The talk of the film industry, and now the music business, is “Titanic.”
The box-office success of the film about the 1912 ship disaster is widely known, and now the soundtrack is similarly making waves. It’s No. 1 on the pop charts for the fifth consecutive week and is selling more than 500,000 copies a week. Three weeks ago, 665,000 units were sold in a seven-day period, a record for a soundtrack album.
Such numbers usually apply only to Pearl Jam and Garth Brooks, but they show the synergy that can occur when the film and music worlds flex their combined muscle.
The “Titanic” CD has sold more than 4 million copies globally. It has boosted the fame of pop diva Celine Dion, whose “My Heart Will Go On” is the centerpiece of the music, while also making a new star of Norwegian singer Sissel, whose ethereal, Enya-like vocals are as haunting as the film’s inevitable outcome. The CD’s remarkable success also has set in motion plans for a soundtrack sequel and a possible concert tour.
There is a boom in soundtracks, from the alternative-etched “Great Expectations” to the retro-proud “Blues Brothers 2000.” But the unlikely smash is “Titanic,” which combines a New Age-trance ambience, a “Riverdance”-like Irish flavor, classical orchestrations, and the angelic vocals of Dion and Sissel.
“Everyone is surprised,” says Glen Brunman, head of Sony Music soundtracks in Los Angeles. “Just like the movie, the music has completely captured people’s imaginations.
“Every year or two, there’s an epic romance that generates a very successful score album,” says Brunman. “There was ‘Dances with Wolves’ in 1990, ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ in 1991, ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ in 1992, then ‘Braveheart,’ which James Horner (‘Titanic’ composer) also did. These were all platinum score albums, but ‘Titanic’ has become a real phenomenon.
“What you’re always looking for is a win-win situation between the movie and the soundtrack,” adds Brunman, who also worked on the best-selling “Sleepless in Seattle” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” albums. “You’re looking to have the movie gain from the artists involved, and the artists gain from the marketing of the movie and whether their song is in the TV spots and trailers. In this case, Celine wins and ‘Titanic’ wins.”
The story behind the “Titanic” soundtrack goes back to November 1996, when Brunman first read James Cameron’s script. “It was the best script I’ve ever read in six years of doing soundtracks,” says Brunman, who persuaded Sony to purchase the soundtrack rights. At that time, there was no score and no one had any idea that Dion would be involved.
As the “Titanic” score unfolded, composer Horner devised the melody of “My Heart Will Go On,” then asked Nashville tunesmith Will Jennings (who has written for Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood) to pen the lyrics. Horner, who knew Dion, soon asked her to come in and hear the song. She loved it and also put it on her latest solo disc, “Let’s Talk About Love,” which is third behind “Titanic” on the album chart.