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

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones