We’ve broken down the playlist by track, followed by commentary. You can play the full playlist (save for one track that was not available on Spotify) by scrolling down to the bottom of this page. Enjoy!
Gomez-Rejon originally chose Georges Delerue’s “Chorale” from the 1973 Francois Truffaut film “Day for Night” as the score for the high school sequence at the beginning of the film. “It really worked, it was like the soundtrack in this cinephile’s head,” he told us. “‘Day for Night’ was his way in.” As the film began to evolve during post-production, Gomez-Rejon decided to switch to an original composition, which is how composer Nico Muhly ended up being brought in to create, as Gomez-Rejon put it, “a sound for the beginning” of the film — i.e. the high school sequence — which is experienced, both visually and sonically, from the point-of-view of Greg (played by Thomas Mann).
In the final version of the film, Muhly’s original composition makes two, distinct appearances: At the start of the film, a temp version of Muhly’s composition provides the accompaniment for the high school sequence, and then at the end, the final live recording of the composition can be heard during the scrolling credits. The necessity to use different recordings of the same composition, Gomez-Rejon told Indiewire, became apparent after he had asked his editor to swap out the temp for the final live recording. When they played back the sequence, however, they realized that it no longer played as well as it once had with the temp recording. So ultimately, they switched back to the temp and then, to bring the sonic evolution of the film full circle, returned to the live version during the scrolling credits at the conclusion of the film.
Originally, Gomez-Rejon wanted to use Delerue’s “Theme de Camille” from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” as a sound in the scene where Greg’s dad (played by Nick Offerman) attempts to drown out an argument between his son and his wife (played by Connie Britton) by turning up the volume of the music playing on the sound system.
Since the scene occurs early on in the film, the decision to incorporate an iconic piece of film score into the narrative helped to establish the origins of the cinephilia that shapes the narrative of the film. In the final version of the film, however, the composition we actually hear is Bernard Hermann’s “Scene D’Amour” from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” because Gomez-Rejon was unable to secure the necessary rights to use Delerue’s piece in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
From the very beginning, Gomez-Rejon knew that he wanted the film to include a reference to “Harold and Maude” — so much so that he included the song “Trouble” by Cat Stevens at the end of the seven-minute montage he put together and submitted to get hired as the director on the film.
“And then there was a chance that we weren’t going to get permission because there were some drug references,” he told Indiewire. For a while, Gomez-Rejon replaced “Trouble” with Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will,” which is also a cinematic reference, but to a different film from the same period — namely, Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate.” Just before Sundance, however, Cat Stevens (who now goes by Yusaf Islam) granted the film permission to use “Trouble,” and so Gomez-Rejon returned to his original selection.
Sound plays a major role in the conceptualization of Rachel (played by Olivia Cooke). In fact, Gomez-Rejon described the Brian Eno tracks that appear throughout the film as “her sound,” which is not unlike the way the film wants us to understand Greg and Earl in terms of their relationship to moving images.
Coming up with a sound for Rachel, however, was no easy task. “I did not want to use contemporary pop music for Rachel’s sound because I was afraid it would become dated,” Gomez-Rejon recalled. “I liked the idea of her listening to music that I loved but maybe she was [just] discovering from the late seventies/eighties,” which is how he initially made the selection of “So Lonely” by The Police to play during the first scene in Rachel’s bedroom. Although “So Lonely” played well with the scene, at a certain point during post-production — after multiple tracks by Eno had been incorporated — Gomez-Rejon came to the realization that Eno’s music could, and should, be identified specifically with Rachel’s character, leading him to switch out “So Lonely” with Eno’s “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More” to establish a continuity of sorts.
The theme music from “The 400 Blows” and “The Conversation” are both used as score in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Said Gomez-Rejon: “Secretly it’s an homage for the fans, who know the music, but for people who don’t know the music it is just the perfect score.”
“All our budget went to both [these] songs because they are key,” said Gomez-Rejon. “Not only are they funny [because] they refer to those movies head on with the DVD covers and the short spoofs [made by Greg and Earl], but they continue to serve as score for everything that follows.”
The Gotobeds “New York’s Alright” can be heard playing in the background during the first scene that takes place in the DVD and comic book store that Greg and Earl visit. Although Gomez-Rejon consciously abstained from using contemporary music for the most part, he made an exception in this instance because The Gotobeds are a very popular band in Pittsburgh, which is where the film is set. “If I was going to use popular music,” he noted, “I wanted to use something that is very Pittsburgh-ian.”
Both “Zawinul/Lava” and “Ho Ronomo” are heard during the scene where Greg visits Rachel at home, after she has undergone her first chemotherapy treatment. “I found this music so incredibly moving without underlining any kind of emotion,” said Gomez-Rejon. “It was so powerful and so simple. Just vibrations.” The piano melody that anchors “Zawinul/Lava” actually becomes a recurring sonic motif for Rachel in the latter part of the film.
Gomez-Rejon originally wanted to use “India” by The Psychedlic Furs during the scene where Rachel tells Greg that she has decided to stop treatment. At one point, he also toyed with the idea of using “Ceremony” by New Order. Neither track, however, made it into the final cut of the film.
Ultimately, Gomez-Rejon opted to use two Eno tracks in the scene where we learn that Rachel has decided to stop treatment. “Here Come the Warm Jets” functions as the first music cue, which ends as soon as Rachel reveals her decision to Greg. The second music cue, “Burn The Cat,” starts up as Greg goes to leave Rachel’s room.
“I’ll Come Running” is used as score for the montage sequence of Greg and Rachel hanging out and growing close over the course of several months. “The Big Ship,” provides the musical accompaniment for the climax of the film. Gomez-Rejon found the latter track especially impactful because, in his words “it was still respectful of our journey. It wasn’t making you feel.”
More importantly, however, the discovery of “The Big Ship” is what not only led to the incorporation of more of Eno’s music into the film, but also led to Eno becoming directly involved and composing new material for it.