The greatest movie soundtracks of the 60s

Sixties cinema was a time of dashing heroes, classic blockbusters and cool counter-culture flicks. It was also something of a golden age for bold, memorable scores.

Ranging from orchestral masterpieces to cheeky brass and inspired pop, the WOW247 team present their selection of the greatest ’60s movie soundtracks.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Nothing quite says childhood Sunday afternoons like a classic Western on the TV. The rousing call of Elmer Bernstein’s classic soundtrack exudes a stirring sense of adventure and trepidation. Bernstein was originally tasked with writing the instantly recognisable main theme because the film’s producers were worried that the expansive location shots lacked action, and that the audience would lose interest. Well, we didn’t. (JDM)

The Pink Panther (1963)

Numerous TV screenings of the various Pink Panther films have left them as something of a blur, but a recent big screen rewatch of the 1963 original highlighted just how important Henry Mancini’s music is to the end product. The now iconic, saxophone heavy, Pink Panther theme plays over the animated titles, while at one point the song ‘It Had Better Be Tonight’ brings the plot to a standstill for almost three minutes, with the instrumental version threaded throughout the rest of the picture. The classy soundtrack is ideal for the modern lounge lizard, a perfect slice of 60s cool. (JM)

The Great Escape (1963)

Another appearance by Elmer Bernstein in this list – The Great Escape is a quintessential war movie: a tale of camaraderie, brotherhood and stalwartness in the face of evil. Fittingly, the soundtrack bounces with boys-own heroism and marching drum-beats, and aims to encapsulate the light-hearted optimism that the film’s characters attempt to keep up during their heroic escape from a Nazi POW camp. It also includes that jaunty refrain, which just about everyone knows how to hum along to. (JDM)

Goldfinger (1964)

BWAM-BWAAARM-wah, waaaah-wah! John Barry’s gorgeous brass blasts are the heart and soul of the 007 classic, neatly evoking the decadence of those precious metals at its centre, and the sleek thrills of the action-packed plot. Fun, dangerous and just a little bit naughty, Barry’s score set a hugely high mark for all future Bond outings, and the main theme found true immortality when paired with Shirley Bassey’s eye-watering lung power. No wonder Alan Partridge couldn’t stop singing it. (MB)

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

John, Paul, George, Ringo, the old man from Steptoe & Son and a ton of Beatles songs – put it all together and you’ve got yourself one excellent movie with an even better soundtrack. Once referred to in a review as “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals”, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night is arguably more of an extended music video than a film – but a music video that was nominated for an Oscar for its brilliant screenplay. With classic songs like ‘All My Loving’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and – of course – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’  – appearing on the soundtrack, the Fab Four’s first feature film is a quintessentially ‘60s music experience. Be warned – you may find yourself suffering from acute Beatlemania after watching. (AW)

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (1966)

With simplistic guitar twangs and rhythmic drum beats echoing the sparse, untamed and violent nature of the American West, the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to classic Western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly solidified Ennio Morricone’s status as arguably the most influential composer to emerge from the ’60s. (JDM)

The Graduate (1967)

Timeless and peerless, The Graduate remains a masterclass in film-making that has been imitated and parodied but never topped. The minimal folky soundtrack from then-trendy Simon and Garfunkel featured some of their finest tracks, including ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and ‘The Sound Of Silence’. Koo koo kachu, Mrs. Robinson. (MDM)

Casino Royale (1967)

Even the staunchest John Barry fan would find it hard to disagree that the soundtrack to 1967’s “unofficial” Bond film is a Goldfinger-plated classic. Burt Bacharach was hired to supply the film’s colourful score, which seems to encapsulate the 1960s in each of its tracks. It may have been a mess behind the scenes of the David Niven-led spy comedy, but the music is the glue that holds it all together…just. From Herb Alpert’s theme to Bacharach’s gorgeous ‘The Look of Love’ sung by Dusty Springfield, the album holds up better than the film it was created to accompany, and is a must-listen for Bond and music fans alike. (JM)

Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Ennio Morricone’s second inclusion in this list – again for an epic Sergio Leone spaghetti western – is arguably his finest ever filmic work, and is its own unforgettable character within this striking, evocative tale of greed, longing and vengeance. The powerful title theme perfectly captures both the triumph and tragedy of the pioneering old frontier: majestic, awe-inspiring and haunting in equal measure. Then there’s Harmonica’s dazzling nemesis motif; a no-nonsense spine-tingler of glanging guitars, stirring strings and soprano singers – the perfect accompaniment to Charles Bronson and Henry Fonda’s steely-eyed glaring. (MB)

Bullitt (1968)

Forget Sean Connery’s tuxedo-clad appearances as Bond – it was Steve McQueen who defined ‘cool’ on screen in the ’60s, and of all the classics he fronted, Bullitt is the coolest. Ironically (for our purposes), the film is remembered primarily for a scene in which the soundtrack is silenced: arguably the greatest car chase in movie history, during which Lieutenant Frank Bullitt tears around the ridiculously steep streets of San Fran in a gorgeous Ford Mustang – the roaring engine and screeching tyres are all that’s needed. But Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy theme music perfectly complements the noirish style of this tense crime thriller.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

While it is the use of renowned classical music that’s most memorable – Johan Strauss’s Blue Danube for the captivating space-ship ‘waltz’, and Richard Strauss’s spellbinding crescendo Also Spach Zarathustra at the film’s opening and end – let’s not forget György Ligeti’s modernistic choral compositions, which provide the atmospheric sonic chills that threaten to overwhelm the senses whenever the monolith makes an appearance. Building and layering to fever-pitch, the choral wails are an intense, shiver-inducing part of the mind-bending action, and the use of the unnerving, foreboding ‘Atmospheres’ in its entirety is a stroke of genius. (MB)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Hey, I’m blogging here! I’m blogging here! The tale of Joe Buck’s attempts to become a New York City gigolo with the help of “Ratso” Rizzo (expertly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman) is a truly heart-warming tale. The soundtrack which is book-ended by Harry Nilson’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ has gone down in American film history. From the split second you hear those plucked acoustic guitar notes on any homage since, you know you are in Midnight Cowboy territory. (MDM)

Contributors: Mark Butler / Joel Draba-Mann / Nick Mitchell / Alex Watson / Jonathan Melville / Matthew Dunne-Miles

Listen to our Spotify playlist of the best 60s soundtracks:

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