By Brendan Lee
Jim Jarmusch’s film career has been eternally intertwined with a passion for music. The Ohio-born, New York City-bred weirdo stacks his quirky, dry-humoured arthouse films with collaborations featuring some of the biggest names in music. In his typical fashion, his upcoming film, The Dead Don’t Die, out June 14, features a stacked musical lineup, including Iggy Pop as a long-haired zombie, and the likes of RZA, Tom Waits, Selena Gomez, and even Sturgill Simpson himself, all a part of the blood-thirsty fun.
For those yet-to-be initiated, it’s nearly impossible to recall a Jarmusch film without getting a song stuck in your head, so perk your ears, curl back your lips and take a fleshy bite out of these soundtrack highlights from his decade-spanning filmography.
1 – Permanent Vacation 
“Up there in Orbit” – Earl Bostic
Jazz saves lives, man. Aloysious Parker twist, snaps and jives his way out of delirium, for a moment, as the upbeat sax riff takes him up, up and away from his muddled Big Apple existence in Jarmusch’s post film-school-dropout debut.
2 – Stranger than Paradise 
“I Put a Spell on You” – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
There’s no more iconic usage of a song in a Jarmusch film than this, and by the third time it played at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and the credits gushed, Jimmy boy must have been nodding, smiling, thinking – You’re mine.
3 – Down By Law 
“Jockey Full of Bourbon” – Tom Waits
If you look and listen close, you can actually pinpoint the emergence of Jim’s ‘Jarmuschian’ flair as Waits’ steely guitar riff lures us in to the rear end of a black hearse before the camera pans left and leads us on a trip that will last a lifetime.
4 – Mystery Train 
“Mystery Train” – Elvis Presley
Well what do you hear, the train or the bloody sirens? Elvis gets the film a rollin’ with his patented southern comfort rock and roll, sets us up for three different tales bound by the frayed threads of Memphis city, the town that made him King.
5 – Night on Earth 
“Carnival (Brunello Del Montalcino)” – Tom Waits
A nausea inducing carnival-ride of trumpets, percussion and rinkydink organ, the theme goes clammy hand in clammy hand with an absurdist confession between an Italian cab driver (Roberto Benigni) who used to fornicate with pumpkins, and a priest whose heart gives out at such torture.
6 – Dead Man 
“Theme from Dead Man (End Credits)”– Neil Young
The film drifts into the monochrome sunset as Young’s acoustic and electric guitars duel away a final epilogue before ending with a few last distorted heartbeats.
7 – Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai 
“Ghost Dog Theme (W/Dogs & EFX)” – RZA
Name one thing more gangster than a samurai hitman named Ghost Dog. This RZA concocted beat counts us into the story, lets the viewer nod their head and meditate on the world that surrounds our hero before dropping us smack dab in the middle of it all. Rest in peace, Ghost Dog.
8 – Coffee and Cigarettes 
“Down on the Street” – The Stooges
Jack White and former White Stripe bandmate, Meg, mull over a homemade tesla coil while Iggy Pop croons above distorted guitars and a simple bassline on a radio somewhere hidden behind the fourth wall. We’re still wondering how many coffees it took to concoct this strange hallucination.
9 – Broken Flowers 
“Yekermo Sew” – Mulatu Astatke
The kind of music you just know Bill Murray listens to while driving around in nondescript black sunglasses. This smokey Ethiopian Jazz track speaks of cigarettes and secrets, and put the genre on the radar for a lot of film geeks turned would be hipsters.
10 – The Limits of Control 
“El Que Se Tenga Por Grande” – Talegon de Cordoba, Jorge Rodgriquez
“He who thinks he is bigger than the rest must go to the cemetery. There he will see what life really is: a handful of dirt.” For a film often misunderstood for its meandering plotline, this live acoustic flamenco stands out like a muzzle flash from a half-remembered fever dream.
11 – Only Lovers Left Alive 
“Spooky Action at a Distance” – Jozef Van Wissem & SQÜRL (Jim Jarmusch-fronted noise-rock band)
This screeching electric crescendo tapped in by a head-bobbing ring of cymbals says, oh, damn, Tom Hiddleston’s mop-topped vampire is more morose and depressed than we could’ve ever imagined, yet somehow we’re Loki (read: lowkey) falling in love.
12 – Paterson 
“Dark to Light” – SQÜRL
Imagine Kylo-Ren gets caught in an alternate reality where he’s doomed to drive busses and write poetry, and Jim Jarmusch writes a song that captures the essence of the ethereal sensory deprivation tank that is this poor man-boy’s tortured existence. Okay, it’s not that sad, but still!