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Music

The 10 best erotica soundtracks of all time

@SamWKemp

It might come as something of a surprise, but the world of erotica boasts some of the best cinematic soundtracks you’ll ever have the good fortune of hearing. Perhaps that’s because, at the end of the day, erotica deals with one essential and universal theme: desire. And if Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde or The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks’ teach us anything, it’s that unsatisfied desires breed excellent music.

While some of the selections on this list can – and probably should – be defined as out and out pornography, others are a little less brazen, using sex not simply to titillate but as a tool to uncover those more subterranean themes simmering beneath the surface.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that those cheaper erotic films (of which there are few on this list) are any less valuable in terms of music. The reality is that the golden age of European art-house pornography in the 1960s and ’70s served as a platform for some of the most talented composers of the era. While the name Piero Piccioni, for example, might not be as familiar as Ennio Morricone, Piccioni’s scores for films such as Camille 2000 were some of the most genre-bending works to come out of Italy in the 1970s.

With all that said, let’s take a look at ten of the best erotic soundtracks of all time.

The 10 best Erotica soundtracks:

Sex y el Lucía (2001)

Composer: Alberto Iglesias
Highlight:‘ Me Voy a Morir De Tanto Amor’

This gloriously fragmentary film by Julio Medem tells the story of the beautiful Lucía (Paz Vega), who, after learning of her boyfriend’s (Lorenzo) suicide, escapes to a remote Spanish Island, where she meets Carlos, a local scuba driver, and Lorenzo’s former lover Elena. Alberto Iglesias’s string-based score perfectly captures the sun-drenched atmosphere of Lucía’s island retreat, while his more ambient cues (‘La Bajo La Isla’) effortlessly guide us into the darkness that seems to lurk behind every frame of Sex and Lucía

Le Mariage Collectif (1971)

Composer: Jean-Pierre Mirouze
Highlight: ‘Sexopolis’

There are few vinyl stories crazier than the discovery of the soundtrack to Le Mariage Collectif in a Paris landfill. The music to this mind-bending erotic masterpiece from the minds of hippie directors Sven Olsen and Sven Holm was composed by the great Jean-Pierre Mirouze. Unfortunately, it was never released, save for a few ’45s of ‘Together/Sexpolis’, which glisten with a late ’60s funk backbeat. With cavernous organ passages and pulsating basslines, Mirouze’s soundtrack occupies that mesmerising goldilocks zone where West Coast psychedelia, jazz, funk and soul meet.

Camille 2000 (1969)

Composer: Piero Piccioni
Highlight: ‘Main Theme’

Based on the 1852 novel and play La Dame aux Camélias, Camille 2000 tells the story of the doomed love affair between Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval, a relative commoner. Marguerite (Danièle Gaubert) is young, beautiful and living off the money off the various nobleman she sleeps with on a (very) regular basis. However, things become a lot more complicated when she develops feelings for Armand.

While it’s a pretty problematic film from start to finish, Camille 2000 features one of the very best soundtracks of Italy’s golden age of erotic cinema. That’s likely to do with the fact that it was composed by the great Piero Piccioni, an absolute giant of ’70s film scoring. Blending the orchestration of impressionist composers such as Ravel with elements of jazz, funk, and rock, it doesn’t get much steamier than this.

La Ragazza Dalla Pelle Di Luna (1972)

Composer: Piero Umiliani
Highlight: ‘Ricordandoti’

Luigi Scattini’s acclaimed tale of love and betrayal on the shores of a small island in the Indian Ocean was a hit when it was released in 1972, as was its soundtrack. Composed by Scattini’s friend and long-time collaborator Piero Umiliani, it is an example of the ‘Exotica’ sound for which Umilliani became so revered. Umiliani’s score up a wealth of sonic luxury, featuring sumptuous orchestrations alongside more minimalistic solo piano pieces.

As Scattani remembered of his time collaborating with Umiliani: “The best moments were when we were listening to him playing the piano. And, in fact, the film’s main theme (‘Pelle di Luna’) is a solo piano piece that enhances, even more, the exotic atmosphere and the emotional impact of the story”.

Femina Ridens (1969)

Composer: Stelvio Cipriani
Highlight: ‘Mary’s Theme’

Femina Ridens tells the story of Mary, a PR woman who finds herself trapped in the home of Dr Sayer, a disturbed sadist who subjects her to a series of degrading and terrifying sex games. It’s a classic piece of exploitation erotica, featuring an incredible soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani, who crafts mesmeric themes for each of the film’s central characters, the most ornate of which is ‘Mary’s Theme’. This strangely nostalgic cue sees Cipriani utilise a small chamber orchestra combined of strings, harp, celeste, bass, and solo female vocals – all underpinned by a sauntering brushed snare.

The Dreamers (2003)

Composer: Various Artists
Highlight: ‘New York Herald Tribune’

Bernardo Bertolucci’s 2004 erotic drama paints a stunning portrait of Paris on the eve of the May ’68 riots. It tells the story of an American exchange student named Matthew, who bonds with twins Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green) over a shared love of cinema. Matthew is soon invited into the sibling’s home, where the depth of their intimacy is slowly revealed. The brilliance of The Dreamers soundtrack is that it combines some of the best music of the countercultural age (Jimi Hendrix et al) and cues from classic French cinema, including the lush meanderings of Martial Solal’s ‘New York Herald Tribune’ from Breathless.

Betty Blue (1986)

Composer: Gabriel Yared
Highlight: ‘Betty et Zorg’

Also known as 37° 2 le matin, this psychological erotic thriller from the mind of Jean-Jacques Beineix tells the story of Betty, an unstable young woman who is engaged in a passionate love affair with a handyman and frustrated writer. Together, the couple make their way from job to job, town to town, drifting ever closer to tragedy, as Betty’s mental state becomes more and more erratic. The score was written by the ever-inventive Gabriel Yared, who managed to conjure up music that expertly evokes the various landscapes Betty and Zorg travel through on their journey through France.

Le Isole Dell-amore (1970)

Composer: Piero Umuliani
Highlight: ‘Le isole dell’amore’

Another one from Piero Umuliani now. This film is pretty much impossible to find today, but its stunning score (thank God) remains. Le Isole Dell’Amore is one of the more obscure skin flicks Umiliani was hired to score, but carries much of the same thematic (if that’s not too strong a word for shagging) material as La Ragazza Dalla Pelle Di Luna. Blending pacific percussion, orchestral choir, and elements of Ennio Morricone’s great Western scores, Umiliani offers up a rich sonic tapestry that would go on to inspire the lounge DJs of the 1990s.

Emmanuelle (1974)

Composer: Pierre Bachelet,
Highlight:
‘Emmanuelle’

This 1974 French drama is one of the most famous erotic films of the 1970s. Indeed, Richard Curtis named it one of the most formative films of his early life. Directed by Just Jaeckin, the film tells the story of a French diplomat’s wife who journeys to Bangkok to embark on a voyage of sexual discovery. While the film itself can come off as a little pretentious at times, the score is a near-perfect evocation of desire.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Composer: Various Artists
Highlight: ‘Une Barque Sur L’océan’

In the summer of 1983, a talented teenager, Elio Perlman, is holidaying with his family in a 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. After the arrival of Oliver, a doctoral student who is working as his father’s intern, Elio experiences a sexual awakening that changes everything. For me, the glorious soundtrack is half of what makes this sun-drenched coming-of-age drama such a masterpiece. As well as classical piano pieces by the likes of John Adams (‘Hallelujah Junction’) and Maurice Ravel (‘Une Barque Sur L’océan’), it also features a selection of heartachingly tender songs by Sufjan Stevens.