I remember only a few things from my childhood bedroom: my sister’s purple crib, a little bookshelf, white walls painted with cartoon characters, and an even-then-outdated, brown television set with a VHS player. There were three or four cassettes stacked by the TV, I have no clue which titles. What I do remember, however, are the trailers and adverts that came before the actual films. The advert I remember the most was a compilation of Disney soundtrack highlights, advertizing some musical collection. It played clips of songs like Just Around The River Bend (Pocahontas, dir. Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg, 1995) and Hakuna Matata (The Lion King, dir. Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994). Memories are obviously blurry from those days, but I’m pretty sure I watched that advert more than the actual film on the cassette.
These songs, along with many others, are permanently engraved in my head. I could hear a song I haven’t heard for the last 10 years, and instantly recall the lyrics and melody. I find it interesting how rhythmic pace can improve memory, and I wonder, in relation to my thesis, whether the soundtrack makes individual characters even more idolized. It always made sense that it did. In musicals, a character’s song seems to be the ultimate form of expression.
The emotional/situational relation
Grease (dir. Randal Kleiser, 1978) was a massive hit in its time, and seems to be a timeless classic. The music still roams radio channels across countries (at least the few countries I’ve been to). You’re The One That I Want is one of the best-selling singles of all times, having sold over 6 million copies within the USA, UK, France and Germany alone (IMDb, 2012). It also describes two characters’ respond to a story conflict, and result in a care-free ideal where everything will eventually work itself out.
Frozen’s (2013) soundtrack, Let It Go, sold over one million copies, had 19 million Spotify streams and 128 YouTube viewings (Knopper, 2014). The song features the highlight of the character Elsa’s ‘breaking out’ from the constraints that kept her locked up. Songs that appeal to the primary feelings seem to be more popular than others. I suppose, like Jowett & Linton (1980) wrote regarding films, that reaching out to the primary will achieve a larger audience, as more people can relate. Let It Go faces the conflict of being yourself versus living up to expectations. You’re The One That I Want faces the timeless issue of High School relationships as High School comes to an end.
I started thinking about the soundtracks most prominent in my mind from my childhood. The ones I’ve sung so repeatedly that they’re permanently engraved in my skull.
Land Before Time (1988-2007, dir. Don Bluth, Roy Allen Smith & Charles Grosvenor) was one of my all-time favourite film series. I have to admit that for once, I find the lyrics for Kids Like Us (below) better in Norwegian (this rarely happens). Though to be fair, I haven’t heard that version since I was about 6, so who knows. So, what conflict does this song face? -I partially wish I had to google this, I’m partially proud that I don’t have to.- The conflict presents a young group of kids who’s realizing their bullies are in trouble. Some members doesn’t want to help them, while the protagonist claims that in the end they’re all the same, and that they should. Connected with a real-life conflict: if someone who bothers you is in trouble, do you help them? The answer in the song is: yes, because it’s the right thing to do.
The heart-filled lyrics and catchy rhythm of A Welcome in Wales (Magical Adventures of Mumfie, dir. John Laurence Collins, 1995) made it an instant hit in our house. The conflict features a lonely whale who wants to make friends, but everyone’s afraid of him because of his size. It could translate as being the misunderstood outsider, and how to feel good about yourself when others make you feel bad. It’s a very sweet song, you can hear it from [03:13] to [04:50] in the clip below.
Jetlag Productions’ Hold Your Head High (Black Beauty, dir. Toshiyuki Hiruma, 1995) is for ‘when things aren’t right and times aren’t good’ (Hold Your Head High, [02:14-02:18]). When something completely unfair happens and you’re absolutely certain that nothing whatsoever was your fault. Like if you punched your sister, but she started it. Or when you nicked a chocolate from the fridge, but it was your dad’s fault for catching you in the action. As motivational as it is, it also functions as a self-sympathy song. All in all, a very helpful track to keep in your back pocket.
Bare Necessities (The Jungle Book, dir. Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967). The ultimate feel-good song of my childhood. This is the song that makes you feel grateful for what you have. It makes you look for things to dance on, things to bounce into, and furry animals to pet. It makes y
The romantic relation
Then you have the songs that as a kid, you probably cannot relate to personally. Rather, they seem to relate to the typical fairy tale day dreams, or themes you wish to relate to, and with a soundtrack that grips you so tight that you can’t let go of it. Far Longer Than Forever (The Swan Princess, dir. Richard Rich, 1994) was one of my favourite songs as a kid, but I can’t really see another relation than that of the fairy tale day dream, or the dreamy backtrack.
Feed The Birds (Mary Poppins, dir. Robert Stevenson, 1964) responds to the desire to help. When something as easy as scattering crumbs on the street can make you feel helpful, the world all of the sudden brightens. This song also carries a highly romantic melody for easily drifting into a deep sense of fairy tale reality. ‘She’s calling for you’ [03:07-03:11] directly reaches out and gives a sense of purpose. What’s more motivating than a sense of purpose?
The Lion King films all have this one song that bends slightly over to abstract expressionism. For The Lion King, this song was I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. I never liked the song, but I remember each and every word of it thanks to the colourful visuals. Now looking back on it, it does present the rebellious character starring in it. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t care much for it: I was never that rebellious, and preferred to avoid confrontation. I remember finding the song rather greedy, and feeling bad for the bird. In spite of this, the song was very popular. I suppose this is an example of when I as an audience member, didn’t fit into the targeted emotional group.
For The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998, dir. Darrell Rooney & Rob LaDuca), the expressionist song was Upendi. This song relates to giving care-free responses to a serious situation. At the point of the story where things are looking pretty dark for you, the expressive visuals and light-hearted song establishes a liberating plot twist.
Ideas for own soundtrack
I have been trying to go through new music lately. New, as in ‘songs I’ve never heard before’. I tried going back to the classics: Grieg, Chapin, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and more… Then I went through the discography of my favourite artists, and looked at similar artists to these. I’ve been looking for songs which speak the personality of my characters, that can be matched up with their most characterizing scenes. I want the songs to speak their personalities.
What I have found, is that music is really helpful in developing characterizations. To find a song that matches a specific characterization, on the other hand, is tricky. But, when the perfect song comes along, you know it instantly. For me, this song was Everyone’s Waiting by Missy Higgins. The chorus matches Lumi’s (my protagonist) conflict between following her heart and staying with the lonely monster, or giving into the expectations of her society. It presents the point when she faces her fears and stands for herself.
This year I participated in the WCA Costume Show. The MA Digital Theatre had compiled a music selection for the show, making the full event match together seamlessly. One of the acts included an orchestra instrumental for Use Somebody by Kings of Leon. The second it started to play, I knew it was the right song for one of my final scenes. As high keys carry us into the first chorus, Lumi and Plant (the lonely monster) raise through the forest shield and up under the starry sky. The lyrics are perfect, as both characters need someone to heal their loneliness. At the moment, I’m wondering whether to use the version below, or if it would be better fitted to re-record the song into simple piano keys with light vocals. I really want the last repetition of ‘use somebody’ to pause into a few seconds of silence, for the wind to cast through Lumi’s hair and whisper ‘someone like you’. But this version is really nice too, so who knows.
Another song that inspired the early story development process, was Tyler Hilton’s I Believe In You. The lyrics show so much potential for visualization, but I’m worried that it’s more of a love song. What I need is something that describes loneliness. Also, it seems to be more about separation than of someone coming together. But the feel of the song was absolutely brilliant for developing my story.
Dennis Kuo’s Almost Remember was with me all the way of the initial storyboard period. It might be one of the most atmospheric melodies I have ever listened to. It is one of those songs that lets you imagine different visuals each and every time you play it, which makes it perfect for creative study music. The instrumental below is a big part of who Lumi is as a character: soft, vague, gentle, and with an undermined but rising spirit.