Fun fact: The first widely released film to completely eschew a specially composed score in favour of contemporary rock music was Easy Rider in 1969. The image of Wyatt and Billy blazing down the highway to Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" is ingrained in the popular consciousness. Everyone knows the right soundtrack can improve a movie tenfold, whether it's a piece of music composed particularly for the movie, or a painstakingly chosen song. The best soundtracks still sound amazing even without visual accompaniment, both evoking and expanding on the film. Here is our selection of five of the most iconic, unbeatable movie soundtracks of all time.
The Harder They Come (1972)
Many people out there would rank The Harder They Come among their favourite albums without actually having seen the movie. The Jamaican cult classic crime film stars Jimmy Cliff, the silky-voiced reggae singer who also contributed a few cuts to the soundtrack. This soundtrack is all solid gold, a who's who of reggae's peak era, including Toots & the Maytals, The Melodians, Desmond Dekker and more. The bass is fat, the beats are sticky, and the gorgeous voices are the sweetest thing you're ever likely to hear, and all of it makes the sweltering heat of the film palpable.
Blade Runner (1982)
Vangelis's groundbreaking score for Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece takes the cyber noir of the movie to a whole new level. The music drones and glistens through city smog and acid rains, but alongside the film's more sinister parts, it also adds depth to the strong emotional undercurrent that guides the film. The key track is "Memories of Green," which articulates Blade Runner's pervasive sense of loss with great gravity. The soundtrack release is dotted with excerpts of the movie's dialogue, disembodied and mysterious, which it seems was a big influence on a lot of electronic music to come.
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
It stands to reason that one of the all-time great music documentaries would have one of the all-time great soundtracks. Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club follows guitarist Ry Cooder as he travels to Cuba to play with some of the most important musicians in Cuban music history. The soundtrack features performances from many members of the illustrious club of the title, who despite being well into their 70s and 80s play with passion and fire. In this case, the music may actually eclipse the film itself; the gorgeous duet "Veinte Años" is as evocative as anything ever committed to film.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
When Margo Tenenbaum steps off that bus in slow motion to the sound of Nico's immortal version of "These Days," it's a sublime moment of cinema perfection. Later on, a suicide is soundtracked by Elliott Smith's wounded "Needle in the Hay," and no song could be more perfect to end the idiosyncratic family tale than Van Morrison's sparkling "Everyone." Tying it all together with a somewhat droll sense of regality are original pieces by regular Wes Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh, slotting in just brilliantly next to selections that also include The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.
The tense, inventive German thriller Victoria enlisted German composer/producer/mad scientist Nils Frahm to provide its moody score. Frahm was also assisted by fellow German DJ Koze, whose thumping, bass-heavy house tunes bring a sinister and claustrophobic atmosphere. Victoria was shot entirely in one take with no edits, and no cuts, so Frahm's mastery of shifts in mood and tone comes in very handy. Even separated from the very immersive and immediate film, Frahm's music is engagingly tactile and evocative. Like the film itself, the soundtrack is a masterclass in understated and minimalistic storytelling.