[Today: A much richer soundtrack...]
At their core, soundtracks are really just big budget mix tapes, designed to set a mood. In my opinion, the very best among them is Rushmore, an album that checks every box on the soundtrack wish list: its whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, it blends together seamlessly, and (most critically) it’s full of great songs you either hadn’t heard or hadn’t paid much attention to before. Assembled by director Wes Anderson and Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh, Rushmore is a 56-minute master class on how to put together a killer mix tape.
The movie Rushmore is about a teenager named Max who has more smarts than common sense, and his interactions with the hyper-interesting people around him. The opening credits – a montage of the various high school clubs Max belongs to, including the Beekeeper’s Club – cracked me up because I helped found Springfield High’s first (and only) Peace Club. Like Max, I was a smart-alecky, love sick kid who didn’t have the slightest idea where he was going in life.
This soundtrack sets that mood perfectly, with a collection of British Invasion bands like The Kinks, The Who, and The Faces, along with forgotten gems by the likes of The Creation, Chad & Jeremy, Unit 4+2 and Cat Stevens, as well as offbeat additions by French chanteur Yves Montand and jazz saxophonist Zoot Sims. The whole thing is stitched together by short, upbeat yet baroque instrumentals created by Mothersbaugh on glockenspiel.
Wes Anderson originally envisioned the soundtrack as nothing but Kinks’ songs before coming around to the eclectic selections that eventually informed this album. That was a very good decision. When asked about working with Anderson, Mothersbaugh replied that “He makes great choices. He’s really into music. He’s interested in B-sides, things besides the hits. It makes for a much richer soundtrack than if you just make a deal with the record company about what they will give you.”
Rushmore is the opposite of a big-budget, paint-by-numbers Hollywood soundtrack. Anderson and Mothersbaugh’s soundtrack feels like it was built by hand, with loving care, from a great record collection. It’s an outstanding musical journey through the minefield of adolescence, and it gets my vote for the best soundtrack of all-time…
Listen: Concrete & Clay [Unit 4+2]
Listen: Here Comes My Baby [Cat Stevens]
Listen: Ooh La La [The Faces]
Further reading: The 20 Greatest Soundtracks Of All-Time