The Monkees: Head. Colgems. The Monkees doff the last shred of their bubblegum image with this acid trip of a film and soundtrack—both genuine psychedelic gems that took decades to receive the recognition they deserve. Though the album only includes six proper songs, those six are some of the finest the Monkees ever recorded, including two written by Peter Tork (psych-rock jams “Can You Dig It?” and “Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?”), who rarely ever got to showcase his songwriting talent during the band’s heyday.
Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra: Space Is the Place. Evidence. In this Afrofuturistic sci-fi soundscape, Sun Ra presents his case to the black community to follow him to a new, Utopian society on a distant planet. Much like the film it was recorded for, Space Is the Place is a disorienting yet mesmerizing journey that begins with June Tyson’s hypnotic chanting on the prophetic “It’s After the End of the World.” What follows is a rich universe of eerie, joyful, and otherworldly noises: Ra’s riffing on the Minimoog, Farfisa, and other various organs, the braying horns, the wild percussive freakouts. Somehow they all hang together in a loose cosmic tapestry. This truly feels like jazz from another planet beamed back to us by an expatriated Earthling.
Prince & the Revolution: Purple Rain. Warner Bros. With the absence of throwaway dialogue bits and incidental mood pieces, it’s easy to forget Purple Rain is a soundtrack in the first place. It’s also easy to forget that until this point, we didn’t know Prince as the superstar innovator he truly was. But on this masterpiece, he fully unleashes the remarkable scope of his talent. These nine perfectly crafted songs stay true to Prince’s funk/R&B roots while simultaneously presenting him as face-melting guitar shredder, a neo-psychedelic disciple, and a master with new wave synths and drum machines. Never let the album’s blockbuster commercial success obscure the fact that this is an unfathomable accomplishment for any musician.
Seu Jorge: The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions. Hollywood. Technically not the proper soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s nautical-themed comedy, this collection expands upon its musical highlights—those gentle, acoustic David Bowie covers from Brazilian singer/songwriter Seu Jorge. Jorge has a small role as a member of Steve Zissou’s ragtag crew, who performs five Bowie tunes entirely in Portuguese. Those five songs (including “Life on Mars?” and “Starman”) were rerecorded for this album, along with eight other Bowie compositions and one Seu Jorge original.
War: Youngblood. United Artists. Not to be confused with the 1986 hockey movie starring Rob Lowe, the first American film titled Youngblood is an obscure B movie set in Los Angeles. The best asset of this middling gang drama with a social message is the praiseworthy music by War. Think of this as the lesser-known cousin to the funky Car Wash soundtrack from Rose Royce.
Booker T. & the MG’s: UpTight. Stax. Though not nearly as well known as the blaxploitation classics Super Fly and Shaft, this 1968 film predates both and deserves as much praise. Booker T. & the MG’s bring their trademark mix of soulful artistry and technical discipline to the UpTight soundtrack. There’s an interesting range here, from the mournful gospel track “Children, Don’t Get Weary” to the feel-good jukebox jam “Down at Ralph’s Joint.”
Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Columbia. Bob Dylan’s warm, gentle folk-country compositions serve as a nice counterbalance to the outlaw brutality in Sam Peckinpah’s classic western film. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is undeniably the big draw here, but the rest of the album should not be overlooked. It features beautiful guitar playing from Roger McGuinn and Bruce Langhorne, and an intriguing guest appearance from Booker T. Jones, who steps away from the keys to lend a hand on bass.
Neil Young: Dead Man. Vapor. With his improvised ambient instrumentals, Neil Young succeeds in creating the sonic equivalent to director Jim Jarmusch’s bleak, desolate vision of the Old West. These aren’t so much songs as they are impressionistic soundscapes that Young composed live in a studio while watching a cut of the film. The resulting score is dominated by his distorted electric guitar, as he rips slow, ragged chords that pierce violently through the film’s silence, almost making you feel like the desperado Johnny Depp’s William Blake becomes.
Air: The Virgin Suicides. Virgin. French electronica duo Air bring space pop sensibilities and a hint of soft rock flair to the score of Sofia Coppola’s 2000 directorial debut. Their moody compositions have a sedate and hypnotic pacing that’s in keeping with this languid tragedy of suburban teen depression. You can hear the early 70s radio influences come through in the form of the soulful sax solo in “Playground Love” (think Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them”) or the sultry bass line and jazz-rock drumming in “The Word Hurricane.” Fun fact: opening track “Playground Love” features vocals from Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars (Coppola’s husband), working under the pseudonym Gordon Tracks.
The Sandals: The Endless Summer. World Pacific. The Sandals may not be the most celebrated surf rock band, but they’re the first one to score a major surf film. With The Endless Summer, legendary surf documentarian Bruce Brown introduced both the sport and the musical genre it spawned to a wider audience. Brown follows two surfers on a search for the perfect wave, and the Sandals create little sonic metaphors for that journey with songs like “Theme from The Endless Summer,” a dreamy instrumental with a Mediterranean feel, and “Out Front,” a furiously-paced number with revving engine noises for added muscle.