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Musically and in cinema, the 70s were pretty amazing. Geo-politically, not super good, but the music and the movies being created at the that time would set the tone for the future. There are tons of movies being released now where the directors will say that they were going for a 70s aesthetic (I’m looking at you Winter Soldier) in an effect to recapture the most exciting period of cinema history.
Superfly by Curtis Mayfield asks and answers an interesting question: Can a soundtrack tell the movie’s story better than the movie? In Superfly’s case, yes. Superfly could stand alone without the movie it comes with, and it has managed to outlive its movie counterpart. The album treads the same ground as the movie, dealing with issues of drugs, corrupt cops, women, the streets, being black in 70s America, and violence, while also managing to be so funky, so smooth, so soulful, that it beggars belief that such a perfect album could exist. It deals with some low lows and some high highs and feels complete, the album going through a story arc, almost as if the movie is based on the soundtrack and not the other way around. In terms of standout tracks I would have to say that everything between the first and last notes of the album will probably take care of your musical needs.
2. Saturday Night Fever
Much like Superfly, the album for Fever has taken on a life of its own and actually reshaped the movie it is based on. If you ask people who haven’t seen Fever what it is about they will either sing you a few bars of Stayin’ Alive or say that it’s about John Travolta dancing. Yes, dance is an element of that movie, as are dead-end jobs, Catholic guilt, rape, unwanted pregnancy, attempted rape, suicide, racism, gang warfare, and domestic strife. The reason we associate the movie so much with the dance scenes are the amazing Bee Gees songs that are on this album. Basically, if you name a Bee Gees song, chances are it’s on here: More Than a Woman, You Should Be Dancing, Jive Talking, Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, How Deep is Your Love? and they wrote If I Can’t Have You which is sung by Yvonne Elliman and is, incidentally, a frigging jam and I will fight anyone who disagrees with me. This soundtrack was so influential that it made the shocking follow up to Fever, the Sylvester Stallone directed Stayin’ Alive, be more of the dance movie that people perceive Fever to be, and awful.
3/4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hair
Much like the 60s list there are only so many movies that aren’t musicals that have great soundtracks leaving me to choose two musical soundtracks for this list (spoilers: this isn’t the biggest cheat of my rules in this list). I have chosen these two soundtracks because they have songs that people are probably more aware of than they are aware of the musicals that the songs come from.
With Rocky Horror I know people, and when I was younger was one of those people, who know every word of the Time Warp (with dance motions) but had never seen the movie. To my shame I only saw this movie about two years ago, the night before I saw a live performance by a local acting troupe. With Hair there are more obscure songs but Let the Sunshine In and Aquarius are songs with a popularity that will outlast the musical they come from. There are probably a lot of people who know at least one of those songs ( the end of The 40 Year Old Virgin?) with no idea of the awesome musical that they come from.
5.Everything John Williams Did For The Entire Decade
And now the big cheat I warned you about. My initial plan was to only include soundtracks on this list that contained songs (and hopefully original songs). However, I can’t with good conscience not talk about the crazily good scores that some movies had in the 70s. This is the decade of The Exorcist, Rocky, Halloween, Assault of Precinct 13, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Godfather, and Shaft.
It would also be disgraceful if I did not give a shout out to John Williams at this stage. In the 70s alone he composed the soundtracks for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, and Star Wars. Ask anyone to choose their favourite movie theme and one of the four I just mentioned (or all four) are in that list. A lot has been said of John Williams’ genius, and though I initially was going to bypass him, in the end I had to think two things, one: John Williams can never be called a genius too much and two: it’s totally cool to break the rules you made yourself.