Exploring Soundtracks: The Royal Tenenbaums


Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at another Wes Anderson flick. His third film, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, released in 2001. In retrospect, I somewhat regret starting off with “The Life Aquatic”, as I prefer moving in chronological order. But that will have to be the outlier as we continue through Anderson’s filmography.

Interestingly enough, there were two soundtracks released for “The Royal Tenenbaums”. The first came out in 2001, but omitted a few songs found in the film. We’ll be looking at the 2002 soundtrack re-release, which features three of the six omitted songs. Two of the remaining are both songs by The Rolling Stones, who very rarely allow their songs to appear on soundtracks. The final track by Van Morrison, while showing up in the closing credits, was also left out of the re-release.


Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) had three children before they separated. All of the children were geniuses in their own unique fields. Twenty-two years later, the children are all in post-success slumps. Their lives, while beginning in brilliance, were erased by years of betrayal, failure, and disaster, mostly considered to be their father’s fault.

When their father returns to his children after they’ve grown, he claims to have a terminal illness. Over the course of the movie, the once broken family reconciles their differences.

The Royal Tenenbaums

The first song that appears in the film is an orchestral cover of “Hey Jude”, performed by the The Mutato Muzika Orchestra. It plays during an introductory sequence of the Tenenbaum family, showing off the young children with all of their gifts. It’s an interesting choice, but does a good job in showing the promise the young Tenenbaums had before their lives fell apart.

The first pop song that actually appears on the soundtrack comes in roughly twenty-five minutes into the film, as Richie (Luke Wilson) is returning to the Tenenbaum home. He’s picked up by his adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he has loved since he was a child. When Margot steps out of the Green Line bus, Nico’s “These Days” plays. Its placement here suggests the tenderness of a lost love, and pulls a decent amount of weight in bringing these two characters closer together.

One of my favorite musical moments in “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a montage in which Royal takes his grandsons out for a day of fun and recklessness. During this sequence, Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” sets the tone as the three ride go-carts, shoplift, throw water balloons at passing cars, and take part in other ridiculous activities. It’s a fun sequence, and maybe my favorite in the film.

Final Thoughts

While the music used in “The Royal Tenenbaums” isn’t used to the same effect as that in “Rushmore”, it still has some good moments. The two montages used are both placed perfectly, and add some extra humor in between some of the darker moments of the film.

To be perfectly honest, the soundtrack hit a little too sentimental for my own personal tastes. But then again, the film itself is a little more drama than comedy, so it’s appropriate enough. But I don’t think this is a soundtrack I’ll ever revisit on its own. I much prefer the placement of songs in support of the narrative to the soundtrack album. But that’s usually how it goes for me.

Track List

  1. “111 Archer Avenue” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  2. “These Days” by Nico
  3. “String Quartet in F major (Second Movement)” by Maurice Ravel, performed by the Ysaÿe Quartet
  4. “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon
  5. “Sonata for Cello and Piano in F Minor” by George Enescu, performed by The Mutato Muzika Orchestra
  6. “Wigwam” by Bob Dylan
  7. “Look at That Old Grizzly Bear” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  8. “Look at Me” by John Lennon
  9. “Lullaby” by Emitt Rhodes
  10. “Mothersbaugh’s Canon” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  11. “Police & Thieves” by The Clash
  12. “Scrapping and Yelling” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  13. “Judy Is a Punk” by Ramones
  14. “Pagoda’s Theme” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  15. “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith
  16. “Fly” by Nick Drake
  17. “I Always Wanted to Be a Tenenbaum” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  18. “Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
  19. “Stephanie Says” by The Velvet Underground
  20. “Rachel Evans Tenenbaum (1965-2000)” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  21. “Sparkplug Minuet” by Mark Mothersbaugh
  22. “The Fairest of the Seasons” by Nico
  23. “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, performed by The Mutato Muzika Orchestra




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