Siobhan Mearon looks at the popularity of movie soundtracks and how they are not just a by-product of the films they were created for. 

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MUSIC and movies have always worked well together. The perfect song choice can emphasise the tone of a scene and can retrospectively remind you of how you felt while watching it. A well-timed chorus can inspire in the audience the exact emotions and understanding of the themes the director intended. Conversely, a clever music choice can juxtapose the entire scene and bring new meaning to both the film and a classic song.

Soundtracks today sell big and climb the charts, but they are still tied to the success of the film they were created for. While the purpose of a soundtrack is to complement the essential moments of a film, they also serve as a unique listening experience, away from the film.

“They also serve as a unique listening experience, away from the film.”

Movie musicals create a world where people bursting into perfectly executed dance routines in the streets are an everyday part of life. This year’s La La Land has taken cues from the musicals of the ‘20s to make a movie musical for the modern day.

The score, by Justin Hurwitz, incorporates jazz and musical theatre to emulate the Fred Astaire musicals of the 1920s. This creates a beautifully classic result, but it is the innovation and range of influences that give the La La Land soundtrack a modern touch.

Struggling performers in Los Angeles romanticise that old cliché of jumping on a bus and trying to make it big in Hollywood in the soundtrack’s first song ‘Another Day of Sun,’ which is immediately reminiscent of big-production numbers like Singin’ in the Rain. John Legend’s ‘Start a Fire’ sounds like it could be a single from the artist’s own album and ‘City of Stars’ is already instantly recognisable from the trailer.

After winning Best Original Score and Best Original Song at the Golden Globes recently, the soundtrack is nearing the top of the Billboard Chart.

Listening to the soundtrack away from the film can be difficult as the story and sounds are mutually co-dependent, but the La La Land soundtrack captures the liveliness of each routine and the movie itself in its score.

Sing Street strikes the balance between movie musical and compiled soundtrack. The film follows the formation of the eponymous band as they find their own inspiration in the music of the 80s. The soundtrack jumps from Duran Duran to The Cure to Hall & Oates as Conor and his bandmates try and develop their sound.

In a normal album, there would be a tonal similarity throughout, but the Sing Street soundtrack works by shifting in tone, as it exactly replicates the progression of the film and of Sing Street the band, finding their place in music.

Mixed in with the classics are Sing Street’s own take on 80s poppy synth and rock and roll. Beginning with their first track, ‘The Riddle of the Model’ shows a spark of talent as they find their feet. The standout track, with over three million views on YouTube, ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ takes cues from Hall & Oates’ ‘Maneater’ to create a song that sounds both completely modern and as if it could be a contemporary of the 1980s bands that Sing Street are emulating.

Trainspotting’s quintessentially 90s soundtrack is the soundtrack in its original form, a sort of mixtape. The opening bars of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ will forever be linked to the image of Renton telling us to choose life as he runs down the streets of Edinburgh. Trainspotting stuck to alternative rock from the likes of Blur, New Order and Pulp to soundtrack the lives of heroin addicts in 1990s Scotland.

“Trainspotting’s quintessentially 90s soundtrack is the soundtrack in its original form, a sort of mixtape.”

The soundtrack helped create many of Trainspotting’s most iconic scenes, from the opening scene, to the film’s ominous ending using Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy.NUXX.’

Each song is chosen to bring another level of interest to the scene. Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ used in its entirety to soundtrack a gloomy day in Edinburgh and Renton’s overdose.

Few words are used in the whole scene, but the song is enough to make it one of the most memorable moments in Trainspotting. The Trainspotting soundtrack, while it works perfectly within the film, works just as well as a standalone album, with each song complementing the last, like the perfect 90s playlist.

The trailer for T2: Trainspotting of course opens with the familiar strains of ‘Born Slippy’, easing the audience into seeing the same characters 20 years later. The trailer transitions into Wolf Alice’s ‘Silk’, bringing us up to modernity. ‘Silk’ fits in nicely to the tone director Danny Boyle had already established in the first film, and the recently released track list shows a mix of alternative classics, from Blondie and The Clash, and recent outputs from modern Indie bands like Wolf Alice, Fat White Family and Scottish hip-hop trio Young Fathers, who contribute three tracks to the album. Underworld and Iggy Pop have been remixed for the new soundtrack, mixing the old with the new. The soundtrack itself already represents the changes in the last 20 years that will no doubt affect the characters in T2.

Soundtracks to movies can be the music that follows the story of the film, and takes you on that journey again each time you listen. Or they can be mixtapes, made up of song choices that fit nicely with the films’ themes. Either way, a good soundtrack works in the same way an album does, and a great one can be listened to as an album in its own right.