As film is a visually-based art form, it is dynamically enhanced when accompanied by an auditory component. If we’re lucky, that auditory component comes in the form of a sheer knockout of a rock soundtrack. When appropriately scored, storylines and moments that appear onscreen can be enhanced and encapsulated in a more multidimensional way. The films on this list not only accomplish just that, but do so through integrating the work of some of the most incredible rock artists of all time.
1. Over The Edge (1979)
“In 1978 110,000 kids under 18 were arrested for crimes of vandalism in the United States. This story is based on true incidents occurring during the 70’s in a planned suburban community of condominiums and townhomes, where city planners ignored the fact that a quarter of the population was 15 years old or younger.”
This is the text of the prologue of Over The Edge that appears on the screen as the resonant, gritty opening notes of Cheap Trick’s “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” fills the ears. It’s the perfect opening for a film about youth rebellion in a planned suburban community, where kids are forced to fight for their freedom under the harsh hand of local law enforcement, rigid school personnel, and parental units who are apathetic at best. The revolt-ridden film is accompanied by a rock score that perfectly encompasses its rebellious and tenacious spirit, featuring “Hello There” and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me,” The Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy,” and “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” by The Cars. It’s the ultimate soundtrack for a story about young people coming to own their power, and realizing that authority doesn’t always equivocate to competence and fairness.
2. Adventureland (2009)
Adventureland stars Jesse Eisenberg as a recent college graduate who takes a job at a local amusement park the summer after graduation. Set in the summer of 1987, the film lends itself to an impressive classic rock soundtrack, featuring the music of David Bowie, New York Dolls, Foreigner, Big Star, The Velvet Underground, and Judas Priest. The soundtrack also includes the music of The Replacements as well – making it one of the most rock-ridden film scores to date.
3. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Anyone who grew up listening to rock undeniably fantasized about their favorite band walking their high school halls and putting the school’s vapid, controlling administrators in their place (hell, I know I did). This is a scenario that became a reality in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, when Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) brings The Ramones to Vince Lombardi High. The school’s principal, Miss Togar, has tried to restrict the student body from listening to The Ramones and rock n’ roll in general. With the support of The Ramones, Riff and the students rally together and – without giving too much away – put Miss Togar and the repressive administration on blast. In addition to featuring several songs by The Ramones themselves, the soundtrack also features work from Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, and Paul McCartney.
4. Detroit Rock City (1999)
Detroit Rock City tells the story of four Kiss-loving high schoolers who go to great lengths in order to attend the band’s Detroit performance. In addition to featuring the music of Kiss, the soundtrack contains rock hits such as Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” as well as tracks by The Runaways, The Sweet, and Van Halen. The album also features a cover of Kiss’s “Strutter” by The Donnas as well, providing an integration of notable rock acts from both the past and present.
And, of course….
5. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Dazed and Confused is a film with perhaps one of the most sonically explosive rock soundtracks of all time. Set in the ’70s, the soundtrack is composed of hits such as “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways, “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, “Highway Star” by Deep Purple, and so, so many more. The score, paired with a film whose plot is centered around summertime reckless abandonment, makes Dazed and Confused the ultimate nexus of freedom and tenacious rock and roll.
Honorable mentions: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Almost Famous.
Oh, and Wet Hot American Summer opens with “Jane” by Jefferson Starship. That’s pretty damn cool.
Intrigued? Check out our “Films With the Best Rock Soundtrack” playlist below to dig into some sweet jams from the film listed in the article.
All film poster images courtesy of IMDB. Featured image used from Creative Commons website.