The 20 Best Movie Soundtracks of The 1970s

10. Trouble Man – Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye may be famous for many things: soul masterpieces, sexual fixations, cocaine fueled sessions and immense talent. In Trouble Man, Marvin shows that his versatility is much beyond any stereotypical trademark. Working as composer, arranger and producer, he produced a Soundtrack that is superior in quality than the movie itself.

In the early 70s, Motown moved its office from Detroit to Los Angeles. Marvin moved too and received carte blanche to create a soundtrack following the steps of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. Trouble Man is a more ambitious effort than its predecessors. It has richer arrangements and sophisticated textures, reaching the same level of composers such as Ennio Morricone and Quincy Jones.

Trouble Man didn’t become as successful as Superfly or Shaft. The Soundtrack doesn’t have any song with the level of appeal of Shaft’s Theme or Freddie’s Dead. But, it remains as a brilliant and courageous effort of a genius exploring the limits of his own work.


9. Chinatown – Jerry Goldsmith

Chinatown is undoubtedly the best Neo Noir movie ever made. Directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne and played by Jack Nicholson, it was a brilliant masterpiece with a lot of plot twists, intrigues and unforgettable dialogues. The Soundtrack is also a masterpiece.

Composed by the eclectic Jerry Goldsmith, the score to Chinatown features a highly unorthodox instrumental lineup: one trumpet, four pianos, four harps, two percussionists and a string section. It mixes jazz noir melodies with modern classical music, including abrupt noises.


8. A Clockwork Orange – Various

Highly polemical, the use of Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange involves several aspects, but mostly the theme that high culture and aesthetics are not in themselves sufficient traits of highly moral individuals. Alex listens to Beethoven’s Ninth and associates it to images of violence, sex, and destruction, things that are symbols of pleasure for him.

Music is a subjective matter. Whereas one can hear joy, peace and calmness, other can hear the extreme opposites of these feelings. Kubrick’s point of view is validated by Nazism’s view of high culture and classical music: culture and aesthetics can be whatever the consumer wants.


7. Superfly – Curtis Mayfield

Unlike Shaft’s celebration of hedonism, Superfly is a conscious record that influenced many hip hop artists with social concerns like De La Soul and Mos Def. Curtis Mayfield speaks to the ghetto people through this concept album, in an almost preachy way, succeeding Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Curtis’ music is mainly based on guitar riffs, percussions and beautiful vocal lines: Superfly has it all. Freddie’s Dead is a powerful funk-rock later covered by funk-metal precursors Fishbone. “Cocaine Song” is a hymn against drugs singed through Mayfield’s high pitched voice. Superfly and Pusherman are eternal tracks sampled by many hip hop artists with catchy bass lines and beautiful arrangements.


6. Taxi Driver – Bernard Herrmann

Taxi Driver was the last work of Bernard Herrman’s career. Maybe the composer already knew that because he died only 2 hours after finishing the last recording for the movie soundtrack. At that time, his style was different from the one he became famous for, mostly in Alfred Hitchcock movies. The Jazz language was how Hermann spoke back then.

The jazzy soundtrack portrayed Brickle’s unstable mood in a subterranean way. Tracks as Thank God for the Rain, Cleaning the Cab, I Still Can’t Sleep, They Cannot Touch Her (Betsy’s Theme) reveal feelings that corroborate their names.

Travis sometimes hates hookers, dealers, pimps and junkies. Other times he thinks about Betsy, his platonic love. But he is always alone. That sense of solitude permeates the whole movie and soundtrack, showing that there is a little Travis Brickle inside of every contemporary man.


5. Mean Streets – Various

If there is a movie that changed the film industry in the 70s, this movie probably is Mean Streets. Martin Scorsese, Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro launched their careers after the success of this Little Italy based Ganster-Religious story about friendship, violence and sins. The movie’s realism demonstrated that it was possible to create a kind of cinema intrinsically related to the realities of the urban society.

The Soundtrack was a low budget creative effort. Scorsese used songs by popular artists like The Rolling Stones and The Ronettes to represent the personalities and moods of the characters.

Be my baby is used along with almost homemade images of Charlie and his Little Italy environment. The Chips Rubber Biscuit is used to show Charlie’s drunken state and hedonism. Jumpin Jack Flash is Johnny Boy’s theme: explosive and unpredictable. It’s a post modern soundtrack collage to the epitome of post modern movies.


4. Shaft – Isaac Hayes

Isaac was the master of “Symphonic Soul”. His work blended grooves, love ballads and intricate orchestral arrangements. He began his career as an arranger for Stax Records and later turned into a crooner: the Black Moses.

John Shaft shared a lot of similarities with Mr. Hayes himself: tough guy, womanizer and a bad mother… (SHUT YOUR MOUTH). The Shaft Theme is an Orchestral groove starting with only cymbals then transforming into a Wah-Wah frenzy. Q and A vocals provide lyrics describing John Shaft’s character. Soulsville is a beautiful soul ballad with an astonishing Sax solo played by Isaac Hayes. No Name Bar is an instrumental groove with a battle between flutes and horns.

The Soundtrack (and the movie) ends with an almost 20 minutes long apotheotic groove jam: Do Your Thing. The Bar-Kays shows why they were the official studio band for Stax records, delivering a 110% tight groove. Horns arrangements are brilliantly as usual by Mr. Hayes. The guitar solo is full of improvisations and memorable riffs.


3. The Conversation – David Shire

The Conversation didn’t achieve the same status as Coppola’s canonical blockbusters but that doesn’t matter… The movie is an absolute timeless masterpiece. There is brilliant acting by Gene Hackman and John Cazale. And there is also David Shire’s soundtrack.

A masterpiece of simplicity and perfection consisting of ONLY ONE instrument, it embodies the isolation, sadness and paranoia of Hackman’s character. It’s a hard task to find any song that fits so perfectly a character like The Conversation Theme did. Mike Patton, a great soundtrack composer of current times, said that his goal as a musician is to reach the level of simplicity and perfection achieved by David Shire in The Conversation theme. Keep trying, Mr. Patton.


2. American Graffiti – Various

After Easy Rider, directors felt much freer to use a collection of pre recorded pop songs instead of an original score. That was a symptom of new times: low budgets didn’t allow too much expending on composers and orchestras.
It is hard to find a movie that combined dialogues, images and music so well. George Lucas’ American Graffiti was the portrait of a summer in 1963 and the spirit of an entire generation. Popular music was one of the main characteristics of this generation.

Booker T and The MG’s Green Onions playing during the car race. The Skyliners’ Since I Don’t Have You playing during the breakup between Steven and Laurie. Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode displaying the adventurous feeling of a Saturday night. Everything fits perfectly.

There is also the presence of Wolfman Jack himself, one of the seminal disc jockeys of the world, a figure that influenced DJs all over the world. Even who didn’t lived during those times feel the nostalgia present in American Graffiti and its soundtrack.


1. The Godfather – Nino Rota

Nino Rota was a very famous and respected composer in Italy since the 50s. His partnership with Federico Fellini created an original and unique body of work. But only in 70s the American public became aware of the existence of this brilliant genius.

For the soundtrack of The Godfather, Rota left aside his jazz and circus music influence, focusing on Sicilian traditional music and Italian Opera. The result is an unforgettable score, as brilliant as the movie. It is hard to imagine The Godfather without the Love Theme and Main Title, songs that are still associated to Italy and mobsters even nowadays.

Author Bio: Luis Bevilacqua is a Teacher, Language/Literature student, Movie Freak and frontman of Brazilian band Bola 8.