'The Crow' soundtrack turns 30: Looking back on the album that defined an era

The ’90s was a time of epic soundtracks, from Clueless‘s pop extravaganza to Romeo + Juliet‘s swoony seduction to Trainspotting‘s frenzied club mix. But before all these came The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, featuring original songs from The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and Stone Temple Pilots. While grunge was mainstream by 1994, a soundtrack this hard-edged — flaunting heavy metal alongside goth rock — was far from common. But this album did more than sing the song of the eponymous anti-hero; it also sang of the lost Brandon Lee. 

Inspired by James O’Barr’s comic books, The Crow was to be Lee’s launchpad to stardom. As the forlorn lover Eric Draven, who is resurrected from the dead on the anniversary of his fiancée’s murder to seek vigilante justice, Lee would get to flex his acting chops along with his physical prowess. However, the Alex Proyas-directed movie would define Lee’s legacy, not only because of his powerful performance as an avenging angel, but also because a notorious accident on set led to Lee’s death at 28. 

The Crow and its soundtrack went on to become a major hit, spawning sequels, a short-lived Canadian superhero TV series, a soon-to-hit reboot, and a legion of fans who’ve adored this tale of loss and love for decades now. 

As the soundtrack reaches its 30th anniversary, it hasn’t lost a bit of its entrancing power. Hitting play is like time-traveling back to my teen years, lured into the rush of hormones and emotions from the opening bird cries of The Cure’s “Burn.” Seeking to uncover how The Crow soundtrack came to be a three-time platinum hit that changed the soundtrack landscape and gripped a generation, Mashable reached out to Jeff Most, who produced the film and executive produced the soundtrack with Jolene Cherry, the music supervisor of the 1994 hit. 

In separate interviews, they shared their recollections of the long and difficult journey of two and half years to not only complete the film after the death of their beloved leading man, but also to pull together an album that extended The Crow beyond the movie. 

The Crow soundtrack began with Eric Draven getting a job. 

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven in "The Crow."

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven in “The Crow.”
Credit: Pressman / Most / Kobal / Shutterstock.com

In the comics, it’s unclear what revenant Eric Draven did for a living, though — according to Most — creator O’Barr imagined he’d have a job like housepainter or something decidedly unglamorous. For Most, who had worked as a radio DJ and produced a television series called Top 40 Videos, making Draven a musician could give the character a sharper context for the movie. Plus, it would allow for a rocking soundtrack that could be a “very emotive way to show this artistic side of [Draven].”

Developing the screenplay with credited screenwriters John Shirley and David J. Schow, Most pitched the idea to O’Barr: What if Draven was in an alternative band? “I’m not talking about a successful rock star,” Most explained. “He’s [part of] a small independent group. Maybe they put out a record, you know, [but they’re not] a big act yet — [he’s] just a guitarist in a band.” 

O’Barr was sold. But the soundtrack Most had in mind wasn’t such an easy sell to execs. 

The Crow soundtrack broke new ground by rejecting the status quo. 

Leaning into the comic’s dark aesthetic, Most and Cherry sought to create a soundtrack of hard rock and heavy metal, ultimately bringing in Rage Against the Machine, Rollins Band, and Pantera. But more than that, Most wanted only original songs, or covers that couldn’t be found anywhere else. 

“We are creating a world in which an avenging angel can come back,” Most said, “And I don’t want the classic soundtrack thing of you’re watching a movie and you hear some song and you’ve heard it on the radio 100 times and it takes you to a place. I want everything to be organic to the film.” 

Cherry warned Most he’d be turned down flat by record executives, as conventional wisdom dictates you pick an established hit song or several to assure the album will sell. And he was, repeatedly. Until Trent Reznor came onto the scene. 

The Crow soundtrack wouldn’t exist without Trent Reznor. 

Nine Inch Nails in concert, The Forum, Kentish Town, London, UK - 25 May 1994

Trent Reznor performs as Nine Inch Nails in 1994.
Credit: Ian Dickson / Shutterstock.com

Long before Reznor teamed with his Nine Inch Nails bandmate Atticus Ross to compose Academy Award-winning scores for David Fincher’s Facebook drama The Social Network and Pixar’s spirited animated adventure Soul, the famous lead singer was the lynchpin to getting Most’s soundtrack going. 

Most hoped Nine Inch Nails might do a Joy Division cover, since the ’70s English rock band was an influence on the comics. (Aside from referencing songs, O’Barr even included a dedication to the late guitarist/lyricist Ian Curtis in one book.) 

Cherry noted that several musicians were sent the script and comics to strengthen the pitch, including Reznor. Intrigued, Reznor invited Most to his home in Benedict Canyon, where he was also recording NIN’s second album — specifically, the Cielo Drive home where Sharon Tate and friends were murdered in 1969.

Spending the afternoon with Reznor and his dog, Most remembered, “I went through the bands I wanted [to get for the album], and he was like, ‘I love all these bands, but no one’s gonna let you make this album, Jeff.’ And I said, ‘Trent, I really believe if you say yes, I’ll be able to do it.’ And he goes, ‘I’m in. Can I pick whatever Joy Division song I might want to do?’ I said, ‘Any one you want.'” 

Reznor picked “Dead Souls”one of the most stunning songs in Joy Division’s catalog —and just as Most predicted, Nine Inch Nails’ involvement drew the interest of record execs. Interscope and Atlantic signed on to put out the album, and Most and Cherry were officially on the hunt for the perfect tracks to fill it. 

The Cure’s Robert Smith broke new ground with “Burn.”

Robert Smith of The Cure

Robert Smith of The Cure
Credit: Herbie Knott / Shutterstock.com

The iconic English rock band The Cure seemed a no-brainer for inclusion on The Crow soundtrack, as their songs were quoted through O’Barr’s comics. Most anticipated this would make it easy to get frontman Robert Smith onboard, as he’d clearly approved the lyrics’ use and therefore must be familiar with Eric Draven’s story. So, it was quite a shock when Smith’s rep said he’d never heard of The Crow

“I went back [to] O’Barr,” Most shared, “And I said, ‘James, you know, you’ve got ‘used by permission’ all over the place [in the comics] and Robert Smith [has] never heard the comics.’ And he goes, ‘Well, yeah. Every time I’d ever seen lyrics used [in comics], it has ‘used by permission,’ so I just added that.'”

Despite this copyright confusion, Smith liked the comics — once he did see them — and the script. So, for the first time in his storied career, the legendary British rocker wrote a song specifically for a movie. 

While some acts wrote songs purely based on the screenplay, some of the film’s footage was transported to London for Smith to see. The resulting track, “Burn,” is 6:39 seconds of scorching hot yearning. The song kicks off the album, and is given a place of prominence in the film; it plays over Eric’s macabre makeover early in the movie. Lee’s physicality is on full display as his Eric is rattled with flashbacks in the abandoned apartment he once shared with his late fiancée; he frenziedly applies the now-iconic black-and-white face paint in a shattered mirror while Smith sings, “Just paint your face, the shadows smile / Slipping me away from you.” 

And just like that, The Crow is born. 

How did Brandon Lee’s death change The Crow soundtrack?

Brandon Lee and Rochelle Davis as Eric and Sarah in "The Crow."

Brandon Lee and Rochelle Davis as Eric and Sarah in “The Crow.”
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock.com

In the wake of Lee’s death, the team behind The Crow grappled not only with grief but also with how to finish the film to preserve Lee’s incredible performance and legacy. For Most, his own pain over the loss of a friend influenced two major decisions on the album. The first was to change the song that Stone Temple Pilots had on the album.

Ahead of the release of their debut album Core, the California rock band was one of many groups to send demos in for consideration. Most and Cherry liked their sound. “They were the first ones to turn out a song,” Most said, “They loved the material. They wrote something right away.” Initially, their song “Only Dying” was picked to play in the movie and on the soundtrack, its lyrics evoking Eric Draven’s gallows humor, making light of the character’s death. But after Lee’s tragic passing, Most said, “It was just disrespectful to use it.” 

STP understood and came up with another offering, the haunting “Big Empty.” Most said of hearing it for the first time, “I jumped up and down. I was like, ‘Oh my god, what a beautiful song.'” 

Most added he passed on another song — which would go on to be a massive hit — because he worried about how it might reflect badly on his late friend, Lee. “I’m probably copping to this for the first time,” Most said, “The one song that I should have included but didn’t… That was Radiohead’s ‘Creep,‘ which kind of hangs over my head. I should have put it on the record.” 

Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and White Zombie didn’t make The Crow cut. Here’s why. 

Smashing Pumpkins Frontman Billy Corgan Performs with the Band in Front of a Crowd of 9 000 People at San Lazaro Sports Centre in Santiago De Compestela Late Saturday 07 October 2000 the Smashing Pumpkins One of the World's Most Successful Independent Rock Bands Are on Their 'The Machines of God' World Tour the Band Already Announced That They Will Disband After the Tour ***electronic Image*** Epa Photo Efe/jorge Leal Spain Santiago De Compostela

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins performs in 2000.
Credit: Jorge Leal / EPA / Shutterstock.com

Released ahead of The Crow‘s production wrapping, “Creep” was Radiohead’s debut single, and it would go on to appear on their first album, Pablo Honey. Though initially unpopular, the track went on to gain momentum when it was reissued in 1993, becoming a defining anthem of the “slacker” era. But for Most, the song’s lyrics ( “I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo”) stung when connected to Lee in any way. So, he passed. 

“It was after the loss of Brandon,” Most said, “And maybe I was very emotionally affected. When I heard the lyrics, I just worried. But in hindsight, I should have been more objective.” 

Ahead of putting out their hit record Siamese Dream, Smashing Pumpkins had written a song for The Crow. But as the American band prepared their album, their reps asked for this song back to include there instead of on The Crow soundtrack. “The song ‘Silverfuck’ is actually written directly for The Crow,” Most shared, “And if you read the lyrics to ‘Silverfuck,’ that’s like a 10-minute opus — it’s written for The Crow.” 

Some lyrics in the song seem to speak from Eric’s perspective about his lost love, Shelly Webster: “And she was my lover, so sweet / And she was my angel / And what I’ve recovered of me / I put into a box underneath my bed.” 

For Most, however, the hardest loss to the soundtrack was a White Zombie song that was axed — but not by his call. 

Rob Zombie at the premiere of "200 Cigarettes."

Rob Zombie at the premiere of “200 Cigarettes.”
Credit: Bei / Shutterstock.com

“I don’t want to put anybody under a bus,” he explained, “But there was a record company president who said, ‘These guys will never sell 50,000 records in their entire career.’ And I said, ‘You are 100 percent wrong. These guys have an amazing sound. The song is great.'” According to Most, the exec countered, “It can’t be on the record, because they’re not going anywhere. You’re just wrong.”

The song was “Babe Ruth,” a track the heavy metal band performed live while playing Wilmington, North Carolina, where The Crow was in production. Before the song was rejected, Most invited Rob Zombie to set before the band’s tour moved on. “Rob hung out on set, became friendly with Brandon and the whole crew. We were shooting at night. So it was lovely. We’re just hanging out and shooting the shit.”

While White Zombie didn’t make it onto this album, the massive success of The Crow and its soundtrack gave Most more power on its sequel. So as he readied for The Crow: City of Angels, he knew whose band was at the top of his soundtrack wishlist. 

“When I went to put the second soundtrack together, the first person I went to was Rob.” Most recalled, noting the metal singer asked, “‘Can I cover a KC and the Sunshine Band song?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure, whatever you want, Rob.'” 

The resulting cover of “I’m Your Boogieman” went on to earn a Best Metal Performance nomination at the 39th Annual Grammy Awards. So, Most and Zombie had the last laugh.

It can’t rain all the time. 

Jane Siberry performs at The Bottom Line on Oct. 10, 1996, in New York City.

Jane Siberry performs at The Bottom Line on Oct. 10, 1996, in New York City.
Credit: Al Pereira / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

While much of The Crow soundtrack is metal and rock music that’s fit for headbanging, the final track is a gentle ballad, “It Can’t Rain All the Time,” performed by Canadian singer/songwriter Jane Siberry.

“It can’t rain all the time” is a line of dialogue from Eric as he’s trying to bestow some hope upon surly street urchin Sarah (Rochelle Davis). It also serves as a way to prove his identity to Sarah upon his return, not to mention its thematic resonance. It’s probably the most memorable line in the movie.

David Schow wrote that line, then Siberry expanded on it to create the song’s lyrics. Cherry noted it was she who picked Siberry and brought her together with Graeme Revell, the former frontman for industrial/noise band SPK whom Cherry calls a “brilliant composer.” Their collaboration concludes the album and plays over the film’s end credits. 

After so many tracks that express Draven’s pain and anger, Most said Siberry’s final notes “let the audience decompress, in a very kind of beautiful, lyrical summing-up… It was just such a sweet and eloquent song that really allowed the audience to take a breath after watching this very emotional film.” 

After years of negotiations and collaborations, dozens of artists, and untold demos, Most and Cherry released The Crow soundtrack on March 19, 1994, nearly two months before the film’s successful theatrical release. The album would sell 3.8 million copies in the U.S., going triple platinum. Most would make more Crow movies, and Cherry would soon create another hit soundtrack, for 1995’s Batman Forever. Yet both expressed how this movie and this soundtrack is special to them. 

Cherry told Mashable, “It was such a miracle that the film and the soundtrack are remembered in the way that [they are] — with so much passion from everyone. People always say, ‘You know, that shaped my years in high school,’ or they always have such interesting, amazing things to say about it, that it really became sort of a pivotal supernatural force of its own.”

Most offered, “We got to curate something for a moment in time. We were really able to do something, where we really took the essence of the film into the music, and vice versa, and allowed it to become something very personal. You know, we only watch movies so many times, but we listen to albums infinitely more. I think it was a great opportunity to be able to do something groundbreaking.”

“I’m really grateful for that,” Cherry concluded, “Because I think it set up Brandon Lee to be remembered forever.”


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