Last summer’s “The Dark Knight” was perhaps the most highly anticipated superhero film of all time— until Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen,” due March 6, came rumbling along. Adapted from the blockbuster 1985 graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, “Watchmen” has been embroiled in an array of controversies, from legal battles over film rights, to the mixed feelings fans of the comic have toward the idea of a film version.
One thing that can be agreed upon, however, is the importance of music to “Watchmen.” References to music and lyrics run throughout the original graphic novel, reflecting a story that takes place in 1985 and flashes as far back as the 1930s.
On March 3, Reprise will release both a movie soundtrack album and recorded score by composer Tyler Bates. A limited edition vinyl collection will also be available via watchmenmusic.com.
Below is a track-by-track rundown of the soundtrack, which includes only one newly recorded track, My Chemical Romance’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” The rest of the songs span the Cold War era in which “Watchmen” is set, and stand to earn a new generation of fans.
1. "Desolation Row," My Chemical Romance
The haunting, 11-plus-minute closing track of Bob Dylan’s 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited" plays an explicit role in the “Watchmen” graphic novel—the lyric "At Midnight All the Agents" is the title of the first chapter, which then closes with the extended stanza "At midnight, all the agents and the superhuman crew/go out and round up everyone that knows more than they do.” My Chemical Romance’s frantic, three-minute theatrical punk approach to the song is very little like the acoustic original, but may be more in synch with the urgent, action-intense pace of the film.
My Chemical Romance - Desolation Row
2. "Unforgettable," Nat King Cole
Written by Irving Gordon and first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1951, “Unforgettable” is one of the most recognizable of popular American ballads, winning three Grammys as recently as 1992 when Natalie Cole released the song as a “duet” with her late father.
In “Watchmen,” a commercial for superhero/entrepreneur Adrian Veidt’s perfume “Nostalgia” is set to the timeless song, part of Veidt’s strategy to offer retail escapism during the impending doom of the Cold War.
3. “The Times They Are A-Changin,” Bob Dylan
The title track of Dylan’s 1964 album is an iconic 20th century protest song, musically influenced by traditional Irish and Scottish ballads but quintessentially reflective of the 1960s in America. Dylan recorded the song less than a month before John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, and opened a concert with it the following night, giving both voice and punctuation to a nation in crisis.
In “Watchmen” the book, the song title is used as another slogan for a “Nostalgia” ad; in the film, the song plays behind an opening montage of re-imagined moments in U.S. history, fulfilling a clichéd -- but also highly appropriate -- function for a movie about an uncertain march toward cataclysm.
4. "The Sound of Silence," Simon & Garfunkel
Unlike the unplanned connection between Dylan’s song and Kennedy’s assassination, Paul Simon wrote this folk ballad (released at the time as “The Sounds of Silence”) in 1964 in direct response to the tragic event. It was released in September 1965 and peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in Jan. 1966, prompting a reunion of the recently parted duo.
Simon rarely gives permission for use of the song in films (it was also featured in “The Graduate”), but in “Watchmen” it is played during the funeral of government-dispatched superhero Edward Blake—who, the movie suggests, was responsible for Kennedy’s death.
5. "Me and Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin
"Me and Bobby McGee," written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, was first recorded by Roger Miller in 1969. But it was Janis Joplin’s emotionally riveting rendition of the folk rock anthem, recorded just a few days before her death in 1970, that earned the song its place in music history. The track became a posthumous No. 1 single on the Hot 100 for Joplin in 1971, and has become known as much for its subversive political refrain—“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”—as for its story of love and loss.