteen, demonstrating perfectly how a harmonica has its place in rock music. The Beta Band’s slow and steady folktronica number “Dry the Rain” receives some much-deserved attention. And I dare you not to smile and tap your foot when Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” begins to play. High Fidelity is about love and good music, and it delivers.

#3 Garden State

This one should come as no surprise to readers, as this soundtrack became a bit of an indie classic right out of the gate. Director Zach Braff’s hand-picked tracks featured modern favorites like The Shins, The Postal Service, and Coldplay, but also carried history with greats like Simon and Garfunkel and lesser known Nick Drake. Soft but catchy folk offerings like "New Slang" and "Such Great Heights" (originally Iron and Wine, covered here by Ben Gibbard’s The Postal Service) blend beautifully with the more ethereal songs such as "Let Go" by Frou Frou.

#2 Easy Rider

There are simply too many here to list – Easy Rider offers up the soundtrack of the 1970’s rockers. The actors are cool, the bikes are cool, and my god, the music’s cool. Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” with its rhythmic perfection, the instrumental genius of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum, the unearthly guitar and psychedelic blues of the Jimmy Hendrix classic “If 6 was 9”, and of course that beloved southern folk melody by The Band, “The Weight”, are just a few diamonds in this prolific and enduring compilation.

#1 Elizabethtown

I challenge you to find a better movie soundtrack than this. It literally changed music for me. There are big names – Elton John, Tom Petty, The Hollies – but the songs are lesser known and underappreciated. "My Father’s Gun" by Elton John doesn’t seem to exist anywhere but in this movie. In fact, it hasn’t been performed in concert since 1970, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

"Come Pick Me Up" was my introduction to Ryan Adams, and I have since developed a true love for this alt-country crooner. Don’t confuse him with Bryan Adams, there’s really no resemblance beyond that name!

Then there’s the quirky "Jesus Was a Cross Maker" by The Hollies. The church-choir-like vocals and piano notes come together in an addicting melody.

Last and perhaps the saddest song on the track, "Long Ride Home" by Patty Griffin is stunning. It tells the story of a lost loved one with simplicity and elegance.


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