vulture lists

10 Best Single-Artist Soundtracks Ever

Getty Images, Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Prince)

Next weekend, Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated American Gangster hits theaters, and with it comes a new record from Jay-Z, who liked the film so much that he decided to come out of non-retirement (again!) and write a soundtrack. Will it be any good? Given his recent output, who knows! But even if it’s a return to form, we’re pretty sure it still won’t be as great as any of the albums on our list of the Ten Best Single-Artist Soundtracks of All Time. (Update: It leaked — turns out it’s actually pretty great!) The rules: The record must be credited to a single artist or entity (sorry, Magnolia and Saturday Night Fever), songs must be written specifically for the movie (our condolences, Simon & Garfunkel’s soundtrack to The Graduate), and it can’t be from a concert film (like you had a chance anyway, Rattle and Hum). Also, the Beatles were not considered, since they always win everything. How did we do? Did we leave off your favorite? Sound off in our brand-new comments section!

10. Curious George
Jack Johnson

It’s easy to make fun of surfer-folkie Jack Johnson, but the producers of kid flick Curious George made a smart choice when they asked him to write the music for this animated tale of a monkey and his man. Johnson’s charming, simple lullabies provide nice counterpoint for the movie’s lush animation, and the album is a marvel of sweet children’s music — including a finger-picked version of the White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends.”

9. She’s the One
Tom Petty

Why Petty chose to make his best album of the nineties the soundtrack to a mostly forgettable Jennifer Aniston comedy we may never know. But the unfussy production, casual arrangements, and perfect pop songs — plus a wholly reverent cover of Beck’s “Asshole” — have kept it on our iPods, even if the movie never made it into our Netflix queue.

8. Josie and the Pussycats
Matthew Sweet

Much like Tara Reid’s sex appeal, the film version of the seventies cartoon has long faded from our collective memory. Now if only we could get the cranium-conquering power-pop soundtrack — written by Sweet and sung by Letters to Cleo’s Kate Hanley (and not Rachel Leigh Cook as the filmmakers would have you believe) — out of our heads too.

7. The Virgin Suicides

Sofia Coppola’s debut, about a family of mysterious girls and the boys who loved them in seventies Michigan, uses period songs, of course, but the movie’s score is by French electronic duo Air. The resultant album is spooky, lushly romantic, and filled with the spirit of the era: cheesy yet majestic, overblown but totally sincere.

6. About a Boy
Badly Drawn Boy

Damon Gough, who records as Badly Drawn Boy, has recorded a lot of mediocre music in his time, but he found a most unlikely inspiration in Chris Weitz’s underrated Hugh Grant comedy. Catchy and breezy but with an understated melancholy, the songs in About a Boy establish the movie’s wistful tone with perfect pitch — which is why you’ve heard the opening credits song, “Something to Talk About,” in about 1,000 trailers and TV commercials since then.

5. Ghost Dog

Wu-Tang Clan honcho RZA’s chilly, precise beats provide the perfect accompaniment to Jim Jarmusch’s quirky portrait of a pigeon-keeping samurai assassin. The movie circles around Forest Whitaker the way a hit man eyes his prey; RZA’s cycling, repetitive score adds a layer of menacing grandeur, like a more dangerous Philip Glass.

4. One From the Heart
Tom Waits

Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary folly — a musical set in Las Vegas, filmed entirely on soundstages, costing $25 million to make but earning less than a million dollars in theaters — is redeemed by the gorgeous songs written by Tom Waits and sung by Waits and Crystal Gayle. This sequence from the end of the movie, played quietly to the tune of Waits and Gayle singing “This One’s From the Heart,” gives you some idea of the soundtrack’s beauty, and the film’s grandeur.

3. Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud (Lift to the Scaffold)
Miles Davis

Davis’s improvised score for French director Louis Malle’s noirish thriller defined the feel of a genre. In the context of the film, his lonely-sounding muted trumpet helped ratchet up suspense, but in the context of a date it might just get you lucky.

2. Superfly
Curtis Mayfield

Mayfield’s score to Gordon Parks Jr.’s blaxploitation classic — about a New York cocaine dealer looking for a way out — was one of the first-ever funk concept albums, and its world-weary grit and socially aware lyrics planted the seeds for coke rap and conscious rap in one soulful swoop.

1. Purple Rain
Prince and the Revolution

We know, Vanity Fair just named it the best soundtrack ever. We tried to think of something else, but it was pointless. How good is Prince’s Purple Rain? So good that it can sell 20 million copies, win him three Grammys and an Oscar, and top this list despite being tied to one of the all-time stupidest, most nonsensical movies in rock-star vanity-project history (his lawyers have wisely sued to keep clips off YouTube). The production defined the sound of an era, but the songs — a confident fusion of soul, R&B, and jazz — are timeless.

10 Best Single-Artist Soundtracks Ever