3 Saturday Night Fever
(1977) Disco might forever be remembered as mere kitsch if we didn't have Fever to remind us that it was also the unlikely music of emancipation. Whether at a Brooklyn ballroom or Studio 54, disco delivered participatory escapism, and it hardly mattered who provided the beat. Fever did boast stars, of course, in the Bee Gees, who were busy reinventing themselves as R&B titans just as surely as Travolta became a new dude when he put on those duds. But if "Stayin' Alive" was a reason to live, even the lesser lights on this double LP gave us happy feet. "Disco Inferno" still makes us want to wear white after Labor Day.
4 West Side Story
(1961) Sondheim, Bernstein, Shakespeare...and blade-wielding street gangs? Those first three eggheads might not have seemed the likeliest trinity to end up slumming with barrio boys, but their Manhattan-based update of Romeo and Juliet was a musical zenith that Callas and the Crips could both enjoy. Is its innocent vision of gangland, articulated in wistful songs, a little bit dated in this post-gangsta culture? Sure. But we still dress up to "I Feel Pretty," still dream of better times to the romantic strains of "Somewhere"...and, most of all, we still dig the Jets' big numbers. Because we're cool, boyreal cool.
5 The Wizard of Oz
(1939) Everything about this movie has been part of our cultural consciousness for so long as to acquire the force of myth. It's unsettling, then, to realize how Oz almost turned out. "Over the Rainbow" was once cut after a preview audience expressed confusion over why Judy Garland was singing in a barnyard. If the final product feels seamless, credit the brains, heart, and nerve of E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, whose lyrics and dialogue lead-ins outlined the basic story and emotional structure that composer Harold Arlen and everyone else filled in. Harburg would be Oz's unsung auteurif his words weren't being sung to this day.
(1972) A textbook case of a soundtrack that artistically dwarfs the film that spawned it, Curtis Mayfield's opus is a testament to the powers of a musician at the top of his game. Mayfield's music imbued the blaxploitation quickie with a moral pulse, taking aim at the scourge of drugs in the inner city. It was one of Mayfield's gifts that his songs could sound joyful and heartbroken at the same time, suggesting the complexities of the human experience. "Pusherman," "Freddie's Dead," the title trackMayfield's lyrical high-mindedness would have meant naught if the music weren't as addictive as a drug itself.
7 The Graduate
(1967) Rock & roll had seeped into movies by 1967, but most of those films were concert flicks or Elvis embarrassments. All that changed with Mike Nichols' gently satiric swipe at the establishment and the emerging counterculture. Nichols' use of old and new Simon & Garfunkel songs was ingenious: Cue "The Sound of Silence" as Benjamin rides a moving walkway to his uncertain future or "Scarborough Fair" as his romantic dreams crumble. Even though half of it is devoted to a mood-music score, this landmark introduced "youth music" to grown-ups' movies, the reverberations of which are still being felt.