February 22, 2023
Have y’all ever seen those “Breaking Bad: The Sitcom” videos around the internet? If not, you’re missing out, but essentially, they take scenes from Breaking Bad, and change up the vibe of the show to make it a corny 90s sitcom rather than the normal crime thriller that it is. The concept doesn’t seem like it would work as well as it does, but take out the tense soundtrack, add some upbeat saxophone and some canned laughter, and you have a completely different show.
Breaking Bad is one of many shows or movies that utilizes the soundtrack to its significant advantage. There are three pieces of media that I want to feature for Music Impulses’ first installment, whose greatness is encapsulated by their respective soundtracks. Just the other day, I was watching Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous, a wonderfully immersive homage to the early 70s and rock and roll. I’m pretty sure the movie would still be great if they had nothing but royalty-free music, but the soundtrack is truly unbelievable. It elevates the film to transcendent levels of nostalgia and intimate catharsis. Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” reverberates through part of the first act, just as our main character, William, is on the brink of discovering his passion for rock writing– a journey that will take him on tour around the country in search of himself in the same way that Paul Simon did when he wrote the track. I couldn’t think of a more perfect song to use in that moment. The film isn’t solely a warm and fuzzy reminiscence of a great time for rock and roll (although there is a lot of that). Just as the character flaws of all the band members, the band-aids, as well as “the enemy” William reach a breaking point, and the group is in shambles, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” plays on the tour bus radio. It’s one of the handful of instances where the soundtrack is diegetic and plays directly into the story, and it’s the tender moment that brings the group back down to Earth, and back together.
Keeping within the same genre/era for my next pick, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused has a soundtrack that epitomizes the film’s endearing naivete and its borderline plotless structure. It makes you feel as though each of the characters’ various revelations is happening with you in real time. So many realizations about my place in the world, my future, and my desires have come by way of a specific song or artist, and Dazed and Confused plays out the same way. The rising high school freshman and seniors of 1976 are just trying to figure it all out– so much of their lives is beyond their control, so may as well have a good time and listen to the music, right? Whether it’s Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” just as the festivities of the first night of summer begin, or Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time” during the party at the moon tower, the songs of this movie meticulously engulf you in their slice-of-life that is seemingly in limbo.
As you might have guessed, I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age period piece, but my third pick is about as here-and-now as you can get. Donald Glover’s recently concluded series Atlanta demonstrates the power a soundtrack can have on shaping people’s tastes. The inclusion of a song in a particular scene can totally redefine how it’s looked at by both the individual and the masses. Dazed and Confused for one, took me from cold-to-lukewarm on Aerosmith to falling in love with “Sweet Emotion” purely from the film’s opening scene. For the masses, the first thing that comes to mind is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” figuratively running up that hill to the number one streamed song in the world for consecutive weeks because of its inclusion in Stranger Things. Atlanta has helped shape both my own music taste and the tastes of the world around the City of The South. I’m willing to bet anyone reading this knows that Donald Glover is also the genre-nonconforming rapper/producer extraordinaire, Childish Gambino, so it’s no wonder that among being the show’s creator and star, he is Atlanta’s music supervisor. Glover utilizes the show’s soundtrack to function as a personal archive for his biggest inspirations and seals of approval.
I have put more songs from the show on my playlists than probably any other series. However, his influence reaches far beyond my own Spotify profile; with the series, he was able to show everyone what’s going on in Atlanta, a hotbed for musical innovation, and the birthplace of trap. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that right around the show’s inception we saw trap music explode to one of the dominant forces in hip hop. The music of Atlanta is a lot more than just a soundtrack. It’s a window into the mind of a fascinating artist, a love letter to a city with a rich musical history, and it’s a way to share with the world that Donald Glover is a music fan just like the rest of us.
Simon & Garfunkel – America
Elton John – Tiny Dancer
Bob Dylan – Hurricane
Dr. John – Right Place Wrong Time
Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
Outkast – Elevators (Me & You)
Young Thug – Digits