Thursday, April 4, 2013

10 Songs Made Better By Movies

by Patrick Bromley
In the same way that music can make movies better -- just ask Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, etc. -- movies can make songs better. That's not a surprise. Movies make EVERYTHING better!

There aren't any real rules to this list, except that I mostly tried to leave off some obvious choices ("Stuck in the Middle With You," "Layla"). Songs that are great on their own didn't really qualify, either, even if they're part of a memorable scene or movie. For example, The Pixies' "Where is My Mind?" doesn't make the list, because that was a great song even before it was put to perfect use in Fight Club. Got it? Here we go.

1. "In Your Eyes," Peter Gabriel (from Say Anything) More than most of the songs on this list, I probably would like "In Your Eyes" if it had never been in a movie. But after hearing it blast out of Lloyd Dobler's boombox as he stands sad and defiant outside Diane Court's bedroom window, it is the MOST ROMANTIC SONG EVER. This song and this movie gave an entire generation of nerdy boys the hope and courage to pursue the girl of their dreams, no matter how out-of-their-league she may be. Some of us speak from experience.

2. "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking," Bing Crosby (from Lady in White) Yes, lots of old-timey music starts to sound creepy when used within the context of a horror movie. This one is scarier than most, even though Bing Crosby seems like a nice fellow and the question posed by the song is totally innocuous (and a little nonsensical, I guess). Now it just makes me think of being murdered in a coatroom. Which is great when I need to masturbate.

3. "Tiny Dancer," Elton John (from Almost Famous) This is an easy one, and probably one that just about everyone can agree with. "Tiny Dancer" is a good song and all -- I wouldn't skip the track if it came on listening to Elton John's Greatest Hits -- but Almost Famous turned it into my favorite Elton John song of all time. I have never been on tour with an arena rock band in the 1970s (FOOLED YOU), but Cameron Crowe has made it so that this song makes me feel like I have -- just hearing those opening piano notes makes me feel like I'm on the bus with Stillwater, exhausted and elated, connected to everyone around me in the common love of a shared experience. If you can watch the clip and not fall in love with the song, you are a robot who is closed off to the joy of watching movies. Move along. There is nothing for you here.

4. "In God's Country," U2 (from Three Kings) This song, from U2's 1987 Joshua Tree album, is a TOTALLY FINE U2 song. It sounds like pretty much every other one of their songs from the '80s. Hearing it at the end of David O. Russell's Desert Storm comedy/drama/heist movie masterpiece (probably my favorite war movie of all time, if one can qualify such a thing), it takes on a whole new meaning. Every single time I hear the song now, I immediately think "I want to watch Three Kings RIGHT NOW" just to chase the feeling that gets us back to that song. I now love "In God's Country," and I wouldn't have given it a second thought if not for the movie.

5. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," The Tokens (from Matinee) What could be just another oldie with an INCREDIBLY memorable hook becomes a bittersweet anthem about youth and the threat of destruction after seeing Matinee. Gene and Sandra, having just survived the threat of annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, run down the beach as military helicopters fly overhead. Suddenly, the sleeping lion is the possible destruction lurking around the corner, and the only thing that can stave it off for now is promise of first love and a good monster movie. Youth and innocence won't last forever, so let's hang on to them while we can.

6. "If You Could Read My Mind," Gordon Lightfoot (from Wonderland) - Here's the thing: I don't even particularly like Wonderland, the 2003 movie about the famous Wonderland Avenue murders of the early '80s starring Val Kilmer as porn star John Holmes. But for some reason, when Gordon Lightfoot's easy listening staple cues up at the end, both the song and the movie become heartbreakingly sad. How did that happen? Now I want to cry when I hear Gordon Lightfoot, and not for the reasons most people want to cry when they hear Gordon Lightfoot. It's already a sad song, but I never felt the loss in it until I started associating it with the ending of Wonderland. It's just about the only thing the movie gets right.

7. "One Night Love Affair," Bryan Adams (from Real Genius) Yes, the obvious choice for a song from Real Genius would be Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," but a) I've never been super crazy about that song and b) I don't automatically think about everyone jumping around in the popcorn when I hear it. But when "One Night Love Affair" comes on, I'm right back at the huge waterslide party, taking a break from the crushing stress of life and expectations and trying to have FUN for just one hour. The song plays over the scene in which Mitch (Sarah Jessica Parker) meets Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) for the first time, and it's great; they share some awkward conversation but hit it off, express obvious interest in one another and then are too-quickly pulled apart when the party is broken up. We've all been there -- those first feelings of infatuation, the moment when you have to stop talking to someone when all you want to do is to keep talking. It's a minor scene in the movie that only barely factors into the plot, but it's the one that has always stuck out at me. The sensitivity to those characters is why Real Genius is one of the best teen movies of the '80s.

8. "Like a Rock," Bob Seger (from The Weather Man) Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man is one of the more underrated comedy/dramas of the 2000s, a sad and moving portrait at a desperate man trying to put on a good face. The scene in which Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine sit inside a car and have one of the first real conversations of their entire father/son relationship could have been completely derailed by the way it incorporates this Bob Seger song -- it easily might have become another example of a filmmaker juxtaposing an ironic song with incongruous content to score cheap laughs. Instead, the scene turns exactly that kind of irony on its head, embracing the sincerity of the lyrics and turning it all into something very moving. I'm still not a Bob Seger fan, but now this song actually means something to me.

9. "Sister Christian," Night Ranger (from Boogie Nights) And here's a scene that does ironic juxtaposition perfectly. Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker who knows how to use music to brilliant effect; though in recent years he's doing it more with offbeat scores, his early movies used pop music as well as anyone has since Scorsese. Probably the best music moment from one of his films (besides "Wise Up" in Magnolia) is the "firecracker" sequence from Boogie Nights, which uses a typically overproduced '80s ballad as the soundtrack to the moment when all the decade's excess converges at a single point. When a movie uses a song this well, it alters the way we hear it for the rest of our lives. I can't hear "Sister Christian" without thinking of the fireworks.

10. "Moving in Stereo," The Cars (from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) For some reason, this song gives me a boner.


  1. Jesus, a shiver just went up my spine at the thought of the first time I saw Boogie Nights. I remember flinching in my seat every time a firecracker went off, the sound coming from all directions at times and keeping you really unnerved.

    1. YES. And then the insane amount of time PTA holds on Mark Wahlberg's face during "Jessie's Girl"...the first time I saw that sequence, it was one of the best scenes I had ever sat through. Unbearable.

  2. A while back, you talked about Exploding Heart Moments, and I think the the Tiny Dancer scene in Almost Famous might be another one for me. Almost Famous is most definitely my favorite movie of all time, and that scene is one of my favorites in the movie. It has great energy, and just gives me a warm and happy feeling everytime I watch it. I also think "My Cherie Amour" while Kate Hudson is getting her stomach pumped is great. That movie just has excellent music all around.

    1. Also, may I just say that, I don't think nearly enough time has passed to see if the scene sticks in my head or not, but it is possible that from now on when I here "Everytime" by Britney Spears (which really isn't that much), I will probably think of Spring Breakers.

    2. That Britney - as much as I'm not a fan of her music, she's got a handful of songs that always make me feel melancholy about late-teen/early-20s romances. I can see how that song could be embiggened* by the right scene.

      (*A perfectly cromulent word.)

    3. But have you seen Spring Breakers yet? I promise that movie will make you see that song in a very interesting and memorable way. I don't know that I have a "favorite" Britney Spears song or anything, but I think I like "Everytime" more now than I ever did before just for how it was used in that movie.

  3. One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx because of it's use in House of the Devil. Dance Babysitter Dance!

  4. How about "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan," from Thelma and Louise? It's a good enough song, but heard in the context of the movie and combined with the images of them driving through the desert it becomes magic.

  5. I disagree A BIT about Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," because I ONLY think about playing in popcorn when that song comes on.

    Not sure if this qualifies based on your "RULES," but I've never really liked the Katrina and The Waves song, "Walking On Sunshine," but I really like how it's used in almost every movie it's in (e.g., The Secret of My Success, High Fidelity, Moon, etc.). Likewise, "You Make My Dreams Come True" is garbage, but it's great in (500) Days of Summer.

    1. I don't know if I personally would call the song "garbage," but I completely agree that (500) Days of Summer makes "You Make My Dreams" great.

  6. Doesn't Yellow's "Oh, Yeah" qualify for this?

    Listening to it on it's own it's pretty monotonous. But in Ferris Bueller and The Secret of My Success was the best song for the scene.

  7. Thought you were going Lion King on number 5...

  8. Steve K, I'll give you an even better use for The Ballad of Lucy Jordan (though it's in a less-known movie): Dusan Makavejev's 1981 masterpiece "Montenegro." That the Susan Anspach character in the movie is inspired by the one in the song (named Marilyn Jordan in the flick) isn't as relevant as knowing that the opening scenes of the movie take place right after the final scene. With that knowledge the song acquires a raw, fucked-up power of the absurd that sent both the song and the movie into the stratosphere for me. I knew of the song before, but after experiencing it with "Montenegro" I love it more than ever.

    I think Wong Kar-Wai is the master of making songs acquire a poetic, soulful edge that transcends the movies they're attached to. I liked The Cranberry's Dreams already (who didn't?), but after hearing Faye Wong's version in "Chungking Express"? Or California Dreamin' over and over? Or the use of Los Indios Tabajaras' Always on My Mind in "Days of Being Wild"? Swoon! :-)

    And the movie "The Legend of Billie Jean" may suck (and nobody at the 'F This Movie' crew has the desire or the balls to tackle it in a 'I'll Watch Anything' column) but, if you saw it in '85, you can't tell me after seeing it you didn't come away thinking Invincible wasn't the greatest song ever.

    It's too easy to pick a song Tarantino made famous by putting it in one of his movies (with "Pulp Fiction's" Misirlou being the obvious pick). But for my money his use of Harry Nilsson's Coconut as the closing credits song (i.e. the tune you listen to as you're digesting what you have just seen, for the first or 100th time) is the masterstroke of making a quaint, almost throwaway song seem fresh and new.

    Other random songs elevated by their movie use:

    -Mr. Sandman at the end of "Halloween II."
    -All the variations of the "Moon" songs in "An American Werewolf if London."
    -The classic Spanish love ballad Besame Mucho in "Naked Gun 2 1/2."
    -Stayin' Alive midway through "Airplane!" (it wasn't "Saturday Night Fever" that made me love that tune).
    -Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World at the end of "12 Monkeys."
    -Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again becomes an unforgettable anthem after seeing "Dr. Strangelove."
    -The Faces' Ohh La La at the end of "Rushmore."
    -The use of Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major for Mandolin and Strings # 1, Allegro in "Kramer vs. Kramer."

    1. Wish I could post a poll if they still did them on imdb:

      When you hear "Stayin Alive" which do you think of first?

      "Saturday Night Fever" credits?
      Disco scene from "Airplane!"?
      Moriarty's ringtone in "Sherlock"?

    2. Sadly, knowing the age and demographic that frequents imdb, the last one would probably win that poll. I'm old. :-(

  9. "Mitch (Sarah Jessica Parker)" gave me the biggest laugh I've had in weeks. Just had to thank you for that, even though now I don't think I can ever unsee that and you may have totally ruined Real Genius for me. Oh, and I'm with Doug on Everybody Wants To Rule The World, it always puts images of popcorn in my head.

  10. "Johnny B Good" and "Earth Angel" from Back to the Future come right to my head first thing. Anytime I hear those two songs outside the movie my head goes right to the scenes in the movie. Also another great one that just came to my mind was the "Day O" number from Beetlejuice. I never could get my parents and sister to do that dance number at the dinner table:)

  11. "Tequila" by The Champs + "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" + Bar Scene= Need I say more?