Exploring Soundtracks: “Magnolia”


Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be continuing through the films of Paul Thomas Anderson by taking a look at the soundtrack to his 1999 epic drama, “Magnolia”.

For the past few months, we’ve been working our way through Martin Scorsese’s filmography, but recently hit a standstill until “The Irishman” releases later this year (in theaters as well as on Netflix). As we wait, we’ll be taking a detour through Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. We started that journey last week by taking a look at “Boogie Nights” P.T. Anderson’s porn-industry “Goodfellas”.

“Magnolia” features a soundtrack almost exclusively including the work of Aimee Mann, who received an Academy Award nomination in Best Original Song for “Save Me”. The soundtrack to “Magnolia” was also nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media, though neither won. Though Mann’s work takes up most of the soundtrack space, there are also songs by Gabrielle, Supertramp, and Jon Brion.

But before we get too far into the soundtrack, here’s a brief synopsis for those who haven’t seen “Magnolia”, or just need a quick refresher.


“Magnolia” depicts a wide scope of life in the San Fernando Valley with the interwoven lives of nine of its citizens. It follows a mosaic of characters who intersect in multiplicity of plots in their search for happiness, love, forgiveness, and meaning. The characters: a boy genius, a former boy genius, a game show host, a caretaker, a dying father, a police officer searching for love, a famous lost son, and an estranged daughter.


The first song we hear in “Magnolia” comes after the introductory scene. Aimee Mann’s cover of “One” plays through the opening credits as we’re introduced to all of the main characters. While not all of them are alone, the song choice suggests to the audience that they may all be lonely in some way, or that loneliness will be a major theme to pay attention to throughout the film. This is underscored by the sequence ending on police officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) sitting by himself, and then talking to himself in his car.

The next Aimee Mann song we hear comes about a quarter of the way into the film. “Momentum” plays in Claudia’s apartment as she’s doing cocaine and police officer Jim knocks on her door. But this one is rather short-lived, another one of the quick, incremental scenes that is cut off and concluded later.

About a third of the way into the film, Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” plays and is simultaneously sung by each of the main characters in the rain. The lyrics, “It’s not going to stop / Till you wise up” are repeated. Here, we’re asked to reflect on the lives of each of the characters, and the scars they carry with them. While it is a bit on the nose, the stylistic choice solidifies the connection between each of the character’s individual down points. This is the lowest point of the film. And coincidentally, after the song ends, the rain stops.

Final Thoughts

“Magnolia” is one heavy film. And the songs used in it reflect that, for the most part. There are a few ones that are tossed in for a bit of humor, like Supertramp’s “The Logical Song”, or “Gabrielle’s “Dreams”. But overall, the heavy dose of Aimee Mann ensures that the soundtrack to “Magnolia” stays consistent and keeps its heart.

If you’re looking for a soundtrack to listen to while you’re in a low mood, you could do worse than “Magnolia” to sit in it and eventually pull you through the other side. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you’re trying to set the mood for a party.

That about does it for our walk through the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia”. We’ll be back next week with a look at the soundtrack to his 2012 film, “There Will Be Blood”.

Track List

1. “One” Aimee Mann 2:53
2. “Momentum” Aimee Mann 3:27
3. “Build That Wall” Aimee Mann, Jon Brion 4:25
4. “Deathly” Aimee Mann 5:28
5. “Driving Sideways” Aimee Mann, Michael Lockwood 3:47
6. “You Do” Aimee Mann 3:41
7. “Nothing Is Good Enough” Aimee Mann 3:10
8. “Wise Up” Aimee Mann 3:31
9. “Save Me” Aimee Mann 4:35
10. “Goodbye Stranger” (performed by Supertramp) Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson 5:50
11. “The Logical Song” (performed by Supertramp) Davies, Hodgson 4:07
12. “Dreams” (performed by Gabrielle) Gabrielle, Tim Laws 3:43
13. “Magnolia” (performed by Jon Brion) Brion 2:12


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