The soundtrack for the blockbuster smash Watchmen is an amalgamation of artists, including the unlikely combination of emo rockers My Chemical Romance, jazz pianist turned pop singer Nat King Cole, legendary folk singer and guitarist Bob Dylan, and infamous hard-rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, to name just a few. The disc starts off with a bang, opening with the pop punk chords of My Chemical Romance’s popular single titled “Desolation Row”. “And the riot squad, they’re restless/ They need somewhere to go/ As Lady and I look out tonight/ From Desolation Row,” belts MCR lead singer Gerard Way. The song, a punk-anthem-style cover of Bob Dylan’s original by the same title, brings a touch of contemporary feeling to the film that is probably appreciated by younger fans who may complain that the songs chosen for Watchmen are too old or overplayed.
The second song, Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”, is one of several that are immediately recognizable to contemporary audiences, but which help to create the somewhat aged atmosphere of some of the film’s sequences. This timeless, beautiful classic is heard twice in the film, first during a fight scene and then again when Laurie goes to Dan’s house, a moment that lets the song’s inherent romanticism truly shine. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the third song on the Watchmen soundtrack, is aptly used during the film’s opening credits, where newspaper clippings, flashbacks, and photographs tell the tale of the original masked heroes—Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre I, Nite Owl I, the Comedian, Hooded Justice, and the rest—their replacements—Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre II, Nite Owl II, Rorschach, etc.—and some of the events that made these peculiar individuals who they are.
Dylan is followed by the ethereal chords of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” an oddly upbeat choice to set the tone for the Comedian’s funeral, but one that nevertheless fits upon further inspection. “But my words like silent raindrops fell/ And echoed/ In the wells of silence” sing Simon and Garfunkel as the Comedian’s body is lowered into the ground, reminding all of the masked heroes present of Blake’s continuing insistence on the futility of fighting evil in a world where the greatest threat is human nature itself.
The next few tracks, “Me and Bobby McGee,” by Janis Joplin, “I’m Your Boogie Man,” by K.C. & The Sunshine Band, and “You’re My Thrill,” by Billie Holiday, are each used in different ways but still complement the scenes they accompany. “Me and Bobby McGee,” a popular song during the Vietnam War, brings older members of the audience back to those days of protest as they watch the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan’s verbal sparring in a bar in Vietnam. “I’m Your Boogie Man” offers viewers a laugh as the Comedian takes down a rioting crowd to the tune of such an upbeat song. “You’re My Thrill” plays as Silk Spectre and Nite Owl snub the Keane Act against vigilantism by rescuing a handful of people from a burning building. Setting the scene for Laurie and Dan’s romantic encounter, Billie Holiday’s lyrics speak to the thrill that both masked heroes feel at resuming their past lives: “You’re my thrill/ You do something to me/ You send chills right through me/ When I look at you/ ‘Cause you’re my thrill”.
Perhaps one of the best—although the most vocally denounced—choices made by director Zack Snyder with regard to the film’s soundtrack is singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the infamous sex scene between Laurie and Dan. “Baby I have been here before/ I know this room, I’ve walked this floor/ I used to live alone before I knew you./ I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch/ Love is not a victory march/ It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallellujah” Cohen’s baritone coos as Laurie and Dan make love for the first time in the helm of the Owl Ship. Given Dan’s previous performance anxiety, the lyrics “And remember when I moved in you/ The holy dove was moving too/ And every breath we drew was Hallelujah” seem all the more appropriate for the scene.
Following “Hallelujah” is Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”. “Outside in the cold distance/A wild cat did growl/Two riders were approaching/And the wind began to howl” Hendrix sings as Ozymandias sits with his genetically engineered “cat” watching Rorschach and Nite Owl approach his northern lair. Given the song’s preoccupation with surveillance, it is a perfect addition to the scene, which frequently highlights Ozymandias’ own preoccupation with surveillance—both of his secret compound as well as of the world itself via television news broadcasts.
The final song on the Watchmen soundtrack that actually appears in the film is the Budapest Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of “Ride of the Valkyries”. Perhaps one of the most obvious nods to the graphic novel, given the fact that the original Nite Owl mentions the song as “the saddest thing I can think of”, “Ride of the Valkyries” is intended to underline the tragedy of the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan’s role in the Vietnam War. As previously alluded, this is not the final track on the disc. In fact, the final track is one that is not used in the movie: “Pirate Jenny,” by Nina Simone, is another tip of the hat to the Watchmen graphic novel, this time referencing Tales of a Black Freighter, a fictional comic book read by a character in the novel but not included in the film. No doubt included on the soundtrack as a plug for the animated Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under The Hood DVD that was released last Tuesday (March 24, 2009), the Watchmen soundtrack certainly could have done without “Pirate Jenny,” which has an odd tone to it.
Fortunately, the inclusion of “Pirate Jenny” isn’t enough to ruin the soundtrack as a whole. The Watchmen soundtrack’s various artists and genres of music provides listeners with a song for every occasion, whether it is a bad day (“Sounds of Silence”), time to party (“I’m Your Boogie Man”) or simply time to sit back, relax, and listen to some jazz (“You’re My Thrill,” “Unforgettable”). We highly recommend checking out this soundtrack, available from most major retailers.