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Essential summer listening.
March 29th, 2012
The numbers are in and The Hunger Games is the first soundtrack to debut at number one on the Billboard Chart since Michael Jackson’s 2009 film This Is It. With only 16 movie soundtracks to ever crack the top spot on Billboard, we think this achievement deserves a closer look as to why the album not only topped the charts, but earned it’s place.
Oscar-winning music producer T. Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart) and composer James Newton Howard (Batman Begins) oversaw the music for the film and like most successful soundtracks, Burnett and Howard have chosen a mix of well-established artists (Arcade Fire, Taylor Swift, Neko Case) and unknowns (Birdy, Jayme Dee) to create a seamless musical representation of one of the biggest films of all time.
Moreso than most albums, The Hunger Games soundtrack has enlisted the work of its artists to create original songs that represent the film and book to their core. With a story that is so wrought with feelings of survival, hopelessness and triumph, it is no surprise that a soundtrack packed with just as much emotional punch as its film has debuted at the number one spot on Billboard.
1. Abraham’s Daughter by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire rarely release songs; they release experiences. In Abraham’s Daughter, the Montreal band crafted a menacing drum beat that creates a visual of the children marching to the reaping to await their destiny. When Katniss speaks of never having kids of her own so that she doesn’t have to endure watching them be sacrificed to The Capitol in The Hunger Games, her idea can be compared to the biblical story of Abraham, who sacrificed his son Isaac upon the altar. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler played with this comparison, explaining “…we made a weird, alternate-universe version of that, where it’s as if Abraham had a daughter — kind of a metaphor for Katniss.”
2. Tomorrow Will Be Kinder by The Secret Sisters
For the first 73 years of The Hunger Games only one winner was crowned. But when Peeta Mellark confessed his love for his fellow District 12 tribute, the rules of The Hunger Games were changed. During days of starvation, heartbreak and fear in the arena, Katniss finds relief in news about a rule change. Though in the first installment of The Hunger Games series we only know Katniss for a few days, this is the one time where she can honestly believe that Tomorrow Will Be Kinder.
3. Nothing to Remember by Neko Case
Neko Case’s Nothing to Remember is the track on The Hunger Games soundtrack that best represents the entire film and book. We meet Katniss as a 16 year old who cannot speak out against her government, cannot stand her mother because of her breakdown after Katniss’s father’s death and as someone with little to live for, a sentiment Case more that captures in her lyrics “I spend my life/ Becoming invisible/ It’s hard to maintain/ And it’s hard to get by”. Neko goes on to sing apologies for not having a heart to break and a fear of returning home, looking at the story both from Katniss’ unwillingness to give into feelings for Gale or Peeta and Peeta’s fear that the Games will change the person he was in the Seam. The film and book end with Peeta wanting to remember everything, while Katniss has Nothing To Remember.
4. Safe & Sound by Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars
When Taylor Swift covered Mumford and Sons’ song White Blank Page last year during her BBC Radio Sessions, fans got a glimpse at the haunting despair the usually upbeat and powerful Swift could summon with her vocals. In the first single from The Hungers Games soundtrack, Swift enlisted the help of fellow soundtrack artists The Civil Wars for a song that could represent a number of the film’s characters and their desire to do one thing that seems to elude the people of District 12 the most – protect one another.
5. The Ruler & The Killer by Kid Cudi
It looks like Burnett and Howard are taking a cue from Twilight Music Supervisor Alexandra Patsavas and including hip hop artists in a mostly folk soundtrack. While most of The Hunger Games soundtrack is made up of songs of sadness and heartbreak, Cudi brings a much needed sense of urgency, war and terror with his track The Ruler & The Killer. Rather than looking at the song from Katniss’ perspective, Cudi delves into the sadistic mind of The Gamekeeper, singing “When I talk you should listen/ All of you belong to me”.
6. Dark Days by Punch Brothers
One of the reasons The Hunger Games album, which features over 16 different musical acts, flows together so well is because the art of collaboration wasn’t lost simply because the album is a compilation as opposed to a record released by a single band. Not only did The Civil Wars and Taylor Swift team up on their tracks, but Punch Brothers and The Secret Sisters also supplied backing vocals on one anothers albums. Brothers and sisters stick together.
7. One Engine by The Decemberist
The Decemberist and their affinity for putting historical events to song were the perfect fit for The Hunger Games, a story based on a fictional country that easily lends itself to comparisons of real world wars, corrupt governments and genocides throughout history.
8. Daughter’s Lament by The Carolina Chocolate Drops
String band The Carolina Chocolate Drops use minimal sounds in their song Daughter’s Lament to allow lead singer Rhiannon Giddens’ chilling vocal delivery tell their story of Katniss Everdeen. The band’s string and beat boxing sound effects create a sound that could be interpreted as feet running through a forest, reminding the listener that this Daughter was a fighter.
9. Kingdom Come by The Civil Wars
Appearing for a second time on the soundtrack, The Civil Wars’ timeless alt-country song fits perfectly with the terrain of District 12, as does their song about the afterlife. As self-confessed fans of The Hunger Games series, Civil Wars member John Paul White said about the band’s song “We had the imagery in our head of rapid motion and the chase and so we had that energy in the back of our minds when we wrote the song. We’re really proud of it”, adding “We tried to make it where it could exist on its own too so it wouldn’t be so specific to the movie.”
10. Take The Heartland by Glen Hansard
For fans of Glen Hansard’s melancholic and beautiful Grammy-winning song Falling Slowly, Hansard’s hard-hitting and fast paced contribution to The Hunger Games may come as a bit of shock. Invoking the out-of-control feelings that Katniss and Gale must repress on a daily basis out of fear of the Capitol’s Big Brother stance in their district, Hansard does the screaming for them in his track Take The Heartland.
11. Come Away to the Water by Maroon 5 feat. Rozzi Crane
Collaborating with the first artist signed to his music label 222, Rozzi Crane holds her own against Maroon 5′s Adam Levine’s well-recognized vocals. The band take a big departure from their signature radio-friendly pop sound and the experiment pays off, with Levine and Crane crooning about a lamb to the slaughter.
12. Run Daddy Run by Miranda Lambert feat. Pistol Annie
Teaming up first with the two female vocalists who make up Pistol Annies on her fourth studio album Four The Record, Miranda Lambert again headed into the studio with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Pressley to create a smooth vocal harmonization that is reminiscent of The Dixie Chicks and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. While the explosion that killed not only Katniss’ father, but Gale’s father as well, takes on a large piece of Katniss’ psyche in the book, it’s only touched upon lightly in the film, making Lambert’s track even more important to the soundtrack’s duty to tell the full story.
13. Rules by Jayme Dee
When Craig Brewster was looking for artists to cover the iconic tracks that made up the original Footloose soundtrack for his 2011 remake, the director found unsigned teen Ella Mae Bowen and her heart-stopping rendition of Holding Out For A Hero. I can only assume that T. Bone Burnett’s introduction to 19 year-old Jayme Dee was similar, with the singer gaining notoriety online after posting emotional and introspective covers of bands like Coldplay and Foster The People. I have a feeling this won’t be the last we hear of the new talent.
14. Eyes Open by Taylor Swift
One of the reasons Swift has resonated with so many young girls and created a following of millions is because she is a solo voice of female empowerment in an industry saturated with sex-kitten soliloquies and over-exposed sexual imagery. One of the reasons The Hunger Games has resonated with so many young girls is because Katniss Everdeen, the teen who illegally hunts to keep her family from starving, resists having children so that they won’t experience her fate, and gives up her life to bravely volunteer to take her young sister’s place as a District 12 tribute, is because Katniss is a role model that everyone can look up to. While the girl on fire and the woman with the guitar may on the surface seem very different, they both represent ideals that are sorely lacking in 2012.
15. Lover is Childlike by The Low Anthem
The main reason behind the success of The Hunger Games is undeniably its heroine, Katniss. In The Low Anthem’s Lover Is Childlike, the band pays homage to Everdeen, singing from the point of view of Peeta and Gale with the lyrics “My lover ain’t Christ-like/ But my lover is childlike/ She don’t care for country/ In her tatters and rags/ As the band plays the anthem/ She whispers, ‘God hates flags’”.
16. Just A Game by Birdy
From Taylor Swift to Jayme Dee to 15 year old UK singer Birdy, T. Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard have skewed a soundtrack for a film about a 16 year-old heroine to include young female singers. Coincidence? Maybe. But the parallel works. Relative unknown Birdy creates an overwhelming emotional song with Just A Game, including instrumentation that delivers a chill through the listener’s body. The Hunger Games soundtrack finishes with Birdy’s song about playing games both in love with Katniss, Peeta and Gale and in every day life with the district’s fight against the capitol, setting the listener up for the highly anticipated Hunger Games follow up, Catching Fire. The world will be watching…and listening.Tweet