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But it wasn't lost on Hollywood, or the music business, that a movie could turn a song with lyrics into a major hit, the way ''Blackboard Jungle'' boosted Bill Haley's ''Rock Around the Clock'' in 1955.

Songs tucked into a soundtrack can pin down a historical era or comment on characters' state of mind; they also promote the movie, which promotes the songs, in a synergistic circle that has become increasingly important as both recording companies and movie studios seek blockbusters.

Occasionally a soundtrack album can speak for movie characters, conquer the pop charts and sum up an entire idiom, as the ''Saturday Night Fever'' album did for disco. And with the arrival of music videos, every song became a potential soundtrack for its own mini-movie.

Soundtrack albums can be single-minded or wildly eclectic. They test-market newcomers, and they often contain one-shots by well-known musicians: songs that don't fit into a current album project or that simply seemed like a good idea at the time. The current crop of movie soundtracks includes old-fashioned orchestral scores and pop compilations, hip-hop assortments and seamless electronic dance music. Here's a guide to some of the soundtracks released in recent months. (CD's range in price from $12.99 to $18.99.)

''ANY GIVEN SUNDAY'': (Warner Sunset/Atlantic). The soundtrack album for ''Any Given Sunday,'' Oliver Stone's football film, is a hodgepodge of 11 hip-hop tracks and five rock songs, all but one previously unreleased. Yet it turns out to be surprisingly cohesive, perhaps because both hip-hop and athletics depend on merciless competition. Over somber, unhurried, minor-key vamps, most of the rappers consider the aftermath of success in a man's world: pressure, egomania, shattered friendships, constant challenges. L. L. Cool J.'s ''Shut 'Em Down'' dispatches his rivals with speed, amusement and a deliberately quiet confidence; Missy Elliott's ''Who You Gonna Call,'' backed by orchestra and chorus, warns that every winning streak ends; Mobb Deep insists that once they're on top, they're ''Never Goin' Back.'' Meanwhile, Hole's ''Be a Man,'' a punky snarl in the face of machismo, is out of place but too intransigent to ignore.

''ANYWHERE BUT HERE'': (Atlantic). Women sing about breaking free on the ''Anywhere but Here'' soundtrack album, which is packed with new songs. It starts out promisingly with K. D. Lang's nicely retro theme song, full of ''doo-doo-doo'' backing vocals. From there, the songs find places along a spectrum between country, pop and nostalgia-tinged rock. But the concept turns into a straitjacket. While individual songs from Patty Griffin, Sinead Lohan, Poe, Kacy Crowley and Bif Naked have their merits, being heard together makes them less effective. As song after song describes starting a new life alone, the similarity of the lyrics leads to diminishing returns.

''BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE'': (So So Def/Sony). The producer, songwriter and rapper Jermaine Dupri turns the ''Big Momma's House'' soundtrack album into a showcase for Atlanta bounce: stripped-down midtempo hip-hop built from chattering drum machines, cooing female voices and a handful of melody notes. The rappers -- men, women and a boy named Lil Bow Wow -- boast about a good life of fast cars and endless parties. The men have it easy, from the calm arrogance of Mr. Dupri, Nas, R.O.C. and Kurupt to the happily lowbrow details of Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz. The women rap or sing about betrayal and gold-diggers or, in Kandi's ''What I'm Gon' Do to You,'' calmly take revenge. There are a few ardent love songs, too. But even the long-running battle of the sexes sounds lighthearted.

''GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI'': (Epic/Razorsharp/Sony). The only conceivable choice to provide music for ''Ghost Dog,'' Jim Jarmusch's film about a ghetto hitman with a samurai sensibility, was RZA, the Wu-Tang Clan mastermind who has long envisioned hip-hop through the martial-arts prism of 1970's kung fu movies. RZA's stark, ominous backup tracks -- minor-key samples and wordless, melancholy voices -- connote a grim universe of mistrust, solitude and desolation. Above them, assorted rappers (of varying skill) rhyme about an environment where it's taken for granted that everyone has to kill or be killed.

RZA also updates the blaxploitation theme song with ''Walking Through the Darkness,'' sung by Tekitha. Between tracks, Forest Whitaker (from the film) recites parts of his character's death-haunted samurai code. It's a bleaker, more amateurish version of the Wu-Tang soundscape, without a glimmer of comic relief until the Wu-Tang Clan itself shows up near the finale.

''GLADIATOR'': (Decca). The score for ''Gladiator'' is an improbable collaboration by Hans Zimmer, the prolific film composer who scored ''The Lion King,'' and Lisa Gerrard, who sang and played early-music instruments with Dead Can Dance, a group dedicated to creating new songs intended to sound ancient. The ''Gladiator'' score, most of it by Mr. Zimmer alone, veers between the austere and the bombastic; on the CD, it is an unbroken hour of music, though it is divided into 17 titles. The music narrows to Ms. Gerrard's quiet, wordless voice, with hints of Middle Eastern modalities, or to the reedy, mournful tone of an Armenian duduk (wooden flute), or the delicate tapping of a hammered dulcimer.

Sooner or later, however, it swells with glowering late-Romantic strings, Teutonic martial drums and the fanfaring horns that have always signaled ''historial epic.'' Battle scenes are variations on ''Mars'' from ''The Planets'' by Gustav Holst. Outside the Colosseum, it sounds overblown.

''GRASS'': (Mercury). Marijuana songs through the decades -- Cab Calloway's 1932 ''Reefer Man,'' Peter Tosh's 1976 ''Legalize It,'' Method Man and Redman's 1998 ''How High'' -- share this soundtrack album with warnings, from government films, about how smoking pot can cause ''physical and moral ruin, and death.'' It's a joke that the compilers were careful not to wear out, but with all the marijuana songs in the annals of popular music, the collection is a little skimpy, showing the budgetary constraints of the documentary filmmakers behind ''Grass.''

And the inclusion of J. J. Cale's ''Cocaine'' is inexplicable -- unless, of course, it's a confirmation of the notion that marijuana inevitably leads to other drugs.

''GROOVE'': (Kinetic/Reprise). ''Groove'' is about the English rave scene, and its soundtrack compresses a night of electronic dance music into 59 minutes, mixed as a continuous disc-jockey set by Wish FM. The selections are less songs than dance tracks: synthesized beats and riffs that repeat, overlap and evolve. Every so often, a voice articulates the utopian promise of the rave as a communal ritual, with dancers and disc jockeys creating ''an invisible force, a vibe, a shared energy.'' The album is a smart, dud-free selection of dance tracks, all dating from 1997 to 1999 except Orbital's 1993 ''Halcyon + On + On''; it's a perfect introduction to current club fare. The music is minimal but varied, leaning toward the austerity of techno, or the genial disco thump of house music, or the inexorable slow builds of trance.

The mechanical propulsion of its repetitive beat is offset by continual change. Sustained tones or a plaintive voice can turn the music inward; ricocheting percussion can kick the beat sideways; electronic swoops and whooshes can suddenly ratchet up the music's drive. The music peaks, blisses out and starts pumping again. And then again.

''HIGH FIDELITY'': (Hollywood). The soundtrack for a film about obsessive record collecting had to include its share of obscurities like the Kinks' ''Everybody's Gonna Be Happy.'' The ''High Fidelity'' album makes a case for a direct connection between unpolished 1960's rock and 1990's indie rock, tossing together, for instance, the garage-rock psychedelia of the 13th Floor Elevators with the raucous neo-psychedelia of Royal Trux, the uninflected beat and strum of the Velvet Underground with the same elements in Smog. But the songs aren't just style exercises; no matter what their vintage, most of them revolve around thoughts of obsessive, misguided love, a state of mind that isn't limited to one generation.

''THE HURRICANE'': (MCA). Bob Dylan's ''Hurricane'' is the odd song out on a soundtrack album that brings together politically conscious hip-hop, vintage rhythm-and-blues and new songs determined to unite the two with the uplift of gospel. The album suggests a long, coherent African-American legacy of songs about adversity, good times and a spirit of hope. It rediscovers Etta James's party tune ''In the Basement,'' Ruth Brown's girlish temptations in ''I Don't Know'' and the early Ray Charles's bluesy ''Hard Times No One Knows.'' It also latches on to Gil Scott-Heron's agitprop poem with music, ''The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,'' as an antecedent to new songs by Me'shell Ndegeocello, Black Thought and a hip-hop group including Common, Mos Def and the Roots, all imagining the thoughts of an imprisoned Rubin Carter. Finally, neo-gospel songs by Melky Sedeck, K-Ci and Jojo, Clark Anderson and Kelly Price and Aaron Hall preach that love and determination will bring freedom. They add up to a lesson in perseverance.

''MAGNOLIA'': (Reprise). Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed ''Magnolia,'' has said the film was adapted from Aimee Mann's songs: her terse, tuneful character studies of people so emotionally scarred that they sabotage their own chances for love or trust, people who, for instance, spend ''a long time on the phone/Courting disaster in an undertone.'' Her voice hovers calmly, with a glimmer of vibrato; her not quite symmetrical melodies hark back to pop of the 1960's and 70's, with a touch of music hall via the Beatles. The first of the two soundtrack albums, ''Music From the Motion Picture 'Magnolia,' '' includes seven songs and an instrumental by Ms. Mann, along with her version of Harry Nilsson's ''One,'' as well as two compatible hits by Supertramp and a ghostly waltz by Jon Brion, her occasional collaborator. The rest of Mr. Brion's instrumental music for the film is on the second ''Magnolia'' album, ''Original Motion Picture Score.'' The waltz theme reappears in more expansive form, along with a 44-second big-band number and an optimistic piece that shimmers with vibraphone and zither. But most of the score is music for strings that moves almost glacially, suggesting tension, pathos and resignation without forcing them.

''THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL'': (Interscope). The quiet side of Bono and U2 -- where troubled longing, measured tempos and strange resonances all drift together -- takes over for an entire album on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders's ''Million Dollar Hotel.'' (The movie, screened at Cannes last spring, has not yet opened in the United States.) Bono joined a studio band including his longtime collaborators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the raga-trained trumpeter Jon Hassell and the guitarist Bill Frisell, and they worked out full-fledged songs; U2 itself convened for two new songs, one of which, ''The Ground Beneath Her Feet,'' has lyrics by Salman Rushdie. Floating on Mr. Frisell's dissolving guitar notes and Mr. Eno's eerie effects, the Million Dollar Hotel Band moves in serene slow motion, turning folky or jazzy by turns, while Bono's new songs are suffused with heartache. The music conjures a shadowy grace, then blasts it away with a closing prank: a Spanish-language version of ''Anarchy in the U.K.''

''M:I-2'': (Hollywood). ''Mission: Impossible 2'' has two soundtrack albums. The would-be blockbuster album of songs ''from and inspired by'' the movie promises slam-bang action, with one power-chorded, battering-ram rant after another. The movie provides perfect subject matter for hard-rock bands -- mayhem, paranoia, duplicity, sudden death -- and for the album's first 10 songs, they tear into it. Metallica's ''I Disappear'' sets the standard high, with earth-shaking one-chord syncopation and a vision of secret agents as ultimate alienated outsiders. But other bands keep up: in frenetic, drum-machine-driven songs from Apartment 26 and Rob Zombie; in Chris Cornell's bluesy, obsessive ''Mission 2000''; in the fierce drone of the Butthole Surfers' ''They Came In''; in rap-metal from Limp Bizkit (who use Lalo Schifrin's original theme as a riff) and the Pimps, who warn, ''I never wanted to be anybody's anything at all.''

The inevitable duds are saved for late in the album. A nutty, electronic, multilingual version of ''Iko Iko'' by Zap Mama apparently didn't fit in with the rock songs; it appears on the movie's second soundtrack album, alongside unmemorable instrumental music by Hans Zimmer.

''THE NEXT BEST THING'': (Maverick). The film, which stars Madonna and includes two new Madonna songs on the soundtrack album, surrounds Madonna with reflections of her: women who sing in pensive voices, enveloped by an electronic halo. ''Time Stood Still'' includes the movie's title in its lyrics about lost love, and it sits easily alongside similarly restrained songs from Beth Orton, Mandalay, the Solar Twins and Metisse, as well as Olive's remake of 10cc's ''I'm Not in Love'' and Gabriel Yared's gently resigned instrumental music. Sitting in for the younger, peppier Madonna is Christina Aguilera, who fends off unwanted attentions above a choppy beat in ''Don't Make Me Love You ('Til I'm Ready).'' Madonna's other new song, a version of ''American Pie,'' isn't as inexplicable a choice as it might seem. The way she has rejiggered the lyrics, they become a catalog of her fascinations -- dancing, God, romance, fame -- while the electronic pulse decisively separates the tune from folk-rock.

''NUTTY PROFESSOR II: THE KLUMPS'': (Def Jam/Def Soul). From its soundtrack album, ''Nutty Professor II'' ought to be a romance; it's full of ingenious new songs about love and lust. And while the movie's big special effect is making its characters look fat, the music is lean, with every note and beat delineated clearly. There are earnest protestations of love from Janet (Jackson), Montell Jordan, Kandice Love and Case, not to mention the determinedly low-pressure flirtation in Musiq's ''Just Friends.'' R. Kelly and Brian McKnight have more complex songs about being the man left behind, while Shorty 101, like a younger Janet Jackson, has a sly put-down of the men who would say anything to ''Get With Me.'' Sisqo's ''Thong Song Uncensored'' adds a lascivious rap by Foxy Brown to the ubiquitous hit. Even the boasting raps by Jay-Z, Eve and DMX have a lighthearted tone, while a shared rap by Eminem and Redman, ''Off the Wall,'' sets out to be as obnoxiously funny as possible. But the album is like a movie in one way: it ends with eight minutes of coming-attractions excerpts from L. L. Cool J.'s next album.

''THE PERFECT STORM'': (Sony Classical). James Horner, who composed the score for ''Titanic,'' hasn't had enough of surging oceanic crescendos or echoes of Irish dances. ''The Perfect Storm'' is no ''Titanic'' sequel, but the score is. It aims for wonderment and grandeur, seeking them in undulating Debussyan stasis and, even more, in solemn themes, grand fanfares and orchestral chimes directly out of Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's ''Pictures at an Exhibition.'' Every so often, a jiglike theme bobs to the surface, only to submerge under the rising and falling string-section chords. The up-and-down motion of the music imitates the crest and ebb of waves with such determined symmetry that some listeners may crave Dramamine. Of course, there's a song, too: John Mellencamp's ''Yours Forever,'' based on the movie's Celtic-tinged love theme and hoarsely declaring, ''Tomorrow still holds out its hand to you.'' Even if you're completely waterlogged.

''PRICE OF GLORY'' (New Line). The ''Price of Glory'' soundtrack album sets out to be a sampler of Latin alternative rock, the movement that now extends across the Americas. Gleefully ignoring borders of style or language, Latin alternative bands demonstrate that rock still has plenty of new hybrids left, and they're sparked by the sense of discovery. After a calm start, the album gets more loopy and exuberant with every song. Boleros, cumbias and mambos collide with heavy metal, hip-hop and ska; Mexican accordions tootle alongside G-funk synthesizers, while horn sections punctuate distorted guitars. Brash voices sing and rap, switching between English and Spanish and sometimes dropping into a Jamaican dancehall patois. The majority of bands on the album are from the United States, along with Aterciopelados from Colombia and Control Machete from Mexico. But they're all happy to scramble any presumptions of nationality.

''SHAFT'': (LaFace). The soundtrack for the new ''Shaft'' looks back nervously at the score Isaac Hayes wrote for the original movie in 1971, as well it might: Mr. Hayes's music was a cornerstone of 1970's funk, which in turn provided hip-hop with roots. The album starts with Mr. Hayes's barely updated remake of his old ''Theme From 'Shaft,' '' which still places its masticating wah-wah guitar against an orchestra. Then the album lets the bad guys take over the microphone. They croon about their troubled consciences, like R. Kelly in ''Bad Man,'' Donell Jones in ''Do What I Gotta Do'' and Carl Thomas in ''Summer Rain.'' Or they strike gangsta rap stances, detailing crime and strife as in T.I.P. and Beanie Sigel's ''2 Glock 9's,'' Mil's ''How You Want It?'' and Big Gipp's ''We Servin'.'' Women turn up in their traditional role -- the lovers on the sidelines -- with Alicia Keys's ''Rock Wit U'' and Angie Stone's ''My Lovin' Will Give You Something.'' Blaxploitation archetypes have turned out to be as durable in music as they are on film.

''THE VIRGIN SUICIDES'': (Astralwerks/Virgin). Air, the French electronica duo, is fond of old analog synthesizers and the escape into a streamlined future that they once promised. The duo's music for ''The Virgin Suicides'' moves away from the arch, airy tone of their previous albums toward something more thoughtful. The soundtrack selections, most of them instrumentals lasting less than three minutes, are variations on a handful of chord progressions, recurring like a troubling memory. Using acoustic instruments, particularly a placidly strummed guitar, along with their beloved Moogs, Air plays minor-key elegies, close in spirit to 1970's Pink Floyd, though every so often a swooping electronic tone proclaims its artificiality. Unfortunately, the final selection, a synopsis narrated above the music, is a misfire.

''WONDER BOYS'': (Columbia). A soundtrack album can become a collector's item for one song that appears nowhere else. That could be the fate of the ''Wonder Boys'' album, which includes Bob Dylan's ''Things Have Changed,'' his first newly released song since his magnificent 1997 album ''Time Out of Mind.'' It's a bitter, desperate, caustic string-band stomp -- ''All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie'' -- that makes Mr. Dylan sound as if nothing could surprise him except good news. Other songs on the album are baby-boom-era reflections on loneliness, loss and the ravages of time, including some indelible songs: Tom Rush's ''No Regrets,'' Little Willie John's ''Need Your Love So Bad,'' Tim Hardin's ''Reason to Believe,'' Clarence Carter's ''Slip Away.'' But they all proffer at least a glimmer of consolation, something ''Things Have Changed'' calmly withholds.

''WONDERLAND'': (Virgin). The composer Michael Nyman writes classical works (including the opera ''The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat'') as well as movie scores (among them ''The Piano'' and many films by Peter Greenaway), and he brings nearly the same approach to both: a sober balance between minimalist austerity and the romantic promise of melody. Mr. Nyman often uses the same steady, drumless pulse and some of the same harmonic formulas as Philip Glass, but Mr. Nyman's fondness for melody makes his music seem more empathetic. Graceful phrases and stately chord progressions hint at emotional stirrings; structures of repetition and symmetry contain them as discreetly as a stiff upper lip. His pieces for ''Wonderland,'' named after its characters, suggest affinities (between ''Nadia'' and ''Eileen,'' or ''Molly'' and ''Darren'') by revisiting the same chord progressions. In typically subdued chamber music, Mr. Nyman suggests that while he could tug at heartstrings, he prefers not to.

''X-MEN'': (Decca/Universal). ''X-Men'' is an anomaly: a big-budget action movie that doesn't try to hard sell a rock single. Its soundtrack is an orchestral score by Michael Kamen. The music is all about jacking up the futuristic suspense. Harking back to Bartok, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Mr. Kamen lays on foreboding, dissonant strings, with brasses arriving for grim crescendos. For the science-fiction element of awe, he uses glassy synthetic keyboard tones; for paranoia, whip-cracking drum-machine propulsion and flashes of distorted electric guitar.

Moments of contemplation invariably give way to ominous pulsations and, eventually, to dissonances that can only portend a grand clash. Despite a few corny passages -- usually when the drum machines get too busy -- most of the score creates an enveloping tension. It's transparently manipulative music, but it works.

Correction: August 11, 2000, Friday A Critic's Notebook article in Weekend last Friday about movie soundtrack albums misidentified the setting of the film ''Groove.'' It takes place in San Francisco, not in England.

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