Movie Soundtracks Selling Well ‘Friday,’ ‘Gump’ Make Billboard’s Top-10 Albums List
Readers browsing through the current Billboard charts of top albums may be forgiven if they wonder whether they have inadvertently picked up Variety instead.
In the “Billboard 200” albums chart for the week ending Saturday, 16 of the titles were motion-picture soundtracks, including two in the top 10: “Friday,” at No. 3, and “Forrest Gump,” at No. 6.
The newest addition was “Braveheart,” which entered at No. 148, while the oldest of the soundtracks, “The Bodyguard,” celebrated its 132nd week on the charts, at No. 161, having already peaked at No. 1.
At the top of the “Billboard Hot 100 Singles” chart was Bryan Adams’ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” from the movie “Don Juan DeMarco.”
This week, Adams remains atop the singles chart, while the soundtrack to the new Walt Disney film, “Pocahontas,” enters the albums chart at an impressive No. 4, even before the movie is due in theaters.
In addition, orchestral scores from classic older films like “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “Giant” (1956), and even nonclassics like “King Rat” (1965) and “The Reivers” (1969), have recently been released on major labels in a field once dominated by independents, a sure indication of the genre’s new profitability.
Indeed, the current interest in film music is such that the cable-television channel American Movie Classics has designated June as Movie Music Month and put together an hourlong historical overview, “The Hollywood Soundtrack Story,” which will next air next Monday.
The marriage of movies and music is as old as the movies themselves. In fact, Thomas Alva Edison’s first motion-picture device, the 1889 Kinetophonograph, was conceived as a visual adjunct to the phonograph, invented in 1877, almost 100 years before the advent of MTV.
Subsequently, films have generated hits from musicals (like “White Christmas” from 1942’s “Holiday Inn,” which in various versions by Bing Crosby became the best-selling single of all time); themes from nonmusicals (notably, David Raksin’s “Laura” from the 1944 film); title songs (like “Three Coins in the Fountain,” 1954); original song scores (Simon and Garfunkel’s score for “The Graduate” in 1967); and compilation scores (“Easy Rider” in 1969).
Spurred by the success of “Saturday Night Fever” (1977), “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “The Big Chill” (1983), soundtracks from nonmusicals have been showing up on the charts more and more, but never to such an extent as now.
“What’s changed over the years, and it’s probably more a comment on the state of society than anything else, is that the whole business has become much more commercial-minded,” said screen composer Elmer Bernstein, whose credits extend from “Sudden Fear” in 1952 to “The Scarlet Letter,” to be released later this year.
As an example, he cited his popular theme for “The Magnificent Seven” (1960).
“At the time the picture was released, the studio was not interested in releasing a soundtrack,” he said.
Subsequently, the theme song was turned into a hit by the guitarist Al Caiola. In the current crossover market, the idea of not automatically releasing a soundtrack is almost unthinkable.
Danny Elfman, best known for his score for “Batman” (1989) and other Tim Burton films, said, “The studio and the producers all want very badly to have a hit song in their movie because it helps promote the movie.”
As for the record companies, Eric Boehlert, an editor at Billboard said, “If you’re aligned with a movie studio that’s going to spend $5 or $10 million marketing its movie, and your album has the same cover as the ads for the movie, it’s enormously beneficial.”
In a sense, one hand washes the other. Yet, Ini Kamoze’s No. 1 single, “Here Comes the Hotstepper,” didn’t make a hit of Robert Altman’s “Ready to Wear,” the movie it came from, and having the soundtrack of Dr. Dre’s 18-minute film, “Murder Was the Case,” reach No. 1 didn’t stop that film from dying in the theaters.
Obviously, a hit soundtrack doesn’t always translate into box-office dollars. But with the cross-pollinating success of “The Bodyguard” (1992) “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) and “Forrest Gump” (1994), most studios are determined to give the formula a try.
This demand creates something of a dilemma for composers.
While scores are still seen as intrinsic elements of film storytelling, they are now also viewed as part of the marketing. The pressure for compromise is inevitable.
“Let’s face it,” Bernstein said. “Money is much more important than art in the minds of the people that make most movies.”
While Elfman said he has felt no such pressure in his own career, he is quick to recognize it in other films.
“It bothers me the most when I’m in a period piece and suddenly a contemporary song starts up,” he said. “It just takes me out of the movie - or anytime a song starts in a montage or a love story and I realize I’m being force-fed a hit song. I’m really offended.”
Compilation scores, or the use of previously released songs as a movie soundtrack, are probably the most controversial aspect of the current movie music trend.
Alan Menken, the composer of “Aladdin” (1992) and of “Pocahontas,” opening on June 23, said: “To me, that’s not a score for a picture. Somebody collected some songs and put them together on a record, and it doesn’t bring back the picture to me. I know those songs from another context.”