The Art of Picking Off Soundtracks to Make the Perfect Playlist

You gotta hear this song. It will change your life.

In full disclosure, my favorite soundtrack of all time is probably from the movie The Endless Summer, if only for its theme song and the equally mood-enhancing Wild as the Sea. But Garden State is probably the one soundtrack I’ve listened to more than any other.

But, there is a playlist I have had residing on both Spotify and Tidal for about two years – aptly titled ‘The Best Playlist of All-Time’ – that contains a lot of music I’ve discovered at the movies.

Yes I stream. Sorry.

Though I own a large number of vinyl LPs, when I listen to music it is mostly through Tidal via my Sonos system, having given in to the new world order in 2017. Of course I want bands, especially indie bands, to sell music. But nobody’s buying. And, even more disappointing, most people who stream music tend to gravitate toward classic or legacy music. I’m guilty there too. Yes I hate myself. Don’t get ageist on me.

The odd thing about ‘The Best Playlist of All-Time’ is that it really isn’t a collection of my favorite songs, but rather, songs I discovered in obvious and non-obvious ways paired with songs that seem to add just the right touches to the feel and flow. Let me break down some of my 50-song master for you.

  • Hold On To Freedom by Lee Michaels from the movie Diggers (2007)
  • The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies from Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
  • Romeo’s Tune by Steve Forbert from the movie Everybody Wants Some (2016)
  • If I Ever Needed Someone by Van Morrison from the movie The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
  • Personality Crisis/Stranded in the Jungle by The New York Dolls from the HBO Series Vinyl (2015)
  • Rock & Roll by The Velvet Underground from the movie A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (2006)
  • Ooh La La by Faces from the movie Almost Famous (2000)
  • These Days by Jackson Browne and Mandolin Wind by Rod Stewart from the movie Invincible (2006)
  • T.B. Sheets by Van Morrison from the movie Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

And though I truly like all of those performers, almost none of them would make my personal top ten list. Maybe Van Morrison, depending on my mood or how close it is to St. Patrick’s Day. Also, I did know many of these songs before their inclusion in the movies they’re attached to, but the scenes in which the songs played usually helped strengthen my bond to the music.

A number of other songs that make my mix are early rock numbers or under-the-radar deep cuts that got little mainstream airplay after they were released. Those songs include:

  • Bad ‘N’ Ruin by Faces from the album Long Player (1971). Faces was a basically a supergroup in reverse in that the members of the band became far more popular after Faces split up, notably Stewart and Ron Wood (of the Rolling Stones).
  • Let There Be Drums by Sandy Nelson – This single, released in 1961, is a call-to-arms for air drummers and air guitarists alike. It’s a sonic boom of a masterpiece that is free form enough in its arrangement that it reminds me of the drum solos at a Grateful Dead gig, and one that probably inspired Billy Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Let There Be Drums truly bashes.
  • Move It by The Chantays – The B-side to the single Pipeline (1963), and though not nearly as popular, I think it’s better. Move It just slaps.
  • Go Where You Wanna Go by The Mamas & The Papas from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1965) – I spent five weeks in Los Angeles back in 2015 and fell in love with the entire Laurel Canyon scene. You can actually feel its musical history as you navigate up and down the Hollywood Hills. What a great album cover, too.
  • 20th Century Boy by T-Rex from the album Left Hand Luke – The Alternative Tanx (1973). 20th Century Boy is as close to punk as punk got before it was formally labeled as a music genre.  The song was not included on the release of the original album. Most people know T. Rex from the song Bang a Gong (Get it On), a song I actually dislike a great deal.
  • Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers, a single release from 1979 and a punk firestorm. To summarize, the song is a protest against the fact that kids in Northern Ireland were being denied what was available to their peers in the rest of the UK. This song was also featured in the movie Everybody Wants Some.
  • Roman Fingers a single from by Suzi Quatro released around the time of her eponymous debut Suzi Quatro (1973). A nice play on words from this incredible, but mostly unknown release by the woman who would later be known for playing Leather Tuscadero in the ’70s sitcom Happy Days, and then for Stumblin’ In, a duet that reached #4 on the Billboard Chart in 1978 in which Quatro performed with Chris Norman.
  • Creeque Alley and I Saw Her Again by The Mamas & The Papas from the album Deliver (1967). I was on a kick for this group at the time I built this playlist, obviously.
  • Give it to Me by The J. Geils Band from the album Bloodshot (1973). Reached #30 on the Billboard Chart due to strong demand on the east coast, particularly Boston. The band was formed in Worcester, MA sometime between 1968 and 1970. The percussion that closes out the final three minutes of this song is straight fire.
I really loved this show. Wish I could watch it somewhere. Anywhere.

Three songs are direct references to past relationships:

  • Brass in Pocket by The Pretenders, a single released in 1979 and also from their eponymous debut album released a year later. The first time a crush manifested itself into something as tangible as a popular song occurred for me in 1980 with a woman who worked at the community swimming pool. She drove a super boss, vintage Mustang, gave me my first kiss in front of all my friends, looked great in old, faded blue jeans, and became the first woman to whom I professed love, or whatever love represents when you are 16 years old. This was her favorite song that summer. I can still hear her singing the lyrics “I’m special, so special” to me.
  • They Are All in Love by The Who from the album The Who By Numbers (1975). When I met the woman who would have the most profound and significant impact on my life, we talked about our first albums on the night of our first date. Hers was this album, known for the scintillating single Squeeze Box. But, They Are All in Love is truly the best song on this album. Sue loved it, and I love it too, and it will always remind me of her, wherever her spirit resides now. This song is also in the Showtime series Roadies, S1 E4, The City Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned, though it performed by the cast instead.
  • Bell Bottom Blues by Derek & The Dominoes from the album Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs (1970).Once a woman broke up with me and moved to Germany where she had about seven kids with some other dude. She just dropped me, and dropped off the face of the earth with no warning, no real sign of trouble, and incidentally, kept the ring. She called me collect about 6 months after. It was 1991, I believe, on a 5 am Saturday morning after I had been out drinking most of the night prior. I accepted the charges, answered by saying “If you are calling to tell me you are dying of thirst, I wouldn’t piss in your mouth to save your life,” and then hung up before she could respond. Game over. 

The rest of the mix contains a number of late 1960s and early 1970s songs that were more popular, and each of those numbers help to really tie the playlist together. Ironically, nothing from Garden State makes the cut. To put it in perspective and completely wrap it up, my favorite bands and performers of all time include The Grateful Dead, R.E.M., The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. The only songs that represent those artists in my playlist are:

  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones from the album Let it Bleed (1969).
  • Dead Flowers by The Rolling Stones from the album Sticky Fingers (1971).
  • Positively 4th Street by Jerry Garcia and Merle Saunders from the album Live at Keystone Vol. 1 (1973).
  • So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star by The Byrds from the album Younger Than Yesterday (1967)
I really want that hat David Crosby is wearing.

And that’s the point here. This is my ‘Best Playlist of All Time’ because I enjoy the way it flows, and it offers no particular point of reference to just one person or thing. It’s great for jamming, getting over a lost or unrequited love, or just to enjoy some very good music. Give some of these great songs a listen, especially if you haven’t heard some of them. You’ll find some songs you’ll love, and maybe a few must-haves for a mixtape of your own.

PS – that Hammond organ and police whistle on the J. Geils Band song is to die for. What a got-damn groove.

PPS – I’ve added a few songs to the mix from Quentin Tarantino’s latest move, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and two from the movie Bad Times at the El Royale.

  • Treat Her Right by Roy Head
  • Good Thing by Paul Revere & The Raiders
  • Straight Shooter by The Mamas & The Papas
  • Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show by Neil Diamond
  • Baby I Love You by Tommy Roe
  • 26 Miles by The Four Preps

Published by Michael Canter

I love music, particularly indie music. It's a bittersweet affair that has been equally fun and soul-crushing, but I couldn't live without it. Personally, I'm a Deadhead, but my passion for all music styles is unparalleled. If I like you I will let you call me Mickey. If you look hard enough, you'll find me at SXSW every year.

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