Deep Cuts: Soundtracks

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There was a time when the soundtrack ruled, dude. Bands would actually beg their managers to get them on the soundtrack to a hit movie. By the mid-‘90s, however, the tables had turned; bands would hold out for more money before they agreed to have their song appear on a soundtrack, since the bands figured that putting their next big hit on some nameless soundtrack would cost them untold thousands of copies sold of their next record. The labels wouldn’t pay, the bands kept the songs for themselves, and boom, the soundtrack was dead, just like that.

This list is a tribute to one writer’s favorite songs from his favorite soundtracks. The rules for what made a soundtrack Deep Cut were simple: it can’t have been released as a single and, in an effort to keep the pool of eligible songs somewhat reasonable, it can’t have been written for the movie in question. The beauty of a list like this is that it’s open to interpretation, so expect sequel after sequel of this list to appear in the near future. But for now, Mr. Brit Pop is in charge, and he’s taking names. Tom Hanks, please step forward….

Act I: The originals

In the days before MySpace and YouTube, soundtracks were a great – and sometimes the only – way to get a band’s music into the collective consciousness. Recognize.

“Why Do Good Girls Like Bad Boys,” Angel & the Reruns (“Bachelor Party”)
Any fan of the Waitresses will love this sax-filled New Waver. When explaining why bad boys like good girls, the answer, of course, is “he must want to be the first / To make her little bubble burst / Shock her with his attitudes / Get her hooked on beer and ‘ludes / Make her parents think she’s nuts / And all her friends will hate her guts.” Absolutely of its time, which is what makes the song so awesome.

“Eaten by the Monster of Love,” Sparks (“Valley Girl: More Music from the Soundtrack”)
I met a girl in Chicago, and soon after she made me a mix tape, starting Side II with this hilarious ode to staying single. “It ain’t a pretty sight to see the way it leaves ‘em / It chews them up and spits out creatures with those goo-gooey eyes / sick sickly smiles / It just ain’t right.” Three years later, we were married. Even as we sang “Don’t let it get me,” it got us. Sorry, Sparks.

“Supermodel,” Jill Sobule (“Clueless”)
Sobule may be best known for that silly song about kissing a girl, but she’s in fact a talented songwriter – though this song was written by David Baerwald and some friends – and an accomplished guitarist. (I saw her tear it up in Lloyd Cole’s band in 2000. Whoa.) “Supermodel” is one of her more lightweight songs, but you gotta love a song that’s roughly as fast as “Ace of Spades” but has the following bridge: “I didn’t eat yesterday, and I’m not gonna eat today / And I’m not gonna eat tomorrow / ‘Cause I’m gonna be a supermodel.” Hell, yes.

“Song for the Dumped,” Ben Folds Five (“Mr. Wrong”)
The version of this song that appears on Whatever and Ever, Amen pales in comparison to the one that appears on the soundtrack for the ill-conceived 1995 Ellen Degeneres comedy. You can practically see the bottles of beer on Ben’s piano as he bangs out this kiss-off. “So you wanted to take a break / Slow it down some, and have some space / Well, fuck you, too!” The difference is in Darren Jessee’s drumming, which is looser and not as overdone as it is on Whatever. Remember when Ben Folds had a sense of humor? I miss those days.

“Sing,” Blur (“Trainspotting”)
Blur will surely be the subject of a future Deep Cuts piece, but let’s just say up front: their first album, Leisure, will not receive much representation. Outside of “There’s No Other Way” and “She’s So High,” there just isn’t anything to write home about. Ironic, then, that “Sing,” which showed more of the band’s true personality than any other song they had recorded up to that point, would be left off the US release of Leisure in favor of the B-side “I Know.” (There is a reason SBK Records is no longer with us.) Thankfully, the song received a second life on the seminal “Trainspotting” soundtrack, which is fitting because one listen to the song will make you say, “Yep, that sounds like drugs.”

“Going, Going, Gone,” The Posies (“Reality Bites”)
It’s the sad story of the Posies’ life that they would be included on the soundtrack to a Ben Stiller/Winona Ryder movie, only to watch all of the attention go to cat-glassed cutie Lisa Loeb and a no-name, Peter Frampton-covering reggae band. The truth is by 1994, the Posies were probably used to being overlooked. After all, they were a Seattle band who came to prominence in the early ‘90s, only they played crunchy power pop instead of grunge. The public, by and large, said “Pass,” but for the record, their album Frosting on the Beater kicks serious ass. I’m still not sure what it means to feel like mayonnaise, though.

“A Quick One While He’s Away,” The Who (“Rushmore”)
How good are the soundtracks to Wes Anderson movies? John Paulsen dedicated an entire piece to Wes Anderson’s soundtracking prowess. I’ll keep it simple and pick this great early mini-opera that Anderson plucked from the Who’s 1966 album A Quick One. The song encapsulates everything great about the Who: along with Townshend’s ambitious songwriting and Keith Moon’s ‘where’s he going next’ drumming, you get a taste of John Entwhistle’s sense of humor as Ivor the Engine Driver and vocals from Pete, John and Roger Daltrey all on the same track. Fun times.

“Fretless,” R.E.M. (“Until the End of the World”)
Legend has it that director Wim Wenders asked the artists he compiled to make the soundtrack for his 1991 movie “Until the End of the World” to make music that they imagined themselves making in 1999, the year the movie takes place. Apparently, everyone thought they’d be really, really sad in 1999, because the soundtrack, U2’s title track excepted, is a pretty dour affair (hello, Depeche Mode’s “Death’s Door”). R.E.M.’s contribution is no exception, but that violin-drenched chorus is achingly beautiful. In retrospect, the song serves as a perfect bridge between Out of Time and the yet-to-be-recorded Automatic for the People. I also like hearing Kate Pierson singing something with some emotional weight for a change.

Act II: The Covers

Soundtracks often served as hotbeds for cover versions when a band wanted to maintain their public profile but didn’t feel like writing something original (Echo & the Bunnymen covering “People Are Strange,”anyone?). The results were a mixed bag to say the least – five words, Greg Dulli covering Barry White – but sometimes, there would be a moment of genius.

“Dead Souls,” Nine Inch Nails (“The Crow”)
Since 1995, I have had a theory that the soundtrack to “The Crow” killed modern rock as we knew it, because it pushed anyone who didn’t rawk straight off the dial. Up to that point, modern rock radio was a wildly diverse frontier, one where Nirvana and the Lightning Seeds could walk hand in hand. “The Crow” ended that once and for all. This is not to say it’s a bad soundtrack; on the contrary, it’s rather good. It’s just really, really hard. Trent Reznor’s contribution, a drum-heavy cover of a Joy Division song, actually bests the original. And while we’re digging the Nine Inch Nails, let’s make it a two-fer…

“The Perfect Drug,” Nine Inch Nails (“Lost Highway”)
I might be cheating here, since this was a single and had a spectacular video in heavy rotation on MTV (insert your own ‘back when MTV played videos’ joke here), not to mention it’s not a cover. But the song has since been all but forgotten, and that is a shame because it is, for my money, the last truly great song Trent Reznor ever made. Fully embracing the wonders of electronica – it was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in 1997, you know, only it was ambushed by ska – Trent’s self-loathing is still on painful display, but something about the bubbling drum & bass track makes it much more palatable. And then there’s that thunderous drum break in the finale working in stark contrast to the machines that surround it. Man, is this sweet.

“Dancing Barefoot,” U2 (“Threesome”)
Granted, there are probably only two or three soundtracks from the ‘90s that didn’t feature U2, but Andrew Fleming’s college dramedy wins the prize for featuring the band’s 1989 cover of the Patti Smith chestnut. In fact, Ralph Sall, the soundtrack’s executive producer, should get an award for unearthing some super-rare tunes and issuing them on CD for the first time (Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough?,” Duran Duran’s “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me”), and filling out the rest of the album with a who’s who of British pop (Tears for Fears, New Order, The The, Teenage Fanclub). And despite all this star power, who had the album’s lone Top 40 hit? Why, a reunited General Public, of course.

“It’s All in the Game,” Carmel (“She’s Having a Baby”)
This is the song that’s playing over the movie’s opening credits, a radical interpretation of the only Top 40 hit that was co-written by a U.S. Vice President (that would be Charles Dawes, Calvin Coolidge’s VP). It’s just a simple ahhhhhh-oooooooh-ba-da-da kind of song, and it follows songs from Everything but the Girl and Kate Bush on the “She” side of the album quite nicely. I must confess to not knowing anything else from one Carmel McCourt, but she sold enough records to warrant a best-of, so she has that going for her.

“All the Young Dudes,” World Party (“Clueless”)
When Karl Wallinger decides to cover something, he is not one to stray too far from a song’s original arrangement – his version of “Penny Lane” is nearly note-for-note – and that’s a good thing. A World Party cover version is less about a radical reinterpretation, like our good friend Carmel did with the previous entry, and more about how incredibly cool Wallinger’s voice sounds singing, well, anything. Bullz-Eye associate editor Will Harris saw World Party cover “A Day in the Life” at a show once. I think I hate him.

“Instant Pleasure,” Rufus Wainwright (“Big Daddy”)
I don’t want somebody to love me / Just give me sex whenever I want it.” Has another song in the history of music opened with a better couplet than that? Written by Seth Swirsky, who fronts a fabulous little pop band called The Red Button, “Instant Pleasure” is arguably the last fun song Wainwright has recorded. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rufus and all (as you’re about to find out), but he needs to lighten up, and soon.

“Hallelujah,” Rufus Wainwright (“The L Word”)
You can keep Jeff Buckley’s version of this (and Leonard Cohen’s version of any of his own songs). Just leave me this.

“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” Rufus Wainwright (“Zoolander”)
Love the Hollies, love Rufus. Two great tastes that taste great together. Now will someone tell me why the hell the Hollies aren’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? That just makes no sense.

(Let me guess, you’re wondering where Wainwright’s cover of “Across the Universe” is, right? That’s way too popular to rank as a Deep Cut. I do love his version of that, though.)

Act III: Hey, Mr. DJ

No genre is as singles-driven as dance music, which is why electronic bands and remixers are catnip to soundtrack supervisors. If they need to fill a hole or two when compiling a soundtrack, they hunt down the song that was playing while they were doing coke off that stripper's ass in the club the previous week. The remixers and electronic bands, who toil in relative obscurity, are thrilled to receive the mainstream exposure. Case in point: did anyone know who Rob D was before "Clubbed to Death" appeared on the soundtrack to "The Matrix"? A few months later, he was remixing Moby's "Porcelain." How about that.

“Tom Sawyer (DJ Z-Trip mix),” Rush (“Small Soldiers”)
If the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, then one of the bricks on that road is the soundtrack for “Small Soldiers.” The plan: do modern-day remixes of classic rock songs by Billy Squier, the Pretenders, Cheap Trick, Queen and Pat Benetar, to name a few. The results were largely disastrous – though Rich Costey’s mix of “Surrender” was pretty cool – but DJ Z-Trip comes through at the very end to save the day with a skittery, scratch-heavy mix of “Tom Sawyer” that does what none of the other mixes bothered to do: it pays respect to the original.

“Magic Carpet Ride (Steir’s Mix),” Philip Steir featuring Steppenwolf (“Go”)
It may look like grandstanding on Steir’s part to put his name before Steppenwolf’s, but once you’ve heard what he did with “Magic Carpet Ride,” you’ll understand. The song itself pops in and out of Steir’s fat-ass rhythm track, while the ‘let the sun take you away’ post-chorus literally gets lost into space. John Kaye was probably horrified when he heard this, but I’m guessing he cashed the royalty checks just the same.

“Rush (New York City Club Mix),” Big Audio Dynamite II (“So I Married an Axe Murderer”)
Two years removed from the Billboard charts, Columbia Records unearths this Soul II Soul-style remix of “Rush,” and as far removed as it is from the “Baba O’Riley”-sampling BAD II original, the half-speed beats make perfect sense in a strange way. Bonus irony points for throwing the “The only important thing these days is rhythm and melody” spoken-word bit into a full-on dance mix.

“Kelly Watch the Stars (Moog Cookbook remix),” Air (“Splendor”)
No, I had never heard of the movie “Splendor” either, but when I saw its soundtrack in a bargain bin and read the track listing, it was the “Yoink!” heard ‘round the world. The general premise is that it features new remixes to various UK artists, along with a few assorted B-sides and single edits. What those pranksters known as the Moog Cookbook did to Air’s mellow jam “Kelly Watch the Stars” is hard to put into words, but I’m pretty sure that George Clinton has had made sweet, sweet love while this was playing in the background, if that helps.

“The Jag,” The Micronauts (“Splendor”)
My love for this song knows neither bounds nor reason. Take a three octave-jumping keyboard riff, put it to a Chemical Brothers-style drum beat, drag someone who’s flying high on ecstasy into the studio and have them sing Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)” in the craziest way imaginable, and that’s your song. Pretty crazy, huh? I agree, and yet I can’t stop rocking to it. “Oh, baby what you’ve done to me…” And while we’re talking about the Chemical Brothers…

“Where Do I Begin,” Chemical Brothers (“Vanilla Sky”)
I have been a fan of this song since its release on the band’s 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole – my Sparks-loving wife will gladly confirm this, though she’ll run screaming from the room just before the dentist drill part starts – so when I heard it in the trailer for a Tom Cruise movie, I was stoked. Beth Orton’s vocal in the first half sounds just as disoriented as the lyrics would suggest, but when the big beat drops just after the three-minute mark, there is no question where you are: in the land between the jungle and the k-hole.

“Papua New Guinea,” Future Sound of London (“Cool World”)
Much like “Until the End of the World,” the soundtrack for “Cool World” was received far better than the movie it represented. Look at that track listing: David Bowie produced again by Nile Rodgers, Electronic with Neil Tennant singing lead, the Cult produced again by Rick Rubin, Moby getting his first major label exposure, and Ministry just beating the snot out of everything in sight. In between all of these bands was a pair of British unknowns who turned a Dead Can Dance sample into something that could both pack a dance floor and seduce your girlfriend. Trust me, Brad Pitt would want you to remember it this way.

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