Jay-Z and Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Gatsby’ Soundtrack is Superb, Old Sport

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(Photo courtesy of Water Tower Music/Interscope.)

Photo courtesy of Water Tower Music/Interscope.

Gatsby. The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those books that most people can’t escape high school without reading. Furthermore, Jay Gatsby is a character that many people can’t help but love, if only from a literature standpoint. Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the novel about love and opulence in 1920’s New York hit theaters this weekend and has gotten mixed reviews. Though I loved it–the dialogue was taken directly from the book, the lighting and set design were beautiful, the clothes were amazing, the casting was almost entirely perfect (Leo was flawless)–some people weren’t happy with Luhrmann’s interpretation of Fitzgerald’s classic. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion, and I suppose I could see how The Great Gatsby might not be someone’s cup of tea. But there is one aspect to the movie that I don’t think should be argued and that is the soundtrack.

It’s become expected that a movie by Baz Luhrmann will include a unique soundtrack comprised of modern music with a classic twist. Music From Baz Luhrmann’s Film: The Great Gatsby is no exception. With Jay-Z as an executive producer on the movie and soundtrack, it’s not surprising that the soundtrack is great. He worked with Luhrmann for two years on this soundtrack, and their efforts certainly made for a memorable album. Many different artists are featured on the album, including Jay-Z himself, and most of the songs have a 20s-era jazz feel to them. While songs like “100$ Bill” incorporate sound bites from the characters in the movie, the deluxe soundtrack includes full tracks of dialogue such as Nick Carraway’s ending monologue: “Gatsby Believed in the Green Light.” Before The Great Gatsby hit theaters, the soundtrack was available to stream online through Spotify or NPR, but many songs have been taken down since the movie’s premiere. Still, the soundtrack is fantastic and I decided to pay it some tribute by listing my favorite songs. It was hard enough to narrow the list down to seven and it was impossible to pick a favorite so these songs are in order of the soundtrack.

(Photo credit to C.Smith: WENN.)

Photo credit to C.Smith: WENN.

“100$ Bill”

The first song on the soundtrack opens with Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby saying, “My life has got to be like this, it’s got to keep going up.” Then the beat kicks in and mixes with other sound bites from the movie until Jay-Z comes in and starts rapping. The song would be great without all the bits of dialogue from the movie, but those traces of the movie woven throughout Jay-Z’s lyrics from the point of view of a modern day Gatsby takes the song to an entirely new level. The horns in this song are an element taken straight out of the 1920s, but mixed with the chopped and screwed beat of modern rap, “100$ Bill” acts as a bridge between the movie set in the 20s and music created in the 2010s. It’s the perfect song to start off the soundtrack.

“Back to Black”

Amy Winehouse always had a jazzy retro feel to her music, so it makes perfect sense that one of her songs would be featured on The Great Gatsby soundtrack. The version that appears on the soundtrack is performed by Beyoncé and Andre 3000 and it’s slower than Winehouse’s original version. The song is dark and haunting with its use of guitar, synth and electro bleeps. Although Beyoncé isn’t Amy Winehouse, her voice on this song is beautiful and eerie in the best way possible. The juxtaposition between “Back to Black” and “100$ Bill”–the first two songs on the soundtrack– mirror the disparity between the wealth and darkness that surround Gatsby in the novel and the film.

Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

Photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

“Young and Beautiful” 

I’ve never actually listened to Lana Del Rey before; all that I know of her is that she gave a horrible, meme-worthy performance on SNL last year. But “Young and Beautiful,” written by Del Rey and Rick Nowels from the perspective of Daisy Buchanan, fits perfectly into the soundtrack. This ballad, accompanied by some romantic strings and percussion, is another haunting song from the soundtrack, but for another reason. This song captures the nostalgia of wanting to stay young forever and fearing for what the future will bring. 

Will you still love me/When I’m no longer young and beautiful?/Will you still love me/When I got nothing but my aching soul?/I know you will, I know you will/I know that you will/Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

Although I’m not particularly fond of Daisy, Lana Del Rey’s interpretation of her character on the soundtrack is so compelling that I can’t help but feel sad. “Young and Beautiful” adds a complexity to the soundtrack that fits perfectly in with the movie. 

“Love is Blindness”

Jack White performs his own version of Bono’s original song that appeared on U2’s Achtung Baby album. This song was a perfect choice for a movie with as tragic of a love story as The Great Gatsby. White’s version of the song is certainly different than Bono’s, although they share similar sounds with the guitar and percussion, as well as hints of an organ. While the original song is more haunting and sad than anything else, White’s version starts off in the same way and makes a transition during the song to something like rage. The music starts to bang and crash and White sounds tortured as he cries, “Love is blindness/I’m so sick of it/I don’t want to see.” The transition from darkly brooding to almost-bitter anger within the span of this track seems to capture the tone of the movie very well. “Love is Blindness” also fits in with the haunted theme that seems to pervades the slower songs on the soundtrack, which works especially well alongside the film.

(Photo courtesy of Yahoo.)

Photo courtesy of Yahoo.

“Crazy in Love”

Emeli Sandé and The Brian Ferry Orchestra recorded their own version of the 2003 hit, written by Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rich Harrison, and Eugene Record, for The Great Gatsby soundtrack. Sandé’s cover of “Crazy in Love” is a jazz version of the pop song that fits perfectly into the Gatsby film. The music on the track, performed by The Brian Ferry Orchestra, uses a predominance of horns and percussion. Along with Sandé’s vocals, the song sounds like a mix of soul and swing music. This track fits so well into the 1920s theme of the album that it’s not hard to imagine the characters in Gatsby doing the Foxtrot to “Crazy in Love.”

“A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)”

Fergie, Q-Tip, and GoonRock’s song off the soundtrack is one of my favorites because it’s a perfect mashup of swing, hip hop, and dubstep; it is exactly the kind of song I’d want to dance to at a modern day Gatsby party (which I’m sure there will be plenty of this summer.) The song was written for the album with reference to the Gatsby parties F. Scott Fitzgerald described in his novel. Out of all the upbeat party songs on the soundtrack “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” is by far the most high energy and best represents the over the top aspect of a Gatsby party. Plus, the song even works out of the context of The Great Gatsby soundtrack, which makes it even better.

Graphic courtesy of Kushandwizdom on Tumblr.

Graphic courtesy of Kushandwizdom on Tumblr.

“No Church in the Wild”

Originally appearing on Jay-Z’s 2011 album Watch the Throne, “No Church in the Wild” is one of the few songs–if not the only song–on the soundtrack that doesn’t try to incorporate aspects of the 20s or the Gatsby film. The track is performed by Jay-Z along with Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and The-Dream; it was featured in the first two trailers for The Great Gatsby, but can only be found on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack. For me, this is the song I most associated with the film even though it’s entirely modern. “No Church in the Wild” is among other contemporary rap and hip hop tracks used in the movie that were not included on the soundtrack, however it is the most featured of those songs because of its use in the trailers. Out of all the music today, rap and hip hop makes the most sense to include in a movie about huge mansions, lavish celebrations, and endless partying, which made it a perfect addition to the soundtrack.

I know I left out a lot of great songs off the soundtrack from my list (Florence + The Machine’s “Over the Love,” Sia’s “Kill and Run,” and Will.i.am’s “Bang Bang” just to name a few,) so what were your favorite songs from The Great Gatsby?

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