Summer flicks of decades past and present have served up some of the most revolutionary film scores and cohesive song sets in movie history. In the spirit of this season of sunshine and blockbusters, here is an eclectic list of picks for the best summer movie soundtracks — spanning from the heyday of Hitchcock to after the introduction of the “indie” phenomenon, with links to sample tracks to boot. Enjoy!
Many noticed an intended “tribute” to Bernard Herrmann’s masterwork of a score to Alfred Hitchcock’s tour de force Vertigo in recent Best Picture Oscar-winner The Artist — a tribute that Kim Novak, who starred opposite Jimmy Stewart in the classic film, declared a “rape” of the psycho-thriller. Whether or not you think it’s permissible to pay homage to Herrmann’s work, we all can agree that it is something to appreciate.
Bernard Herrmann’s arresting score in Psycho is a character in itself. Few film images are more striking than Janet Leigh’s sopping wet, pixie-cut-framed-face and screaming mouth as she faces her mid-shower slaughter, and it’s safe to say that this iconic scene is never visualized without the accompaniment of Herrmann’s razor-sharp strings. The rest of the psychological thriller’s score also succeeds as one of the most suspenseful ever, building up unmistakable fear in the audience with only string instruments.
A Hard Day’s Night
This mockumentary about the Fab Four features the band at the height of their popularity and includes some of the most infectious songs of their career, including “And I Love Her,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance with You,” and “All My Loving.”
“All My Loving”
George Lucas’s film about 1960s American teenagers consisted of a great scope of popular tunes, providing samples from the mega-popular likes of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and The Beach Boys, as well as hits from the Monotones, the Tempos, and our fave, the Clover’s “Love Potion #9.”
“Love Potion #9”
The Parent Trap (1998)
I distinctly remember the moment when my dad stopped at a now-extinct Tower Records to buy this soundtrack, because, save for The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits, it was the first disc my parents played that I actually liked. I was 6 years old at the time, but my family can still agree on the feel-good greatness of the collection. The soundtrack to this remake of the classic, Haley Mills-starring flick makes for easy listening, but it’s also a timeless roundup of jovial tunes that deserves to be played again and again.
“Do You Believe in Magic?”
Sofia Coppola’s 2006 period piece may not have done many things right, but its conglomeration of 1980s and modern pop, alt-rock, and piano ballads was a surprisingly glove-tight fit for this biopic about the frivolous queen in the years leading up to the French Revolution. Why use music of the film’s era when you’ve got New Order’s “Ceremony” at your disposal?
Away We Go
Furnished almost exclusively by Alexi Murdoch’s warm music, Away We Go’s soundtrack provides a comforting blanket to escort the tale of a couple’s search for that single location to call “home.” The album also includes a few tracks by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, The Velvet Underground, and The Stranglers.
Before Jesse Eisenberg slipped into Mark Zuckerberg’s socially dysfunctional shoes, he starred in another coming-of-age movie, playing a college graduate stuck working at an amusement park in Pittsburgh in the summer before graduate school. Sound like the makings of an amusing and charming comedy that seems to scream the word “indie”? You nailed it. Adventureland’s soundtrack is a collection of well-selected songs ranging from The Velvet Underground to David Bowie to Crowded House. The soulful, 1970s rock tinge also nicely accents the flick’s kitschy theme park setting.
“Don’t Dream It’s Over”
(500) Days of Summer
This soundtrack plays like a mix-tape the love-struck Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) would dip his head out of the clouds to make for the blue-eyed object of his unrequited affection, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). It’s also a must-listen. Not only is every song independently gold; listening to the soundtrack from start to finish evokes a total retelling of the film’s story in pleasingly subtle ways. Like the quirky (and not overwhelmingly so) film, it fuses recent and matured tunes to scrapbook the relationship of the two leads through music.
“Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”
Christopher Nolan’s Inception supplied a unique blockbuster that combined fantastic acting, terrific story, clever ideas, and “wow”-inducing events, and Hans Zimmer’s memorable score provided a fittingly brilliant complement to this epic tale of dream travel. Bonus: the song the characters use as a cue to wake up, “Non, je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf, can be heard slowed-down in the score — just like the way time slowed down when the characters jumped from dream world to dream world.
“Non, je ne regrette rien”