The ’70s were probably not best-known for Bobby Fischer's Reykjavik chess tournament, which is the subject of the new biopic Pawn Sacrifice. No, they're probably better known as the backwash of mod style, the articulation between retro and grunge, and the maturation of the baby boomer. And music — the early ’70s cemented all that was great about music in the ’60s in the collective cultural memory. But Pawn Sacrifice doesn't ignore all that was revolutionary about culture in the mid-to-late twentieth century behind its chess-driven narrative. It incorporates these pop culture influences in subtle ways, right down to its period-appropriate soundtrack featuring the greats from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Jefferson Airplane. So where can you find the Pawn Sacrifice soundtrack?
There's an officially sanctioned score, but no official soundtrack as of yet. The music composed for the film comes from James Newton Howard, and it's moody and elegant, but the really exciting moments in the film are those with period-specific music. Still, the songs are readily available, since they've been radio and fan favorites since their releases back in the day. We've compiled an unofficial guide to the music of Pawn Sacrifice, because the film is sure to leave you trying to place the instantly recognizable tracks that fill it.
1. "Along Came Betty" By Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers
This smooth jazz track is actually from the ’50s — 1958, to be precise — which suits the early moment in the film when it appears. Bobby's mother throws a party for her communist friends early in the movie, and "Along Came Betty" is one of the tracks that blare over the gramophone.
2. "Matchbox" By Carl Lee Perkins
"Matchbox" first came out in 1957, but it was subsequently covered by a variety of musicians including the Beatles. It's another song that soundtracks Bobby's coming-of-age as a young chess prodigy. The music of Pawn Sacrifice places the audience right in the period of the scene — just imagine these moments without any music.
3. "I'm A Man" By The Spencer Davis Group
"I'm A Man" premiered in 1967 and marks a turn in musical style from the more traditional sounds found earlier in Pawn Sacrifice. The second half of the 20th century was a flurry of musical innovation in which pop music really found its voice.
4. "Walk, Don't Run" By The Ventures
The Ventures didn't pen "Walk, Don't Run," but their cover of the song came out in 1963 to much acclaim, and it has been called one of the first surf rock tracks to penetrate a mainstream Billboard chart.
5. "It Ain't No Fun To Me" By Al Green
Let's Stay Together was Al Green's fourth studio effort. Its 1972 release featured "It Ain't No Fun To Me," a track that went relatively unnoticed in its own time — it was a b-side of the "Livin' For You" single. It has strong blues roots with a contemporary flair and simple yet evocative lyrics.
6. "White Rabbit" By Jefferson Airplane
Though "White Rabbit" has been covered innumerable times since the ’60s, Jefferson Airplane was responsible for popularizing it. It was their second top-10 single, released in 1967.
7. "Travelin' Band" By Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Travelin' Band" is probably the most instantly recognizable song that appears in Pawn Sacrifice. It's Creedence Clearwater Revival at its most Elvis-meets-James Brown. It appeared on the 1970 album Cosmo's Factory. At just a hair over two minutes, it's a short little track, but it accomplishes a lot in that time.
8. "Listen To The Music" By The Doobie Brothers
This song — which, along with "Travelin' Band," has an immediately recognizable and infectious chorus that even those who didn't come of age in 1972 will sing along with — was the Doobie Brothers' first big hit. Founding member Tom Johnston told Ultimate Classic Rock that he had been raised on Jefferson Airplane, showing how much the music of this period (including the tracks included in Pawn Sacrifice) was a recursive process. Bands fed influences back and forth, resulting in a frenzy of rock and pop innovation and a distinctly American rock sound.
As much as a good score can contribute to a film, soundtrack makes all the difference in a period piece. People invest a lot of meaning in songs, and playing period-specific tracks can recall a bygone era with relatively little effort. The songs in Pawn Sacrifice take the audience through Bobby Fischer's emotional and strategic development by accompanying the journey with music from the ’50s well into the ’70s.
Images: Bleecker Street (2)