How Great Will the 'Gatsby' Soundtrack Be?

The Great Gatsby
Warner Bros. Pictures

Baz Luhrmann, Jay-Z and other music partners assembled a collection of songs that could revive the fortune of the out-of-favor-movie soundtrack

The high-profile soundtrack, an artifact of the '80s and '90s largely dormant during the last five years, is being revived by "The Great Gatsby," Baz Luhrmann's $100 million-plus adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. With Jay-Z onboard as executive music producer and a roster of artists from across Universal Music Group's labels, the soundtrack is both star-laden and a gamble: Can a hit film that isn't a musical generate a smash soundtrack?

If the soundtrack succeeds commercially it'll reinforce the idea that soundtracks need to take listeners on a journey reminiscent of the film, a driver in two of last year's soundtrack successes, "Pitch Perfect" and "Les Miserables." The Interscope "Gatsby" release mirrors the film exactly in its running order: "The razzle dazzle upfront," music supervisor Anton Monsted says, "and as the layers are peeled back on Gatsby's character, the music enhances the storytelling, both in the songs and the score."

Lana Del Rey, among the artists who wrote songs for the picture, is the first out of the block. Her "Young and Beautiful" was released ahead of the album, which arrives May 7, and is being used in trailers along with Beyonce and Andre 3000's cover of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black," and "Over the Love" from Florence & the Machine. The ads drive home the fact that the story is the set in the '20s, but the music is most definitely not.

"From the start we wanted the music to capture the spirit of the 1920s-they were the Roaring '20s, not the dull '20s or dreary '20s," Luhrmann says, noting that the music process began at the script stage and eventually included compositions written to a locked print of the film. "And the story is so relevant to today we wanted music that would have the spark that jazz would have had in the 1920s."

That meant incorporating hip-hop-Jay-Z was working on "No Church in the Wild" when he first met Luhrmann and wrote "100$ Bill" for the film's first party scene-and EDM from the xx and Nero, in addition to vintage-sounding new work from the Bryan Ferry Orchestra. Craig Armstrong provided the score and music editor Craig Beckett blended it, new recordings and music from the '20s written by George Gershwin, Fats Waller and others.

The Fergie, Q Tip and GoonRock party anthem "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody" will be used to bring attention to the film and soundtrack in multiple territories, according to Interscope VP of film and TV marketing Anthony Seyler. Substantial audience reaction to "Over the Love" has the label and studio looking at ways to further use the track promotionally.

Interscope's soundtrack, which didn't require leftover tracks to flesh out the album, works like an old-school soundtrack, the sort that tends to still click with audiences.

"Is it important to me that music plays a role in the storytelling? Yes," Luhrmann says as he begins a string of questions and obvious answers. "Is it crucial that we have stars singing songs to help market the film? No. Do I want a companion piece to the film so that people can relive the experience of the film on their own? Absolutely."

Originally positioned as a prestige release during the holiday season, Warner Bros. moved the picture to early summer, allowing Luhrmann and the music team of Monsted, Jay-Z and Jeymes Samuel, an associate of Jay-Z's given the credit of executive music consultant, to enhance the film's musical landscape.

"We had a moderate-size budget," Monsted says. "We definitely had more money to do [Luhrmann's 2001 film] 'Moulin Rouge,' but what we were able to do with this budget is testament to the desire of artists wanting to be involved and the challenge of this project and the opportunity."