The multi-artist soundtrack era was largely left behind in the 90s, which witnessed the musical companions to films such as Batman Forever, Titanic, Clueless, and more regularly appear near or at the top of the Billboard charts. Yet the soundtrack to Black Panther – orchestrated by the inventive, thoughtful, and socially conscious hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar – serves as proof that pop-focused soundtracks aren't a lost art. Equally exuberant and grim, Lamar's Black Panther vision feels as arresting as the one in the film, shaping up to be one of the best-reviewed superhero films in history. And with Black Panther poised to own the box office, it reminds us of noteworthy music connected to the superhero genre. Here, we look at five of our favorite songs from comic-inspired movies.
That Prince in the late 80s released a steamy, overtly frisky ballad surprised nobody. Less expected? The tune would find itself buried on a soundtrack inspired by Tim Burton's 1989 take on Batman. With lyrics so provocative they can cause even the most laissez-faire listeners to blush, "Scandalous" remains one of the most adult-orientated works of art associated with a modern superhero film. Perhaps it's why Burton saved it for the end credits. But discerning listeners will note composer Danny Elfman took elements of "Scandalous" to use in the movie's romantic scenes. On its own, the tune stands as a sauna-hot interpretation of aural erotica, with Prince's seductive falsetto instructing his lover to skip the foreplay. The synth-heavy orchestration mimics a string section, the digital rhythms hit like whispers, and just when the song settles into a relaxed groove, it subtly shifts direction like a bead of sweat trailing down a person's skin.
Jo Li, "Everything is Awesome!!!"
No one expected much of 2014's animated film The Lego Movie, which reeked from the outset of being little more than a product tie-in. Yet the zany, empowering work charmed audiences and critics. Additionally, the film gave us a new female superhero in Wildstyle while bringing much-needed levity to DC Comics regulars like Batman and Superman. What's more, The Lego Movie contains the delightfully silly pop nugget "Everything is Awesome!!!" An end-credits rendition features Tegan & Sara, but the more delightful rendition comes from composers Joshua Bartholomew and Lisa Harriton, credited as Jo Li. It's the version heard in the film and unfolds as a mash-up of vintage video-game sounds and over-the-top dance accouterments. Gleefully happy, consider "Everything is Awesome!!!" the sonic equivalent of a smile.
Smashing Pumpkins, "The End Is the Beginning Is the End"
While Batman & Robin remains widely considered one of the worst superhero films ever made, the soundtrack isn't a total waste thanks largely to this fierce Smashing Pumpkins cut. The 1997 track, the band's first new song after the blockbuster success of 1995's double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, hints at the more electronic-focused, darker territory soon to be explored in 1998's Adore. Ultimately, it's the band's last aggressive rocker of the 90s. Opening with macabre haunted-house effects, the cut soon locks into a jagged albeit tightly wound guitar riff. Corgan's lyrics celebrate weirdness, drummer Matt Walker aims for chaos, and Gothic synths make cameos. With three of the band's original four members hitting the reunion circuit this year, cue up this burner and remember the act in its heyday.
Alicia Keys, "It's on Again"
Before Lamar took over the soundtrack to Black Panther, he guested on this 2014 song featured in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. A true collaboration, "It's on Again" possesses a smooth and slick chorus, crafted with the help of hit-maker Pharrell – as well as a wallop of cinematic strings from the film's composer, Hans Zimmer. Lamar, for his part, launches the track with an intense freestyle-like verse in which the artist pitches himself as a battle-wounded fighter. But that's largely where the sense of forbiddance ends. Alicia Keys' lyrics put a more optimistic spin on the life of a survivor, and her typically booming voice light-steps it here. The glossy synths and fast-moving beat elicit a brisk and luminescent feel, and Zimmer's string arrangement feels playful and spritely.
David Hasselhoff, "Guardians Inferno"
Sure, David Hasselhoff's name immediately implies camp, but camp is what "Guardians Inferno" celebrates. And since many modern superhero films opt for a darker-is-better route, the mindless sarcasm of the Guardians of the Galaxy films is indeed welcome. At its core, the movie champions a group of misfits – a crass racoon-like creature, a talking tree with a limited vocabulary, a green-skinned alien, and a classic-rock-loving hero, among others. A disco track, then, seems a perfect fit, seeing the Marvel flick taps into anything-goes, everyone-is-welcome joy. Hasselhoff's lyrics are nonsense to those not steeped in comic lore, but the arrangement, from composer Tyler Bates, doubles as a rainbow swirl, complete with wordless backing harmonies, peppy handclaps, and a funky guitar that apes the artistry of Chic's Nile Rodgers. And if "Guardians Inferno" is too much of a novelty song for you, don't sleep on the rest of the film's soundtrack, with choice cuts from Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, and more.
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios/Walt Disney.