Hear Four Hours of Music in Jim Jarmusch’s Films: Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Neil Young, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins & More

“I got­ta say — not to rant, but — one thing about com­mer­cial films is, does­n’t the music almost always real­ly suck?” Jim Jar­musch, direc­tor of films like Stranger Than Par­adise, Mys­tery TrainBro­ken Flow­ers, and most recent­ly Pater­son, put that impor­tant ques­tion to his audi­ence dur­ing a live inter­view a few years ago. “I’ve seen good movies — or maybe they would be good — just destroyed by the same crap, you know? If you look at films from even in the sev­en­ties, it was­n’t that bad. Peo­ple had some sense of music for films. But maybe that’s just the com­mer­cial realm: guys in suits come and tell ’em what kind of music to put on.”

Jar­musch’s own movies draw obses­sive fans as well as bewil­dered detrac­tors, but they’ll nev­er draw the accu­sa­tion of hav­ing their sound­tracks assem­bled by guys in suits. Music seems to mat­ter to his work on almost as fun­da­men­tal a lev­el as images, not just in the final prod­ucts but in every stage of their cre­ation as well.

“I get a lot of inspi­ra­tion from music, prob­a­bly more than any oth­er form,” he says in the same inter­view. “For me, music is the most pure form. It’s like anoth­er lan­guage. When­ev­er I start writ­ing a script, I focus on music that sort of kick­starts my ideas or my imag­i­na­tion.” The process has also result­ed in sev­er­al high-pro­file col­lab­o­ra­tions with musi­cians, such as Neil Young in the “acid west­ern” Dead Man and the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA in the urban samu­rai tale Ghost Dog.

You can hear four hours of the music that makes Jim Jar­musch movies Jim Jar­musch movies in the Spo­ti­fy playlist embed­ded just above. (If you don’t have Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, you can down­load it here.) Its 76 tracks begin, suit­ably, with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” to which Eszter Balint famous­ly danced in Jar­musch’s break­out fea­ture Stranger Than Par­adise. Five years lat­er, Jar­musch cast Hawkins him­self as the concierge of a run-down Mem­phis hotel in Mys­tery Train. Between those pic­tures came Down by Law, the black-and-white New Orleans jail­break pic­ture star­ring no less an icon of Amer­i­can singing-song­writ­ing than Tom Waits, whose work appears on this playlist along­side that of Roy Orbi­son, Elvis Pres­ley, Otis Red­ding, Neil Young and RZA, and many oth­ers.

Giv­en the impor­tance of music to his movies, it should come as no sur­prise that Jar­musch orig­i­nal­ly set out to become a musi­cian him­self, and now, in par­al­lel with his career as one of Amer­i­ca’s most respect­ed liv­ing inde­pen­dent film­mak­ers, spends a fair chunk of his time being one. His band Sqürl, formed to record some instru­men­tal pieces to score 2009’s The Lim­its of Con­trol, has now grown into its own sep­a­rate enti­ty, and sev­er­al of their tracks appear on this playlist. Jar­musch described their music to the New York Times Mag­a­zine as fol­lows: “It varies between avant noise-rock, drone stuff and some song-struc­tured things with vocals. And some cov­ers of coun­try songs that we slow down and give a kind of molten treat­ment to” — all of which fits right in with the rest of the music that has shaped his movies.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim Jarmusch’s Anti-MTV Music Videos for Talk­ing Heads, Neil Young, Tom Waits & Big Audio Dyna­mite

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

New Jim Jar­musch Doc­u­men­tary on Iggy Pop & The Stooges Now Stream­ing Free on Ama­zon Prime

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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  • Nigel Smith says:

    This playlist is almost too com­pre­hen­sive. No one needs to hear all of the Dead Man score in this con­text! And such a shame that the Night on Earth sound­track is not on Spo­ti­fy. Has inspired me to make my own (short­er) ver­sion.

  • Nigel Smith says:

    I of course meant Year of the Horse. Some of Dead Man would have been wel­come.

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