I’m just going to put it out there: Y’all don’t know nothin’ about movie soundtracks. I can’t remember the last movie I went to where I came out of the theater wanting to go straight to the record store to buy the soundtrack. In fact, the last time I felt that way, there were still record stores to go to. I’m talking about movies where the soundtrack and the lyrics to the soundtrack actually had something to do with the movie – not movies where record companies made deals so that their artists’ songs would be played throughout the movie. But y’all don’t know what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about movie soundtracks that were sometimes more popular than the movie – that if you didn’t have them in your record collection, your friends would talk about you like you were crazy. The Academy Award-winning theme from “Shaft” made people want to go see the movie. And if you saw the movie first, you knew the music was something special.
The genius of a brilliant soundtrack album – yes, I said “album” – is that it often outlives the popularity of the movie. Thirty-something years later, the songs still sound as fresh as they did back then, even though the movie itself is pretty dated.
Curtis Mayfield struck gold when he created the soundtrack for the movie “SuperFly.” If you listened to the soundtrack and opened up the cover and looked at all the pictures, you felt like you had been to see the movie. The soundtrack wasn’t just a bunch of good songs; it actually told a story. I know plenty of people who never saw the movie niho know the entire soundtrack, including the lyrics to “Pusher Man,” which were very controversial back in the 70s: “I’m your mama/I’m your daddy/I’m that n***a in the alley/I’m your pusher man.” Oh, I know that’s pretty mild by today’s standards. If you watched the BET Awards and heard all those bleeps, just know that your kids know the real words and sing them when you aren’t around.
“Claudine” was another great soundtrack album. Once you heard Gladys Knight and the Pips sing “On and On,” you couldn’t get out of your head. The movie “Sparkle” wasn’t the biggest box office success in the world, but Aretha Franklin’s soundtrack from the movie (also written by Curtis Mayfield) is still a classic. “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” has been redone by EnVogue, and “Look into Your Heart” was redone by Whitney Houston, and they were hits all over again!
For a period in the 70s, it seemed like every black film had at least one lasting hit. “The Mack” brought us “Brother’s Gonna Work it Out” by Willie Hutch; Curtis Mayfield did it again on “Let’s Do it Again” with the title hit from the Staple Singers. Cooley High’s “How Can I Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” still gives you goose bumps even if you haven’t seen the movie in 20 years.
For me, the last great movie soundtrack was from “The Five Heartbeats.” “A Heart is a House for Love” is a cut that was crucial to the movie itself and went on to be a big commercial hit.
You can call me, text me and tweet me about “Jason’s Lyric,” “New Jack City,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Boomerang” — I know the hits. But I will still argue that a great soundtrack is more than a list of songs you heard in the movie that are also available on CD. A great soundtrack is defined by how the music in the movie moved you – and whether the song is forever connected to the film and the film forever connected to the song.