by Patrick Bromley
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.