What a task I’ve chosen. Welcome back everyone! It seems I’ve really stepped in it this time. What do I mean by that? I chose to write an article about 6 great movie music soundtracks. How on earth can that be considered an easy undertaking?
Anyone who even occasionally watches movies will recognize that a well-written, perfectly placed piece of music can take a scene from meh to magnificent. Music in movies has undeniably changed the way we experience what was once an almost exclusively visual experience (thought admittedly not for a long time now). Composers and movie producers leverage music’s ability to impact emotion in order to create a meaningful moment in cinema.
The soundtracks for these full-length movies can be very long. With that in mind, I’ve chosen either the main themes, or a compilation suite for your listening pleasure. So let’s sit back, relax with some freshly popped popcorn, maybe even some nachos and a large beverage, and enjoy some of the greatest movie music tracks ever to grace the silver screen.
Star Wars Main Theme
How could this not make the list? John Williams has left a mark on film scores so large that his name has become synonymous with “blockbuster hit”. Odds are, if John Williams wrote music for it, it did pretty well.
Star Wars is no exception. Here I submit to you the main theme. That’s all you need. From the moment the first downbeat drops, the listener is instantly transported to another world. “A galaxy far, far away…” Yes, that was shameless. But anyone hearing the music would be hard pressed to say that the notes don’t bring them to a state of attention, ripe for adventure.
The track explodes with the brass section taking center stage. It first carries that familiar motif that is now synonymous with “Star Wars”, giving way to the strings and their sweeping crescendos. The track travels, much like the movie, through a number of different themes and musical ideas. Many of them resurface later in different ways. This is a brilliant writing technique that adds familiarity but with variety and John Williams is a master of this tool.
Star Wars is listed as the American Film Institute’s No. 1 film score of all time. This is hardly a surprise, considering the profound effect the entire soundtrack has on the listener. By the time I’m done listening, I feel like I’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster. Check out this track and experience the effects that won this piece of art so many awards.
Indiana Jones Theme
Speaking of adventure, it almost doesn’t get any better than this. There’s just something about the horns playing that dotted rhythm at the opening of the title track. Unlike Star Wars, it’s not intergalactic. The music for Indiana Jones is decidedly grounded.
But what’s amazing is that instead of depending on time, space, and distance to create anticipation, excitement, and intrigue, the composer manages to make mere earthly locations expand. They take on an unexpected grandeur.
Who’s the composer? I’m glad you asked, none other than our old friend John Williams. Though the march feel and the dotted rhythms create the listener’s desire for uninhibited exploits, the meat of the track is in the middle.
The violins and the whole string section sweep in and grab the heart strings. They whisk us away to a place where romance and peril go hand in hand and for some reason, we feel we wouldn’t have it any other way. You might ask yourself, why do I feel like kissing a stranger while hanging off the edge of a cliff? Why does my credit card statement show purchases of roses and rock climbing gear? Thanks, John Williams.
All cheeky jokes aside, if you need a pick me up and something to help you get motivated today, have a listen to this track. It’s worth the time.
Gone With The Wind Main Theme (Also called Tara’s Theme)
What do you get when you combine raw history, hyper romantic emotions, and a child prodigy who many consider “the father of film music”? You get Max Steiner’s score for Gone With The Wind. Unlike the previous two installments, this music came from a time where movie music was just beginning to take flight. As such, trained ears will hear a much more theatrical style.
It’s very reminiscent of something that would be heard from an orchestra pit during a live performance. I mention this because theater takes on a much more embellished performance. The music is no different. Each piece in the score is a parade of feelings.
The strings take center stage in this track. This is also something very characteristic of early film work. The horns are not absent, however, as they are used effectively to heighten suspense and change musical direction.
The soundtrack for Gone With The Wind is another installment on the American Film Institute’s top 25 greatest film scores of all time. It’s No. 2, in fact. This single first track effectively sets the stage for the entire movie, delivering joy, sadness, anxiety, climax, and resolution. The piece’s hook is left playing on repeat in one’s mind. And the dreams produced from this sonic pallet are timeless and transcendent.
I say this with great love and admiration: you’ve got to check out this track.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
If you’re a fan of the western genre, or even if you simply like wide open spaces, there are few film scores that can compare to Elmer Bernstein’s 1960 sonic tour de force. Get ready for a romp through the sagebrush as you listen to the main theme for The Magnificent Seven.
A great soundtrack for a western has to capture the pioneering spirit that drew so many to these parts of the United States. Bernstein finds no shortage of ways to craft this feeling with his tonal choices. But far from being simply a stock entrant in the litany of installments in the Western movie music genre, Bernstein takes the listener for a ride.
That seems like an over simplification. Allow me to explain. From time to time, Bernstein takes some liberties and throws in some unexpected chords. The notes he uses create dissonance. In other words, they are noticeably uncomfortable to the listener. That sounds bad right? Wrong. It breaks the monotony and creates welcomed variety in the piece.
In short, be ready to strap on your boots in search of new ventures and thrilling experiences. At least, in your mind. Close your eyes and you’ll see the sunrise as you wake up on the high plains. If you’ve always found yourself enjoying the sounds of early Americana and folk music, you’ll enjoy this masterpiece.
Have a listen to a track from the score that the American Film Institute says is the 8th greatest film score of all time.
The Matrix Main Theme
Now we’ve stepped into something truly revolutionary. The Matrix is one of the most critically acclaimed and crowd pleasing movies in the last 20 years. It changed the way the industry did action films. But it also changed the perspective that composers and audiences alike had toward film scores.
Tortured, conflicted, elated, transforming, defiant, relieved. These are all words that the main theme translates into emotions and delivers within it’s one minute and thirty two seconds. The music, much like the movie, takes hair-raising compositional and sonic turns at 90 miles an hour. Just like the movie, the music delivers mind-bending results.
The music is much more modern than anything else on the list. It plays heavily on dissonance and chord progressions that don’t exist in your standard pop, country, or even rock music song. This music is meant to make you feel uncomfortable. It’s meant to make you question. It’s meant to keep you on the edge of your seat while driving you headfirst into a brick wall only for you to realize the wall was never there in the first place.
The horns drive this piece. Don Davis, the composer, made some great choices when assigning what instruments would take center stage. Though his name is not imprinted into the minds of the public, his work in the Matrix will stand the test of time.
If you’ve can bend spoons with your brain, give this track a listen. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
This is the writer’s choice. Stardust is a mashup of genres, but somehow it manages to pull all of them together and deliver a stellar story and raucous adventure. I believe that it is largely due to it’s score being the glue that ties everything together.
The composer’s name is Ilan Eshkeri and though this is another composer that the general public may not be familiar with, he is no stranger to awards and accolades. Eshkeri is also no stranger to crafting gigantic themes and powerful motifs. His themes make clever use of the abilities of all the instruments he has scored.
One example of this would be using the violin’s pizzicato and staccato to create push and pull tension during a very fast-paced section of the music. He effectively slows and paces the song with these techniques like a rider would use the reigns of his horse to make sure things don’t get out of control.
The strings and the horns work together to create a splendid tapestry of sound. The sounds go from abrasive and punchy to sweeping to pillowy soft. One is nearly guaranteed to find something that they like in this full soundtrack.
What separates this soundtrack from others is how Eshkeri manages to include thoughtful and content feelings within his music while balancing it with the aforementioned tension. The ebb and flow of the soundtrack is exquisite.
With a movie where tragedy, adventure, coming of age, and victory all play major roles, the score needed to be able to effortlessly flow from one to the next. Don’t be surprised if you hear a sound that makes you feel like a king or queen sitting on a throne.
All in all, I believe this soundtrack lives up to the standards of it’s revered predecessors. Here’s a suite for your listening pleasure.
Whether you’re sitting at home or driving in your car, there’s something on this list for everyone. No matter your mood or your fancy, I think you’ll find it within one of these tracks. I hope you enjoy listening to these pieces as much as I enjoyed compiling them for you. Have a great day and these pieces truly show us that music is magic!