Long before The Great Gatsby, when Jay-Z was a young rapper and the people who invented Lana Del Rey were still in preschool, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack taught a generation how to love (or how to become completely obsessed with a bunch of songs they heard in a movie). On the occasion of The Great Gatsby soundtrack — Luhrmann’s latest star-studded effort — please join Vulture as we remember our favorite songs from Romeo + Juliet. You can have two, if you want. (Everyone hearts “Lovefool.”)
“Lovefool” – The Cardigans
Kyle Buchanan: I love the fuzzy-spooky feel of “Lovefool” and the way it lodges itself in your brain, takes a slow and languorous bath, and generally refuses to come back out. The song had actually been out for a few months off the Cardigans’ own record before it got called up to the big leagues by Baz, and it’s barely used in the movie (you’ll hear a scrap of it when the nurse meets with Romeo), but it’s so fucking delicious that it’s got to be my favorite song on this soundtrack. And if you can get a group of friends to serve as your backup singers, it’s a pretty killer karaoke track, too.
“Talk Show Host” – Radiohead
Amanda Dobbins: This is not even about the song (although it’s a very good song, and Radiohead is a very good band. Please don’t yell at me). This is about the four chords — those perfect, depressive, seared-into-my-memory chords — that announce the arrival of one Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo. Do you remember the moment when you realized that your life could amount to something more than homework and dance class, that you, too, might one day meet a super-hot boy and make out a bunch and get your heart broken and then write kind of embarrassing emo poetry that opens with the lines “I want to/I want to be someone else or I’ll explode”? I do. It was when “Talk Show Host” started playing.
“Little Star” – Stina Nordenstam
Lindsey Weber: What a weird little song, played smack between Mercutio’s big Death Scene and the part where Leo really sticks it to John Leguizamo. Stina Nordenstam is somewhat of a poor man’s Björk, and you can barely hear the intricacies of “Little Star” in the film, although it fits perfectly with Juliet’s mini monologue: “Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.” On the soundtrack, it comes between Radiohead and the Wannadies — and I don’t think anyone actually listened to it outside of that R+J song sandwich. I certainly didn’t, and would taunt friends with my own impression, “leeeetle staaaahhrr,” at the peak of our collective Romeo + Juliet fandom.
“Kissing You” – Des’Ree
Amanda Dobbins: “Kissing You” was the No. 1 Slow-Dance song for the entirety of my junior-high experience, which is to say, it was the No. 1 Stand on the Side of the Room While Other People Slow-Dance and Think About How Dreamy Leo Looked Through That Fish Tank song. (Which he did; only 1997-era Leo could make Astronaut Paul Rudd seem like a herb.) By eighth grade, I could imitate every weird vibrato and accent quirk in Des’Ree’s sort of astonishing performance, so if anyone knows Des’Ree, please send along my formal apology. Also say thank you: This song still slays me.
“#1 Crush” – Garbage
Gilbert Cruz: This is the first song on the soundtrack, and it starts (and thusly the entire album starts) with the sound of a woman moaning in ecstasy. For a teenage boy — as I was in 1996 — that sound was half “oh yeah, I wanna hear more of that” and half “I can’t imagine I will ever hear such a sound in real life.” I was hooked. That’s the first five seconds of the song. The rest of the tune is killer. Listening to it now, the entire thing has an incredibly sinister undertone, and it’s clearly about an obsessive, possibly a stalker. Back then, to a teenager, it was a badass love anthem. I blame the darkly fantastic bass line that kicks in at the fifteen-second mark. I blame my then-crush on fierce redhead lead singer Shirley Manson. I blame the creepy-cool choir that speckles the song and closes out its final minute. I blame the line, repeated twice, “And I will never be ignored.” Except, and I just realized this for the first time listening to it recently, the second time the line is repeated, Manson says, “And I CAN never be ignored.” It’s a scarier song than I remembered.
“Young Hearts Run Free” – Kym Mazelle
Lindsey Weber: The wonderful “Young Hearts Run Free,” a disco track through-and-through that’s set apart by congruently having the world’s saddest lyrics. If you just went by the music, you’d miss layers of agony and the story of a woman scorned, cheated on by her husband and left with their babies. It’s perfect for karaoke, alongside other equally depressing disco hits (Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,” Donna Summer’s, “Last Dance”), and perfect for Romeo + Juliet — played during the Capulet’s ball, when Mercutio (in full drag) takes to the stage, out of his mind on drugs. He’s not dead yet, but will be soon. When I first heard “Young Hearts Run Free,” I’d never heard the original disco version (as sung by Candi Staton in 1976), but Kym Mazelle’s cover on the R+J soundtrack simultaneously provided me with the utmost joy while ripping apart my insides: “Young hearts, run free. Never be hung up, hung up like my man and me.” God, that’s the best advice.