Soundtrack

Giorgio Moroder “Cat People” (1982)

Another record I dismissed on first sight, Cat People has become a go-to, both for Djing and home listening.  Although I’ve still never seen the questionable-looking sci-faux film this was made for, it’s almost beside the point.  This thing could have been made to soundtrack an instructional guide to the cat’s cradle and it would still rule.

Cat People followed Moroder’s American Gigolo soundtrack by only a couple of years, but the departure from the Italo-disco sound he helped trademark is considerable.  Everything here is slowed down to a twilight half-speed.  David Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire (With Gasoline)”, a slow-to-ignite, soul-rock number, actually sounds more at home here than on his chart-busting Let’s Dance album, and is the most muscular piece by far.  Breaking the synth lines and drum programming of his earlier work down to a sinister, skeletal slow-pulse proved yet again Moroder’s vision in his unflinching willingness to break with the past to stay a step ahead of the game.  However, this time it would be nearly 20 years before the bedrock vibrations emanating here were felt at all, first surfacing in the brief synth-electro revival of the early 2000s, and more recently in the narcotic crepuscule of Chromatics, who brought the new crop of interpreters to wider recognition with their work on the Drive soundtrack.  A direct line can be drawn from Cat People and everything Chromatics producer Johnny Jewel and his Italians Do It Better label have done to bring the new wave of synth-italo-disco to the masses in the last half-decade.  The heavily reverb-ed, delicately plucked and muted guitar lines and cinematic synth wash of Chromatics, Glass Candy, Desire, and their current legion of followers can be traced directly to this record, one of the most compelling and original records of it’s era, soundtrack or otherwise. –Jonathan Treneff

Soundtrack “Performance” (1970)

Even if you haven’t seen the film — and heck, if you haven’t, why not? — this is a remarkably satisfying soundtrack album, put together by Jack Nitzsche and featuring Ry Cooder on guitar. (In places this sounds extremely close to Cooder’s own scores, such as for Paris, Texas.) Randy Newman sings “Gone Dead Train” in a much more urgent style than anything on his own early albums, while Mick Jagger’s version of “Memo from Turner” — with Cooder on guitar and members of Traffic — is a gloriously sleazy blues that should be in any Stones fan’s collection. (If you’ve only heard the Stones’ own fumbled version on Metamorphosis — according to legend, deliberately sabotaged by Keith as revenge for Mick screwing Anita Pallenberg on set — you really haven’t heard the song at all.) And how can you pass up a soundtrack that has the good sense to include the Last Poets’ “Wake Up Niggers”? (The first “rap” I’d ever heard.) –Brad

Various Artists “Transformers: The Movie” (1986)

The battle’s over, but the war has just begun… There was only one place any boy in the summer of ’86 wanted to be – in the local multiplex soaking in Transformers: The Movie. Stepped-up animation, Transformers (including the presumedly indestructible Optimus Prime) getting shot and DYING, and bad language, this one promised a full dose of PG thrills. A few decades later, the movie is more of a chore to sit through, but the soundtrack holds up as a snapshot of mid 80’s pre-teen dreamin’. A mix of period AOR, slick metal, and evocative fusion/prog instrumentals, Transformers: The Movie plays up the good guy/bad guy angle with Stan Bush’s amazing double-shot of self-confidence in “The Touch” (reprised by Mark “Marky Mark” Whalberg in Boogie Nights) and “Dare,” while Kick Axe transform into Spectre General to deliver some evil Decepticon rock with “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” and “Hunger.” Lion’s metallized version of the classic theme song is a pure laserblast of energy, and NRG’s “Instruments of Destruction” keeps the cannons blazing. Wrap it up with Scotti Bros. pride and joy, “Weird” Al Yankovic doing his best Devo impression on a rallying cry to kids across the country strung out on sugar and Atari, “Dare to be Stupid,” and I’m ready to slap on my Walkman, and hop on the ol’ Huffy BMX for some suburban curb burnin’. Transform and roll out! –Ben

Curtis Mayfield “Superfly” (1972)

A monument of 70’s soul music that totally eclipsed the film it scores and for good reason as an average film continues to get a lot of attention on the back of this record. While the film seemed to glamorize drug dealing in the black community Curtis told the real and much less appealing truth about his communities struggle against its evils. In doing so he produced a record of real power and one with a bittersweet feel as serious and depressing subject matter is delivered by the delicate almost angelic falsetto. It is up there with the great soul concept LP’s like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Donny Hathaway’s “Extension of a Man” that signaled a major shift in the power of soul and black music in general. –Jon