MUSIC MONDAY: “Mo’ Better Music” – Spike Lee’s Greatest Hits Playlist in Honor of his 65th (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

In honor of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee‘s 65th birthday yesterday, we’re celebrating the music from his movies in today’s Music Monday playlist, Mo’ Better Music: Spike Lee’s Greatest Hits:

Lee first made his mark on the Hollywood scene in the summer of 1986 with his independently-financed debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It.  From that start, it was clear that not only was Lee an original filmmaking voice, but also that he valued the role of music in his movies.

The body of musical work he has enabled through his movies spans the history of Black music, including Blues, Hip Hop, traditional R&B. His early career bloomed in the heyday of new jack swing, but he’s also served us gospel, jazz, and plenty of Stevie Wonder.

Lee’s  usual composer of choice, Terence Blanchard, has earned two Oscar nominations for his work on BlacKkKlansman and Da Five Bloods.

There also have been Number One Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Hits, E.U.‘s “Da Butt” from School Daze and Teddy Riley & Guy‘s “My Fantasy” from Do the Right Thing.

Working with his father, jazz musician Bill Lee (still alive at age 93) through his first four movies, Spike’s soundtrack choices displayed a musical depth of knowledge from the start.

“Nola” – the song about Nola Darling, the central character in She’s Gotta Have It – was sung on the original soundtrack by legendarily unsung vocalist Ronnie Dyson (the subject of a previous GBN playlist and profile –

Though that soundtrack is one of the few Spike Lee soundtracks unavailable on Spotify, we’ve included a fairly faithful rendition of the song from contemporary jazz vocalist Jose James on our playlist.

To celebrate his 65 years, the playlist is comprised of 65 original songs and score selections from all of Spike Lee’s scripted features films with tracks were available for streaming (all the rest of his movies are included except Summer of Sam and the recent made-for-streaming Pass Over).

We’ve focused on titles that were either newly released or recorded for Spike’s movies, not on classic hits that just made their way onto the soundtrack.

And there’s plenty of great material to choose from, including multiple tracks from Prince, backup singer turned indie soul darling Judith Hill, Public Enemy, Terence Blanchard, and Stevie Wonder.

The Spike Lee soundtrack for Bamboozled introduced the first major song ever released by India.Arie — “Always In My Head.”

Though the soundtracks to Girl 6 and Get on the Bus are also unavailable on Spotify in album form, we’ve located the original Prince track “She Spoke 2 Me” from Girl 6 as well as a number of songs from the Get on the Bus soundtrack from God’s Property, Stevie Wonder, and Curtis Mayfield.

While Lee has mostly worked with Black composers and musicians, rootsy White rock musician Bruce Hornsby has worked on multiple Spike Lee movies, including songs for Bamboozled and Chi-raq, and a full score for Red Hook Summer.  He was also the composer for the lovely ballad “Love Me Still,” sung by Chaka Khan for the soundtrack to Clockers.

For his soundtrack to Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, a 2014 horror film that Lee funded through Kickstarter, he issued a social media call for unsigned artists to submit songs and picked through over 800 submissions to find the songs he used – which included “As We May Dream,” another beautiful ballad from singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett of Michael Jackson duet fame.

Spike’s movies have also yielded some smooth new remakes of R&B standards – and we’re happy to include Stevie Wonder’s take on Bob Marley‘s “Redemption Song,” Erykah Badu‘s cover of Rufus featuring Chaka Khan’s “Hollywood,” Marc Dorsey‘s version of The Stylistics“People Make the World Go Round,” and of course, Aretha Franklin‘s beautiful contribution to the Malcolm X soundtrack – her epic 8 minute rendition of Donny Hathaway‘s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.”

Most recently, Spike introduced his BlacKkKlansman‘audiences to a Prince rendition of the gospel classic “Mary Don’t You Weep” that had been originally recorded in 1983, but left in the vaults until its appearance in the closing credits of Lee’s movie.

In addition to all the above, you’re sure to uncover plenty of great but lesser-known material from Spike’s movies. With 24 scripted feature films under his belt, a Spike Lee film festival might take you a week of evenings to complete – but with our GBN playlist, you can cover all the musical memories from Spike’s movies in an afternoon.

Happy 65th birthday to Spike Lee! Though for many that’s retirement age, we hope to be updating this playlist with more great music from many more movies in the years to come.