Last week, I suggested that anyone who’s been waiting with bated breath for the release of Space Jam: A New Legacy should probably start preparing to have the air knocked out of their lungs by the crushing disappointment they’d likely be hit with upon its release—and based on the deluge of scathing critiques that have flooded the internet since then, that will likely be the case for most viewers.
As I noted in that article, the fact that the Space Jam sequel probably isn’t going to end up in the Criterion Collection shouldn’t really come as a huge shock when you consider the original isn’t exactly a masterpiece. However, the same cannot be said for its soundtrack, which remains one of the finest collections of songs to accompany a motion picture in the history of Hollywood.
I’m sure a lot of people will read that previous sentence and feel the urge to hop into my Twitter mentions to ask, “How can you possibly say that when [a soundtrack of preexisting songs curated for a particular movie] exists?” I’m not trying to discount the excellence of the great albums that accompanied equally excellent films like High Fidelity and The Graduate, but the record officially dubbed Space Jam: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture is one of the most esteemed members of a very exclusive club: soundtracks for non-musicals consisting of mainstream songs composed specifically for a movie.
It’s a distinguished organization that also boasts Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly and Prince’s Purple Rain among its ranks, and while I wouldn’t dare suggest the Space Jam sits on the same tier as those two, it’s still a force to be reckoned with; the Tom Cruise to the L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige of soundtracks, if you will.
Now, some hacky writers out there would describe the collection of songs that dropped in conjunction with Space Jam as a “Monstar hit,” but I would never stoop to such levels. With that said, the album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and would ultimately go platinum six times while also playing an intrinsic role in the commercial success of the movie it accompanied.
Unfortunately, the Grammys didn’t create an award for Best Soundtrack (officially referred to as “Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media”) until four years after Space Jam came out. Some of the songs it featured received their own individual accolades, but the album as a whole still doesn’t really get the recognition it deserves—specifically, the trophy that the Recording Academy needs to retroactively bestow upon based on the timeless bangers it’s filled to the brim with, like…
“Fly Like An Eagle”—Seal
Man, I don’t think we really appreciate the absolute heater Seal went on in the mid-1990s thanks in no small part to a couple of notable contributions he made to a couple of equally notable soundtracks.
“Kiss Like a Rose” flew under the radar when it was first released on his self-titled album, but that all changed when it made an appearance in Batman Forever on its way to winning Record and Song of the Year at the Grammys in 1996.
He didn’t have that issue when his cover of the Steve Miller Band track “Fly Like an Eagle” made its grand debut on the Space Jam soundtrack, eventually hitting the tenth spot on the Billboard 100 and garnering the praise of Steve Miller himself, who said it was the best rendition he’d heard since he and his crew recorded it 20 years prior.
“Space Jam”—Quad City DJs
The Space Jam theme is just the 1990s distilled into its purest form and remains as potent as it ever was 25 years later.
“Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem)”—Five rappers who had no real business recording a song for the soundtrack of a movie targeted at young children
“Hit ‘Em High” has what is best described as a “musical cameo” in Space Jam, as the song’s hook blares when the Monstars take the court for the big game against Michael Jordan and the Tune Squad. However, I had all but forgotten about it until I was in college and discovered that there was not only a full version but one that featured absolutely fire verses from Method Man, Coolio, B-Real, and Busta Rhymes.
Oh, and L.L. Cool J shows up too.
The craziest part about “Hit ‘Em High” is not that it still slaps but the fact that producers decided that particular quintet of rappers was an appropriate choice for a PG-rated movie about cartoons playing basketball—and I’m so glad they did.
“Basketball Jones”—Barry White and…Chris Rock?
What’s more absurd than the crew of hip-hop artists that assembled for the last track? Well, how about a song that was originally written for a Cheech and Chong movie before being re-recorded by Barry White featuring Chris Rock giving it the prototypical “Blame Game” treatment? Because that’s what this is.
“I Believe I Can Fly”—R. Kelly
Look, we obviously can’t ignore the fact that the person responsible for the biggest hit on the Space Jam soundtrack had a thing for engaging in some Very Problematic behavior with members of its target demographic. Some people are happy to separate the art from the artists, but I included this last because I think the album still manages to hold its own even if you don’t want to take “I Believe I Can Fly” track into consideration.
All I’m going to say about this is if you never spent an hour throwing up slow-motion floaters while singing this to yourself while playing basketball in a driveway alone, you can’t call yourself a True Child of the 1990s.
The Space Jam soundtrack isn’t without its flaws; I’m not going to even attempt to defend the decision to recruit The Spin Doctors to put a truly regrettable twist on KC and The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It” (with zero help from Biz Markie). I also didn’t want to waste any words on the fairly unremarkable contributions of D’Angelo, Salt-N-Pepa, and Monica, but they don’t take away from the quality and serve an important role in affirming its quintessential ’90s vibe.
Do the right thing, Grammys. It’s not too late.