This week marks the beginning of the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival. The citywide celebration of cinema runs April 11-25. During that lengthy span of film-focused programming, Record Store Day will bring music lovers to a variety of record retailers for new releases, sales, and in-store entertainment on Saturday, April 20. Since we have both movies and music on the brain at the moment, we figured we’d use this opportunity to take a look at Milwaukee’s role in motion picture soundtracks.

No, we’re not talking about needle drops IN the actual movies or their scores. We’re referring to having presence on a standalone soundtrack for a movie that was released for public consumption. As the popularity of the movie soundtrack has gone up, down, and back up again in recent years, artists with Milwaukee ties have managed to earn a presence on the track lists for a wide range of motion picture soundtracks. From an area emo band adding aural accent to an indie flick, to a Milwaukee-born pop star being on this century’s best-selling soundtrack so far, and two local acts winding up on The Animal album somehow, here are 10 Milwaukee artists who have combined to be part of more than 20 movie soundtracks.

Al Jarreau

Aside from selling millions upon millions of albums, winning a multitude of Grammy Awards, helping to reshape the genres of R&B and pop as the world knew them, and singing prominently on “We Are The World,” Al Jarreau’s undisputed status as a music legend is further aided by his contributions on a number of great soundtracks for memorable motion pictures. Most notably, his song “Never Explain Love,” was on the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s 1989 classic Do The Right Thing. Other Jarreau appearances on soundtracks include City Heat (“Million Dollar Baby”), Dick Tracy (“Rompin’ & Stompin'”), Glengarry Glen Ross (“Blue Skies”), and the direct-to-video animated feature The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to The Rescue (“My Life And My Love”). Give the man a postage stamp already!

Ava Max

Okay, so we admit this one is a bit of a stretch. Ava Max was born in Milwaukee, but she only lived here for the first eight years of her life…long before she was an international pop star. However, since Max has an original song (“Choose Your Fighter”) on the critically acclaimed, commercially huge, and artistically stacked Barbie The Album last year, we’re going to add her to the list.


Most people with any awareness of BoDeans know the Milwaukee (well, actually Waukesha) band’s “Closer To Free” was the theme song for the hit TV show Party Of Five. However, it might not be common knowledge that the group’s other hit, “Fadeaway,” was on the soundtrack for the 1995 Disney soccer comedy The Big Green. Now you know!

Citizen King

At this point, they’ve seen better days, but between 1999 and the band’s breakup in the early 2000s, Citizen King was riding high on account of constant radio play, a plethora of placements on TV shows and commercials, and spot on the motion picture soundtracks of three fairly successful films of the era. Citizen King’s first soundtrack cameo came in 1999 when their song “Gangsters” was on the album complement to Mystery Men. Later, the band’s biggest hit, “Better Days (And The Bottom Drops Out)” was remixed for the soundtrack of the Nic Cage/Angelina Jolie car-stealing vehicle Gone In 60 Seconds. Last and absolutely least, their “Salt Bag Spill” is on the soundtrack for 2001 Rob Schneider flick The Animal.

Coo Coo Cal

What are the odds the person tasked with selecting songs for the soundtrack of The Animal had a connection to Milwaukee? Much like Citizen King, Milwaukee rapper Coo Coo Cal wound up on the soundtrack for the goofy 2001 Rob Schneider film. Then again, “My Projects” was a huge song in 2001, so it’s possible the double dose of Milwaukee acts on one disc happened organically.

Jerry Harrison

Milwaukee expat Jerry Harrison has been featured on a bunch of soundtracks as a member of Talking Heads. Well, he also had one of his solo songs (“Man With A Gun”) included on the loaded soundtrack for the 1986 Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith cult comedy Something Wild alongside Fine Young Cannibals, UB40, Oingo Boingo, New Order, and his Talking Heads bandmate David Byrne.

Paris, Texas

Paris, Texas originally formed in Madison, but relocated to Milwaukee prior to the release of the indie rock outfit’s 2004 album, Like You Like An Arsonist. That record—which would ultimately be the last Paris, Texas album—was the third release from New Line Records, a music label component of the movie studio that existed from 2000 to 2010. Being on that studio’s roster of recording artists no doubt had something to do with the Paris, Texas song “Bombs Away” winding up on the Blade Trinity motion picture soundtrack in 2004, alongside the likes of artists like RZA, Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, E-40, Kool Keith, and The Crystal Method. More specifically, the soundtrack featured an electronic-tinged version of “Bombs Away” that was remixed by accomplished trip hop musician Danny Saber.

The Promise Ring

Before David Gordon Green was directing big budget comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness and adding modern installments to the film franchises of Halloween and The Exorcist, he wrote and directed a drama called All The Real Girls. That 2003 film starred Paul Schneider and Zooey Deschanel, and featured an indie rock-leaning soundtrack. Following offerings by groups like Sparklehorse and Mogwai, the soundtrack is closed out by “Say Goodbye Good,” a song by Milwaukee emo stalwarts The Promise Ring that somehow didn’t make it past Round 2 of our recent “March Sadness” bracket.


When they’re not releasing 30-track rock operas, opening for notable names in the world of indie and pop-punk, and playing FEST, the “hard pop” purveyors in Milwaukee-based Telethon are enjoying a place in the Kevin Smith Universe. The band’s song “Positively Clark Street” was prominently featured in the 2022 film Clerks III and in promotional materials for the movie. The song also wound up on the Clerks III soundtrack. Smith must be a fan, as he’s since had Telethon perform aboard the “Jay & Silent Bob Cruise Askew” earlier this year.

Violent Femmes

Even though we organized this list in alphabetical order, we saved the best Milwaukee soundtrack outfit for last. Violent Femmes managed to wind up on some very good soundtracks for some extremely successful films. Most famous among them was the soundtrack for The Crow in 1994, which featured the song “Color Me Once.” Other credits include appearances on the soundtracks for Air (“Blister In The Sun”), Grosse Pointe Blank (“Blister In The Sun” and “Blister 2000”), I, Tonya (“Gone Daddy Gone”), Mystery Men (“No More Heroes”), Rocket Science (“Blister In The Sun” and “Kiss Off”), and Super Size Me (“Fat”).

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.