Watching The 'Watchmen' Soundtrack
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.
6. "I'm Your Boogie Man," KC & The Sunshine Band
"I’m Your Boogie Man" is among KC & The Sunshine Band’s steady stream of disco hits, reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1977. The song is an uncomplicated celebration of the ability to light a dance floor on fire, and sets a beat and energy to do just that.
In “Watchmen,” the carefree tone of “I’m Your Boogie Man” is juxtaposed with a riot scene during which superheroes land on a city street to lay down the law. The scene is a flashback, and the song is presumably meant to not only trigger some cognitive dissonance but to establish, unequivocally, that the setting is the 1970s.
7. "You’re My Thrill," Billie Holiday
Like “Desolation Row” and “Unforgettable,” “You’re My Thrill” comes to the “Watchmen” soundtrack straight from the pages of the graphic novel. The superhero Nite Owl blasts Billie Holiday’s version of the song from his airship as he and the Silk Spectre rescue tenement residents from a fire, both distracting the people from their predicament and reflecting the heroes’ own excitement. Unlike other, dreamier recordings of the jazz standard, Holiday’s is chilling in its romanticism, accompanied by anxious strings playing foreboding chords, leaving her thrilled by but unprotected from a risky new love.
8. "Pruit Igoe & Prophecies," Philip Glass
“Pruit Igoe” and “Prophesies” are two instrumental tracks from Philip Glass’s score for Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance,” which consists entirely of time-lapse photography of U.S. natural and urban landscapes set to music. The film depicts various aspects of the relationships between humans, technology and the environment, and the “Pruit Igoe” sequence in particular is set against the demolition of the modernist Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. The combined piece, which is a dramatic arrangement of strings and organ that build to an ominous, fever pitch, has been used in a high-intensity “Watchmen” trailer and leaves no questions about the film’s desired tone.
9. "Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen’s spine-tingling folk anthem -- first recorded in 1984 and then released in an altered, live version 10 years later -- is one of the most covered songs of all time, with nearly 200 versions released by other artists. It’s not hard to understand why: the song’s slowly building chord progressions and religious overtones have a satisfying, spiritual quality that, as Rufus Wainwright once said, is “purifying” to sing. As a result, it has also been used frequently, perhaps excessively, to elicit emotion in film and television—and the producers of “Watchmen” couldn’t resist its lure.
10. "All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix
Lyrics from Bob Dylan’s 1967 song "All Along The Watchtower" appear in the title and the end quote of Chapter X of the "Watchmen" comic series: “Outside in the distance, a wild cat did growl/two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.” While the quote is attributed to Dylan in the book, the film soundtrack features Jimi Hendrix’s famous, vigorous 1968 cover, which reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, and which Dylan has admitted to emulating in live performance ever since Hendrix’s death.
11. "Ride of the Valkyries," Budapest Symphony Orchestra
The beginning of Act III of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walküre” has an interesting background in popular culture. The melody of Elmer Fudd’s “Kill the Wabbit” and a climactic segment of the score to D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of A Nation,” “Ride of the Valkyries” is also well known as the music behind the American helicopters that attack a Vietnamese village in “Apocalypse Now.” The piece will be similarly used in the “Watchmen” film, as the U.S. wins the Vietnam War with the help of god-like nuclear superhero Dr. Manhattan. In the book, “Ride of the Valkyries” is cited by retired superhero Hollis Mason as “the saddest thing I can think of.”
12. "Pirate Jenny," Nina Simone
“Pirate Jenny” originated as a song in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1928 musical “The Threepenny Opera,” sung about a prostitute who is bribed to turn protagonist Macheath (aka Mack the Knife) into the police.
Nina Simone’s 1964 cover of an English translation, however, has defiant civil rights connotations, with the song’s “black freighter” referring to the coming revolution. In “Watchmen,” a character is reading a horror-filled comic-within-the-comic called “Tales of the Black Freighter,” which will not be part of the film’s central storyline but will reportedly be included with the DVD release.