People all have different environments they like to work in. Maybe it’s dead silence. Maybe it’s the bustle and chaos of an actual newsroom. Maybe the fridge-like cold of a secured compartmentalized facility…
I prefer music. The music player on my computer is literally always playing (unless I’m restarting for an update). I have hundreds of gigabytes of music on my various harddrives. And within that, tons of gigabytes of nothing but soundtracks and scores.
Though there really are dozens and dozens of albums that are constantly coming back up on my playlists — and most of them have been for years — here are three soundtracks that make great background music for an average workday. I actually prefer the term “wallpaper” to background music. I want it to be there, but I don’t always want it to be lime green with bright orange flowers — not OBVIOUSLY there.
This selection is from rather old movies. And, they were all some of the first CDs I ever bought (upgrading from cassette tapes). There is a variety of wallpaperness on all three albums — from the ambient meditative drone of DUNE’s Prophecy Theme to the epic majesty of 1492’s Conquest of Paradise to the head-lopping battle fury of Conan’s Anvil of Crom. They all, however, contain only instrumental/choral music (aside from two voice samples on DUNE), and therefore tend to lend themselves to staying in the background of your workday… augmenting, though, it all the while.
The DUNE Soundtrack
From the 1984 interpretation of the 1965 sci-fi epic by Frank Herbert. The movie has received pretty mixed (yet generally bad) reviews over the years. And though I tend to completely agree with how bad it is, it’s also one of my favorite movies ever. Part of the reasoning behind that is its soundtrack. (The book is also one of my faves.)
The soundtrack was composed and performed by the rock band Toto (with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra), with one track by English electronic musician Brian Eno. One of the things I like about this soundtrack is that it is mostly orchestration, but with a few tracks highlighting the fact that it IS a rockband performing everything. Epic orchestras mixed with epic guitars weren’t a thing anyone did back in 1984.
A thing that makes the whole thing slightly weirder, is that the musician Sting plays a supporting role in the movie. In 1984, he was one of the biggest musicians on the planet… Yet he is nowhere in the soundtrack.
You would never know that the band that brought you skating rink classics like Africa and Rosanna was the same band that whipped up such an awesome soundtrack. And it was the only one they ever did, sadly. Even if you never read the book or saw any iteration of the movie — the feel of each track makes the storytelling obvious.
I would obviously highly suggest giving this album a listen to. If you can, sit with your headphones on and work through the whole thing. Then you can decide if you thinkit would make a good wallpaper for your workday. Additionally, there are several hours worth of movies (my favorite being the ’84 one) you can sort through… not to mention the original ’65 classic (or any of the like 19 follow-on books from that universe).
The 1492: Conquest of Paradise Soundtrack
Of the three soundtracks on this list, this 1992 Ridley Scott movie is the one I have seen the least: I’ve only seen it once. (By comparison, I’ve probably seen both DUNE and Conan the Barbarian *thousands* of times each; both very often being my wallpaper while I clean or work.) So… I can’t vouch much for the movie, but you can probably gather that it’s about Christpoher Columbus.
This soundtrack was composed by Vangelis (who’s done a TON of scores and soundtracks), and performed by Vangelis and a few other musicians. Though there are some dramatic moments on the album, of the three on this list THIS one is definitely the most low-key. In fact, you could probably just put the 13:20 track Pinta, Nina, Santa Maria (Into Eternity) on repeat for your whole work day and not even know it’s even on.
This soundtrack absolutely captures the aquatic and exploratory spirit of the movie (and history), and I sometimes lump it in with another Vangelis album (Oceanic) on a wallpaper playlist. And, honestly, you could probably throw on this dude’s entire catalogue on for about a hundred hours of background tunage for anything from your workday to a cross-country drive to a Mars mission.
Although the music is in the background, you may find your mind drifting off to ocean waves and far horizons…
The Conan the Barbarian Soundtrack
I’d wager that almost everyone who’s served in some part of the military over the last 40 years has heard at least part of the song Anvil of Crom. It pretty much replaced tracks like Carmina Burana as THE battle hymn.
This score was composed by Basil Poledouris for the 1982 epic sword & sorcery film featuring Robert E. Howard’s most famous fictional character, Conan the Cimmerian. The compositions were performed by a 90-instrument orchestra and 24-member choir. (Anvil of Crom alone features 24 French Horns, according to MacDonald.) It’s a no-joke set of legitimate classical music.
Conan’s creator, Robert E. Howard, didn’t only bring Conan to life in the pages of his stories. Howard created an entire detailed world for Conan, called Hyborea. And, not unlike Tolkien later, it is actually set in this world… but in the far distant past. Unlike Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, the Hyborean Age was gritty, dirty, and (obviously) barbaric.
Clearly, given the movie’s title, you’re going to expect pounding drums, blasting horns, armored meatheads and horses, and probably buckets of blood being thrown in front of the camera… SCORE! You get it all, plus more! In fact, a few tracks on this bad boy will definitely not be background music, but that doesn’t detract from their deadli–… I mean appropriateness, in the scheme of this list.
Honestly, I really feel like this soundtrack — among all the others I’ve ever really listened to — completely captures the emotions of the *characters* in the film. From the sadness of Conan as a child losing his parents, to the tenderness (no joke) between Conan and Valeria, to Conan’s ice-cold rage as he and Subotai work through an entire assault force… Say what you want about it being a simple barbarian movie, the movie’s depth is dredged even deeper by the music.
Over the years, there have been many comments or judgements made about the lack of dialogue in this movie. But it was initially conceived as more operatic, with very little speaking lines. But, in any case, the end result was essentially a 2-hour music video, with amazing cinematography… and some impalements.
Even though there are hundreds of soundtracks that are worth a listen — even worth loving! — many of them feature multiple artists playing popular songs that will end up very specifically NOT being wallpaper. And too often movie scores really are just semi-flatlined background compositions that won’t necessarily add enough feel to your workday to really work as wallpaper. Not only do the above-mentioned albums fall nicely between those two parts of the spectrum, but each of the ablums is also composed by one artist or group. So, falling in the sweet spot of that Venn Diagram is what puts them on this Top Three List.
I encourage you to give each soundtrack a listen, each movie a watch, and each book a read.