Though I’m a prog man at heart, I like to think of myself as open to all forms of music. Granted, I have yet to hear a single country or rap song that I like, but I certainly love much of classical and symphonic, jazz, and various forms of rock. One thing I miss in the rock world are compilation albums. I definitely don’t mean “greatest hits” packages. I mean albums that contain songs by various artists coming together for a particular purpose. Usually, this purpose was for movie soundtracks, but not always.
Looking at my own collection–however limited–it looks to me that the best of these came out in the 1990s. I will admit, though, that my love of these specific compilation albums might have much to do with some happy nostalgia for a pre-9/11, far more innocent world.
Here are my favorite four from that time period.
4. “Until the End of the World”–a soundtrack for the Wim Wenders film of the same name. The album features songs–every one of them good–by a number of artists I would never listen to, otherwise, such as Depeche Mode, Lou Reed, and T-Bone Burnett. Even the major bands that appear–such as Talking Heads, Nick Cave, and U2 give it their best. My favorite song, by far, is “Calling All Angels,” performed by Jane Siberry and K.D. Lang.
3. A year later–with Grunge just beginning to dominate the rock world–“Singles,” the soundtrack to the movie of the same title came out. Again, the bands that appeared gave some of their best work. Screaming Trees, Mother Love Bone, and Alice in Chains. Amazing. But even more amazing were the releases from Smashing Pumpkins, Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam. The songs from these latter three represent the best each ever wrote and recorded.
2. Not surprisingly, the best rock of all, came out on the two X-Files inspired albums, “The X-Files: The Album” in 1998, and, even better, the earlier “Songs in the Key of X.” The former included tracks by The Cure, The Cardigans, and Sarah McLachlan. Even the poppier bands, such as Better Than Ezra, wrote some of their most innovative music.
1. Definitely, though, my favorite of all of these albums was 1996’s “Songs in the Key of X.” Even the packaging was creepy. From the opening track, the theme of the TV show by Mark Snow, Soul Coughing, Sheryl Crow (!–never in my life would I come close to liking a Sheryl Crow song; except this one!), Filter, Nick Cave, REM, Elvis Costello, and P.M. Dawn innovate for the sake of art. I’m not the least a Foo Fighters fan, but their cover of “Down in the Park” is as wicked and cinematic as is possible in rock. Even beatnik, William S. Burroughs,” appears on the album.
I suppose the above list just affirms the genius of Chris Carter, especially. And, much to my surprise, the last two albums are still available for purchase.
If you’re interested in the best of the 1990s–especially when “alternative” bordered on prog–these four albums provide the perfect place to start.