"I have the feeling that this movie is just a receptacle for songs David Bowie didn't want to release on any of his albums."
When you're setting up an All-Star Cast
, who says you have to stop at actors?
The Pop Star Composer
is a famous musical figure, known primarily for their work with, well, popular music, who is hired by a movie or video game studio to provide music and songs for their latest work. Think partially-or-completely washed-up rock stars and dueling divas. This is especially common for animated musicals—lyrics and music by a famous songwriter seems a good way to draw audiences. If they already like Songwriter X, then they'll probably like the movie! Or so one hopes. Despite what you might think, the songwriter in question doesn't necessarily have to be an alumnus of the "pop" music genre—they just have to be known for something besides
This particular practice has been somewhat all-over-the-place since it first began. Earlier, Trope Making
examples sprouted up in The Eighties
with examples such as David Bowie doing the songs for Labyrinth
and Queen doing a lot of the music for movies such as Flash Gordon
(they did not
do all the music for these films, however, as admirers of Howard Blake and Michael Kamen
will attest). But animated movies in The Nineties
this trope, with examples such as Elton John
doing the songs for The Lion King.
In particular, animated movies with this kind of musical casting are prone to Award Bait Songs
and composers/performers who used to be kind of cool once.
Ironically, the more mainstream and big-budget a live-action movie generally is, the less
likely this trope will be used. With many Hollywood studios serving as corporate siblings of major record labels, "synergy" usually rears its head and a grab bag of artists from a label will be tapped to each provide a number for a movie soundtrack (it was common in The Nineties
to end TV ads with a list of performers who appeared on the soundtrack, no matter how briefly their work turned up in the actual film). Pop Star Composers usually work in animated features or smaller-scale films that aren't trying so hard to hit every potential radio market and can thus focus more on matching music to the moment.
And before you ask: No, Danny Elfman
count though he was in a band.
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Anime & Manga
- Yuki Kajiura, maker of many soundtracks for various anime series, is one of the two members of famous Japanese pop duo See-Saw (disbanded), and regularly contributes to Japanese music through the solo project Fiction Junction and the band Kalafina.
- In case you were wondering, yes, this is why Gundam SEED and its sequel have insert songs by Fiction Junction, and this is also why Kara no Kyoukai has all of its ending themes by Kalafina.
- Also why .hack//SIGN has an opening theme, "Obsession" by See-Saw.
- Susumu Hirasawa, a pop star during the 80s and 90s, experienced something of a second coming as a composer of anime soundtracks, notably Berserk and the works of Satoshi Kon.
- Ai Maeda is a film actress and singer, and provides the distinctive voice of the main character in Kino's Journey. Naturally, she also sings the ending theme song. (Relatedly, the ending theme lyrics were written by the original book's novelist.)
- US popstar Neil Sedaka composed the opening and ending themes for the series Zeta Gundam. Ironically however, this resulted in the openings not being used in the US DVD release.
- Daisuke Inoue, composer and performer(both vocally and instrumentally in some cases) of several songs for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, was well-known in Japan and to some folks in the US for being frontman and saxophonist of the early J-Pop band Blue Comets, who had a huge hit with Blue Chateau.
- Supercell's soundtrack was the main attraction of Guilty Crown, in much the same way that Yuki Kajiura was the main attraction of .hack//SIGN. Another famous Vocaloid producer, livetune, was hired to write the OPs for Devil Survivor 2 and the second season of Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai!. The latter is actually a double-example, written by livetune and performed by the pop idol duo ClariS.
- Yoshiki Hayashi, for X1999 with Forever Love, and Osamu Tezuka's Buddha with Scarlet Love Song.
- From what the rumors say, they tried to do this to Bone, with famous pop songs and a plot changed to be more "teen friendly." Jeff Smith was not pleased and shot it down, hard.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- The Graduate featured songs by Simon & Garfunkel.
- World War Z featured a minimalistic, haunting soundtrack by Muse.
- Labyrinth featured a song score by David Bowie, who also played the main antagonist, the Goblin King. Contrary to the Nostalgia Chick's theory, Bowie was attracted to the project in part because he liked the idea of writing songs for a children's movie — it's just that some of them aren't that far removed from his usual output.
- John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas wrote part of the score for The Man Who Fell to Earth. Interestingly, that film was David Bowie's first Non-Actor Vehicle, and he initially worked on a score with Paul Buckmaster, but for various reasons it went unused and will probably never see the light of day, save for a backwards bass line that appears on one track of Low.
- A few years earlier Phillips wrote and performed several songs for Robert Altman's quirky comedy Brewster McCloud. Phillips was also a co-producer for the film.
- Queen provided the music for FLASH! AH-AAAH-- ...er, we mean Flash Gordon. Sorry about that.
- Queen also were "born to be princes of the universe" with Highlander.
- Freddie Mercury (of Queen) was involved in the re-scoring of Metropolis's 1984 release. (While he was there, he requested for the East German government to use pieces of the film in the video for "Radio Ga Ga".)
- Roger Waters of Pink Floyd wrote a song for The Last Mimzy called "Hello (I Love You)".
- There Will Be Blood has a soundtrack by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. Notably, it sounds nothing like Radiohead, but includes part of Greenwood's modernist orchestral work "Popcorn Superhet Receiver". He played the viola and studied classical composition years before becoming a guitarist, and it shows.
- Jazz example: Duke Ellington composed and performed the soundtrack for Anatomy of a Murder. He also briefly appears as juke joint pianist Pie-Eye.
- Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam did the soundtrack for Into The Wild, which also doubled as his solo debut.
- Stewart Copeland of The Police wrote the music for Rumble Fish. He also composed the original theme for Babylon 5 and worked on The Equalizer. In fact, he has an extensive scoring career.
- Pop-rock duo Wang Chung did the synthrock score for William Friedkin's To Liveand Diein LA, which also featured some of their licensed songs.
- Bob Dylan composed a number of original songs for the Sam Peckinpah western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He also appears in a minor role. One of the songs from the film, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", is one of his greatest hits, covered by (among others) Guns N' Roses.
- Neil Young improvised the electric guitar soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's acid western Dead Man while watching the film alone in a studio.
- Jack White of The White Stripes performed five songs in the film Cold Mountain and appeared in a minor role.
- Kill Bill Vol. 1 features original music by The RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.
- Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra recorded the soundtrack for Xanadu.
- Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs collaborated with Carter Burwell on the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
- Clint Mansell, former vocalist and guitarist of alternative rock-rap-techno-industrial-grebo band Pop Will Eat Itself, moved into film scores after the band disbanded in 1996. Nowadays he's most famous for writing the scores for every single Darren Aronofsky film.
- Peter Gabriel of 'In Your Eyes' and 'Solsbury Hill' fame composed the music for The Last Temptation of Christ.
- He'd actually done another soundtrack before then — the smaller film Birdy, although half of the score was reworked instrumental versions of songs from his album Security. Since then he's done the score for Rabbit Proof Fence.
- Yoshiki Hayashi produced the entire soundtrack for Repo! The Genetic Opera, created the song VUK-R for it. He also contributed Blue Butterfly for Catacombs, and contributed the title track IV for Saw IV. In a more meta sense, he did the theme for the 2012 and 2013 Golden Globes.
- Paul McCartney as solo artist composed songs for several films, including Spies Like Us, Father's Day, Vanilla Sky, and the American versions of The Lake House and The In Laws. For some reason, films that use his music tend to get too philosophical or too Fauxlosophical for the intended audiences and achieve limited success.
- 1966's The Family Way is Fab Macca's only actual film score to date.
- Cameron Crowe's film Singles features songs from bands in the Seattle grunge scene, which had just started to explode. Pearl Jam wrote two original songs, "Breath" and "State of Love and Trust," for the film. Soundgarden created an acoustic track for use in the background ambience of a scene. The song was "Spoonman," which was later re-recorded and became Soundgarden's breakout single.
- Mark Knopfler composed a number of scores for movies, such as Local Hero and The Princess Bride.
- Paramount and Disney's Popeye Live-Action Adaptation was a musical with songs written by Harry Nilsson.
- Daft Punk composed the music for TRON: Legacy.
- Horror film Trick Of Treat from 1986 had all its songs written by Hard Rock band Fastway, although this also had an instrumental score by Christopher Young.
- The Residents, of all people, performed the soundtrack to little-known Eighties black comedy The Census Taker (although about half of the soundtrack was previously released material).
- Mark Oliver Everett of Eels composed the soundtrack to Levity.
- Shudder To Think released two soundtracks in 1998 that were notable for being Something Completely Different from their normal alternative/art-punk sound: the score to High Art was a mixture of ambient music and instrumental trip-hop, while First Love Last Rites was a retraux 50's and early 60's pastiche with loads and loads of guest vocalists such as Billy Corgan, Robin Zander, Liz Phair, and Jeff Buckley. Members Nathan Larson and Craig Wedren now both do soundtrack work from time to time.
- Yo La Tengo scored Adventureland.
- Dave Priner of Soul Asylum scored Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy.
- AC/DC made the soundtrack of Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive.
- REM wrote the underscore for Man on the Moon, which was titled after their hit song about the movie's subject, Andy Kaufman. That song becomes an instrumental Leitmotif in the score, and they also contributed a new song in "The Great Beyond".
- The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan has also written film scores, most recently for trashy auteur features like Jonas Akerlund's Spun, and Asia Argento's adaptation of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, though his first entrances into the genre involved more mainstream fare like Ransom and Stigmata.
- Anne Dudley, composer of the scores for (among many others) American History X, The Full Monty and The Crying Game (as well as the TV series The 10th Kingdom) first became famous as a member of experimental electronica group Art Of Noise, as well as a prolific string arranger for many, many songs. She more or less moved into this full time - what she's done since leaving the band couldn't rationally be described as "pop".
- In 2004, Pet Shop Boys composed a score for the 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin, and performed it live with the Dresdner Sinfoniker in Trafalgar Square.
- Former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin has moved into writing soundtracks full-time since leaving the band in 1994.
- Tangerine Dream. And how. Well known in the 1970s for their experimental electronic sounds. 1970s output: 9 studio albums and 1 soundtrack. 1980s output: 6 studio albums and 13 soundtracks - including Thief, Risky Business and the American cut of Legend (the original British cut featured a score by Jerry Goldsmith).
- The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford both had soundtracks by Nick Cave and his bandmate Warren Ellis. (Not that Warren Ellis.)
- Prog Metal band Mastodon composed the score for the 2010 film Jonah Hex.
- Batman had songs by Prince (although they aren't nearly as prominent in the film as Danny Elfman's score). The sequels weren't as beholden to a single pop star; Batman Returns had Siouxsie and The Banshees provide one number, and the Joel Schumacher-helmed entries had a jumble of artists provide songs (Nick Cave, Seal, U2, Smashing Pumpkins, etc.).
- Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and his collaborator Atticus Ross did the soundtrack for The Social Network and won an Academy Award for their efforts. They worked together again on the score to the 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and also had Karen O contribute guest vocals for the Cover Version of "Immigrant Song" featured in the opening credits.
- BT scored the films Stealth, The Fast and the Furious, Catch And Release, Look and Monster, along with the Pixar shorts Tokyo Mater and Partysaurus Rex.
- Nick Cave and Warren Ellis created Beautiful scores for The Proposition,The Road and The Assassination Of Jesse James
- The Zombies composed the soundtrack for Bunny Lake is Missing.
- Idiosyncratic acoustic guitar wizard Leo Kottke somehow did the soundtrack for a bottom-of-the-barrel Troma film, Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid.
- Attack the Block was scored by Basement Jaxx, known for their house music.
- Todd Rundgren did the score for Dumb and Dumber. The directors of that film later got Pete Yorn to do the music for Me, Myself & Irene.
- Marilyn Manson did the score for the first Resident Evil film.
- U2 wrote and recorded several songs for the film The Million Dollar Hotel.
- Randy Edelman began his career as a musician who occasionally did film scores, recording a few albums in the process. Since the 1980's, he's recorded film scores full time.
- David Byrne, former lead singer of Talking Heads co-wrote the soundtrack for The Last Emperor with Ryuichi Sakamoto, who was the composer for Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Sakamoto was also once the keyboardist for Yellow Magic Orchestra, which means the Last Emperor has two pop star composers.
- The Polyphonic Spree performed the score to Thumbsucker. Before Author Existence Failure set in, Elliott Smith was going to score it instead. The songs Smith did complete for the film (one original song and Cover Versions of Big Star's "Thirteen" and Cat Stevens' "Trouble") were still included in the final product.
- Jeremy Barnes' first album as A Hawk and a Hacksaw provided the soundtrack for the documentary Zizek! AHAAH has also written an unofficial score that they perform live at showings of Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors.
- Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys provided five acoustic songs for the 2010 film Submarine, each used in memorable montages between the two main characters. One of them was even rerecorded for the Monkeys' fourth album.
- Two former members of Led Zeppelin did film scores. Jimmy page did the scores for Death Wish II and Death Wish 3, and John Paul Jones did the score for an obscure film called Scream For Help.
- While he didn't score the whole film, Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis composed and performed several short instrumental pieces for the independent film Gas Food Lodging.
- Jonathan Davis of Korn wrote the music and the words for Lestat's songs in Queen of the Damned (the novel had blatantly vampire songs; the film had more ambigous ones). For contractual reasons, he couldn't sing the songs himself, so they were performed by other well-known singers (Wayne Static of Static-X, David Draiman of Disturbed, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Marilyn Manson, and Jay Gordon of Orgy).
- Damon Albarn of blur and Gorillaz has co-scored Ravenous with Michael Nyman and 101 Reykavik with Einar Örn Benediktsson
- The soundtrack for Magnolia was written mostly by Aimee Mann.
- Arcade Fire composed the score for Her and have earned an Academy Award nomination for it. They also composed "The Horn of Plenty" (Panem's National Anthem) for The Hunger Games.
- Neil Diamond wrote the soundtrack for The Film of the Book of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
- The scores for Heroes were written by Wendy and Lisa, who scored Tim Kring's previous show, Crossing Jordan (and later Touch). They also did Nurse Jackie (winning an Emmy for the series theme).
- Nelson Riddle, responsible for the jazzy Route 66 theme, moved into television and film scores but rose to fame as a popular band leader and arrangement artist for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole.
- They Might Be Giants scored the pilot and some early episodes of Malcolm in the Middle, as well as the Theme Song.
- Stewart Copeland of The Police was the composer for the pilot of Babylon 5; however, his techno score was not carried over to the series itself, where most of the music was done by Christopher Franke, formerly of Tangerine Dream.
- David Bowie (again) wrote the score for the BBC miniseries The Buddha of Suburbia. The pieces he composed were reworked into a separate album, also called The Buddha of Suburbia - only the title track from the album is used completely unaltered in the series. From there, he re-recorded one of the other songs, "Strangers When We Meet", for his solo album 1. Outside.
- The short-lived Cop Rock had its music composed by Randy Newman.
- Les Revenants music was scored by Mogwai
- Elton John wrote two extra songs for the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of The Lion King, and went on from there to write songs for Disney's Aida and the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of Billy Elliot. Less successful was Lestat, a musical adaptation of The Vampire Chronicles.
- Rupert Holmes, best known for "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", wrote the songs for Drood, and later helped finish Curtains.
- Big River had songs by country singer Roger Miller.
- Jim Steinman composed the score for the musical adaptation of Tanz der Vampire.
- The French-language opera Prima Donna, composed by Rufus Wainwright.
- Duncan Sheik, a pop star in The Nineties, is probably better known as a Broadway composer nowadays, having won Tony Awards for Spring Awakening.
- Bono & The Edge composed the songs for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
- The Capeman by Paul Simon.
- Chess, by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA.
- Ca Ira, by Roger Waters. Yes, really.
- David Eugene Edwards of Woven Hand was commissioned by the Ultima Vez Dance Company to create soundtracks for their Blush and Puur shows. The soundtracks were partly original songs, and partly rearranged versions of prior Woven Hand songs.
- Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, in addition to being scored by the famed duo Bob & Bill (also contributing to Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Kooza, and Totem), featured Montreal singer-songwriter Jenifer Aubry as lead vocalist.
- The score for Max Payne 3 was composed by noise/noise-rock band HEALTH. The techno soundtrack in Club Moderno consists of various artists from the Trouble and Bass record label.
- Masato Nakamura from the J-pop band Dreams Come True wrote the soundtracks for Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Unfortunately, he held the rights to his music for the games, which left with him. The only music he didn't write was the drowning music and the chaos emerald jingle, which could and would be used for later titles.
- Michael Jackson was reportedly hired to compose for Sonic 3. Some members of Sonic Team claim Jackson's involvement was unofficial and happened without Sega's knowledge, if it happened at all; others claim to have possession of a complete soundtrack's worth of demos from Jackson. How much of his work actually made it into the finished game is unknown. (The fact that several of the credited musicians, like Brad Buxer, actually worked for Jackson makes it even harder to guess.) Rumors abound, though, about suspiciously similar songs, stolen beats, and whole messes of trouble relating to the situation.
- Sonic Colors had Alex Makhlouf of Cash Cash do the main theme. Later on, they and Circuit Freq did remixes for Sonic Generations.
- The final boss theme of Sonic and the Black Knight, "With Me", is performed by Emma Gelotte and Tinna Karlsdotter from All Ends, the lead guitar work is done by Marty Friedman from Megadeth.
- Trent Reznor (from Nine Inch Nails) composed the score for Quake. His contributes are noted by the "NIN" logos on the nail packs, which are used as ammo for the nail gun.
- The first three Spyro the Dragon games had their soundtrack composed by Stewart Copeland of the famous 80s band The Police.
- Utada Hikaru, a Japanese-American singer, writes the theme music for the Kingdom Hearts series.
- Legendary Thrash Metal band Megadeth composed the soundtrack for the game Never Dead, and judging from the comments on the Youtube pages the fans are just there for Megadeth.
- The overarching Leitmotif in Tales of the Abyss is derived from the theme music, composed by BUMP OF CHICKEN, called "Karma".
- The God of War Blood & Metal EP by Roadrunner Records was made with this in mind: includes appearances by Trivium, Killswitch Engage, Opeth and Dream Theater, all writing original material.
- David Bowie co-wrote and performed the songs of Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and appears as two different characters in-game. Several of the songs made it onto his album hours...
- BT produced the soundtrack of Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005. One of the songs in DHT 2(the intro and the second Hoover Dam level) was a remix of his own "Mad Skillz (Mic Chekka)".
- Descent II had three of its songs produced by Ogre of Skinny Puppy, and an instrumental remix of "Haunted" by Type O Negative.
- Iron Helix's soundtrack was produced by Peter Stone of Xorcist.
- IDM / trip-hop artist Amon Tobin composed/produced the soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
- Techno DJ Sasha produced several exclusive songs for Wipeout 3, as well as including his single "Xpander".
- Halo 2 has "Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin, "The Odyssey" by Incubus, and "Connected" by Hoobastank, although the last isn't used in the game.
- The title theme to WRC, "Speed", was produced by Rollo & Sister Bliss, the producers of Faithless.
- Sonic Mayhem (aka Sascha Dikiciyan aka Toksin) produced the music to Quake II, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Hellgate: London, as well as half the music to Quake III Arena, the rest of which was done by Front Line Assembly.
- Speaking of Front Line Assembly, they soundtracked the freeware RTS game AirMech.
- Indie pop musician Owen Pallett (session violinist / string arranger on albums by Arcade Fire and others, and has some solo albums) composed part of the music to Traffic Department 2192 (specifically, the songs "Menu", "Vulture", "Intro 2", and "Death"), about 8 years before his earliest recorded music.
- Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy, from the bands System 7 and Gong, composed the music for a few games: the Xbox 360 port of Centipede & Millipede (2007), and the Full Motion Video game based on The Lawnmower Man (1993)note and its sequel Cyberwar (1994).
- Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and Myst IV: Revelation both featured songs by Peter Gabriel.
- Rez includes original and pre-existing songs by musicians such as Ken Ishii, Jojouka, Adam Freeland, Coldcut, and Oval.
- The soundtracks to Mirror's Edge and Capsized were produced by Solar Fields, aka Magnus Birgersson.
- No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle has a soundtrack largely made by various J-rock bands such as Neutrino, Missile Chewbacca and HONDALADY.
- Test Drive 4 featured the Younger Younger 28's and Orbital. The track "Runnin' Out of Time" is actually the same as "Out There Somewhere Part 2" from Orbital's In Sides album. TD 6 had three exclusive songs by Empirion.
- Lollipop Chainsaw had boss music composed by Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence.
- Scivelation, a sci-fi shooter has four songs written by John Moyer from Disturbed
- The title theme for Rise of the Robots was done by Queen's Brian May. He had composed a full soundtrack to the game, but his label asked for delays, which prompted the developers to make their own soundtrack to get the game out on time. May also did the theme for its sequel.
- The highly offbeat Sega Dreamcast game L.O.L.: Lack of Love was the product of an unusual collaboration between Ryuichi Sakamoto and obscure developer Love-de-Lic.
- Sakamoto also composed the soundtrack of the RPG Tengai Makyou: Ziria for PC Engine CD who was the very first multimedia game for consoles.
- Azam Ali of VAS and Niyaz performed vocals on and composed the soundtrack to Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow, as well as contributing to Thor: The Dark World and the track "Pakistan Run" from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
- The Australian electronica duo Power Glove soundtracked Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
- Poets Of The Fall, a Finnish rock band, produced Max Payne 2's ending theme, "Late Goodbye". Markus "Captain" Kaarlonen from this group also did the soundtrack to Rochard.
- Clone High features music by singer-songwriter Tommy Walter, performed by his alternative rock band Abandoned Pools, including several songs that would later appear on the band's first album.
- Several Cartoon Network series, including Ben10, Teen Titans, and Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi featured music by Andy Sturmer, former frontman of early-90s power-pop band Jellyfish. Notably, the latter featured an actual cover of Jellyfish's "Joining A Fan Club". Sturmer's an unusual example though - nowadays he's almost as well known as one of Puffy Ami Yumi's songwriter/producers as he is for his former band.
- The Raccoons had several songs by Lisa Lougheed (the voice of the character Lisa), which also appeared on her Evergreen Nights album.
- The second season recording of the Rocko's Modern Life theme was performed by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of The B-52s.
- The aforementioned Stewart Copeland of The Police also wrote the theme to The Life and Times of Juniper Lee.
- The instrumental theme of the first season of The Batman was written and performed by U2 guitarist The Edge.
- Country Music singer Billy Dean wrote (along with Verlon Thompson) and sang the theme to Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa.