1990s

Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘Romeo + Juliet’

Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet

The Romeo + Juliet soundtrack includes music from several alternative rock bands. This article contains minor spoilers for the 1996 film. Subscribe to Vague Visages for access to reviews and essays. 

Now streaming on Hulu and Paramount +, Romeo + Juliet features a soundtrack designed for moody outsiders and hopeless romantics. Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 William Shakespeare adaption stars a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague, while My So-Called Life’s Claire Danes co-headlines as Juliet Capulet. Back in the fall of ’96, the soundtrack caught my attention as a 16-year-old high schooler, thanks to music from alternative rock bands like Everclear and Garbage. Twenty-five years later, I appreciate the film’s overall pop culture value, and certainly the chemistry between the two leads. Here’s a breakdown of Romeo + Juliet’s songs and how they are used.

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Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Pretty Piece of Flesh” by One Inch Punch (00:03:00)

Jamie Kennedy as Sampson Montague in Romeo + Juliet

Early on in Romeo + Juliet, “Pretty Piece of Flesh” plays as Sampson Montague (Jamie Kennedy) teases a group of nuns by licking his nipple while singing the song. The character’s punk rock vibe aligns with the lyrical message, while the alternative sound matches the modernity of Luhrmann’s adaptation. The scene quickly takes an ironic turn when Sampson is frightened by the arrival of Abra Capulet (Vincent Laresca).

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Talk Show Host” by Radiohead (00:09:00)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet

“Talk Show Host” kicks in as Caroline Montague (Christina Pickles) wonders about the whereabouts of her son, Romeo, who appears in a wide shot at the beach. The lyrics capture the mentality of DiCaprio’s character, who struggles with his place in the world shortly more meeting his beloved Juliet. The song plays later on in the movie at 01:32:00 during a mash-up with Garbage’s “#1 Crush.”

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Angel” by Gavin Friday (00:19:00)

Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet in Romeo + Juliet

As fireworks explode on the evening of a Capulet party, Juliet stares into the sky as “Angel” scores the moment. The character’s costume reinforces the thematic message, and the song continues over a transitional sequence at Sycamore Grove.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Young Hearts Run Free” by Kym Mazelle (00:19:00)

Harold Perrineau as Mercutio in Romeo + Juliet

Juliet’s idealism and innocence is contrasted by a party sequence at Sycamore Grove. Harold Perrineau’s cross-dressing character, Mercutio, boogies to the opening sounds of “Young Hearts Run Free” and entertains various members of the Montague family, with Romeo citing his “soul of lead” as an excuse not to dance. The song picks up at 00:23:00 during a slo-mo sequence, and then ramps up when Romeo and company enjoy some ecstasy.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Kissing You (Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet)” by Des’ree (00:25:00)

Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet

In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, “Kissing You” plays when Romeo spots Juliet while attempting to sober up. As Des’ree performs the song at a Capulet party, the star-crossed lovers gaze at each other from opposite sides of a fish tank. “Kissing You” scores the entire sequence, which concludes with a first kiss between Romeo and Juliet. The instrumental also functions as a musical motif throughout the film.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “You and Me Song” by The Wannadies (00:45:00)

Pete Postlethwaite as Father Laurence in Romeo + Juliet

When Juliet says good night to Romeo from her balcony, “You and Me Song” works as a transitional number for a cityscape montage. The track drowns out as the camera zooms in on Pete Postlethwaite’s Father Laurence, who delivers a telling soliloquy about plants and poison.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “When Doves Cry” by Prince (00:48:00)

Romeo + Juliet

A choir sings “When Doves Cry” as Father Laurence agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet. The lyrics align with the modern flavor of Luhrmann’s adaptation, evidenced further as a church scene shifts to the streets of Verona beach.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Local God” by Everclear (00:52:00)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet

“Local God” underlines Romeo’s community reputation when he meets his group of “capital punks” at the beach. It’s a fitting choice by Luhrmann, as Everclear’s lyrics reference Shakespeare’s Romeo and a group of friends who feel poetic while hanging out together. In the movie, DiCaprio’s Romeo jokes about his “pump” being “well-flowered,” a comedic moment that plays out as the song volume boosts.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Lovefool” by The Cardigans (00:53:00)

Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet in Romeo + Juliet

As Romeo promises to marry Juliet, “Lovefool” complements a close-up visual of DiCaprio’s face. Luhrmann then shifts to a bedroom sequence featuring Danes’ character, with a red-pink color palette thematically aligning with the song’s warm lyrics. Moments later, Juliet receives good news yet loses some of her innocence upon learning about Romeo’s romantic intentions.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” by Quindon Tarver (00:56:00)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague and Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet in Romeo + Juliet

Immediately after Juliet learns that she’ll soon be married to Romeo, “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” scores a wedding sequence. Thematically, the lyrics underline the fact that the young lovers deserve to be happy together, even if some of their relatives don’t necessary approve of the union. The moment marks the end of innocence for both Romeo and Juliet, as their romance becomes especially complicated soon after.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Little Star” by Stina Nordenstam (01:07:00)

Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet in Romeo + Juliet

“Little Star” plays softly during Juliet’s “Come, Gentle Night” monologue after Mercutio’s death. The song’s title correlates with the character’s wish that Romeo will become the face of heaven after her death. Juliet remains an idealistic teenager in this moment, a young woman who fully intends to live a long life with her beloved husband.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “#1 Crush” by Garbage (01:32:00)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet

Moments before Romeo learns about Juliet’s death, “#1 Crush” plays during a musical mash-up with Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host.” DiCaprio’s character writes about his cheerful thoughts, with Garbage and Radiohead fusing together as Jesse Bradford’s Balthasar Montague arrives with heart-breaking news.

Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack: “Exit Music (For a Film)” by Radiohead (01:53:00)

Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo Montague in Romeo + Juliet

As Romeo + Juliet concludes, “Exit Music (For a Film)” plays over the end credits. The song is the fourth track on Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer,  and the lyrics tell a story about doomed lovers whose relationship is affected by familial conflict. Thom Yorke reportedly wrote the song specifically for Luhrmann’s movie after seeing a teaser clip (via Diffuser):

“I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13 and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why, the morning after they shagged, they didn’t just run away… The song is written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts. A personal song.”

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The Romeo +Juliet soundtrack also includes “Whatever (I Had a Dream)” by Butthole Surfers and “To You I Bestow” by Mundy.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.

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