The unique cinematic aesthetic of Wes Anderson has been the talk of the town for many years now. Having made a name for himself as a purveyor of all things oddball, the arrival of the 2010s saw the director reach a wider audience than ever before with his 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel making him an indie mainstay.
His success is unsurprising. There are few directors with Anderson’s ability to create movies that feel quite so alive and tactile. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to watch an Anderson movie and feel the temptation to reach out and take a bite from the cinematic feast unfolding before you. And when the projector eventually stutters into empty frames, it’s easy to imagine that the characters in The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, or Rushmore go on living.
I have neither the time nor the space to fully discuss why Anderson’s films feel so alive, but music is certainly an essential ingredient. Like Quentin Tarantino, there’s something of the crate digger about Anderson, and his soundtracks often feature records that could easily have come from his own personal collection. Because he clearly has a personal connection with each of the songs he uses, the overall soundtrack is imbued with a sense of his personality.
Now, without further ado, let’s take a run through ten of the best tracks used in Wes Anderson’s films, from Bottle Rocket to The French Dispatch. Whether it be French Chanson’s from the 1960s or reworkings of classic glam-rock hits, it doesn’t get much more colourful than this selection of audio gems.
The 10 best songs from Wes Anderson movies:
10. ‘These Days’ by Nico – The Royal Tenenbaums
The fact that Nico’s voice feels as though it could slide out of tune at any moment gives this track – originally written by Jackson Brown – a transfixing fragility.
One of the standout tracks from The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson used this 1968 cover in the blissful scene in which Margot Helen Tenenbaum is greeted by Richie. Coupled with Anderson’s artful dolly zoom, this particular musical cue helps us to pinpoint all the conflicting emotions sliding over the two characters faces as they walk towards each other, in what is a cinematically flawless scene.
9. ‘Rue St. Vincent’ by Yves Montand – Rushmore
This track from Rushmore is perhaps one of the greatest French songs in Anderson’s filmography – and that’s saying a lot. If his music choices are anything to go by, the director is surely something of a Francophile, having employed the music of Joe Dassin, Françoise Hardy, and Erik Satie in the past.
‘Rue St. Vincent,’ with its lilting melodies and pearlescent ripples of piano, is perhaps the most haunting of all the French songs Anderson has used throughout his career; conjuring up images of the sun-drenched summers of the south and snowy winters of the north in one fell swoop.
8. ‘Aline’ by Jarvis Cocker – The French Dispatch
One-time Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker recently offered up his services for Wes Anderson’s 2021 film The French Dispatch, delivering a variety of covers of classic french Chansons, including ‘Aline’ by Christophe.
In Cocker’s hands, however, the 1965 hit becomes a mesmeric pastiche of French glamour and romance – evoking a feeling that falls somewhere between childhood nostalgia and carnal sensuality.
7. ‘Over And Done With’ by The Proclaimers – Bottle Rocket
Wes Anderson’s film Bottle Rocket was one of the director’s earliest professional cinematic ventures, and, while it may not contain many of the aesthetic features we have come to regard as defining Anderson’s style, the director’s taste for using outsider music is as present as it is today.
This track from The Proclaimers is one of the most brilliantly self-deprecating and strangely poignant tracks of all time; combining images of the speaker losing his virginity, with the sight of a nameless man dying to create a concise portrait of life’s bewildering complexity.
6. ‘Oh Yoko’ by John Lennon – Rushmore
While John Lennon’s Imagine album is best known for its syrupy title track, for me, its greatest offering is ‘Oh Yoko’, an uplifting message of love and affection with the power to turn even the hardest of hearts into soft fudge.
The pace and vibrant energy of this 1971 track made it the perfect musical accompaniment to one of Anderson’s best-ever montage sequences, in which Mark Fischer and Herman Blume begin their strange friendship.
5. ‘Rebel Rebel’ by Seu Jorge – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic just wouldn’t be the same without Seu Jorge’s various bossa nova covers of classic David Bowie songs, which see the Brazilian singer take on the likes of ‘5 Years’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ and ‘Life On Mars’ in his native Portuguese.
Bowie himself became a fan of Seu Jorge after hearing the soundtrack, and went on to reveal that if Jorge had not recorded his songs in Portuguese, he “would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with”.
4 ‘Le Temps de L’amour’ by Françoise Hardy – Moonrise Kingdom
Françoise Hardy’s adolescent charm made her one of France’s most beloved singers in the 1960s. It was also this that made her track ‘Le Temps de L’amour’ the perfect fit for a charmingly awkward scene in Moonrise Kingdom, in which Sam and Suzy try adulthood on for size; dancing on the beach with pseudo-sexual flair.
With its surf-inspired electric guitar line and inflexions of Latin jazz, ‘Le Temps de L’amour’ perfectly captures the glamour and maturity that Sam and Suzy so long for, but which is still just a little out of their reach.
3. ‘Wigwam’ by Bob Dylan – The Royal Tenenbaums
‘Wigmam’ is a remarkable song for the important reason that it is one of the only Bob Dylan songs without any lyrics, which is pretty surprising considering he spent so long establishing himself as the informal poet laureate of the 1960s.
Nevertheless, ‘Wigwam’s’ sun-dappled mariachi melodies are more than enough to carry us through, ushering us into the fold with a warm smile. It’s this same warmth that likely persuaded Anderson to use the track in the tender scene where Etheline and Henry become engaged.
2. ‘Oh La La’ by The Faces – Rushmore
“I wish that I knew what I know now/ when I was younger” – there are few songs with the concision and universality of this iconic track by The Faces. Anderson uses it expertly in the heartwarming ending to his 1998 film, Rushmore, to evoke a feeling of completion and transition in the life of its central character, Max Fischer.
It’s often assumed that Rod Stewart sang this particular track, but it’s actually Ronnie Wood whose remarkable vocal range gives ‘Oh La La’ its youthful chime.
1. ‘This Time Tomorrow’ by The Kinks – The Darjeeling limited
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited is one of the best Wes films out there. For me, its supremacy is largely due to its sparing and inventive use of music. Much of the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s homage to India is provided by music from classic Satyajit Ray films, with ‘Charu’s Theme’ offering a particularly glorious musical moment.
It is the minimal use of western artists that makes tracks such as The Kinks ‘This Time Tomorrow’ so memorable, helping to forge a subconscious connection between music, character, and place in the mind of the viewer. Anderson also uses The Kinks’ ‘Strangers’ in the Darjeeling Limited, but I think the intense optimism of ‘This Time Tomorrow’ gives it an edge.