Best Soundtracks of 1997: Let’s Settle The Score

by MarbleheadJohnson

Soundtracks are a tricky thing, and never more so than in the ’90s. Covering up the lack of plot and atrocious acting with a clever little soundtrack isn’t anything new in the film business, yet finding new and inventive ways of releasing piles of cinematic shit plastered over with rose-scented pop tunes seemed to hit quite an apex during the ’90s. Soundtracks to films like “Singles” and “Romeo and Juliet” more than proved that you could dazzle dopey movie-goers with low values by accosting their ears with wall-to-wall pop jams, further blinding them to the unwatchable crap that flickered before their eyeballs. Time has proven the music wasn’t all that great either, showing that the task of drudging up 10 solid soundtracks from any year in the 90s that don’t sound like auditory torture all the more challenging. 

You might have noticed lately that we’re focusing a lot on the year of nineteen hundred and ninety-seven, mainly because it was 20 years ago and it’s a nice round number. I ask you this, though, and be quick with your internal answers: what are your favorite soundtracks of 1997? Can you even name three off the top of your head? Didn’t think so. Droves of apathetic movie-goers left their homes to go experience movies they would quickly forget, dulled by music that put them to sleep, only to endure feelings of confusion and inner turmoil when asked about it 20 years later. But wait! I’m here to remind you that there were actually some good soundtracks in 1997!  Remember that stinking turd of a film “Batman and Robin”, and how kind-of-cool you thought the soundtrack was? Yeah, go ahead and admit it, you did. And it’s okay to be embarrassed about that assessment as you listen to that god-awful soundtrack now, as we all have our down moments of questionable taste. It’s only natural for us to find the good after a travesty, and let me tell you, it doesn’t get any more disturbing than watching George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell dress up in tights and bang their crotches together for two hours. Or maybe not – I don’t want to judge if that’s your thing. 

Once you put your waders on, it is possible to sift through the dreck and find some gems here and there. In fact, 1997 had some of the finer soundtracks of the past 25 years, and sometimes those songs we never even liked before all of a sudden sound better in the context of a very cool movie scene. It’s also possible that the best soundtracks had nothing to do with a movie at all, and found their creativity and inspiration in video game form — yes, I’m going there. I tend to favor the original scores where you can absolutely discern the artist trying to create a mood and feel for each scene and moment. It’s one thing to compile a bunch of tried and true tracks to build the mood you’re going for, but the real challenge is creating something from nothing to fit another person’s (the filmmaker’s) vision.  There were some cool moments in soundtracks in 1997 as it turns out, and I’m going to stumble my way through the limited evidence.

HERE ARE THE BEST SOUNDTRACKS OF 1997:

10.  Various Artists – Spawn

Best soundtracks of 1997: Spawn Soundtrack

Sure, this was a silly movie, and yes, the music was probably sillier, but isn’t that why this soundtrack works? The idea to match up metal maestros with electronic dorks was a good concept, and this album churned out some gems despite how wrong some of them turned out to be. The shining moment is Orbital inviting Metallica’s Kirk Hammett to shred on the former’s hit “Satan”, though it somehow still doesn’t reach the unbridled intensity of the original version. Mansun and 808 State hit some good points as well, as do Prodigy and Rage’Tom Morello.  Stabbing Westward and Wink’s effort still provokes vomit-inducing reactions, as does the Butthole Surfers with Moby, showing us all that sometimes the cynicism of an over-arching theme to make cash can crash down and destroy our innocent imaginations. But hey, this is number 10 on the list, so that’s the way it goes. 

9. Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy VII

Best soundtracks of 1997: Final Fantasy VII soundtrack

If we’re going to seriously talk about soundtracks as an all-encompassing medium, we’d be silly to leave out some of the awe-inspiring music we get from video games. If you’re anything like me (and Christ help you if you are), a good majority of your life was sucked into the FFVII vortex in 1997, never to be recovered, yet all of it fondly remembered. I still have the image of pressing the power button on my PlayStation burned into my memory, fruitlessly searching for the ever-elusive Gold Chocobo, but even more than that, the musical jingles will never escape my consciousness. Make fun of the 8-bit corniness all you want, but the soundtrack to this game is some of the most intensely focused you’re ever likely to hear. The music covers the gamut of emotions here, often making the gamer wonder just how involved they’re supposed to be in just a video game. Some people argue whether video games are in the same artistic realm as film — I would argue that video games have overtaken film in their immediacy and intimacy in many cases. FFVII soundtrack is chock-full of wonderful cues and original tunes and acts as a starting point for the idea that gaming could be a hell of a lot more than just button mashing. 

8. Various Artists – The Saint

Best soundtracks of 1997: The Saint Soundtrack

This is a pretty good example of crap movie-killer soundtrack. With the exception of a lame Duran Duran moment, this soundtrack features some great 90s electronics from some of the top professionals in the business. Save yourself some time by skipping the movie and checking out the soundtrack instead. In fact, the movie will only sour your views of the songs here, and why blame Underworld for Val Kilmer’s dull stare? 

7. Various Artists – Boogie Nights

Best soundtracks of 1997: Boogie Nights Soundtrack

Sometimes a movie’s greatness can only make you warm to the familiar songs happening around it, and “Boogie Nights” is absolutely one of those moments. It’s loaded with classics that we all know, but perhaps most impressive is the way the film owns and transmogrifies Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from an unlistenable slice of ’80s embarrassment into an experience of laughter and glee. Once you see this movie, try and listen to the song and not picture Alfred Molina in his underpants while firecrackers explode in the distance. Impossible. 

6. Various Artists – Lost Highway

Best soundtracks of 1997: Lost Highway soundtrack

A pretty solid collection of tracks saves an otherwise overrated movie. Once you remove the Marilyn Manson-posturing out of this album, you have a fluid experience that makes sense from top to bottom. David Lynch trying way too hard to be weird is another discussion, but the focus from Trent ReznorAngelo Badalamenti, and Barry Adamson work a charm. And hey, Brian Eno is here, too! 

5. Michiru Yamane – Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night

Best soundtracks of 1997: Castlevania soundtrack

This is arguably one of the finer soundtracks in entertainment ever to be released and represents a bit of a watershed moment in the history of what can be done, and what is expected, with video game music. Most gamers know that feeling of being sucked into a world that you can’t wipe clean from your brain, only bringing you back to it over and over again through visuals, storyline, and a great musical experience. ‘Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night’ broke ground in this regard, forever setting standards for the way music should be presented in a video gaming context.  

4. Neil Young – Year Of The Horse

Best soundtracks of 1997: Neil Young Year Of The Horse Soundtrack

A full album of Neil Young music is always a cause for celebration, and the fact it’s based on a movie about him in 1997 is a perfect excuse to include it here. The album is culled from their extensive touring in 1996, which was filmed by Jim Jarmusch for the documentary and features a different track listing, so you’d be right to say I’m not entirely accurate to include it in this list. However, my guidelines are loosey goosey, and Neil Young has the power for me to except. And except I shall. 

3. Orbital & Michael Kamen – Event Horizon

Best soundtracks of 1997: Event Horizon soundtrack by Michael Kamen and Orbital

Sometimes turds can be flaming. If you absolutely had to experience one, you’d definitely prefer the turd that is just a turd, but once it starts flaming you’re prone to getting really annoyed. This film was poop on fire. Any of you that got roped into watching this one, I’m sorry for your losses. There was so much potential with “Event Horizon”, only to be flushed down the rotten toilet. Then again, you have the music! The Hartnoll Brothers teamed up with soundtrack veteran Michael Kamen and created something truly special despite the optical nightmares that accompanied it, and gave us reason to go back and revisit an otherwise forgettable 1997 film. The soundtrack explores classical themes, yet incorporates electronics for some truly impressive and futuristic (at the time) appeal. For those of you who wore blindfolds during this movie, well, you were the winners. The Hartnolls and Kamen surely watched the movie and wretched, responding by making the ultimate philanthropic gesture by creating the opposite effect with their music. 

2. Various Artists – Jackie Brown

Best soundtracks of 1997: Jackie Brown soundtrack

This is just a no-brainer, isn’t it? Quentin Tarantino calmly responded to the popularity of “Pulp Fiction” with the greatest movie he’s ever made, and a big slice of that greatness can be attributed to the soundtrack. Never has an environment been so painstakingly created and fleshed out by using music as a natural extension to the atmosphere as you’ll find in “Jackie Brown”.  Some songs are familiar, and some aren’t, but one thing that holds true is you’ll never hear these songs the same way again. Tarantino has a knack for owning the songs he uses, and this soundtrack’s excellence is probably only an example of how one person’s vision can impact the power of a film’s overall delivery. But who cares? Watching the film only makes one want to listen to the soundtrack on its own, and vice versa — isn’t this what great soundtracks are all about?

1. Biosphere – Insomnia

Best soundtracks of 1997: Insomnia No Peace For The Wicked by Biosphere

Sometimes a film and its music succeed on all points, giving viewers and listeners reason to celebrate the harmony and understanding between all creators involved. Other times, these moments act as a seedling for all future creations to base themselves upon, evolving new standards from their ideas, and reminding us all that soundtracks need not be loaded with pessimism and doubt regarding the artist’s intentions. Biosphere’s soundtrack for “Insomnia” stands as one of the best soundtracks ever released, and naturally, enhances groundwork laid by artists like Brian Eno before, thusly creating opportunities for soundtrack artists we love today, like Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter. Stark ambiance and dark moods are the order of the day here, and you’ll most likely end up listening to the music on its own far more than experiencing it in the movie itself.  The majority of you have probably only seen the Americanized version of this film, with Robin Williams nanoo-nanooing across a swathe of Alaskan wilderness while Al Pacino attempts to stay awake acting opposite Hilary Swank. Eh, it’s not a bad remake, all in all. But you’re ripping yourself off by not watching the Norwegian original as it’s a better movie, and features this glorious music, originally written and performed specifically for the film. It’s rare, but lining up all the elements and hitting them perfectly can happen once in a while, and those aspects hit hard with Biosphere’s Insomnia soundtrack. 

Add these classic soundtracks of 1997 to your collection now!