The 8 Best Soundtrack-Exclusive Tracks
R. Kelly, whose biggest hit originally appeared on the Space Jam soundtrack.
Photo by Marco Torres
Soundtracks were a huge deal in the '90s. It was a chance for us to get all our favorite bands together in one place, like a high class, far more expensive mixtape. They were such an affair that bands would release their best songs and greatest hits on these records, oftentimes sending a soundtrack soaring up the charts far past any one musician's own album.
For that reason, it's hard to look back at them as the cheap marketing ploys that they could be. When real musicians applied themselves to soundtrack appearances, and Hollywood execs allowed them free reign over the product, it often became a must own, even if the movie sucked.
Here are some of those songs which you could only get on a soundtrack that you just had to buy back then.
Coolio featuring L.V. - "Gangsta's Paradise" This one was released originally on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack, but it was re-released one month later as the title track of Coolio's second album. Nevertheless, it will forever be associated with the Michelle Pfeiffer film. Pfeiffer even appears in the video which is loosely based on the movie.
Regardless of where you place it, the soundtrack or Coolio's album, it became one of the biggest and most beloved hits of the '90s, and made Coolio a pop culture icon. That Stevie Wonder sample is still instantly recognizable, and its lyrics, which actually carry a pretty powerful message, are ingrained in the brains of almost anyone who grew up in the era.
Nine Inch Nails - "The Perfect Drug" For some reason, this remains one of front man Trent Reznor's least favorite songs, but it's a fan favorite all the way. It debuted on the soundtrack of David Lynch's Lost Highway , which Reznor produced. It's a completely outside the box song for NIN, sounding like something they would do but featuring some of the songwriting expansion and tracks that Reznor would explore much further on the subsequent album The Fragile.
In that way, it's a transitional track, and maybe easy to see why Reznor doesn't like it. On the other hand, it's just a great song, no matter how poorly it would have fit on a Nails album. Speaking of these things, NIN also put out another great soundtrack exclusive song called "Deep" for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and word has it that Reznor hates that song too. It seems to be trend.
R. Kelly - "I Believe I Can Fly" Like Coolio, Kelly scooped this one up for his subsequent album when it became a huge hit. Unlike Coolio, it didn't make it to a Kelly album for another two years, so there was a long time where you had to buy the Space Jam soundtrack to hear arguably Kelly's greatest song ever.
Space Jam was big with pretty much everyone under the sun, and the soundtrack rocked. But the definitive highlight was Kelly's inspirational gospel jam which inspires singalongs even to this day. It also happened to be Kelly's biggest hit, and as yet is unmatched in his discography.
U2 - "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" By the '90s, U2 had gone into their poorly received experimental phase. In retrospect, it was probably their creative peak. In any case, it was great when this song came out because it was U2 rocking again, even if it was for the Batman Forever soundtrack rather than a U2 album.
The Batman soundtracks of the '80s and '90s were all amazing, but this one holds a special place in my heart since it was maybe the first album I ever owned. U2's track, which never appeared elsewhere, is one of my all time favorites from the band and holds up as a classic even now.
Smashing Pumpkins - "The End is the Beginning is the End" While we're on the subject of Batman soundtracks, how about this one? The Smashing Pumpkins were in a weird transitional phase during this era, and it was generally their decline as a mainstream hit-producing powerhouse. That's because Billy Corgan quit writing rock songs.
But Batman required him to write rock, and he knew that. For Batman and Robin, he produced this, one of the Pumpkins greatest rock tracks ever and still a popular hit after being resurrected for the Watchmen soundtrack in 2009.
Pantera - "Avoid the Light" Our beloved Texan metal band released one of their last recorded pieces of music before their devastating demise for the soundtrack of Dracula 2000 . It was an awful movie, but this is a powerhouse of a Pantera track, combining some of the best elements of their sound to create something that sounds little like anything else they ever did.
David Bowie - "Bring Me the Disco King (Danny Lohner Mix)" "Bring Me the Disco King" originally turned up as the final track of David Bowie's 2003 album Reality . For the Underworld soundtrack, they decided to use that song, but they wanted something different, maybe more epic, for their purposes. Enter Danny Lohner of Nine Inch Nails, who remixed it with the help of John Frusciante, Maynard James Keenan, Josh Freese, and Milla Jovovich, creating this amazing new and completely different version of the song.
Whitney Houston - "I Will Always Love You" This is the ultimate soundtrack song. Not only was it Houston's biggest hit, but it has become a part of music history in a way that Dolly Parton could have never guessed when she wrote it in the early '70s.
However, Houston never released it on a single one of her original studio albums. Instead, it came out on the soundtrack for her film with Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard. The film is less well regarded now than the soundtrack is, which was catapulted by the appearance of this huge song.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.