“I respect the audience’s intelligence a lot, and that’s why I don’t try to go for the lowest common denominator” — Spike Lee
Music and cinema work together so seamlessly that to try and extract the sounds of the story from modern movies would be to deliver a product half-finished. There is a certain expectation now that music will not only be a part of the backdrop to a new release but will likely act as an active piece f the narrative, driving forward stories and underlining themes. It’s a tool that the most highly-acclaimed actors all pull off without a hitch. Of course, first thoughts may turn to Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese, who have used rock’s golden age to gild their numerous films. But perhaps one director has achieved this same feat with even more ease — Spike Lee.
Whether it’s from his seminal film Do The Right Thing or his latest Netflix release, Da 5 Bloods, Lee has always used music to punctuate his films with the most precise piercings. We’ve gathered up as many of those moments as we could and delivered them in the ultimate Spike Lee movie playlist, which you can find below.
A champion of the common person and their problems, Lee has often used his growing platform to tell the stories of genuine people, as the director himself once said: “What’s the difference between Hollywood characters and my characters? Mine are real.” It’s a realism that permeates his musical stylings too. Though many of the playlist’s songs were brought to us by his musical collaborator Terence Blanchard, he also ensures the music of the characters at hand is also included.
“A spine to my films that’s become more evident to me is that many are about the choices that people make,” Lee once said. “You go this way, or that way, and either way, there’s going to be consequences.” It’s reflected in his musical choices too. The songs and scores that Lee has implemented have always worked alongside the narrative, providing backdrop, atmosphere and ambience to his visuals.
Of course, there are some moments in his filmography that are more notable than others. It’s hard to ignore Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ in Do The Right Thing or Grace Jones’ cover of ‘La Vie En Rose’ from 1999’s Summer of Sam. There is also the simply brilliant soundtrack for Jungle Fever that came from the mind of Stevie Wonder or, indeed, the powerful use of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ in Malcolm X — even if it was left off the original soundtrack release.
So, to truly appreciate Spike Lee’s films one must actively take in their soundtracks too; use them as facilitators to understanding the story on a guttural level and gain further knowledge through osmosis. The beauty of Lee’s work is that we can also get a sense of the movie form the soundtracks alone. What’s more, those songs compiled together, even on their own, make for a truly brilliant playlist.
Listen to a 310-track playlist chronicling the filmography of Spike Lee below.