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somewhere in time

25 Hugely Popular Soundtracks That Somehow Never Hit No. 1

Last week, I put some miles on my DeLorean GIF, traveling through the last 30 years checking out the soundtracks to hit No. 1 since the reign of Purple Rain. It got you guys talking! It got me Spotifying! So, for this week’s installment of Somewhere in Time, I’m following it up with a look at 25 other significant, hit-spawning soundtracks from the past 30 years that, for one reason or another, failed to make it to the top of the charts, even though it seemed like you and everyone you know listened to them all the time. (I’m also including, way at the end, two soundtracks that did hit number one but that I failed to include last time because I’m only human, guys.) We begin on a chilly Chicagoland Saturday morning in 1985 …

The Breakfast Club (1985) 

  • Synopsis: Troubled kids smoke pot in detention, somehow avoid panic attacks. 
  • Monster hit: “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Simple Minds
  • Weirdest moment: “We Are Not Alone,” Karla DeVito (if only for the very bad banister-dancing it inspires). 
  • Most on-the-nose track:Reggae (Instrumental),” Keith Forsey, which predictably scores the weed-smoking scene. 
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Not with four instrumentals, plus tracks from Jesse Johnson, E.G. Daily, and Joyce Kennedy, no. (Though Wang Chung’s “Fire in the Twilight” bears revisiting.)
  • What it tells us about 1985: John Hughes was learning his lessons, soundtrack-wise. 

Pretty in Pink (1986) 

  • Synopsis: Molly Ringwald designs dress, Annie Potts rhapsodizes over teenage butt, Jon Cryer and James Spader discover thing they’ll be doing for rest of careers.
  • Monster hit: “If You Leave,” OMD
  • Weirdest moment: A limp version of Nik Kershaw’s “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Danny Hutton Hitters, a group led by a former member of Three Dog Night. You know, as the teens of 1986 demanded.
  • Most on-the-nose track: There’s the Psychedelic Furs’ song that inspired the film’s title, and then there’s Suzanne Vega’s “Left of Center,” which seems like it inspired the screenplay.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? New Order? The Smiths? Echo and the Bunnymen? This is the most auto-reverse-worthy soundtrack of all time, especially if — like some of us crafty home-tapers — you subbed in the original “Wouldn’t It Be Good.” 
  • What it tells us about 1986: John Hughes had learned his lesson, and indie-minded ’80s teens got a lovely ’80s indie sampler platter. 

Less Than Zero (1987) 

  • Synopsis: “Adaptation” comes to mean “total subversion.” 
  • Monster hits: The Bangles’ cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter” and LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali.”
  • Weirdest moment: Aerosmith kicking the whole thing off with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” 
  • Most on-the-nose track: Slayer’s cover of “In a Gadda Da Vida.”
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? This one is too all over the place not to skip around, but I hope you lingered on Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.” An Andrew McCarthy ABC Afterschool Special interpretation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel is a weird way for the world to have been introduced to PE, but that was the ’80s for you.
  • What it tells us about 1987: There was a market for an evil version of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.

Cocktail (1988) 

  • Synopsis: Tom Cruise tends bar at massive New York City club that falls silent for occasional poetry, nation does not so much suspend disbelief as cancel it entirely. 
  • Monster hit: The Beach Boys, “Kokomo”; Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy
  • Weirdest moment: “Kokomo”; “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
  • Most on-the-nose track: The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Powerful Stuff
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin might be the least irritating tracks on this compilation.
  • What it tells us about 1988: Tom Cruise could pretty much make us go see anything.

When Harry Met Sally ... (1989) 

  • Synopsis: Harry and Sally meet, bicker, smooch.
  • Monster hit: Harry Connick Jr.’s rendition of “It Had to Be You”
  • Weirdest moment: Looking back and realizing there was a time before Harry Connick Jr.
  • Most on-the-nose track:Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Lazy wedding DJs do that very thing to this day.
  • What it tells us about 1989: The appearance of sophistication was one CD purchase away.

Pretty Woman (1990) 

  • Synopsis: She saves him right back. 
  • Monster hit: Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” (although Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking” has aged better, and we all know it).
  • Weirdest moment: David Bowie’s unnecessary reboot of “Fame ’90,” presented here without the Queen Latifah rap break.
  • Most on-the-nose track: Natalie Cole, “Wild Women Do
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? If you could, I bet you were the kind of person who owned fewer than ten CDs, and all of them were soundtracks or greatest-hits compilations.
  • What it tells us about 1990: We could not pick our singles. Jane Wiedlin’s “Tangled” is the lost classic of 1990.

The Commitments (1991) 

  • Synopsis: Declan makes much more credible Otis Redding than Duckie.
  • Monster hit: “Try a Little Tenderness.” Fandannnnngo.
  • Weirdest moment: Realizing future Once and Swell Season star Glen Hansard and every one of the Corrs are in this band. 
  • Most on-the-nose track:Destination Anywhere” 
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Yes. Let’s do it now. I’ll bring the Jameson.
  • What it tells us about 1991: At the dawn of Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, we briefly craved a grubbier strain of R&B.

New Jack City (1991) 

  • Synopsis: Crack dealer Snipes versus undercover cop Ice-T, with Judd Nelson still famous enough to be in the mix.
  • Monster hit: Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”
  • Weirdest moment: Color Me Badd, “I Wanna Sex You Up”
  • Most on-the-nose track: Either “New Jack Hustler” by Ice-T or “New Jack City” by Guy, led by Teddy Riley, the godfather of New Jack Swing. Take your New Jack pick.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? I feel like you either bought this for the Ice-T track or the Color Me Badd, and either way, you were in for a surprise. No.
  • What it tells us about 1991: We were dressing like Kadeem Hardison on A Different World

Singles (1992) 

  • Synopsis: Touch Matt Dillon, he’s Dick.
  • Monster hit: Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart,” Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You,” and Alice in Chains’ “Would?” all got tons of play on the “alternative” stations that were then brand-new.
  • Weirdest moment: Cameron Crowe’s then-wife Nancy Wilson and Nancy’s sister Ann, appearing here as the Lovemongers, with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore”
  • Most on-the-nose track: All of them.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? This is an impeccably curated soundtrack. A grunge mixtape. A Seattle sampler. Yes.
  • What it tells us about 1992: Our soul patches were coming in nicely.

Beverly Hills, 90210 (1992)

  • Synopsis: Fox cashes in just before 9-0’s huge third season. 
  • Monster hit:Saving Forever for You,” by Shanice, which went to No. 4 and then immediately deleted itself from our collective memory.
  • Weirdest moment: Hidden among early ’90s sensations Color Me Badd, Paula Abdul, and Jeremy Jordan, there’s a Michael McDonald/Chaka Khan duet! Did Jim and Cindy have a story line in season three or something?
  • Most on-the-nose track: “Theme From Beverly Hills, 90210,” John Davis
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Oh, my goodness, no.
  • What it tells us about 1992: There was power in the sideburn.

Reality Bites (1994)

  • Synopsis: Artsy post-grads enjoy the last five minutes before the internet. 
  • Monster hit:Stay (I Missed You),” Lisa Loeb
  • Weirdest moment:Revival!” Me Phi Me, which, frankly, sounds like a really good fraternity.  
  • Most on-the-nose track:I’m Nothin’” by Ethan Hawke as Troy, lead singer of Hey, That’s My Bike. Troy would say things like “I’m bursting with fruit flavor” as a sarcastic way of saying he was enthused. Troy was kind of the worst. Can we admit this now?
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Oh, I did. Me Phi Me and all.
  • What it tells us about 1994: Alternative radio was at the peak of its dominance. The Indians sounded like plausible hit-makers. The mid-’90s was the best of times for rock music. How did we end the decade with Staind?

Pulp Fiction (1994)

  • Synopsis: Quentin Tarantino gives world a look into his mind, world has several episodes of severe anxiety. 
  • Monster hit:Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill was the single, but we all remember Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” better.
  • Weirdest moment: Maria McKee’s “If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)” 
  • Most on-the-nose track: Seven whole tracks of dialogue, honey bunny!
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Those dialogue tracks might have kept this one from selling better, but for Tarantino superfans, they were probably the selling point.
  • What it tells us about 1994: We brought out the gimp.

Clueless (1995)

  • Synopsis: Rich white girl problems, inspired by Jane Austen, humorously retold.
  • Monster hit: “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead, but we all know the real hit was Coolio’s “Rollin' with My Homies”
  • Weirdest moment: “The Ghost in You," a Psychedelic Furs cover by Counting Crows.
  • Most on-the-nose track: A cover of “Kids in America” by the Muffs
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? As if! Whatever.
  • What it tells us about 1995: Cell phones were huge.

Empire Records (1995)

  • Synopsis: Kids work in record store, Coyote Shivers is alternate-universe rock star.
  • Monster hit:’Til I Hear It From You,” Gin Blossoms
  • Weirdest moment:I Don’t Want to Live Today,” Ape Hangers
  • Most on-the-nose track: “Sugar High,” Coyote Shivers
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Toad the Wet Sprocket? Better Than Ezra? The Innocence Mission? This is like someone pulled a mixtape right out of my 1995 cardigan pocket. Put it on repeat now.
  • What it tells us about 1995: Pretty much the same as Reality Bites, so here is where I’ll tell you that both Ethan Embry and Johnny Whitworth go to my gym. Embry is covered in prison tattoos nowadays, but other than that, they have held up wonderfully.

Batman Forever (1995) 

  • Synopsis: Joel Schumacher directed this one, so fuck if I know. 
  • Monster hits:Kiss From a Rose,” Seal; “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” U2
  • Weirdest moment: That moment when a PJ Harvey track goes into a Brandy one.
  • Most on-the-nose track: The Offspring’s cover of the Damned’s “Smash It Up.”
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? It’s like I’ve always said: You’re either a PJ Harvey person or a Brandy person. There is no overlap. No.
  • What it tells us about 1995: We had no idea how much more Batman was in store for us.

Space Jam (1996) 

  • Synopsis: Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, and Bugs Bunny team up to get some WB development guy a bigger house.
  • Monster hit:I Believe I Can Fly,” R. Kelly
  • Weirdest moment:That’s The Way (I Like It)” the unforgettable collaboration between Spin Doctors and Biz Markie
  • Most on-the-nose track:Buggin’,” Bugs Bunny
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? I mean, no.
  • What it tells us about 1996: Cash-ins are timeless.

Trainspotting (1996) 

  • Synopsis: Dead baby crawls on ceiling dead baby crawls on ceiling dead baby crawls on ceiling.
  • Monster hit:Born Slippy,” Underworld
  • Weirdest moment: “Lust for Life” going on to be featured in commercials for products that, if I recall correctly, were not heroin.
  • Most on-the-nose track: “Perfect Day,” Lou Reed
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? YES.
  • What it tells us about 1996: This was as close as we were going to get to trying heroin.

Romeo + Juliet (1996) 

  • Synopsis: Romeo and Juliet meet, flirt, die.
  • Monster hit:Lovefool,” the Cardigans
  • Weirdest moment:Whatever (I Had a Dream),” Butthole Surfers
  • Most on-the-nose track: Gavin Friday’s “Angel
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Yes, and “You and Me Song” by the Wannadies provides a perfect finale. If you need me, I will be listening to that one on repeat.
  • What it tells us about 1996: We had achieved Peak Hit Soundtrack.

Boogie Nights (1997) 

  • Synopsis: Julianne Moore’s porn acting is more on point than most people’s acting-acting.
  • Monster hit: No singles, but for me, “Feel My Heat” endures.
  • Weirdest moment: The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is now inextricably linked with pornography, yet has somehow become more endearing.
  • Most on-the-nose track: None, but I will say I can no longer listen to Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” without expecting firecrackers.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? This is a perfect late-’70s-to-early-’80s mixtape, so yes (depending on your tolerance level for porn and firecrackers).
  • What it tells us about 1997: This was as close as we were going to get to trying cocaine.

Songs From Ally McBeal (1998)

  • Synopsis: Homunculus lawyer be havin’ dream sequences!
  • Monster hit:Searchin My Soul,” Vonda Shepard
  • Weirdest moment: Picturing that bone-chilling dancing baby.
  • Most on-the-nose track: I’ll go with Vonda Shepard’s “Maryland,” even though I’d have sworn this show was set in Boston.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? This is a Vonda Shepard album posing as a soundtrack. No. (Although its Wikipedia page insists: It is a gold record in Poland.)
  • What it tells us about 1998: Somebody was trying to sneak a Vonda Shepard album past us.

Magnolia (1999)

  • Synopsis: Bunch of crazy shit goes down in the Valley.
  • Monster hit:Save Me,” Aimee Mann
  • Weirdest moment: “Wise Up,” Aimee Mann, and the scene in the movie where every character sings along to it. (If weirdest can be taken to mean best, which I have decided it can.)
  • Most on-the-nose track: “Deathly,” Aimee Mann
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Aside from Gabrielle’s “Dreams,” a couple of Supertramp songs, and a Jon Brion instrumental, this is an Aimee Mann album posing as a soundtrack and I’ll take it. Yes.
  • What it tells us about 1999: We were just starting to trust Paul Thomas Anderson after the firecrackers scene in Boogie Nights and then William H. Macy goes and breaks his teeth. Dammit, Anderson!

Lost in Translation (2003) 

  • Synopsis: Sofia Coppola gets last laugh.
  • Monster hit:City Girl,” Kevin Shields, if you listened to a lot of KCRW were my Vulture editor, John Sellers.
  • Weirdest moment: Bill Murray’s karaoke version of Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” a hidden track.
  • Most on-the-nose track: All of it. The whole thing sets one giant, dreamy, sexy tone.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Yes.
  • What it tells us about 2003: Only I know, and I am whispering it into someone’s ear right now.

Garden State (2004) 

  • Synopsis: Zach Braff goes on, like, this journey. NO, SERIOUSLY, HIS CHARACTER SAYS THOSE EXACT WORDS.
  • Monster hit: Although I wouldn’t call any of them singles from the soundtrack, Zero 7’s “In the Waiting Line” and the Shins’ “New Slang” were inescapable that year.
  • Weirdest moment: Realizing the guy who sings “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” is the lead singer of Men at Work.
  • Most on-the-nose track:Such Great Heights,” Iron & Wine
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Yes. Admit it.
  • What it tells us about 2004: We were ever so sensitive.

Music From the O.C. (2004) 

  • Synopsis: Bitches are welcomed to Orange County.
  • Monster hit: “California,” Phantom Planet
  • Weirdest moment:The Way We Get By,” or admitting that this is how I got turned onto Spoon.
  • Most on-the-nose track:We Used to Be Friends,” the Dandy Warhols
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? If you spent an hour in a Hollister in 2004, you probably did.
  • What it tells us about 2004: We were back to joyful rock music for a moment. Phantom Planet? Rooney? Morningwood? Take me back.

Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George, Jack Johnson (2006; this one actually hit #1) 

  • Synopsis: Monkey wants to know
  • Monster hit: “Upside Down”
  • Weirdest moment: My suspicion that the Curious George–Jack Johnson synergy came about because they kind of look alike. 
  • Most on-the-nose track: “The 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).” Or maybe “The Sharing Song.” Or “Hey, I Made Quinoa.” I might have made that last one up. This is a very Jack Johnson album is what I’m saying.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Do you own Brushfire Fairytales? Then you already did!
  • What it tells us about 2006: It’s cool, man.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

  • Synopsis: Emo guy becomes charmingly infatuated with woman-child for roughly a year and a half.
  • Monster hit: None, but it helped bring Hall & Oates nostalgia back into vogue.
  • Weirdest moment: “Bookends,“ Simon & Garfunkel
  • Most on-the-nose track: All of them, but especially “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” as covered by Zooey Deschanel’s musical outfit She & Him.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Certainly.
  • What it tells us about 2009: It was Zooey Deschanel’s world and we were all just living in it.

Glee the Music Vol 3: Showstoppers (2010; this one actually hit #1) 

  • Synopsis: A campy high-school singing troupe does a cappella covers of familiar songs.
  • Monster hit: Everything, as I recall? This was during those heady days when the Glee kids had 14 songs in the top 10 at once.
  • Weirdest moment: “Give Up the Funk.” Glee, I know you, and you do not do funk.
  • Most on-the-nose track: It’s a tie between “Gives You Hell” and “I Dreamed a Dream,” and that’s all you need to know about Glee.
  • Can you listen to it all the way through? Not anymore, probably. Glee betrayed our trust and turned us off, and I blame Ryan Murphy’s short attention span. I mean, Brittney’s Christmas wish is for Artie to walk, so Coach Awfulle (or whatever her name is) anonymously gives him Israeli Army robo-legs, which cost upwards of $100,000, which: Where would she even get that money?, and then we never see those robo-legs again? You can only jerk us around so many times, Murphy.
  • What it tells us about 2010: Seriously, I was surprised he didn’t abandon the AIDS story line 20 minutes into The Normal Heart.