Courtesy Photo: CBS via Getty Images
Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in 'Clueless' (1995)
How 1995 Became A Blockbuster Year For Movie Soundtracks
From 'Clueless' to 'Dangerous Minds,' soundtracks were big business in 1995, but the year's hits offered no clear formula for success
Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, 2Pac and The Smashing Pumpkins all had No. 1 albums in 1995. Despite such hallowed competition, four movie soundtracks also topped the Billboard 200 chart that year. Two were family-friendly Disney behemoths: Pocahontas and The Lion King, the latter still powering from the previous year. The other chart-topping soundtracks, for the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Dangerous Minds and the stoner comedy Friday, were no one's idea of kids' entertainment.
Beyond those No. 1 spots, 1995 marked a fascinating midpoint in a soundtrack-heavy decade. According to a New York Times report, a new release CD that year typically cost anywhere between $13-$19. At that price, a soundtrack needed major star power or an undeniable concept.
For movie studios and musicians alike, the format was rich with opportunity. However, there was no certain formula for success. Some soundtracks were guided by a single producer, while others drew on a grab bag of then-current songs. Several featured one clear hit that eclipsed the soundtrack, or occasionally the movie itself. For all their differing approaches, the soundtracks of 1995 epitomized the energy and audacity of the decade, while also establishing tropes for the next 25 years.
The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album (1992) set the bar high for the decade. With a 20-week reign at No. 1, it remains the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time. Whitney Houston performed six songs on the album, including the titanic power ballad, "I Will Always Love You." (At the 1994 GRAMMYs, the track won the GRAMMY for Record Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, while the soundtrack itself earned the Album Of The Year award.)
While The Bodyguard magnified their commercial potential, movie soundtracks like Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) framed the medium as an artistic showpiece. Throughout the '90s, Tarantino and fellow indie auteurs Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater and Spike Lee made music a key character in their films. (The latter continues the trend on his latest movie, Da 5 Bloods, alongside six-time GRAMMY-winning composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.) Both instincts, for commercial returns and artistic validation, were well-represented in 1995.
Batman Forever (1995) epitomized the big-budget, mass-appeal mid-'90s soundtrack. Spanning PJ Harvey to Method Man, the 14-track set employed some tried-and-true tactics. First, only five songs on the track list appear in the movie itself, ushering in a rash of "Music From And Inspired By" soundtracks. Second, its featured artists largely contributed songs you couldn't find on other albums: According to Entertainment Weekly in 1995, U2 landed a reported $500,000 advance for "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," an offcut from the band's Zooropa album sessions.
Most significantly, Batman Forever backed a surprise smash in Seal's "Kiss From A Rose." Originally released as a single in 1994, the ballad blew up as the movie's "love theme." In its music video, Seal croons in the light of the Bat-Signal, intercut with not-very-romantic scenes from the film. Outshining U2, "Kiss From A Rose" reached No. 1 in 1995; one year later, the song won for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 38th GRAMMY Awards.
Both Bad Boys and Dangerous Minds had their "Kiss From A Rose" equivalent in 1995. Diana King's reggae-fusion jam "Shy Guy" proved the breakout star of Bad Boys, transcending an R&B- and hip-hop-heavy soundtrack. Meanwhile, Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," featuring singer L.V., the key track on Dangerous Minds, became the top-selling single of 1995; it won the rapper his first, and only, GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance the next year.
Other soundtracks from 1995 endure as perfect documents of their time and place. Clueless compiled a cast from '90s rock radio to accompany the adventures of Alicia Silverstone's Cher Horowitz and her high school clique: Counting Crows, Smoking Popes, Cracker and The Muffs. Coolio, the everywhere man of 1995, contributed "Rollin' With My Homies."
From the same city, but a world outside Cher's Beverly Hills bubble, came the Ice Cube- and Chris Tucker-starring Friday. Its soundtrack took a whistle-stop tour of West Coast hip-hop and G-funk via Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Tha Alkaholiks and Mack 10. True to the era, the music video for Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" is half stoner comedy, half cheesy action movie.
Waiting To Exhale, the 1995 drama directed by Forest Whitaker, boasted a soundtrack with a clear author. Babyface, the R&B superproducer with 11 GRAMMY wins for his work with the likes of Boyz II Men and Toni Braxton, produced the set in full. Following Babyface's co-producer role on The Bodyguard soundtrack three years prior, Waiting To Exhale featured two new songs from the movie's star, Whitney Houston.
Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" and "Why Does It Hurt So Bad" led a track list that also featured Aretha Franklin, TLC, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige and then-newcomer Brandy. A powerful showcase of Black women across generations, the soundtrack has prevailed as a standalone work, going on to receive multiple nominations, including Album Of The Year, at the 1997 GRAMMYs. In a crowded year for soundtracks, which also included Dinosaur Jr. founder Lou Barlow's work on Larry Clark's contentious Kids, Waiting To Exhale demonstrated the power of a singular vision.
For the most part, the soundtracks of 1995 tried a bit of everything. The previous year, The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack went all-in on covers, including Nine Inch Nails overhauling Joy Division's "Dead Souls." That trend continued into 1995, from Tori Amos covering R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" for Higher Learning to Evan Dando's update of Big Star's "The Ballad Of El Goodo" in Empire Records to Tom Jones gamely taking on Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way"' for The Jerky Boys movie. (Is there a more '90s sentence than that?)
Elsewhere, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack blended metal and industrial rock (Fear Factory, Gravity) with dance music (Utah Saints, Orbital). For every Dead Presidents, which zeroed in on '70s funk and soul, there was a Tank Girl, which threw together Bush, Björk, Veruca Salt and Ice-T to match the movie's manic tone.
Continuing from their '90s winning streak, grown-up soundtracks have proven surprisingly resilient. In an echo of Babyface's role on Waiting To Exhale, Kendrick Lamar oversaw production on 2018's chart-topping, multi-GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: The Album, uniting an A-list cast under his creative direction. On the same front, Beyonce executive-produced and curated The Lion King: The Gift, the soundtrack album for the 2019 remake of the Disney classic, which spotlighted African and Afrobeats artists. In 2016, Taylor Swift and One Direction's Zayn recorded "I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)," pitching for the movie tie-in bump enjoyed in 1995 by Seal and Coolio. (The millennial stars stopped short of including scenes from the movie in their music video.)
Like Batman Forever back in the day, the DC Universe continues to put stock in soundtracks. Both Suicide Squad (2016) and its follow-up, Birds Of Prey (2020), are packed tight with to-the-minute pop, R&B and hip-hop. Each soundtrack reads like a who's who of the musical zeitgeist. In 1995, Mazzy Star, Brandy and U2 grouped up behind Batman. In 2016, Twenty One Pilots, Skrillex and Rick Ross powered the Suicide Squad. In 2020, everyone from Doja Cat to Halsey to YouTube star Maisie Peters form Team Harley Quinn.
As 1995 taught us time and time again, nothing traps a year in amber quite like a movie soundtrack.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards
Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category
The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.
Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville
Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.
Championships – Meek Mill
In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
i am > i was – 21 Savage
Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.
IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.
The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae
Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com
GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Jennifer Hudson
From timeless classics to infectious pop gems, GRAMMY winner Jennifer Hudson goes deep on six influential GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings
(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
Vocal powerhouse Jennifer Hudson grew up in Chicago in the '80s and '90s, but it was a piece of classic '70s disco that first made her want to put her talents to use as a professional performer.
"When I heard 'Got To Be Real' [by Cheryl Lynn] it just grabbed me," says Hudson. "That was the song that made me think, 'Oh God — that's what I want to do.' I'd mark off a little stage on the floor and hold my hairbrush microphone and jump up and down. I'd lose it."
A solid disco beat can still move her, but Hudson also cites gospel music as a major influence, having sung often in the church in her childhood with an extended family of talented vocalists.
Hudson got the chance to make her own music career real in 2004 when she delivered several knockout performances as a contestant on "American Idol." Her breakout role in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls followed in 2006, and two years later she took home Best R&B Album honors for her self-titled debut at the 51st GRAMMY Awards [link to show page].
With plans underway for her third studio album, Hudson reigns as one of the most gifted and affecting performers of her generation. Here are six recordings from the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame that continue to make her want to reach for the microphone — hairbrush or otherwise.
"I have a hard time remembering what I was doing the first time I heard a lot of the Whitney songs because I went crazy for everything she did. That first album really had an effect on me. 'Saving All My Love For You,' 'How Will I Know,' 'Greatest Love Of All' — just saying the names of the songs makes me want to cry all over again. I do remember that 'Greatest Love Of All' was a total game changer for me. It was a song that had a very different kind of power. It didn't make you want to dance like my other favorites had done — this one captivated you. It put you into a trance. You started listening to that song and the world around you went silent.
"Whitney had that effect right from the start. There's a time to dance, and there's a time to listen, and Whitney had a voice that you had to listen to. The thing that has always amazed me is that her music is so powerful, and yet it's so soothing. In some ways it's perfect ear candy, but it can also move you to tears."
"When it is time to dance, this is the [song]. I think everybody has the experience with music that certain songs are powerful enough to take you right back to a certain time and place. There are songs you appreciate for the music, but there are songs you just feel are like old friends — you've got some history with them. For me, hearing Patti LaBelle and the group singing 'Lady Marmalade' takes me right back to the times when I was first getting so excited about music. This is the kind of song that just made me jump up and want to be a part of what was going on.
"I also remember being impressed by the look and the image of LaBelle too, which I didn't really know about until I'd already been familiar with the song. [They were] so much fun, and so expressive. I wish things were a little more like that now. Sometimes it feels like everything's been done. You think somebody has a new look and it turns out LaBelle [were] already there.
"Oh Happy Day"
Edwin Hawkins Singers
"I started out singing in church choruses, and even before I was singing I was sitting [on] my grandmother's lap while she was singing the chorus on Sunday or at choir rehearsal. My whole family sang — my grandmother was the youngest of 11 siblings and they all sang together as a group. I remember they'd do these warm-ups where they'd go around and everybody in the family had to sing their name: 'My name is Jennifer Hudson, how do you do?'
"I always loved that feeling of being surrounded by music and family, and that's a feeling I get from 'Oh Happy Day,' which is kind of funny because for all the singing we did in church, I don't think we sang that song. Once I heard it though, I couldn't get enough of it. It's one of those great pieces of music that's a real church song, but it gets you there just like any great up-tempo pop song. It gives you that great feeling of energy and makes you smile. It does what the title tells you it does — makes your day a happier one."
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Simon & Garfunkel
"I just absolutely love this song, and have from the first time I heard it. But for a long time what I was familiar with was the Aretha Franklin version. A friend finally introduced me to the Simon & Garfunkel original. Their recording is so perfect and so heavenly — every time I hear it I either want to sing along with the whole thing, or just say, 'Hallelujah.' The sound is so pure and the arrangement is so beautiful, it just sends you away. Then, when you really listen to the words, it's beautiful on a whole different level. What does everyone want in life but a bridge over troubled water?
"This is the kind of song that makes me wonder: When it was being written and recorded, did they have a sense of how amazing and timeless this was? Did they know from the start it was a masterpiece? I think we musicians know when we've done the best we can do, and that's a great feeling. But I wonder if there's an extra awareness when you create something that's just going to last forever. This song is definitely in that category."
"The Way We Were"
"I don't remember my first time hearing Barbra Streisand. I just think I was always aware that she was the top — that she's as good as you can get as a singer and a performer.
"The first time I really became aware of just how special a talent she had was when I actually had to get it together to sing a couple of her songs at one of Clive Davis' Pre-GRAMMY [Galas]. It was a tribute for her, and two days before the show Clive asked me to sing 'People' and 'The Way We Were.' I had to take on these two gigantic signature songs — songs that aren't easy to deliver — and sing them with her sitting right in front of me. Are you kidding me? I almost lost my mind.
"She makes the first few lines of 'People' sound so easy, but melodically it's very difficult to get it just right. To this day I want to sing that over again and get it right — a little more right. I think I must have spoken to her after I sang, but I was so terrified I don't remember a thing. I think she was smiling, but I don't know. I love her. I'd sing for her again if I could — but maybe not one of her songs."
(Jennifer Hudson won her first career GRAMMY in 2008 for Best R&B Album for Jennifer Hudson. As an actress, her role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls earned her numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. A day after the death of Whitney Houston on Feb. 11, 2012, Hudson performed "I Will Always Love You" as a special tribute on the 54th GRAMMY Awards telecast.)
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)
Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images
Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream
Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund
This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.
“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”
Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.