Nine Notable Musicians Who Composed Only One Film Score

Daft Punk and Tron: Legacy

Yes, this is another of my "only one movie" lists. I suppose it's an obsession. Anyway, years ago I wrote a list about rock stars who turned their talents towards film composing. Those musicians all forged solid film careers. These nine, in comparison, were strictly one-and-done. Note that I'm only including those who composed proper instrumental scores, and didn't just submit a bunch of thematically related songs (e.g., Eddie Vedder for Into the Wild).

  1. MILES DAVIS, Elevator to the Gallows (1958). French filmmakers, in the years leading up to the New Wave, looked to American jazz musicians for their soundtracks. And so for this thriller about a murder gone wrong, director Louis Malle had Davis and band improvise several tracks. (Roger Vadim attempted something similar with Thelonious Monk for Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but that score was based on Monk's existing compositions.)
  2. DAFT PUNK, Tron: Legacy (2010). Thomas Bangalter, one half of Daft Punk, also scored Gaspar Noé's hard-to-watch Irreversible and Enter the Void. But his partner, the impossibly-named Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, never scored a film on his own, and as a unit, the two have thus far only composed this Tron sequel.
  3. LEONARD BERNSTEIN, On the Waterfront (1954). Of course the legendary conductor also wrote the music for West Side Story – but that was for the stage. Indeed, Bernstein wasn't even directly involved with the big screen adaptation, and allegedly hated the orchestrations for it. The Oscar-winning On the Waterfront was his only original film score.
  4. QUEEN, Flash Gordon (1980). Flash! A-ah! Highlander may mark Queen's other major foray into soundtracks, but that was just a collection of songs, most of which wound up on their album A Kind of Magic. Cheesy as it was, Flash Gordon was at least a proper score – though it should be noted that the band worked closely with experienced composer Howard Blake.
  5. BOB DYLAN, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). Dylan has dabbled in film throughout his career: Renaldo and Clara and Masked and Anonymous were filled with his songs, and with Dylan himself. But this Sam Peckinpah Western was the only film he wrote a proper score for. It's also where "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" comes from.
  6. PAUL McCARTNEY, The Family Way (1966). It's astounding to think that, as prolific as the Beatles were, they had time to pursue side projects even while releasing new albums every year. And so it was that, in between recording sessions for Revolver and Sergeant Pepper, McCartney wrote the score for this Hayley Mills dramedy.
  7. KAREN O, Where the Wild Things Are (2009). Spike Jonze has, like his ex Sofia Coppola, taken to hiring famous rockers to compose his films. (I haven't forgotten about Arcade Fire and Her, but that's a subject for a different list.) Here the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' singer provided the twee score for Jonze's lovely but misguided adaptation of Maurice Sendak's book.
  8. MARVIN GAYE, Trouble Man (1972). As with late '50s filmmakers exploring jazz soundtracks, early '70s black cinema coaxed many great soul artists into trying their hand at composing. Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and even James Brown scored several films, but Gaye only got to do this one. As a film, Trouble Man is no classic. Gaye's score, however, has withstood the test of time.
  9. TOTO, Dune (1984). While researching this list, I came across the same titles a number of times. Yet the other lists I found all overlooked – perhaps intentionally – the unlikely partnership of Toto, then fresh off their hits "Africa" and "Rosanna", and David Lynch. It was not a fortuitous collaboration.