Unsung Heroes: The Soundtracks of Your World

Think of your favorite movie or television program. Now think about watching it with the sound turned off. It’s just not the same, is it?

amiv9s537f2i3cn7y4noEvery film, starting with the advent of the movie theater, has some sort of background music that adds to the drama of the moment. You know many of these tunes without even thinking, like Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor. Say what? You might know it better as the iconic Funeral March, parodied in umpteen cartoons and shows. Even if you’ve never seen the films, you can probably recognize the theme from Rocky, or Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Purple Rain. Remember the hits Ghost Busters, Saturday Night Fever, or 9 to 5? Those all began as movie songs. Think of na-na’ing with Batman or to Jaws, Hawaii Five-O, or Bad Boys, the theme from the white-T-shirt-promoting TV show Cops. Soundtrack songs stick in your head, sometimes without you wanting them there.

Sometimes a soundtrack can introduce you to music you wouldn’t normally listen to11avneu. My chances of cranking Mozart in my car are close to zero, but I’ll watch the film Amadeus over and over, reveling in “Salieri’s” moving descriptions of Mozart’s music, and I’ll feel every note of its beauty. I’m not too much into old-timey twangy folk, but the soundtrack to the 30’s-era epic Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? adds an earthy realism to the film. Stand By Me is chock full of pop hits from the early ’60’s. Ditto for Forrest Gump, whose soundtrack is pretty much a history of modern American music. Sometimes the music seems to have nothing to do with the movie but we love it anyway, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s top hits from The Graduate. The folky acapella track of Katniss singing “Hanging Tree” in Mockingjay hit number one on the charts in England. Philadelphia has a nice variety of music, from Oscar-winning pop hits to opera. The old British comedy series Young Ones used to spotlight different songs, and got me hooked on the group Madness.

10-jack-sparrow-pirates-of-the-carribean.w529.h529There are times, however, that the orchestral music in the background of a film or TV series is so beautiful it can distract you from the film itself. The soundtrack to Thor did that to me; the movie was engaging, but the music drew your ear away. Pirates of the Caribbean is another – what is Jack Sparrow without his sneaky tiptoe music? Like Star Wars, the music themes give away what’s coming next. The soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings is majestic, speckled with sung tracks by Bjork, Annie Lennox, and the vastly underrated voice of Billy Boyd – Pippin himself. If you want to find a good one fast, John Williams is probably the undisputed King of Soundtrack music, but also look for Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore, and the late James Horner. Every one of them makes soundtrack music look effortless. You may not like “classical” music, but these orchestral arrangements – “modern classical” – can put a different voice to the genre.

Soundtrack music can make or break a film or TV show. I’ve never seen 1981’s ChariotsScooby-gang-1969 of Fire, but that darned theme is still stuck in my head. Whether or not you liked the shows, the title themes from The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, The Addams Family, and The Mickey Mouse Club remain cultural icons, still widely recognized decades later. It was a song in the middle of the movie version of M*A*S*H* that later became the opening theme for the television series. Forty years later we still know the theme song to Scooby Doo, a show that originally ended in 1976, or The Flintstones (ended in 1966), but no one remembers the theme from Holmes and Yoyo, Dharma and Greg, Eureka, or even Monk. Half of Malcolm in the Middle’s charm was the catchy theme by There Might Be Giants.

Having a “soundtrack” album isn’t just for Hollywood musicals – those are a class by themselves – but for every film or TV series, and most of them, good or bad, have released one, though some may be hard to find (took me years to find the soundtrack to Ladyhawke, a poorly filmed but underrated movie). Check out the film, then check out the soundtrack. You may be delightfully surprised.

What movie or TV music rocks your world?

Dark Justice

       4810718-7340774645-the-b_Arl6x9k I don’t read comic books; the drawings v. words are too visually distracting for me. The ones I hold tight in my file cabinet you’ve probably never heard of. But I love Batman. Adam West Batman. Super Friends Batman. Keaton, Clooney, Kilmer, Bale, I like them all. And yes, I had no problem with Affleck’s performance. Nine Batman films have raked in a combined profit of more than $2.2 Billion – no small change. I like Wonder Woman, and Spiderman, and don’t get me started on how much I love the Avengers.

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But I don’t like Superman. Never did. My favorite would be Super Friends Superman, and after that it’s Chris Reeve or nothing. Perhaps he’s too squeaky-clean – far more than Captain America, and too powerful. Krypton is one of the rarest gases, one part per million of our atmosphere. You would have to sift an awful lot of air to gain enough Krypton to affect him. Barring Lex Luthor, Superman is more or less invincible, and no one likes a prissy Lawful Good (this is the same problem fought in the X-Men series, Watchmen, and Captain America: Civil War). What good is a hero who has no faults and can’t be harmed?

51omO8G3K-L._AC_US160_Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – due on DVD July 16 – didn’t grab me from the start, but I went to see it because – well, Batman. If you haven’t seen the last reboot of the Superman franchise, Man of Steel, be prepared for confusion, for BvS takes up right where Man of Steel left off. Batman is mighty ticked at Superman for all the damage he wrought in lives and property, and takes it upon himself to curtail Superman in a surge of animosity that seems to come out of nowhere. Batman’s good for a simmering revenge, not a sudden “You need to be taken down, I don’t like you” petty vindictiveness. Batman, a mere mortal with cool toys, tries to take down a superbeing who cannot be stopped. Needless to say, it does not go well.

Batman v. Superman seems lost in its own purpose. It’s a fair Batman film, a wooden and flat Superman film (Spider-Man has more lines in Civil War than Superman did in BvS), and if Batman-V-Superman-Zack-Snyder-Trinitythere’s any shining hero here, it’s Wonder Woman. If anything, it’s merely a clunky prequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman movie. In fact, you probably could have cut the whole rivalry down to 30 minutes, then began the Wonder Woman movie, and had a much better film.

My biggest gripe with the film, writing and directing aside, is that Batman breaks character. Guns are not Batman’s forte. Batman does not carry them, Batman does not shoot them. Batman is about outsmarting the villain and bringing them TO justice, not carrying it out himself. Batman is the thinking man’s hero. Batman never even kills the Joker. But here’s  Batman, shooting and killing like Rambo. That was my breaking point. And it is quite established that Batman is well-versed in martial arts; Batman’s moves in BvS are poor at best; slow and unconvincing.

batman-vs-superman-dawn-of-justice-movieIf you hunt for it, there are enough good bits to make the film worthwhile; all the Wonder Woman scenes among them. It is certainly nowhere near the abysmal level of 1992’s Batman Returns, with Danny DeVito as a deformed demented Penguin – surely the lowpoint of his career. Forbes magazine nails the issues with the film quite nicely here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2016/05/09/captain-america-civil-war-shows-exactly-why-batman-v-superman-failed/#6dda5e6446bb.

If you really love the superhero genre, then by all means watch it. There are far worse superhero films out there – Green Lantern and Eric Bana/ Incredible Hulk (2003) come fast to mind. But if you really want to see superheroes eating their own and winning at it, wait for Captain America: Civil War.

A Playlist for the Road

My family is all over the place, more in summer, perhaps, but it’s almost a guarantee we’re out of state at least once a month. Just between August and September, we’ll log Baltimore, Boston, New York City, Maine, and a couple of days in California. In October, it’s Minnesota for a wedding. If it’s on the eastern coast, we’ve driven it. Nothing makes time pass faster than listening to good music, so here is a compiled playlist of songs about cars and the open road.

Now, before you start listing all the songs I didn’t include, know that there are HUNDREDS of songs about cars and driving, from John Denver’s Country Roads to Dr. Dre all the way back to Roger Miller’s King of the Road, which, honestly, makes my hair stand on end. Maybe it’s because it was on too many K-Tel or Time-Life albums that were pushed at every single commercial break back in the 70’s & 80’s. If you search the internet, you can find several lists, some of which are actually about cars and driving, and others that make no sense at all to me (Hey Jude? Psycho Killer?).

My criteria for the list were, yeah, songs about cars, but more so songs that make me want to hit the open road, that make me wish for an empty highway so I can drop the stick down to third and wind that engine out, that make me feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, songs that make a ride seem exciting. And I added a few fun songs at the end, too.

1) On the Road Again (Willie Nelson) This is practically our theme song every time we get in the car. Even if you don’t like country music, this one is quite tolerable.

sm2) East Bound and Down (Jerry Reed) This is the theme song from Smokey and the Bandit, and there probably isn’t a better long-distance driving movie than that. So stick a six-pack of Coors in your trunk, load the dog, open the windows if you can’t take off the roof, but don’t let Sheriff Justice catch you.

3) Life is a Highway (Rascal Flatts) – Again, don’t be fooled by the singer. This is perfectly good rock, without a bit of twang. Your kids will know it from the movie Cars.

4) Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) One of my favorites for driving. Upbeat, nostalgic – makes you want to run away from home and never look back.

5) Rockin’ Down the Highway (Doobie Bros) – Old school, fast moving, something that’s been on the radio forever.

6) The Passenger (Iggy Pop, or Alison Mosshart and the Forest Rangers) Choose your version. I know the song by Mosshart, from the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack, but Iggy Pop sang it long before. Iggy’s version is a little plainer, while Mosshart’s is harder and has a more driving beat (no pun intended).

7) Truckin’ (Grateful Dead) You know that steady beat you get on some concrete highways (like I-684), where there’s a definite thump as you hit each and every expansion gap? This song has that same beat, adding to that illusion of cruising down the road.

8) Greased Lightnin’ (John Travolta, on the Grease soundtrack) Who wouldn’t want to cruise the streets in Greased Lightnin’?

GLEE: The boys perform in the "Glease" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Nov. 15 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. L-R: Harry Shum Jr., Samuel Larsen, Chord Overstreet, Blake Jenner and Jacob Artist. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

9) Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) Another song you can feel, racing through the dark, laughing, carefree, someone’s arm around your shoulder, not giving a hoot at that exact moment to the pressures and responsibilities waiting to crush you when you finally stop.

10) Little Red Corvette (Prince) – This was SO overplayed when it was new it kind of scrapes my nerves, but who wouldn’t love to drive one? I love Fire-Engine Red, even though it attracts speed radar, but I’d prefer one in Candy Apple Heavy Metal Flake.

11) Cars (Gary Numan) – the epitome of that 1980 technofunk that shifted over to what’s considered modern “dance” music. It came out around the same time as “Funky Town,” and I always pair the two.

12) Convoy (C.W. McCall) – more properly it’s talking blues with a chorus, and the movie was filmed so badly you can spot the microphone in some scenes, but the premise remains good – a ticked off trucker who accidentally picks up a convoy, and the media takes it to mean a message. Nothing like a hundred semi’s (and “eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus”) to say Road Trip. And fear not, the line is truckin’ convoy.

And just for Fun:

13) Batman theme – the old 1960’s version will give you more nana nana’s for your money, but who doesn’t want to drive like Batman, especially if you’re in the car alone and no one can see you? Crank it up.bond

14) James Bond theme – if Batman’s not dignified enough for you, if you’re wearing a suit and not a cape, if your car is European, crank this one and go practice your corners on the Saw Mill River Parkway, one of the squiggliest little roads I’ve ever seen.

15) Beep Beep (Little Nash Rambler) (The Playmates) Yes, it starts out slow, but that’s the gag. Stick with it to the end. Your kids will love it.