The 20 Best Movie Soundtracks of The 1960s

10. Ennio Morricone – Once Upon a Time in the West

Two tracks from this movie became an entity themselves: The Theme Song and The Man with the Harmonica. The former is a divine melody played by violins that grows into a Soprano epic. The latter is a one-key song played by a harmonica starting with the emptiness of the desert developing into a violent explosion.

The song is the theme of Harmonica (Charles Bronson) and it is amazingly explored by Leone in the Bar Scene, when there is a shadow/light effect combined with the apotheosis of the song. British rock band Muse uses it as an opening for the track Knights of Cydonia, which is a Morricone influenced epic-rock song.


9. Michel Legrand – The Thomas Crown Affair

Roger Ebert wrote a famous review about The Thomas Crown Affair in which he points out some flaws and weak points in the movie and script. In fact, the movie lacks a little bit of substance compared to classics of the same period. On the other hand, Michel Legrand’s soundtrack is impeccable.

The French composer received a rough cut of the movie (5 hours approximately) and took a 6 weeks’ vacation in order to write 90 minutes of score. Then Hal Ashby edited the movie based on Legrand’s score. This is not the normal procedure in movies industry, and this approach certainly deserves recognition.

The score is full of cool jazz, orchestral jazz, modal jazz and any jazz you can imagine. The famous chess scene can be compared to a video clip, given the musical emphasis and the absence of dialogues. In fact, the only piece that seems out of place is the movie theme that received an Academy Award, Windmills of the Mind. Well, this is certainly an uncommon movie.


8. Sonny Rollins – Alfie

Sonny Rollins jazzy soundtrack follows the path of the movie itself. It starts with Alfie’s Theme, a cheerfully malicious sax riff that lightly resembles John Coltrane’s Blue Train. Alfie is comfortable at this point, playing his free man game and treating women like objects (he calls them “birdies” or even worse “it”). As the movie goes on, the soundtrack brings to the surface melancholic elements related to the separation of Alfie and his son, the loss of girlfriends and the revenge of fellow womanizers.

Alfie Theme’s Differently is a relecture of the first track, embodying the same “lost dog” feeling that encompasses the end of the movie. After the release of the movie, Burt Bacharach felt inspired by the story and created a song with his partner Hal David called “Alfie”. A version sang by Cher appears on the American version of the movie. It was later nominated for the Academy Awards of 1967.


7. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night

Ray Charles was the musical mentor of Quincy Jones. They were friends since their teenage years and Quincy used to wake up a tired Ray (who arrived from work at 6 am) at 9 am in order to teach him some musical lessons. The world can be very thankful to the benevolence of Mr. Charles, music in the 20th century wouldn’t be the same without Mr. Q.

Charles only sings in the main track “In the heat of the night” and plays solo piano in “Mama Caleba’s Blues”. But saying “only” is not adequate when referring to a musician like Ray Charles. The guy puts his soul in every chord or syllable. Mr. Q composed the whole soundtrack and tracks like “Shag Bag, Hounds and Harvey” are amazing efforts into tension, with vocal percussions that certainly influenced Mike Patton’s work with Fantômas. The album has country, blues, jazz and R&B serving as almost a collection of Southern American music.


6. Henry Mancini – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Audrey Hepburn wrote a small letter to Henry Mancini after listening to the Soundtrack of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”:

“A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty.

You are the hippest of cats – and the most sensitive of composers!”

Audrey, just like Ms. Golighltly, had a way with words. The letter pretty much synthesizes the feeling the Soundtrack evokes. There are several Latin Jazz tracks, in the same style of Mancini’s “Touch of Evil” soundtrack. “Mr. Yunioshi” has a Japanese sound, evoking the funny neighbor upstairs. The highlight, of course, is “Moon River”. Composed by Henry Mancini and written by Johnny Mercer, Audrey Hepburn eternalized it by singing it.


5. John Barry – 007 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is definitely not the best 007 of the 60s. George Lazenby lacks Sean Connery’s acting and charisma, and the plot is a little bit feeble.On the other hand, there is Diana Riggs and John Barry’s Soundtrack.

This is definetely one of the most eccletic 007 soundtracks, due to the fact that the movie displays a lot of diverse emotions, not just the typical action Bond atmosphere.”We have all the time in the wolrd” is an astonishing track sang by one of the colossus of 20th Century music, Louis Armstrong. John Barry even included a Moog Synthesizer in the classical 007 Theme, a decision that certainly influenced a lot of soundtracks in the following years.


4. Lalo Schifrin – Bullitt

Steve McQueen was known for his simplistic and silent performance as an actor. In Bullitt, Lalo Schifrin’s music speaks for him. Lalo says that the electric guitar in the beginning of Bullitt’s theme represents the sadness and introversion of Bullitt’s character in an almost bluesy way. In Bullitt the soundtrack expresses a lot of ideas and it reaches its peak during the car scene.

Director Peter Yates asked Lalo Schifrin to write music for the whole scene but Schifrin felt it could sound muddy with too much information. So they varied between silent moments, in which the roar of the engines could be heard, accentuating the power and aggression of both cars (Mustang and Dodge Charger) and in other moments the music was accentuated, like in the sequence Bullitt turns into the chaser, and not the chased one.


3. Bernard Herrmann – Psycho

Movie Soundtracks were until the 60s based on huge orchestral sounds with very distinctive melodies. There are many famous examples like Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. But music was changing and some avant-garde works started to emerge. Bela Bartok was a Hungarian composer, famous for his almost atonal pieces using violins. Bartok is until nowadays a “composers’ composer”, a guy lionized by people like Frank Zappa and Bernard Hermann but still an unfamiliar face amongst the mainstream classical music public.

Inspired by some compositions by Bartok, Hermann created a breakthrough soundtrack: Psycho. There are few notes which repeat themselves in different ways. There are only violins playing. This minimalism influenced a lot of composers: classical, popular or soundtrack ones.

Psycho theme became the symbol of a new kind of music that was at the same time simpler and more complex. And there is also the music from The Shower scene, recognized all over the world as the premonition of evilness.


2. Various – 2001: A Space Odyssey

A Space Odyssey is a timeless masterpiece, a movie that is so memorable and unique that ultimately inspired a whole particular genre of science fiction. It’s not an easy watching movie; it doesn’t offer answers, only questions. It starts with a black screen backgrounded by Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres. No images at all. It’s like Kubrick is preparing the audience to feel free to interpret it.

The images start with Richard Strauss’ Also Sprecht Zaratrusta, the music of nature’s original majesty. Sun and moon are battling for space, a metaphor for the eternal battle of good and evil.

Roger Ebert said in his review that “The classical music chosen by Kubrick exists outside the action. It uplifts. It wants to be sublime; it brings a seriousness and transcendence to the visuals.” Kubrick didn’t choose to put an original soundtrack for the movie, because he felt that classical music could be the external element that added even more mystery and magnificence to a complicated and philosophical movie.

In fact, 2001 A Space Odyssey can be considered a journey through modern classical music. As the movie, ending up with the Star Child, the soundtrack finishes where it had started: with Richard Strauss’ music, showing that history is an infinite repetition cycle.


1. Ennio Morricone – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The ultimate Spaghetti Western, this movie is recognized as a masterpiece of cinema, carrying the necessary five stars to validate a classic: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Leone’s camera and Morricone’s music.

Sergio Leone subverted the Western genre even more after A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More: the three protagonists are not plain heroes/villains, with only good or bad intentions. They vary according to the opportunity; even at War (the bridge explosion scene), they demonstrate individualistic traits and intentions.

The Soundtrack contains two masterpieces instantly recognized by every movie fan: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Ecstasy of Gold. The former is a classic Western Spaghetti composition with martial Drums alternating 3 and 2 hits, sounds emulating coyotes and a crescendo. The latter is an epic piece, used by Metallica to open their shows, with a superb soprano apotheosis, dialoguing directly with the ecstasy of the three characters in finding the Gold.

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