The Great Onscreen Music Extravaganza

October 7th, 2012 by Ran

Something happened on October 7th. I don’t know what it was exactly, but the number of musicians and musically-inclined people who were born on this day transgresses any logical explanation. You would think that John Lennon, who was born on the 9th would hog all the musical talent of this week, but I guess he left some for others. Plus, the list is not only long, it’s also very diverse, crossing different musical genres and epochs. I guess the music gods had a party that day (and possibly an orgy). So to honor this extraordinarily musical (birth)day, I’ve compiled a list of good titles, each boasting a soundtrack that fits one of the musicians born on this day. Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, I’ll be with you all the way.

Pop

Relevant Musicians Born: Simon Cowell (more musician-basher than musician, but whatever), Taylor Hicks, Michael W. Smith (popular Christian pop singer, apparently)

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Recommended Title: Ally McBeal (1997 – 2002)

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This courtroom TV series had a big emphasis on music. From Barry White, through the dancing-baby song, to the after-work piano bar, each episode featured lots of music from different genres. Beside catapulting the career of the then-unknown Vonda Shepard (who since disappeared back into obscurity), every song that was featured on the show got a huge popularity boost. Whether it’s The Walrus of Love himself, Hooked on a Feeling, Short People, and many more…

Soul

Musician: Toni Braxton

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Recommended Title: The Big Chill (1983)

Never have I heard such a black soundtrack to such a white film (well, maybe not since The Commitments… and that was set in Ireland, so it doesn’t count). Including songs from Soul and R&B legends like Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, and Martha and the Vandellas, it’s a pity there’s not a black guy to be seen. On the flip side, a token black person would have probably ruined the film. Nevertheless, the score seems to fit perfectly with the film, starting with “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and peaking with the Temptations’ Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

Alternative

Musician: Thom Yorke

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Recommended Title: Submarine (2010)

Radiohead’s frontman has successfully guided his band, from Creep-y beginnings in 1992 with one of the best albums of the nineties (or the best ever, depending who you ask) and a controversial foray into Electronica, all the way to the top of Alternative Mountain. Since 2002, Alex Turner, the frontman for Arctic Monkeys, has also been leading his band to fame and critical acclaim with a less gloomy, more garagy rock sound. Along the way, he made a beautiful soundtrack for this British coming of age comedy-drama, directed by The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade. Turner successfully subdued his rockiness to fit the bittersweet mood of the film, never overshadowing the visuals.

Country

Musician: Kieran Kane

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Recommended Title: Nashville (1975)

Kane is an Alt-Country singer songwriter, who was born in New York but went on to form the Nashville-based indie country label Dead Reckoning. Robert Altman’s ensemble film is a masterpiece. So, they have a lot in common. This film is one of master Altman’s most accomplished films, with the usual cleverness and talkiness, but let me warn you about one thing:  if you’re not a fan of Country music, you just might change your mind and stop looking down on it.

Rock

Musician: John Cougar Mellencamp

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Recommended Title: High Fidelity (2000)

Mellencamp is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, with an important body of work. Similarly (not really), the main character in Stephen Frears’ comedy (John Cusack) has a huge record collection (autobiographically ordered). This is another film whose soundtrack can fit different genres, and I chose Rock thanks to a cameo appearance by The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. Overall, this is a great film for music aficionados, but it’s also a romantic comedy for everyone, funny and clever like Nick Hornby’s novel on which it is based.

Folk

Musician: John Mellencamp (again)

Recommended Title: No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (1983)

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Bob Dylan needs no introduction, but he sure does need movies to be made about him. Martin Scorsese’s documentary, as part of the American Masters series, tries to chronicle the enigmatic singer’s evolution, in music and identity. From folk singer to protest singer, to his controversial switch to rock. Leave it to Scorsese to provide an entertaining and informative look on one of the most important and influential musicians of the 20th century.

Electronica

Musician: Steven Ellison (AKA Flying Lotus)

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Recommended Title: Drive (2011)

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For those of you who haven’t heard of this guy, Flying Lotus is one of the most promising Electronica artists today, winning the Dance/Electronica Album category in 2011’s Independent Music Awards. He’s definitely a name to remember. His warm and atmospheric sound would be perfect for Nicholas Winding Refn’s amazing crime thriller. The last director who succeeded in assembling so many styles and influences into one film while creating his own is probably Quentin Tarantino, so that’s not bad company.

Hip Hop

Musician Born: Flying Lotus (again)

Recommended Title: Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (2011)

The rise and fall (and comeback tour) of one of Hip Hop’s greatest bands is depicted inthis documentary by Michael Rapaport. A Tribe Called Quest created their own style. They were not Gangsta; they were not bling; they were not aggressive, but slick and witty. They used Jazz, and different kinds of music, and they had a musical genius as a leader, Q-Tip. As with many bands, egos got in the way, mainly the genius’ ego. But hey, you’ll see that there was no other way this story could have been unfolded, considering the people involved. It’s a great story, not only for Hip Hop fans.

Classical

Musicians: Yo-Yo Ma and Chinese Pianist Yundi Lee

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Recommended Title: The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

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Whether it’s thanks to his catchy name, ubiquity or crossover obsessions (or the Colbert bump, maybe), you’ve probably heard about Yo-Yo Ma, even if you don’t know anything about Classical music. The legendary cellist would also fit into Guy Maddin’s offbeat musical about a music contest to decide what the saddest music in the world is, one of the contestants being a cellist (which is definitely one of the saddest instruments there are). Maddin’s idiosyncratic melodramatic comedy is in full display here, accompanied by great visual style.

Jazz

Musician: Yo-Yo Ma (again)

Recommended Title: Louie (2010)

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While I admit my choice of musician is a bit forced here, my choice of title is anything but. FX’s comedy series about the life of comedian Louis C. K. has a a surprisingly prominent soundtrack; plus, most of it is original (written by Matt Kilmer). Two things work to the advantage of the score: a) The series is based in New York, and Jazz and NYC go together like the Mets and losing. b) the minimalistic and clean look fits the genre perfectly (like evil fits the Yankees). I didn’t expect to enjoy Louie’s music, but now I’m waiting for the soundtrack album to drop.

Oldies

Musician: Vaughn Monroe (who? This guy)

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Recommended Title: Wild at Heart (1990)

Let me get this out of the way: Vaugn Monroe was a big-band leader, singer and trumpeter… Whatever, let’s get to the movie. David Lynch’s films are always heavily reliant on  music (usually thanks to composer Angelo Badalamenti), and there’s no exception here. The soundtrack here ranges from Speed Metal, via dark symphonies to Elvis, who is the idol of Nicholas Cage’s character. If you want to remember Cage in his good old days, and be impressed with his singing (and also because this is a great f****ing movie), watch it!

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