Soundtracks to TV shows continue to be stiff competition for movie soundtracks. While most TV shows incorporate music as mere background or to fill in the space between scenes, the NBC series Smash uses music as an essential component. The premise of the series involves a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. The songs from the musical (and the first two seasons of the series) can be found on Bombshell: The New Marilyn Musical from Smash (Columbia). Featuring smashing original music by queer Tony/Grammy winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and performances by regular cast members Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Debra Messing, Christian Borle, and Leslie Odom Jr., as well as guest diva Bernadette Peters, Bombshell is explosive. Tunes such as the gorgeous “Hang the Moon” and the catchy “History Is Made at Night” have (smash) hit potential.
Same-sex marriage supporter/straight ally Lena Dunham, the indie filmmaker (Tiny Furniture) turned cable series superstar, is the brains behind the brilliant series Girls on HBO. A series as daring as this deserves a soundtrack equal to its impact, and Girls—Volume 1: Music from the HBO Original Series (Fueled by Ramen) comes close to filling the bill. Opening with Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” a perfect anthem for the show, the disc consists of tracks by of-the-moment acts such as Icona Pop, Lia Ices, Fleet Foxes, and Oh Land. With exclusive tunes including “Sight of the Sun” by fun. (featuring Dunham’s beau Jack Antonoff) and Santigold’s delirium-inducing “Girls,” the soundtrack sounds like what you’d expect to hear on any of the cast members’ iTunes playlists.
The hipster movie soundtrack title goes to Silver Linings Playbook: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Sony Classical). From its Danny Elfman opener “Silver Linings Titles” to selections by Eagles of Death Metal and Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash, this soundtrack scores. Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” (which features prominently in the storyline) can be found alongside new tracks by Alabama Shakes (the hip-shaker “Always Alright”), Jessie J (the showy Diane Warren composition “Silver Lining”), and Alt-J, not to mention a reimagining of “Goodnight Moon” by former Shivaree front-woman Amanda Parsley & the Elegant Too.
A cool soundtrack of its day, Bye Bye Birdie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Masterworks Broadway), from the 1963 movie starring Ann-Margret, Dick Van Dyke, and Janet Leigh, is still hip for the way it worked rock and roll into the traditional movie musical format. Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Birdie tells the story of Elvis-like rock-and-roller Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) in the days before his military induction and the effect that it had on his rabid fans, including Kim (Ann-Margret) and her friends. Bye Bye Birdie also comments on the generation gap (“Kids,” featuring the late gay actor Paul Lynde, is a classic) and foretells the present-day cell phone/texting obsession (“The Telephone Hour”). If you’re in the mood for period camp, say hello to Bye Bye Birdie.
West of Memphis: Voices for Justice (Legacy) is the soundtrack to the doc about the miscarriage of justice surrounding the so-called West Memphis Three (including writer/activist Damien Echols). As one might expect, this soundtrack features the voices of performers known for their political consciousness, including Henry Rollins, Natalie Maines (of Dixie Chicks fame), Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, and Lucinda Williams. As a stand-alone recording, West of Memphis: Voices for Justice is quite powerful, and when paired with the documentary, it’s a volatile combination.
It’s hard to imagine a composer more suited to creating the score for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln than John Williams. After all, Williams knew Lincoln (that’s a joke—he’s only 81!). The multi-Oscar-winning composer’s scores for films (including several Spielberg collaborations) such as Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Harry Potter movies, and Schindler’s List are the stuff of legends. The stunning (and naturally Oscar-nominated) Lincoln: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Sony Classical), performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, easily joins the ranks of Williams’s best work.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.