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Music Picks

'Romeo + Juliet' Soundtrack

Music to fall in love, be young and take poison to.

By Thom Wong 12 Jul 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong regularly writes for The Tyee's Music Picks column. He wrote the 40 bLinks column for The Tyee, and writes the Thomas in Law School blog.

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Won't make you take your own life.

While there were popular soundtracks before Pulp Fiction -- the Big Chill comes to mind -- that consisted entirely of previously released material, it's probably safe to say that the 1994 offering from über film and music geek Quentin Tarantino kicked open the door for packaging the music in a movie as a marketable commodity. Which is a fancy way of saying that people will pay for stuff that's already out there if you give it a theme and structure. (Women in Song anyone?) Pulp Fiction made it possible for filmmakers to convince studio honks to forego the John Williams melodrama and score a movie entirely by their cool older brother. This lead, in a roundabout way, to the creation of soundtracks featuring the best acts of the day recording music specifically for the film -- which makes so much sense it's amazing it took an Australian opera buff to think of it.

Sure, pop musicians using a movie for inspiration has had its abuses -- did we really need to know what Nickelback thought of Spiderman? -- but the overall idea is genius. And for my money, it's never been done better than Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. (The "William Shakespeare's" part was added in, I kid you not, so people wouldn't be confused as to why there was Elizabethan dialogue.) What follows is a track-by-track breakdown.

1. "#1 Crush" by Garbage

All you need to know about Garbage is that they lost the Best New Artist Grammy to Christina Aguilera. Of course, Christina is still going strong while Garbage has (bad pun alert!) been tossed into the popular culture landfill, so I guess she gets the last laugh. Still, the song serves as a reminder that Butch Vig's crew was once the glammest in the land.

2. "Local God" by Everclear

I like exactly two songs by Everclear: "Santa Monica," and this one, which is the perfect music to get in a convertible and raise all holy hell in some sleepy downtown area like, say, Vancouver's English Bay. The guitar riff is so transcendent, that those Simple Plan boys should be forced to listen to it until they explode.

3. "Angel" by Gavin Friday

I don't know who this Gavin Friday is. I assume he was big in Europe or something, but if you ever find yourself on an extended acid trip, this guy will see you through. Good loft party music, although it's kind of impossible to dance to, which is where the acid comes in.

4. "Pretty Piece of Flesh" by One Inch Punch

Most Shakespeare film adaptations tend to forget how totally badass Shakespeare is, treating his barbed dialogue as a fencing match between Harvard grads where it more properly represents a UFC throwdown. Baz rectifies this by giving the lines to Jamie Kennedy, who, while not being the most gifted actor you've ever seen, lends the words their appropriate sneer and gleam. One Inch Punch does the same thing in song, and the result might have you hitting on Catholic school girls. (Before you get angry, watch the film.).

5. "Kissing You" by Des'ree

Makes sense in the context of the movie. Makes no sense in the context of an album filled with much better songs.

6. "Whatever (I Had a Dream)" by Butthole Surfers

No band with that name should make a song this good, and lead it in with one of the best lines in the movie ("Peace? I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.") But it works, from the spaghetti western guitars to the drums that sound like they're coming for your first born. Play this when you're done with English Bay and are going to scare tourists on Robson.

7. "Lovefool" by The Cardigans

I know I'm expected to hate this song, but I don't. It's a well-crafted piece of Swedish pop, from a band that's a lot darker than this song would indicate.

8. "Young Hearts Run Free" by Kim Mazelle

Mercutio in drag + excellent disco + girl power version of "Gather ye Rosebuds" = one of the movie's best moments, and the right way to do your groove thang should the mood strike you.

9. "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" by Quindon Tarver

I'm guessing this song was included because they couldn't clear the rights to Tarver's jaw-dropping rendition of "When Doves Cry," a version so good it made me forget that I kind of didn't like the original. Listening to his crystal clear and effortless delivery, you know that you truly are free.

10. "To You I Bestow" by Mundy

The song sounds like it wandered in from the set of another movie, maybe Lost in Translation, and for the life of me I can't remember where it fits in the film. I want to like it, but something about the lead singer's adorably accented delivery doesn't work on me...which will seem hypocritical when I discuss song 12.

11. "Talk Show Host" by Radiohead

Oh. My. God. It takes a lot for me to talk like a 13 year old who's in love, but seriously, OMG.

When I heard this I was already deep into my love affair with Radiohead and The Bends, and coming across this was like finding a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby hidden underneath a Modern Library copy. Why this song wasn't on that album, I'll never know. What I do know is that Thom Yorke invites you to come and f*&king get him, and he's waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches.

While not on the album, the movie is also worth watching for the end credits, which roll to Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)," which the band apparently wrote after watching the film's last half hour. I don't have to tell you that track would eventually appear on OK Computer. I don't, right?

12. "Little Star" by Stina Nordenstam

The drumming on this soundtrack is ridiculous. I have no idea what Stina is going on about, except that there seems to be a fire at the warehouse, and I always wanted for a thing like that. A very effective selection for mix tapes sent to tweemo girls.

13. "You and Me Song" by The Wannadies

You have to love a song that references what it is in the title. (The Ford Car! The Martini Drink!) Start soft, end loud, throw in some nonsense singing during the chorus and anchor it all with horns. Imagine a faster, happier version of The Turtle's "Happier Together."

Or better still, just buy the record.

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