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Soundtracks of 1999

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema looked back at the soundtrack albums of 1999. That year turned out many exceptional films but it was also the end of Hollywood’s soundtrack era. Starting in the 1970s with the release of American Graffiti and Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack album became a key part of the marketing of motion pictures. Throughout the 1980s and 90s soundtrack albums for Top Gun, Footloose, The Bodyguard, and The Lion King became best sellers and generated radio hits. 1999 represented the end of that era. In that year, the Napster peer-to-peer file sharing program launched and decimated physical media sales. A couple of years later, Apple’s iTunes service finished the job.

In the twenty-five years since, Hollywood has pivoted away from using soundtracks to sell the film. There are exceptions such as Guardians of the Galaxy and 2018’s A Star is Born but the soundtrack and a hit single are no longer a key part of the marketing. Consider Top Gun: Maverick and House of Gucci; the Top Gun sequel had a song by Lady Gaga but it barely made any cultural impression whereas “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” from the original film still get airplay. Meanwhile, House of Gucci starred Gaga but the filmmakers did not commission her to create a tie-in song.

The soundtrack album exists as a marketing product but it is also an artistic work in its own right. The use of music, either original songs or licensing existing works, creates an aural impression of the movie. Original works can allow musicians to create their own impression of the film’s themes and characters. Soundtracks are also time capsules of a period in which the film was made or the time in which the story takes place. The decline of the soundtrack album speaks to a diminishment of music in creating and marketing contemporary movies.

Here is some of the music featured on today’s show as well as a few additional works.

“Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)” by LL Cool J

Popular musicians have long crossed over into movies. This offers a chance for some commercial synergy. The musician’s presence could elevate the status of the movie and they would contribute a song which then had a music video and radio airplay which advertised the movie. This formula has fallen away in the last twenty-five years in tandem with the decline of the album. Musicians still get cast in movies but they don’t create original tie-in songs the way they used to. 1999 had a couple of these including “Deepest Bluest” by LL Cool J for the shark movie Deep Blue Sea. The lyrics make reference to the images and themes from the movie.

“Wild Wild West” by Will Smith

Will Smith created the title song for Wild Wild West. At this point Smith was at the peak of his box office power and “Wild Wild West” was intended to replicate the success of Smith’s hit title song for Men in Black. Wild Wild West earned $222 million at the global box office and was one of the top 15 grossers of that year but it was so expensive that Wild Wild West was deemed a financial failure. It was also savaged by critics. The song “Wild Wild West” was a hit but the stain of the movie affected the perception of the song. It was a nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance but also for a Razzie Award for Worst Song.

“The Great Beyond” by R.E.M.

The tile of 1999’s Man on the Moon was taken from the R.E.M. song which was a tribute to comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufman whose life was dramatized in the film. The band contributed music to the movie including the score and the original song “The Great Beyond.” The film didn’t do much business at the time but it features some of Jim Carrey’s best work in the lead role as Kaufman.

Songs for Animation

Disney had two major films come out of 1999. One of these was Tarzan for which Phil Collins created the tune “You’ll Be in My Heart.” That song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. That same year Pixar released Toy Story 2 which included “When She Loved Me” performed by Sarah McLachlan. The other major animated film of 1999 was South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut which was a feature film based on the Comedy Central TV show. The film was vulgar, funny, and very smart. It was also a musical and the song “Blame Canada” was nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards.

The Matrix and The Phantom Menace

One of the most popular films of 1999 was The Matrix. The film snuck up on people and defined cool action moviemaking in its day, becoming a cultural touchstone. The soundtrack to The Matrix was very popular and included hard rock and industrial acts such as Marilyn Manson, Ministry, Prodigy, and Rage Against the Machine. This was one of the last examples of a movie soundtrack album that seemingly everyone bought.

The other major sci-fi movie of 1999 was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The film’s reception was mixed. This was the most anticipated movie of its era (and maybe ever) and The Phantom Menace was the highest grossing film of 1999 but as the excitement faded there was an acknowledgement that the movie had failed to live up to expectations (which were probably impossible). Next to The Matrix, The Phantom Menace appeared passe and in the near term The Matrix was regarded as representing the future of moviemaking. Twenty-five years on, in light of Avatar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe and other CGI heavy fantasies, The Phantom Menace has proven to be the more prescient film

The release of The Phantom Menace was supported by an enormous marketing campaign. The film’s signature musical piece “Duel of the Fates” was given a music video that debuted on the MTV program Total Request Live, which played the ten most requested music videos of the day. “The Duel of the Fates” video was shown multiple times in its premiere episode. A single of “Duel of the Fates” was released that included a version of the song with audio clips from the movie.

Teen Movies

The music industry is generally geared toward the youth market and several soundtracks of 1999 tied in with movies about young characters. Cruel Intentions was a romantic thriller starring Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. The soundtrack included music by Blur, Fatboy Slim, Counting Crows, Marcy Playground, and The Verve. Varsity Blues was a popular high school football movie whose soundtrack included music from Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Collective Soul, and Days of the New. Air contributed the score and songs for Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides.

Go was Tarantinoesque dark comedy of three intertwined narratives. The film included a lot of talents who went on to have successful careers including director Doug Liman, writer John August, and actors Sarah Polley, Timothy Olyphant, Taye Diggs, Katie Holmes, William Fichtner, and Melissa McCarthy. The soundtrack featured 90s bands such as No Doubt, BT, and Fatboy Slim.

American Pie was one of the defining comedies of a generation. The cast included Alyson Hannigan, Natasha Lyonne, Tara Reid, and Seann William Scott. The soundtrack had an assortment of acts from that time including Blink-182, Third Eye Blind, Sugar Ray, and Dishwalla.

“The World is Not Enough” by Garbage

The Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond was mixed. A few of the films were fun but others were stupid and sloppy. However, this era added two great title songs to the 007 music catalog including “The World is Not Enough” performed by Garbage.

Music for the End of the Century

In 1999 there was a lot of consternation about the end of the twentieth century and that resulted in a few movies about cults and religious apocalypse such as End of Days in which Arnold Schwarzenegger faced Satan. That film had a soundtrack album that featured Korn, Everlast, Sonic Youth, and Creed. 1999 also saw the release of Dogma which included an original song by Alanis Morrisette who has a small role in the film and Stigmata which has a score by Billy Corgan and songs by Bjork, Afro Celt Sound System, and Massive Attack.

Run Lola Run

The avant-garde German film Run Lola Run was about a woman racing against the clock to deliver a bag of money to a gangster in order to save her boyfriend’s life. The soundtrack by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil was an extremely important aspect of this picture and is probably partly responsible for the enduring popularity of Run Lola Run.