March Madness: The Original Soundtrack
I have often wished that I had a soundtrack following me in everyday life. Although I listen to a lot of albums, I’ve always loved putting together my own playlists for particular events, ever since they were mix-tapes. I’ve made my own soundtracks for roadtrips, friends’ labours, parties, and bookclubs. For our wedding favours, my wife and I even gave out a playlist of what might have been the soundtrack to our relationship. And yet, when it comes to my relationship to original film soundtracks (OSTs), well, let’s just say it’s complicated.
One of the reasons I love albums is that they invite us to remember, imagine, or revisit our own memories and stories as we listen to and connect with this expression of a slice of the human experience. They draw us deeper into our own emotions and give us melodies, harmonies, rhythms and sometimes words to help us better express and feel. But soundtracks are always tied to someone else’s story. That’s kind of the point. The music of a film becomes an integral part of the story, communicating the setting or mood, acting as a plot device, or even as a supportive character. Once we experience the music and visuals together, it can be nearly impossible to separate the two. This is on purpose, and when done well, works as both multi-media art as well as a brilliant cross-marketing strategy.
Perhaps because of this, I don’t spend a lot of time listening to soundtracks. Out of the 300-ish vinyl records that I own, roughly 8 of them are soundtracks: mostly some cast recordings from musicals, and a few of my favourite compilation soundtracks and film score recordings. These few records (until recently) have never really been in heavy rotation on my turntable.
It wasn’t always this way. The first CD I was ever given was The Lion King, and I had that disc on repeat for months… partly because Elton John and Tim Rice are at their best, and partly because it was the only CD we had for a while. Some soundtracks became part of my childhood before I ever watched the films they were made for: The Breakfast Club, Flashdance, Grease and Shaft.
There have also been times I’d listen to a soundtrack in order to re-live some of the feelings or memories from a favourite movie. When I play West Side Story, Rent or Moulin Rouge, it’s all about singing along with the songs and identifying with my favourite characters. Listening to the Stand By Me or Forrest Gump soundtracks becomes more about creating a sense of nostalgia, offering an example of what the radio might have played during a particular era.
I am probably most easily drawn to the kind of soundtrack that plays a tangible part in our pop music history: The way Singles introduces the mainstream pop consumer to grunge from the Pacific North West; or how New Jack City provided a storyline and culture to help raise the profile of New Jack Swing, a genre that provided a danceable bridge between the R&B of the 80’s and the hip hop of the 90’s; even more recently how Guardians of the Galaxy released its soundtrack on cassette tape format in 2014, giving the packaging as much of a retro-sense as the music it contained.
All this to say, I’m going to give the OST as an album another chance, and I would like to invite you to listen along with me, picking your favourites. For the last couple years I have been hosting a musical March Madness brackets-style competition here at OnRecords. This year we’ll be voting on OSTs that fit into one of four categories: Compilations (songs from various artists), Scores (mostly instrumental selections of the film score), Musicals (songs that are performed in the film itself), and Artist Lead (the majority of the music on the soundtrack is written/performed by one artist/band, or subgenre).
Just like in the March Madness of college basketball, the placements (seeding) of the OSTs in the brackets are based on how high each album is rated by the “experts” (critics). Each album was scored based on how much critical acclaim it’s received on 10 different music publications; the higher the score, the higher the seed. Soundtracks will get voted into each new round six times until we crown one album OnRecord’s Most Favourite OST! Does that sound epic, or what?
Without further ado, here are the brackets. Take a look, make your predictions, and prepare to start voting soon!