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Soundtrack Breakdown: ‘Dazed and Confused’ rocks with ‘70s hits

Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” (1993) is a classic coming-of-age comedy depicting the drug-filled, sex-crazed teenage life during the late 1970s. Many notable actors like Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Adam Goldberg showcase their early talents on screen.

Most known for its quotable dialogue and quirky characters, “Dazed and Confused” sets itself up as a comedic, nostalgic picture because many can relate to feeling young and lost to the future ahead of them. Even so, the film’s ‘70s classic rock soundtrack sets it during that era of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

The film opens with “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, establishing the movie’s setting and vibe. It’s a sunny summer day on the last day of school with all the town kids waiting for school to get out, and Steven Tyler’s voice fully enraptures the audience through the montage playing on screen. The track also ties to the end of the movie as Randell “Pink” Floyd and his friends travel to buy Aerosmith tickets. It establishes what kind of music the characters listen to and how it ties into their behavior.

This is understood more in a notable montage of teenagers finally leaving school. As the kids empty their lockers and throw papers across the hallways, “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper encompasses the scene. The lyrics tie into the literal scene of teenagers leaving school, but the metaphorical and lyrical theme of kids disobeying the social order is more apparent in the context of the following scenes.

The majority of scenes show groups of teenagers driving around town and blasting their music. The teenagers drink and drive, smoke weed and destroy property, all offenses the adults in the film disapprove of.

Many of the mentioned scenes are overlaid with other classic rock tracks. The fast-paced nature of “Jim Dandy” by Black Oak Arkansas accelerates the car chase scene of freshman students trying to escape the seniors’ wrath. “Tush” by ZZ Top overlays the montage of the teenagers smoking weed in their car before smashing trash cans, mailboxes and car windshields. Near the end when everyone is partying in the woods, “Cherry Bomb” by The Runways showcases the teenagers’ spastic nature as they become heavily intoxicated.

Soundtrack songs can also establish a particular location’s vibe. For instance, many older rock tracks play in the background of the frequently visited pool hall such as “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan and “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer. At the junior high dance, “Love Hurts” by Nazareth lingers as the teens navigate through a crowd of people making out and dancing.

Multiple car scenes have a rock or ‘70s funk song diegetically playing through the stereo to match how each of the characters is feeling. “Low Rider” by War fills Cynthia’s car as she, Tony and Mike smoke while they drive through town. It simply goes to show how important the music is, not only to set the scene but to mimic how the characters are feeling in the different scenes.

To the audience, the music makes the majority of the film, especially with big hits costing thousands of dollars to license. Linklater worked closely with music supervisor Harry Garfield to try and capture all the songs he wanted to work into the movie.

In an article Linklater published in The Austin Chronicle, he wrote, “The style and feel of the movie is that I want it to seem like it was made in 1976, and that would mean only songs from that period or before … Absolutely, no one would argue that music isn’t perhaps, the major element of the movie.” He details the setbacks in the journey of trying to license all of the movie’s songs.

Although nearly one-sixth of the movie’s budget had been set for music licensing, the crew wasn’t able to use every song he wanted. Most notably, Linklater wanted “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin in the movie, but vocalist Robert Plant refused to grant them the license. The battle continued with multiple budget cuts in the music department and studio heads on the project trying to infringe upon Linklater’s vision for the soundtrack.

In the article, he details his frustration with the issues at hand, especially when the studio suggested they record their own “Seventies-sounding guitar licks” for background use instead of licensing bigger tracks.

In the end, 30 songs were fit into the film with the music budget going over by about $200,000. Many of them did not make it onto the released soundtrack, which came out on Sept. 28, 1993, through Giant Records and The Medicine Label. Some other notable tracks on the soundtrack include “Rock And Roll All Nite” by KISS, “Tuesday’s Gone” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and “Slow Ride” by Foghat.

The last song of the list makes itself known in smaller parts of the movie before finally making its big moment in the last scene. Linklater describes the ending track, “It sounds as much like the ending of a concert as I could think of to have rolling over the final credits.” It is a smooth transition song summing up the film extremely well.

The music in “Dazed and Confused” is pivotal to understanding the period in which these teenagers grew up and the characters themselves. It immediately draws the audience in with well-known songs from the era, and it allows viewers to fully dive into the shenanigans on screen. There’s an appreciation from the creator, which is deeply apparent in the types of songs that were chosen and where they were placed. It’s silly, heart-felt and totally bangin’.


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