Movie Music: The Definitive Performances

To commemorate the end of the century, Sony Music assembled the gargantuan 26-disc box set Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century. The title was imposing, as was the idea behind it -- to chronicle the life of the oldest record label in the music industry. To be clear, Sony Music hasn't existed for 100 years, but the heart of its catalog, Columbia Records, was founded early in the 20th century. Sony acquired Columbia and its various subsidiaries in the late '80s, purchasing one of the richest catalogs in pop history, as the box set proves again and again. Sony realized that most consumers wouldn't invest in a 26-disc box, no matter how impressive it was, so they simultaneously released a series of 12 genre-specific double-disc sets that culled highlights from the box. That left two discs exclusive to the box, which was appropriate, since anyone who spends over $300 on an album deserves a little bonus. As it turns out, the double-disc sets are every bit as impressive as the big box, perhaps more so, because they're easily digestible. Even so, the scope of the 44-track Movie Music: The Definitive Performances is impressive. Columbia and its subsidiaries were one of the first labels to issue soundtracks, and this set traces the history of the movie soundtrack, from Al Jolson to Aerosmith. Musically, this volume may not be as historically significant as others in the Sony Music 100 Years set, but it's nevertheless fascinating, providing a capsule history of pop music in popular film. It's possible to hear the evolution of movie music, as it moved from standards and show tunes to pop tunes in the late '60s. There are a number of timeless songs here -- "The Way You Look Tonight," "March from the River Kwai," "An Affair to Remember," "To Sir with Love," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Way We Were," "Suicide Is Painless," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" -- along with some tunes that merely signify the times. And that's what makes it worthwhile -- it's pop history in the best sense, even if only half of it is musically significant. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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