After the massive, almost inexplicable success of the Oscar-winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, this summer movie season saw a trio of films paying homage in a variety of ways to some of the biggest singer-songwriters in the world.
Given how at their core, Rocketman, Yesterday, and Blinded by the Light are films that celebrate Elton John, the Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen and draw audiences into exploring their catalogs, we thought we would evaluate which soundtrack is most successful at balancing support for the story with playing the artists’ greatest hits.
Historical limits: The unconventional, Elton John-approved portrait of his life from childhood to sober adulthood ends with his song “I’m Still Standing” and excludes any of his music after 1983 (except “I Want Love,” randomly). While that still covers plenty of his catalog, audiences sadly don’t get to see the surrealist film’s take on the John’s Lion King/”Candle in the Wind” era in the ’90s.
Song choice: While the filmmakers seem to have set limits on the songs they were allowed use in the film, John had still released 16 studio albums by 1983, so there was a lot to play with. Rocketman does an excellent job of showcasing many of the songs John is known for — including the one from which the film takes its title — along with some deep cuts, like “Hercules.” It should also be noted that the film includes a new song from John called “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” which plays over the end credits.
Relevance to film: Although the story is pretty linear, the film employs John’s songs in and out of release order to fit the narrative. It works well in a “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” sort of way. Of course, we all want to see a precocious young Elton John singing “The Bitch Is Back.”
Historical limits: There are no historical limits per se. The film takes place in the present day, but in a world where somehow only the protagonist, Jack (Himesh Patel), remembers the Beatles and their music. Unfortunately, he hasn’t committed every Fab Four song to memory — sorry, “Eleanor Rigby”!
Performers: Patel sings the majority of the soundtrack, with one key feature from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again alum Lily James.
Song choice: Even with the pull of British film royalty Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis behind it, the movie only uses 16 of the Beatles’ songs — fewer than the amount of No. 1 songs they had. While songs like “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” are there as expected, the film mostly stays away from the band’s weirder tracks, like “I Am The Walrus.”
Relevance to film: The song choices within the film are rather chaotic and bear no weight toward the narrative. Yes, Jack makes his name off of some of the same songs the Beatles did, like “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” but if one were to listen to the soundtrack without having seen the film, they wouldn’t have any clue what the story is.
Blinded by the Light
Historical limits: The film takes place in 1987, so the cutoff would be right around Springsteen releasing Tunnel of Love. The film does include a previously unreleased song titled “I’ll Stand By You,” though.
Performers: Mostly the Boss himself, with a few tunes from fellow artists reflective of the film’s era and setting, like Pet Shop Boys, thrown in.
Song choice: The movie employs 11 Springsteen songs, giving audiences a sampling of his body of work. As expected, songs like “Dancing in the Dark” and “Born to Run” are included, but a nice surprise within the soundtrack is the decision to use a couple live versions of Springsteen hits, like “Thunder Road.”
Relevance to film: Telling the story of how Springsteen’s music helped a British-Pakistani teen (played by Viveik Kalra) in Thatcher-era Britain find himself, the movie goes to great lengths to show how each lyric sung by the Boss reflects how the protagonist is feeling at that point in the film’s narrative.
In terms of a soundtrack that summarizes the film, shows appreciation for the artist being celebrated, and fosters curiosity in audience members who are less familiar with John, Springsteen, or the Beatles’ work, the Blinded by The Light soundtrack wins. While it’s lacking in deep cuts, it is most representative of the film’s message and gives just enough of a taste of Springsteen’s music to leave audiences wanting more. There are still plenty of popular Springsteen songs the film doesn’t use that new fans can discover, while Rocketman and Yesterday really emphasize the biggest hits of Elton John and the Beatles.