There was a time when movie soundtracks were the lifeblood of the recorded music industry. The LP record, which was introduced in June 1948, was in large part encouraged by movie studios and Broadway producers looking for a better listening experience.
The first movie soundtrack to be released as a record seems to have been Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938. The problem was that everything was divided up over multiple 10-inch 78 RPM records. Every four minutes or so, you had to get up and either flip the record over or change it entirely. The same thing happened with The Jungle Book in 1943.
But that all changed in that summer of ’48 when the 33 1/3 RPM LP allowed for up to 22 minutes of audio per side. Movie studios bought in and the marketplace was flooded with soundtracks to not only films but original cast recordings of Broadway shows. This was the way it stayed through the late 40s, all through the 50s, and into the 1960s.
Movie soundtracks were seen as “serious” music for adults. The kids and their rock’n’roll had their 7-inch singles. Even as late as the middle 60s, movie soundtracks did the most business. Take The Sound of Music, for example. It was a top 10 record in the US for 109 weeks between May 1, 1956, and July 16, 1967. It was the best-selling album in the UK in 1965, 1966, and 1968. For years The Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the best-selling album of all time. Guesses are that it’s sold somewhere beyond 20 million copies–a very big number for any era.
As the years passed, it became standard practice to release a soundtrack album with almost every movie. In some cases, it was just the score, the incidental music written for the opening credits, the closing credits, and the scenes in between. With others (and sometimes in addition to the score), the records featured songs from the movie, some original, some licensed for the purpose. And these soundtracks could sell very, very well.
Prince’s Purple Rain, 25 million copies; Titanic: 30 million. Dirty Dancing, 32 million; Grease, 38 million, Saturday Night Fever, 40 million; The Bodyguard, 45 million. Even Space Jam from 1996 sold six million.
By the 90s, virtually every movie had a soundtrack release as part of its promotional and marketing plan. They were relatively cheap to compile and the margins were fantastic. And they even launched a career or two.
Here’s a show on a topic that’s been requested by a lot of listeners: Key alt-rock soundtracks through the years.
Songs heard on this show:
- Wendy Carlos, Theme from A Clockwork Orange
- Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Time Warp
- Giorgio Moroder, Chase
- Talking Heads, Life During Wartime
- Simple Minds, Don’t You Forget About Me
- Soundgarden, Spoonman
- Helmet & House of Pain, Just Another Victim
- Nine Inch Nails, Dead Souls
- Iggy Pop, Lust for Life
As usual, there’s this playlist from Eric Wilhite.
The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:
- 102.1 The Edge/Toronto – Sunday night at 7
- Live 88-5/Ottawa
- 107.5 Dave-FM/Kitchener
- Power 97/Winnipeg
- Sonic 102.9/Edmonton
- The Zone/Victoria
- The Fox/Vancouver
- Surge 105/Halifax
- WAPS/WKTL The Summit/Arkon, Canton, Cleveland, Youngstown
We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor, Montreal, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s, and anywhere else with a transmitter. If you’re in any of those markets and you want the show, lemme know and I’ll see what I can do.