When classic songs hit the wrong note

Do great artists really need to flog their wares on arbitrary film soundtracks? Chris Mugan mourns some besmirched gems

Many musicians remain wary of having their works used on adverts, but what's the harm in being associated with feature films?

Very little seems to be the consensus, as upcoming artists and established stars allow their tunes to appear on soundtracks without a second thought. Think Johnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around" on the knockabout remake of zombie bloodfest Dawn of the Dead. Clearly, while artists may worry about selling out to the rank commercialism of advertising, movies are seen as harmless entertainment.

Now comes Eat Pray Love, a Julia Roberts vehicle (released on 24 September) based on the bestselling self-help memoir. Roberts plays the author Elizabeth Gilbert, who recovers from a divorce and breakdown thanks to a global jaunt that takes in Italy, India and Bali. There, she finds solace via hearty grub in Italy, spiritual enlightenment in Asia and passion via one Brazilian factory owner.

On the face of it, its soundtrack album is a hassle-free source of income for the acts involved. And if Eat Pray Love was merely a love story, then there wouldn't be a problem, as we swoon to the romantic strains of bossa nova king João Gilberto. Yet rather than just matching music to emotions, the chick-flick's producers want to suggest that this film is a regenerative experience for all. So we get Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)". Now the mercurial Sixties soul talent may have lost his way, and perhaps his mind, over the years, but his legacy is a group that through their mixed-race line-up and genre-defying music sought to break down racial boundaries. Their joyous tunes were designed to celebrate emancipation, not professional thirtysomethings finding themselves in ashrams.

Then come two lovely tunes from Neil Young, "Heart of Gold" and "Harvest Moon". Yes, these are fairly unaffected love songs, but they lose much of their magic when taken out of context. Part of what makes them so special is that the Canadian singer/songwriter is generally a grumpy old curmudgeon. For proper impact, you need to hear "Heart of Gold" alongside its peers on the album Harvest, especially "Old Man" and "Alabama".

Together, these tunes and others join a whole range of spin-offs used to rake in money for the brand. Besides the film, there are now Eat Pray Love fragrances, jewellery and even tours. These days Hollywood movies often come with the values and market imperatives of commercials. For that reason, the likes of Young should think twice about where their work appears.

All of this undermines one of the more pleasing finds on the soundtrack. "The Long Road" is a surprisingly cohesive collaboration between Pearl Jam's throat-stinging frontman, Eddie Vedder, and Pakistan's musical genius Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This song originally appeared on the soundtrack to Tim Robbins' film about the friendship between a nun and a death-row prisoner, Dead Man Walking, and was one of the last pieces Khan worked on before his death in 1997. It's a genuinely effective collaboration between two inquisitive musicians, rather than a misguided piece of cultural tourism. Still, as a practising Sufi, I suspect being sold as a New Age accessory alongside prayer beads is not quite what Khan had in mind.

When I'm feeling down, I often find a dose of righteous Sixties psychedelic funk or Seventies disco soul brightens my outlook. If some of Gilbert's followers listen to Marvin Gaye's life-affirming "Got to Give It Up" and decide to put off their quest for enlightenment, then I can't resent his label offering up said track. Yet I suspect that the film's slick marketing campaign will ensure that they are left yearning for more.

'Eat Pray Love: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack' is released on 20 September on Island

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before