Cameron Crowe recalls how, in 1982, he had to fight with Universal Studios execs over the soundtrack to a little movie he had written called Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The studio wanted a conventional score -- strings and things, very old-fashioned. Crowe demanded something the SoCal kids in the film (and the audience) might actually listen to, and in the end, he won the battle -- hence an album filled with the Go-Go's, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Jackson Browne, whose "Somebody's Baby" became the film's melancholy anthem when Jennifer Jason Leigh lost her virginity in a dimly lit dugout. The songs were as integral to the movie as the actors, which is the least one could expect from a movie penned by a former Rolling Stone and Creem contributor.
The filmmaker's soundtracks sound like comps made by an old friend with a good ear and great connections: Say Anythingcontained not only Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," used in that iconic scene with John Cusack hoisting a boombox, but also the Replacements' "Within Your Reach." Singles boasted new tracks by Paul Westerberg, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam (which appeared in the film). And Almost Famous's soundtrack played like a classic-rock radio station programmed by an alt-rocker with a hard-on for deep cuts. Since Crowe's films play more like concept albums than narratives, they overflow with music -- but none more so than his new Elizabethtown, an elegy for his late father that switches earthy, alt-country tunes as often as a drunk with a short attention span deejaying a late-night throwdown. One second it's Elton John singing "My Father's Gun"; the next, Ryan Adams is begging you to "Come Pick Me Up"; and the next, My Morning Jacket (which makes a cameo in the movie) wonders "Where to Begin."
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"I wanted to have a lot of music in the movie, and there is a lot of music in the movie," says Crowe, whose catalogue of possible songs for Elizabethtown was longer than its screenplay. (He concedes that a complete soundtrack would make up a three-disc boxed set.) "Elizabethtown, more than the others, really, was built around the songs -- except maybe for Singles. You just choose the music that works, and hopefully you arrange the songs in a mix-tape order when you put it out so that it kind of flows as a long-playing experience. It's meant to take you into another world. When Orlando Bloom's character arrives in Elizabethtown, the movie takes a shift, like Local Hero or some of my favorite movies that sort of have an elixir that the music provides. And that's what I wanted Elizabethtown to feel like."