‘Magnolia’ and More Single-Artist Soundtracks

Greg Kot

1 Min Read

Paul Thomas Anderson credits Aimee Mann’s music with inspiring his acclaimed 1999 movie “Magnolia.” Little wonder that Mann’s music dominates the film’s soundtrack, so much so that she receives title billing on the album (it also features tracks by Gabrielle, Supertramp and Jon Brion, a longtime Mann collaborator). One of the tracks Mann wrote for the film, “Save Me,” was nominated for an Oscar.

Though contemporary songs from the worlds of rock, soul and hip-hop have long populated movie soundtracks, some films have essentially been musically scripted by a single artist. As with Mann’s impact on Anderson’s approach to “Magnolia,” the composer of the soundtrack becomes like another lead actor or even director in the film, a crucial voice in setting the tone and informing the images we see on screen. Here are a few examples of soundtracks largely composed of songs written, produced and/or performed by a single artist.

Simon and Garfunkel, “The Graduate” (1967)
Mike Nichols was among the first directors to break from traditionally orchestrated instrumental soundtracks in favor of pop songs, curated to underline plot points and character development. Simon and Garfunkel’s songs underscored the title character’s tumultuous coming of age, including snippets of the unfinished “Mrs. Robinson.” The film was a huge hit, and the folk-pop duo became even bigger stars because of it.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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