Sunday, January 5, 2014

Top Ten Greatest Soundtrack Songs

Soundtracks are often important to writers. For many of us, songs with lyrics tend to be distracting; instrumental songs, on the other hand, have the ability to inspire us and shape our work.

There are a number of soundtracks that inspire me. And because I love analyzing things, I compiled a list of my favorites, numbered them, and wrote down why I loved them so much.

If anything, it's something fun to read; and perhaps you'll find some stunning new soundtracks you had never listened to before. I hope they inspire you the way they have inspired me. 

There are some songs that are not included in this list; first, because there are just so many good soundtracks; and second, because the main purpose of this list is not only to find awesome soundtracks, but moving ones. Accordingly, I have left out some awesome songs, such as “Battle” from Narnia, which was my number thirteen pick, and “He's a Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean, which was right behind.

The other disclaimer I have is that, unlike my list of favorite stories, this list is subject to much more fluctuation.  This list is true for the time being: I have no idea whether all of it will be true next month.

Now Top Ten Greatest Soundtrack Songs!

10. “Song of Freedom” by Murray Gold

This one made it to number ten for a number of reasons. One of them is because it's a great piece of composing.

But what makes it really wonderful is the Doctor Who episode it comes from. I won't spoil anything, but it comes from one of the show's highest and happiest points. (My sister cried all the way through the scene.) In a way, it embodies the joy of that moment, and that is what makes it so beautiful.

9. “Rise” by Hans Zimmer

“Rise” is a track that starts out remixing some of the earlier themes from the soundtrack of The Dark Knight trilogy, including the main theme right off the bat. (Pun intended.)

Just after two minutes in, however, the track is catapulted from good to great. One of the things about great soundtracks is that they embody an ideal or emotion. That particular theme embodies Bruce Wayne's struggle for justice and his paradoxical relationship with fear. He “rises” above his fear and becomes it, one last time.

This “struggle” soundtrack fit well with the climax of Tornado C. I was sitting at the floor at the time, and wrote for an hour straight with this song on repeat—and not only did this soundtrack fuel my writing, it shaped it. The struggle of the song became the struggle of my character, and without this song I don't think the climax would have been half as good.

8. “Concerning Hobbits” by Howard Shore

“Peace, quiet, and good tilled earth.” “Concerning Hobbits” evokes this feel very well, and every time I watch The Lord of the Rings and come to this scene, it makes me feel wistful and nostalgic. “Concerning Hobbits” captures the wonderful simplicity of the Shire that Frodo left to save.

And it's just plain beautiful stuff, too.

7. “Day of the Doctor Theme” by Murray Gold

(Disclaimer: the soundtrack I posted above is not the exact soundtrack that I had in mind when I listed this song, but a variation of it.)

One of the trademarks of Doctor Who is dazzling twists, hints and strands of plot that eventually bear fruit later in the episodes. And that's what this song evokes: the final scenes where the last strand is unraveled and the Doctor triumphs.

This soundtrack also comes in my favorite part of Day of the Doctor, where the Doctor flies in to the Tower of London hanging from the bottom of the TARDIS. Ridiculously triumphant and confident, cocky and laughable. It captures the spirit of the Eleventh Doctor excellently.

6. “The Doctor's Theme” by Murray Gold

Eerie and haunting. Alien and otherworldly. This is the theme of the Tenth Doctor—heavy and lonely, but nevertheless hopeful and soaring.

It sends chills down my spine.

This is also my tribute to “Vale Decem”, which I didn't put on the list. It contains much of the same tune, but as the last song of the Tenth Doctor shortly before he regenerated. It's heartbreaking and sad—I don't listen to it so that I don't spoil the episode. That contributed, at last partially, to the placement of this song.

5. “This is Gallifrey” by Murray Gold

In “The Sound of Drums”, there is a scene in which the Doctor talks of his home planet, destroyed long ago. It's rich in nostalgia, haunting and bittersweet and poetic. This is the soundtrack of that scene, and it fits like a glove.

It is haunting. It is bittersweet. It is nostalgic. It's a unique song—no soundtrack that I know of has captured that same sort of soaring nostalgia. Sad and wonderful, a fitting song for Doctor Who.

A bit of a personal note here; I remember listening to it for the first time while driving through a massive windmill farm in western Kansas. The windmills, lonely and framed against the setting sun, seemed to fit the haunting tune perfectly.

4. “Strength of a Thousand Men” by Two Steps from Hell

There are a lot of excellent Two Steps from Hell songs, but this one is definitely my favorite. It's dark and deep and epic in the best sense of the word. Then it rises to a climax in the middle and simply flies from there, makes me shiver.

And like someone fighting with the strength of a thousand men, it does have a sort of intense and fierce quality about it that characterizes a desperate conflict where good beats all odds and prevails in the end. It's a feat of composing, that's for sure. My dream is to get someone to haul a large portable speaker along behind me and play this song whenever I do something awesome.

3. “The Greatest Story Never Told” by Murray Gold

There are a lot of Doctor Who soundtracks that could be called bittersweet, but this one can claim the description more than most. Indeed, this is a song that, perhaps, describes Doctor Who the best. Perhaps it is more sweet than bitter—the beginning is beautiful and soaring. Then it gets quieter and darker, with a mix of the “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” theme thrown in. Then it reaches back up into the heights with another soaring part, and then goes into the Tenth Doctor's theme. Then it flies one last time and goes out with a bang.

This song is perhaps more personal than all the rest. I put this on repeat when I wrote a short story called Dreamtreader. Besides Tornado C, Dreamtreader is a personal favorite of all the stories I've written, novels included. It's bittersweet and wonderful. I'm not sure if the story simply fit the song or if the song shaped the story; but either way, Dreamtreader and “The Greatest Story Never Told” are tied together.

2. “The Breaking of the Fellowship” by Howard Shore

My favorite part in all the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the scene at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo decides to leave his companions and go out alone, but Sam finds him out and swims after him into the river. I've run out of adjectives to describe things, so pardon me if I say, one last time, that it's a beautiful scene.

And likewise, it's a beautiful soundtrack. It captures the emotion in a way that few songs do, and as the flute plays alone, I can almost hear them saying, “Don't you leave him, Samwise Gamgee. And I don't mean to.”

Besides The End of Time, no movie has ever come closer to making me cry, and the soundtrack never fails to move me. It's wonderful, it's touching, it's inspiring.

1. “Coming Back Around” by John Powell

Why this track, you might ask? Why is it number one?

Not necessarily because I love the movie (although I do) or that it's my favorite movie ever (it isn't). But judging the soundtrack on its own merits, it's positively incredible. John Powell has the ability to write a theme and manage to make it big and majestic without drowning out the other instruments. And my goodness, the drums!

And this one is marvelous. I've used the word soaring before, but I'll use it again: this soundtrack soars. It's almost made of the stuff. It's happy and sweeping and moving, and then it kicks into another gear entirely, leaving you nearly breathless at the end.

This soundtrack also, in some ways, represents the entire How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack. The whole thing is a work of art. (I'm particularly fond of “This is Berk”.)  Although I've not listened to the whole album yet, I'm getting it in a package in the next week or two.


Well, there you have it—some of my favorite soundtracks. What are some of your favorite instrumental songs? Any you think I missed that ought to be on this list?

I hope you enjoyed hearing a few new songs—and, perhaps, revisited a few old ones.