I absolutely hate making ‘Top Ten’ lists or anything of the like because it forces me to pin down a group of things I enjoy and make them pit-fight for priority (and, in this case, makes me trawl YouTube). However, I’m taking a leaf out of Engie’s book as the subject interests me and I’ve never written about it before—so in the spirit of end-of-year-lists (the books are coming soon), here are fifteen of my most adored soundtrack pieces in no particular order!
‘Define Dancing’ – Thomas Newman (WALL-E)
This is my lullaby—as well as loving this movie when I was younger and still thinking it’s one of Pixar’s best, I have a distinct memory of being stressed out and having CP gently put headphones in my ears that were playing this. It’s so soothing and weightless, it really does make you feel like you’re defying gravity and dancing among the stars.
‘Science is Fun’ – Aperture Science Psychoacoustics Laboratory (Portal 2)
Remember that time I actually played and finished a video game? And it was quite glorious. I love this track especially, though I don’t even think it features that heavily in the game itself—it captures the fun, bounce and underlying drama and tension of the story and the gameplay itself. ‘Robots FTW’, which plays when you complete the two-player co-op mode, is even more fun, without the looming threat of sciencey doom. But that is a song for triumph, and this is one for build-up, and my does it build up well.
‘The Winter Soldier’ – Henry Jackman (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
As well as being a fantastic background to fight scenes, the song is an excellent piece of character-building for The Winter Soldier himself. He has virtually no dialogue and is wearing a mask and muzzle for the first chunk of the movie, so essentially he speaks through the music—it’s mechanical, industrial, haunting, and builds to a crashing crescendo after a long, slow, quiet and menacing build-up, just like the introduction of his character. The big melodies lurk and growl in the corners and undertones of the track until the very end, where everything hits the fan and there are violins and machinery and people screaming. Certainly atmospheric as hell.
‘Sis Puella Magica’ – Yuki Kajiura (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
The main theme of the show, you could even say—and it sets the tone for it so well. Even before (what should not be a spoiler by this point if you’re a regular reader) the bass drops and we discover this is not a cutesy magical girl show or world at all, this track fits and is magical, entrancing and slightly unnerving, almost hypnotic, as if it’s inviting you too, dear viewer, to become a magical girl. It’s haunting and lovely at the same time and serves as perfect atmospheric backing for the series.
‘Overture/And All That Jazz’ – Paul Bogaev (Chicago)
A sneaky entry considering that this was a musical first, but as the 2002 movie adaptation is a beautiful creature in its own right I figure it owns a place here. As an overture should, it gives you a taste of the full chaos and fun of the story, with turbulent jazz fading into the sultry tones of Velma Kelly (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones—who, like the other stars, did their own singing! And sung well!) which then in turn slowly builds up until we’re caught in the romantic, dazzling and slightly seedy swing and clash of murder and music.
‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ – Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean)
I always forget about these movies and how much I adore them until I rewatch them, and I always forget how pumped I get to leap off my balcony onto a ship and set sail for the swashbuckling adventures I loved as a kid when I hear the main theme. Bring me that horizon!
‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ – Lorde (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1)
Not a ‘soundtrack’ piece in terms of being instrumental and featured in the movie itself, I suppose, but I really want it on here because a) I need to embody my Mockingjay hype, and b) it’s a very well put-together song that goes hand-in-hand with The Hunger Games tremendously well. If not Katniss, it still tells the story and builds a picture of a girl manipulated and honed into something beautiful and broken, “a princess cut from marble” with scars of “silver and gold” and ruby blood. Her pain, and her very existence, is objectified and made into something desirable to other people. And as the music really hits, you can almost picture this stone princess breaking out of her casing and storming out on a fiery rampage of revenge.
I have heard many ‘swagger down a hallway’ musical pieces in my time, but this is the first that inspires me to swagger down a hallway in a plugsuit ready to board a giant robot and punch a giant alien in the face. Or, cutting out the middle man, swagger down a hallway in a giant robot. When Ramin Djawadi hits on a good melody, he hits on it hard and plays with it for all its worth—this can make his soundtracks overall a little repetitive, but when you listen to the pure, full-powered incarnations of them all you can do is sit in awe. While wanting to go cancel an apocalypse, while swaggering.
‘Let the Stars Fall Down’ – Yuki Kajiura (Fate/Zero)
And no one is surprised. Honestly, though, Ms. Kajiura is the real hero here. The entire soundtrack is gold (see also: ‘The Battle is to the Strong’ and ‘Dogfight’ and of course her lovely remixing of ‘Sword of the Promised Victory’), but I enjoy this piece in particular because it’s so upbeat and fantastical. It sweeps you up in it and gives you that shiver of emotional involvement and epic adventure, and is by far the most fun incarnation of this recurring melody before everything kind of properly goes to hell in the story.
‘Derezzed’ – Daft Punk (Tron Legacy)
A breathtakingly mediocre movie with an incredible soundtrack.
‘Blumenkranz’ – Hiroyuki & Rie Sawano (Kill La Kill)
Sometimes I reflect on the fact that I ended up watching this entire show and can’t quite figure out how that happened. In any case, ridiculousness aside, it had an interesting and very catchy soundtrack. Why this one in particular sticks with me I’m uncertain of, though what always hooks me is the building tension of the electronic beats at the start. Then it smooths out into this hypnotic German ballad that manages to be both beautiful and ominous and weird. I also shudder a bit every time I hear and enjoy it because it’s the villain’s theme, and if I’m enchanted by it I’ve already fallen prey to her plans.
Young and Beautiful – Lana Del Rey (The Great Gatsby)
Like ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ this one is cheating slightly by being a radio song hiding out on a film score, but also like ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ it captures the atmosphere of the story it’s in while narrating an underlying secondary one if you care to look. There’s just something heartbreaking about this piece, slow, lazy and lovelorn and orchestral as it is, as it asks “Will you still love me when I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?” She won’t, Gatsby. Pro tip. Run now before it ends in disaster.
‘The King’s Arrival’ – Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones)
This track is two different versions of the same melody—and in so, captures two sides of the show itself. The first half is all the quiet stepping around, the political drama, the character interplay, the set-up… the second is the epic fantasy, the majesty and scope, the breathtaking, spine-tingling wonder that makes you, while listening to it, want to ride towards a castle with a cape and a horse. Hopefully not any of the actual castles in Westeros though, since you probably wouldn’t be very safe there.
‘Guns ‘n’ Roses’ – Paradise Lunch (Baccano!)
Smooth and chaotic jazz once again! Ah but how I love the opening song and main theme for Baccano!, which is as entrancing as it is swingy and really hooks you into the fun and mania of the show before it even begins.
‘Theme for Scanty and Kneesocks’ – Teddyloid (Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt)
I have not actually watched this show, but one day I will and will subsequently have my eyeballs blown back into my skull. While, of course, my ears are partying.
‘Kingdom Dance’ – Alan Menken (Tangled)
Another Disney/Pixar nice-feelings-only-now-please song that is uplifting and adventurous, and colourful like flowers on a breeze and a montage through a beautiful new place.
Merry Christmas or whatever you wish to celebrate this time of year, and if you celebrate nothing in particular, I hope you have an excellent day anyway!