Music and cinema are inextricably linked. With the mere hint of the Indiana Jones score inspiring adventure, or the eerie suggestion of The Exorcist’s tubular bells making you want to run or curl up in a protective ball, the combination of music and movies has always been a vital connection of any director’s storytelling capabilities. A soundtrack can go far in bolstering a film’s story whilst also proving a crucial piece of marketing, lingering in the minds of audience members long after they’ve seen the movie.
As Quentin Tarantino once explained: “One of the things I do when I am starting a movie, when I’m writing a movie or when I have an idea for a film is, I go through my record collection and just start playing songs, trying to find the personality of the movie, find the spirit of the movie. Then, ‘boom,’ eventually I’ll hit one, two or three songs, or one song in particular, ‘Oh, this will be a great opening credit song.'”
Perhaps the most important decade in the whole history of commercial filmmaking, the 1970s brought with it the all-encompassing concept of the Hollywood blockbuster involving merchandise, spin-offs and a continuing series of worsening films. Now seen as the benchmark of successful mainstream filmmaking, such a rise can be attributed to the mammoth success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and George Lucas’ sci-fi epic, Star Wars.
As toys, video games, and wearable advertising became as much part of the cinema experience as the film itself; soundtracks too started to embody something far grander and more compelling. The decade saw a boom in such commercial soundtracks, with the likes of Grease, The Warriors and Apocalypse Now each assembling staggering ensemble records, even if none of these three films were lucky enough to make our list of the greatest of the decade.
Featuring spectacular scores and subtle emotional compositions, let’s take a look at the ten best movie soundtracks of the 1970s.
The 10 best movie soundtracks of the 1970s
10. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1979)
Representing one of the very first Hollywood attempts to create a serious drama about the deep-rooted impact of the Vietnam war on American veterans, Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter stars Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep.
Prominently anti-war in its stance, The Deer Hunter would take home Best Picture and Best Director at the 1979 Academy Awards, but will forever be remembered for its iconic and deeply disturbing Russian roulette scene. Such an emotional analysis of the crippling Vietnam war required a subtle score, making Stanley Myers’ classical guitar piece ‘Cavatina’ the perfect choice, having since become synonymous with Cimino’s film.
A defining piece of music in the decade, Myers’ slow score perfectly punctuates The Deer Hunter’s reflective intentions.
9. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian crime film, A Clockwork Orange, based on Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name is a disturbing, violent analysis of free will and psychiatric illness in the context of socio-political pressures.
The seminal film featured the heavy narrative involvement of the music and influence of Ludwig van Beethoven, so it was natural for the soundtrack to feature the classic composer in abundance.
Though, to go along with the film’s dystopian themes, the composer was given an electro-synth twist, reflecting the film’s eerie tones whilst well punctuating Alex’s deteriorating psychology.
8. Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
There are few themes as immediately iconic as ‘Gonna Fly Now’ from Rocky, Sylvester Stallone’s ode to the passion and drive for the American Dream that won Best Picture at the 49th Academy Awards.
Written and composed by Bill Conti, the film’s influential score would go on to define the classic boxing flick that follows a small-time boxer who gets the rare chance to fight in a heavyweight championship bout. With extremely simple lyrics, this main song, in particular, typifies just why Rocky is such a beloved property, “Trying hard now. It’s so hard now. Trying hard now”.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting the song has lyrics at all.
7. Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1978)
Becoming the best selling album of 1978, the soundtrack for the classic Saturday Night Fever demonstrates a rare case wherein a film’s music betters the film itself, credit that to the funk and disco soul of the Bee Gees.
Starring a thriving John Travolta, the film follows a young Italian-American boy from Brooklyn who escapes the harsh realities of family life, as well as his fears of the future, by dominating the disco dance floor.
Featuring a whole host of genre classics including, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Night Fever’, ‘More than a Woman’ and ‘How Deep is your Love’, the soundtrack transcended its cinematic limits, becoming iconic songs in and of themselves.
6. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
Having created the soundtrack for Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, Escape from New York and the horror classic, Halloween, John Carpenter is well-known as a multi-talented filmmaker often writing, directing and composing the music for his own films.
Creeping up on the listener, the soundtrack for the classic Halloween is a careful, incessant staccato score, continuing without a pause to reflect the ceaseless energy of antagonist Michael Myers.
Composed and created by John Carpenter himself, the director was inspired by both ‘Tubular Bells’, the theme to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, as well as the work of Italian prog-rock band Goblin, though the secret behind Halloween’s eventual soundtrack was from something far more elementary.
5. Superfly (Gordon Parks Jr., 1972)
It’s almost a certainty that you’d recognise the score for Gordon Parks Jr’s Superfly before you think of the film, following the daily routine of a cocaine dealer named Priest, who wants to score one more deal before retirement.
A major addition to the soul music genre, the song ‘Superfly’ from The Impressions member Curtis Mayfield is now an influential classic. The soundtrack stands alone as a pivotal piece of cultural importance.
In fact, every single song on the soundtrack was written and composed by Mayfield, with other songs on the critical and commercial success including, ‘Little Child Runnin’ Wild’, ‘Pusherman’, ‘Freddie’s Dead, ‘Give Me Your Love’ and ‘Eddie You Should Know Better’.
4. Superman (Richard Donner, 1978)
An influential voice in popular 1980s filmmaking, the late Richard Donner was the first to bring Superman to the silver screen, kicking off the career of Christopher Reeve whilst making a name for one of pop culture’s most celebrated characters.
Scored by the incredible John Williams, whose impressive resume also includes Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and Home Alone, the soundtrack for the original Superman was one of the last aspects of the film to be added, proving to be the cherry on the cake of the film.
Conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, Williams created a rousing superhero score that well illustrated the heroic might of the titular icon.
3. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
Based on Mario Puzo’s eponymous novel, The Godfather was initially written off as yet another mafia flick, but time has proven otherwise with the trilogy having changed the way viewers perceive the genre, transforming the cycle of violence.
With music by Nino Rota and Carlo Savina, the soundtrack has become synonymous with stories of tragedy, deceit and familial love, illustrated by such songs as ‘The Love Theme’ as well as the main theme, also known as ‘The Godfather Waltz’.
Having since become one of the most critically celebrated films of all time, this soundtrack has suffused itself within popular culture.
2. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
A score that represents so much more than the film itself, the Star Wars theme instils an immediate nostalgia for the galaxy far, far away, whilst acting as a rallying cry for the whole science fiction genre.
One of the most recognisable film scores of all time, the brass fanfare of the opening titles is a wild hit of adrenaline, getting the audience ready for a bombastic ride through fantastical planets featuring vibrant characters.
Writing the music for all six Star Wars films, John Williams was also responsible for the classic ‘Imperial March’ in The Empire Strikes Back, though it was his work on the original film that would win the composer an Academy Award.
1. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
For giving a whole generation a fear of sharks with just one iconic score, John Williams’ work on Steven Spielberg’s influential blockbuster Jaws is nothing short of inspiring, sparking an immediate sense of panic whenever it is played.
Perfectly capturing the film’s atmosphere, Williams’ score lives autonomously of the film, acting as a constant sense of threat, even when the characters remain on dry land.
Describing the main theme of the film, which is performed on the tuba, Williams explained he wanted the song to be “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable”. John Williams and Steven Speilberg both certainly succeeded.