Music without film works fine. But film without a soundtrack? Hard to imagine. This is the kind of music that is sometimes unusual, particularly accentuated, sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant. Going almost unnoticed in the background it greatly helps to develop the dynamics of the story. Whether it’s high-tension thrills, emotional romance, restlessness, oppressive silence or whatever feeling: the music is the catalyst that really brings the stories to life. Here we have listed some of the most legendary films that would be inconceivable without their special soundtracks.
John Williams’ soundtrack to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic “Jaws” is iconic and masterly. Pure suspense; and somehow you always get the feeling that the pauses are even more threatening than the suggestive sound passages and the asymmetrical rhythm. Williams composes a scenario in which the instrumentation with brass, strings and percussion become increasingly more complex. It builds up until it feels like you are face to face with the sharp-toothed beast!
The thriller “Psycho” by Sir Alfred Hitchcock begins almost idyllically. In the prologue you can even hear the cheerful twittering of birds. The idyll is deceptive. In the small hotel off the motorway a crime happens, and the director plays on the whole keyboard of his nerve-racking skills. The cinematic attacks on the viewer’s psyche are accompanied by dissonant string strokes. There are no long melodies, verses or choruses. Harmonies are simply not resolved: Incongruous, uncomfortable, and intentionally disturbing. Hearing it immediately brings back images of the horrific shower scene!
Film fans stare into the eye of the tiger in the unbeatable boxing spectacle “Rocky“. The cult film with Sylvester Stallone, with a budget of 1 million US dollars, has earned over 225 million at the box office since 1976. Many people have certainly run up and down stairs, or at least have gone jogging, to this film’s theme song “Eye Of The Tiger” (by the band Survivor). The song has become a symbol for not giving up and trying again. Go get ’em!
Star Wars has taken us, and continues to take us, through intergalactic worlds. George Lucas wanted something big – and he got it, right from the beginning! The first movie won an Oscar! Incredible! There are as many impressive musical themes as there are episodes. The Main Theme by John Williams is especially memorable. Do you remember what it was that gripped you when this powerful melody of brass and timpani quickly builds up? A spirit of optimism, galactic curiosity, interstellar pioneering spirit? Probably all of the above. Doesn’t it make us all feel a little bit “Jedi”?
“Mission Impossible” with Tom Cruise offers spectacular adrenaline-charged action. A dramatic entanglement from the world of agents, where at some point you don’t know what or who to believe. Interesting facts about the film’s music: the original jazz orchestra music from Lalo Schifrin’s TV original was translated from the former 5/4 time signature into the more mainstream-compatible 4/4. Sounds easier, but doesn’t it lose some of its characteristic urgency? Compare the two below:
Numerous soundtracks are now available for the various James Bond films. The first theme, from the film “Dr. No” (1962) seizes you with tension from the first note. When the string sounds, accompanied by vibraphones, are rhythmically garnished by wind instruments and then the electric guitar riff comes back in, it’s an indication that lots of action is about to happen…
2001: A Space Odyssey
The quantum leaps in human development are the subject of “2001: A Space Odyssey“. The film is known among science fiction fans as having the most famous cut in cinema history: The leader of the herd of monkeys throws a bone into the sky on the dark side of intelligence, which reappears as a spaceship in a distant future. And the time travelling cuboid is accompanied in 3/4 time by “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss. This beautiful juxtaposition draws science fiction closer to reality, not an easy task to accomplish. Thanks to the power of music it was executed beautifully!
In Disney’s “The Lion King” you can hear an extraordinary mixture of classical music and traditional African sounds. There was no cutting corners in the Disney production: a Zulu choir provided the African elements – and Hans Zimmer finally got his long-awaited Oscar. Elton John composed further melodies, for example with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight“, which played during the credits. The melancholy created by this touching animal story and superb soundtrack is very moving…
The plot of the Oscar-winning feature film by Sam Mendes, “American Beauty”, lies somewhere between frustration and self-awareness. The “midlife crisis” of main character Lester makes us laugh again and again, grin and even shake our head in embarrassment for him. Maybe the American dream of unlimited possibilities is a myth after all. The music to the film is minimalistic: soft piano tones, atmospheric and quiet sounds give the scenes a particularly emotional note. The restful main theme, which is dotted with beautiful piano notes, makes you “suffer so wonderfully” in front of the screen…
In the anti-war film “Apocalypse Now” martial sounds are combined with the music of Richard Wagner. The manipulative effect unfolded by Wagner’s powerful sounds during the “Ride of the Valkyries” is almost painfully impressive. To the point of excess, the composer carries out the leitmotif technique, the thread with which he takes the cinema audience by the hand. In addition, the scenarios were emotionally boosted with collage-like synthesizer sounds, sound effects, war noise and foley (environmental sounds). Mickey Hart, the drummer of “The Grateful Dead“, was responsible for the improvised percussion parts.
Saturday Night Fever
The disco wave of the ‘70s really got off to a good start with the dance film “Saturday Night Fever“. Pure romance with a mixture of kitsch and danceable social criticism defines the plot around protagonist Tony (John Travolta). The Bee Gees were more than hip back then and provided the perfect setting with songs like “Stayin’ Alive” or “How Deep Is Your Love“. You couldn’t stay in the cinema chairs without at least moving your arms and legs and bobbing your head.
Back To The Future
Marty travels back to 1955 with a rickety time machine. A blockbuster movie with a must-see factor and music by Alan Silvestri. In addition there was a title song “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. The upbeat vibe really keeps things moving forward. The film probably causes a few criticisms, especially for people who know about guitars: Marty rocks and impresses a crowd at a high school dance ball with a Gibson 1963 ES-345TD guitar, which is supposed to belong to Chuck Berry. The paradox: This particular guitar did not exist in 1955, it was released eight years later 😉
The monumental German film “Das Boot” (The Boat) was really depressing, because it tells of true war events. The music was divided into two different strands. On the one hand it was composed by the German jazz giant and bandleader Klaus Doldinger. On the other hand, traditional songs were mostly played via the on-board radio programme such as “La Paloma” or “Muss i denn, muss i denn zum Städtele hinaus“. The result: A breathtaking journey with the crew of the ship especially when the enemy appeared in the sonar.
Tom Cruise, again, is the star of a film with a truly amazing soundtrack. Tony Scott’s action-drama film Top Gun‘s soundtrack was #1 in the US charts for 5 consecutive weeks in summer 1986. If you love ’80s rock and pop, this film will surely draw you in simply with its music, the action in the film goes hand in hand with the mighty ’80s rock drum, synth and guitar sounds. Take, for example, the film’s theme song composed by Harold Faltermeyer, a true ’80s rock anthem:
The melody that probably sticks most in our minds is the song “My Heart Will Go On“. With the perfect voice of Céline Dion it comes curiously only during the credits. It’s strange because the final song became the musical figurehead of this Oscar-winning film. And it takes melancholy, drama and fateful love to the next level. Admit it, you also had tears in your eyes.