I have a confession to make. Last week, when I started The Soundtrack Series, I kicked things off with Stanley Kubrick. The truth is that the Coens were actually the inspiration for the series. They would’ve been the first in the series but I’m smart enough to realize that TDYLF is often oversaturated with the Coens. But I’ve waited a whole week now, and even without the Coenification of this site, they’d be a worthy choice. Without further ado, here’s entry number two in the Soundtrack Series- the Coen brothers.
The Lost Sheep, Fargo (1996)
Technically, the soundtrack has this tune listed under a different title. But it’s actually a version of a Norwegian folk song called “The Lost Sheep,” as composed by Carter Burwell. The homespun eeriness of the tune makes it a perfect accompaniment to an eerie, homespun tale of goofy accents, oafish murderers, and severed feet jiggling away in wood chippers.
Way Out There, Raising Arizona (1987)
It’s best known as the yodeling and banjo-infused tune that plays over the opening credits. Like Fargo’s “Lost Sheep”, the Coens and Carter Burwell found a tune that perfectly encapsulates everything the film is about- a playful ditty that screams screwball comedy about southern gothic grotesques (or… southwestern gothic grotesques, anyway).
The Man in Me, The Big Lebowski (1997)
As a soundtrack composer for a movie about a pseudo-Taoist stoner/hippie, there aren’t many better ways to establish that character than by kicking off the movie with the raspy wail and moan of Bob Dylan. For extra effect, it’s used a second time in the dream sequence when the Dude gets knocked out by Maude Lebowski and her goons.
A Serious Man/Somebody to Love, A Serious Man (2009)
The finale of the film is laced with Burwell’s score- titled “A Serious Man”- which provides excellent pacing leading to the Gopniks’ impending doom. Then it smash-cuts to black and Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”, which sandwiches the whole film (having already appeared in the opening credits). Unfortunately, I can only find the clip with Burwell’s piece. It ends before Jefferson Airplane plays over the credits.
I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
There’s a really good chance that this is the first song that popped into your head when you thought of Coen brother soundtracks. And why not? It was a bona fide memorable moment, even if all them boys was miscegenated.
Miller’s Crossing (1990) Theme
Simply put, this is a fine piece of music that pays proper homage to the film’s Irish roots.
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, True Grit (2010)
Iris Dement’s voice is made for a movie like True Grit, and the song works on a lot of levels given the differences between the Coen version and the original version of this film. Sure, maybe it’s not subtle, but I’m not willing to care.
Let Your Light Shine on Me, The Ladykillers (2004)
You could almost pick any of the gospel tunes from this soundtrack. It was a departure from the typical Coen style, and it’s one of the genuinely good parts of the film. Besides, there’s something poetic about a cat dumping a severed finger on a garbage barge while Blind Willie Johnson belts out a spiritual.
Moonlight Sonata, The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
It’s a spectacular juxtaposition- a somber classical piece paired with a numb, dejected blue collar barber named Ed Crane.
The Hula Hoop/Sabre Dance, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The frenetic tune mirrors Norville’s meteoric rise as the hula hoop explodes onto the scene. It also works as a companion to the Sturges-inspired rapid-fire dialogue that permeates the rest of the film.
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), The Big Lebowski (1997)
If you’re keeping score at home, the formula for this scene is stoner + bowling porn parody + Kenny Rogers’ pre-country music + Viking woman with bowling ball boobs + Busby Berkeley dance sequence. And it equals a busted gut for audiences.
Traffic Boom, The Big Lebowski (1997)
And while we’re on the topic of porn parodies in The Big Lebowski, the name of the song that plays at the beginning of Logjammin’ (starring Karl Hungus and Bunny LaJoya) is called “Traffic Boom,” and it was created by an Italian composer named Piero Piccioni in 1969. You’re welcome, internet. Ich bin expert.