33 MPH / The ’90s Movie Soundtrack Boom

With Variety Senior Editor Todd Gilchrist

The soundtrack for Speed might have been a humble, hastily-assembled compilation of tunes (led, admittedly, by a killer Billy Idol title track). But it still counts itself as part of a fondly-remembered era, when movies had pop-culture lives that stretched beyond the screen and into record stores. Remember those? There was just something about the music that arose 30 years ago, in combination with the music that was cherished as throwback at the time, and how all of that mingled together with the cinematic movements of the day.

That’s the topic of discussion on this week’s episode of 50 MPH, and we’re not playing the listicle game this time around. No, Variety senior editor Todd Gilchrist joins the cause to have a wide-ranging, holistic discussion of, well, virtually all of the movie soundtracks of the ’90s. It was a boom time for the form and something that will never be repeated, if for no other reason than consumer habits and tendencies have shifted drastically as the time and technology continues apace.

Goodfellas soundtrack
The soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas was but a mere toe-dip of the many songs featured in the movie.

Beginning in 1990 at the turn of the decade, we move chronologically through the most memorable works. Take Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, for instance.

“That was one where the soundtrack and the music and everything was much more sort of woven into my brain immediately on this almost molecular level of, like, ‘This happens during this scene and that happens during that,'” Gilchrist says. “It really, to me, harnessed the power of somebody using a jukebox soundtrack in the platonic ideal of, when you hear the songs that are on that soundtrack, you can immediately think of the scenes from the movie and vice versa.”

A few years later in 1994, there was the intriguing tandem of Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, which dealt in classics of the ’60s and ’70s with very different approaches.

Forrest Gump is a clearinghouse for all these incredible pop song standards for multiple decades, whereas, by comparison, the songs that were in Pulp Fiction were the polar opposite of that,” Gilchrist says. “‘Jungle Boogie,’ ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ these were not songs that were high-profile in the zeitgeist, but they were, at the time of their own releases, kind of big songs, and [Quentin Tarantino] unearthed and gave them new life, as opposed to going, ‘Yeah, we all know that, you know, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ is a banger.'”

Pulp Fiction soundtrack
The soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction still stands out as one of the best of the decade.

Moving through the decade, we come to things like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and its exciting blend of styles.

“What I think is really powerful about the movie is that when I watched it the first time, I’m, like, ‘When is this supposed to be set,'” Gilchrist recalls. “I couldn’t quite figure it out, and there’s this amazing combination of having, like, Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed, and then also this really super-modern electronic music, and then Britpop, and the way that all those things fit together, to me, made the whole thing feel kind of a little bit out of time, while also being a period piece.”

And of course, we eventually get to the end of the decade and one of the greatest movie years of all time, 1999, which brought movies like Doug Liman’s Go with its eclectic and enduring assortment of tunes.

“That ‘Believer’ song by BT is great, but ‘Steal My Sunshine,’ I mean, to me, there is no song that more encapsulates that particular moment,” Gilchrist says. “But it’s one, in a way, where a lot of the songs, you do think about the scene. Like, ‘Talisman’ is the scene where he’s having, like, a threesome and the curtains burst into flames. ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ happens during the sort of car chase. There’s all these things in the movie that I think they really use music well, and that’s, I think, why that soundtrack has more legs than you would imagine that it would.”

And that’s hardly the tip of the iceberg. We go crazy deep on 10 years of movie soundtrack ecstasy, so dive in for all that and more in this week’s episode of 50 MPH!

Episode 33 Transcript

Kris Tapley Your Host:

Kris has covered the entertainment industry for nearly two decades, with bylines at Variety, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He now works as a writer and consultant in Los Angeles, where he lives with his loving wife, lively son and lazy cat. He likes Speed.