How the Eclectic 'Call Me by Your Name' Soundtrack Became a Surprise Vinyl Hit -- Is Radio Next?

Call Me By Your Name
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver in Call Me By Your Name. 

The Call Me by Your Name film soundtrack, on paper, seems an unlikely recipe for success. There’s not a pop megastar to be found on the tracklist. No cool hip-hop collaborations. And definitely no dance DJs providing a hot new remix.

And yet, the eclectic soundtrack -- comprised mostly of previously released classical music, 35-year-old European pop tunes mostly unfamiliar to American ears, and a trio of songs from Sufjan Stevens -- has found an audience, especially with fans of vinyl albums. The title’s initial global pressing of 1,500 blue vinyl double-LP sets sold out essentially instantly, another run of 500 yellow LPs for the U.S. has basically sold out on pre-orders alone, and the vinyl album’s U.S. distributor expects to sell 2,000 of the set’s standard black vinyl edition in its first two months of release.

Certainly helping sales is the movie’s passionate fanbase, critical acclaim and Stevens' tunes. He contributed a new remix of his 2010 track “Futile Devices,” along with two new songs written specifically for the movie: “Visions of Gideon” and “Mystery of Love.” The latter is nominated for the Academy Award for best original song -- one of four nominations Call Me by Your Name received, along with best picture, best actor (Timothée Chalamet) and best adapted screenplay.

A radio promotion campaign for “Mystery” is just getting started in the U.S., aiming to take advantage of the track’s increased attention in the run-up to the Academy Awards on March 4.

The soundtrack -- which was released on Sony Pictures Entertainment’s in-house music label, Madison Gate Records -- has sold 9,000 copies in the U.S. through Feb. 1, according to Nielsen Music. The album -- produced by the film’s director, Luca Guadagnino -- has so far peaked at No. 14 on Billboard’s Soundtracks chart and earned 29 million on-demand audio streams for its tracks. Guadagnino worked with his film editor Walter Fasano and his music supervisor Robin Urdang to select the music heard in Call Me by Your Name, most of which is included on the soundtrack album.

‘It Was a Real Labor of Love for All of Us’

“My group, Madison Gate, sits within the music affairs group at Sony Pictures, and we're primarily charged with working on the music that goes into our in-house productions,” says Dan Brescoll, vp of music affairs for Sony Pictures Entertainment. “So we're intimately familiar with those, but we also try to track the other divisions of the company that pick up pictures, that acquire pictures, and so I keep a hit list -- and this was on my list.”

Sony Pictures Classics acquired Call Me by Your Name shortly before it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017. Once the movie’s glowing reviews started to come in after its Sundance bow, Brescoll says it was “definitely on my hit list.”

“Robin Urdang, the [film’s] music supervisor, started calling me and said, 'Do you have plans for an album?' And I said, 'Well, I haven't gotten to see it yet.' She's like, 'Please go see it.'

“I went to a screening and from the first opening bars of [John Adams’ classical piece] 'Hallelujah Junction' in the title sequence, you know this is special," Brescoll says. "... It was a real labor of love for all of us, but we started the conversation there, [with] Robin, and Luca’s company, and Sony Pictures Classics. That was where it started, and it was just a question of: How do we make this happen?”

Compiling the Album

Call Me by Your Name’s unique track list -- blending Stevens’ music, classical pieces, early '80s European pop, The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and Joe Esposito and Giorgio Moroder’s “Lady Lady Lady” from the Flashdance soundtrack -- isn’t the most obvious candidate for a soundtrack release.

“It's not obvious at all,” Brescoll says. “Especially in these days of streaming, if you don't have a lot of new content, it's hard to justify going through the trouble to compile a record… So that's always a challenge on this kind of a project.” But Brescoll says that -- in addition to Sony and Madison Gate’s passion for the film and its music -- it was Stevens’ songs, along with the relative unavailability of the other pre-existing music, that gave them extra incentive to compile the soundtrack.

Almost all of the source music heard in the movie is on the soundtrack, though there is a notable omission: Adams’ classical piece “Phrygian Gates,” which plays very prominently when the main characters go to an archaeological dig. “For me, and I think I can speak for Luca, because I know he felt the same way… we were both a little bummed about it” not making the album.

“[The] simple problem is 'Phrygian Gates' is over 24 minutes long and there's no edits. It's all a single movement. We even approached John Adams' camp about approving an edit that might work, and we just couldn't get there. At the end of the day, we felt that [the soundtrack] had to fit on a single CD. But most of the music in the film is on this record.”

After screening at a number of film festivals through 2017, Call Me by Your Name was released to theaters first in the U.K. on Oct. 27. That was followed by a limited U.S. release on Nov. 24 before going nationwide on Jan. 19.

The soundtrack was released globally Nov. 3 as a digital download, followed by its CD release on Nov. 17. Its premiere vinyl edition dropped on Jan. 12.

A True Blue Seller

The soundtrack has sold better than expected on vinyl, which has surprised both Madison Gate and the vinyl album’s U.S. distributor.

On Jan. 12, the set got its initial vinyl release on blue 180-gram double-LP that came with a poster and insert and was issued by the vinyl-only specialty label Music on Vinyl. The global run of just 1,500 numbered copies -- which saw 670 of those released in the U.S. via URP Music Distributors -- sold out pretty much instantly.

Madison Gate licensed the global vinyl release rights to the soundtrack to Music on Vinyl; Sony Music Masterworks has the CD edition worldwide.

Brescoll says Madison Gate has “partnered with [Music on Vinyl] on a number of our soundtrack projects that have also had a Sony Music Masterworks component to them, primarily orchestral scores.”


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“We've always loved the work that [Music on Vinyl] did,” Brescoll says. “They're big Sufjan fans, so they were immediately attracted to this record and had all kinds of great ideas. They pitched the blue vinyl, and we were like, 'Done, absolutely.' … The blue of this cover is just so iconic. It was just such a no-brainer.” (Madison Gate -- along with Sony Pictures Classics, and the teams of Guadagnino and Stevens -- approve any version of the album that is released.)

As it turns out, the blue vinyl edition of the set, which retailed for around $36, was in such short supply, it has already turned into a collector’s item. Copies of the blue vinyl package are now being sold on eBay for upwards of $200.

‘Black and Yellow’ Vinyl

The standard, non-limited, double-LP black vinyl edition of the soundtrack (again on 180-gram vinyl, with a poster and insert) will be released Feb. 16.

URP’s general manager, Spyder Frisch, says, “We'll probably move around 2,000 units of the black vinyl in the first 60 days of its release. Retailers are getting a good reaction to it. We anticipate another bump in demand as we get closer to the Academy Awards.”

A super limited yellow edition of just 500 copies will follow on March 30 and it is exclusive to Amoeba Music and Newbury Comics in the U.S. (Each will receive 250 copies.) No other vinyl permutations of the soundtrack are currently planned, according to Brescoll.

“The Amoeba exclusive was one of our fastest-selling LP pre-orders ever,” says Brad Schelden, indie and new music buyer for Amoeba’s Hollywood location and “URP approached us about it since I was reordering so much of the black version. It was an easy decision to do this one.

“The yellow exclusive pre-order sold out very quickly for both us and Newbury,” Schelden says. “Within a couple hours of it going up on our site. We will have some more for the stores when it comes out in a couple of months. But the pre-order is sold out.”

All told, URP’s Frisch says the “surprise hit” album -- combining its three variations -- is “one of our top-selling titles of the last six months.” He adds, “It will end up being [among] our top-selling vinyl soundtrack titles of all time in our company's 10-year history,” alongside such albums as The Great Gatsby, Forrest Gump and Lost Highway.

‘Mystery’ Mostly Missing on Radio (So Far)

The Call Me by Your Name album’s key promotional track is certainly Stevens’ Oscar-nominated “Mystery of Love.” The tune’s official music video premiered on Jan. 4, though the song’s radio promotion campaign didn’t start until this week (Feb. 8). Further, through Feb. 1, the song has garnered a total of 3.7 million on-demand audio streams, 1.3 million on-demand video streams and sold 11,000 downloads.

As Stevens has never had an airplay chart hit in his career, it’s not surprising the track has yet to garner much attention across U.S. radio stations. So far, through Feb. 6, the tune has collected just 58 spins across 17 stations.

Leading the way with 22 spins is Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir (KVOQ), Denver. “Sufjan Stevens is a core artist for us,” OpenAir program director Mike Flanagan says, “so we will be following his journey whether he is getting an Oscar nomination, resuming his state series [of albums], or releasing another volume of Christmas music. For this movie, his song [‘Mystery’] is both ethereal and human, bridging mystery and emotion at the perfect time.”

Meanwhile, influential tastemaker station KCRW Los Angeles played the track for the first time on Feb. 3, perhaps a sign of further spins as the Academy Awards ceremony grows near.

Chris Douridas, KCRW program host and programming curator of Electic24 (the station’s 24-hour all-music channel), says Call is his “favorite film of the year.” The three-time Grammy Award nominee and longtime music supervisor (Captain Fantastic, American Beauty) says, “Sufjan's contributions are spot on. Such a great added layer. His voice perfectly illuminates the chemistry of the lead characters.”

Though “Mystery of Love” has yet to be loved by radio, the song has garnered enough streams and sales to grant Stevens his first hit on the Hot Rock Songs chart. (The tally blends airplay, sales and streams to rank the most popular rock songs of the week.) On the latest list (dated Feb. 10), “Mystery” dips from its peak of No. 36 to No. 42.

2018 Academy Awards