No matter how engrossing, entertaining, or evocative a scene is, sometimes it’s that irreplaceable, perfect song that makes it unforgettable. Here’s our salute to our favourite fifteen musical moments in film – what did we miss?
Nancy Sinatra – “You Only Live Twice” in You Only Live Twice
For Connery’s fifth outing as Bond and the proper debut of one of the world’s most dastardly supervillains, Blofeld, only this torchy epic could open the show. You Only Live Twice has Bond dispatched to Japan, so composer John Barry wanted to nod at the Asian sound in his compositions. Notice how the electric guitar makes a nice stand-in for the erhu.
Public Enemy – “Fight the Power” in Do the Right Thing
It’s gonna be a hot day in Bed-Stuy, and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” sets the scene for the kind of tensions and aggressions that will boil over. First, the song plays while Rosie Perez gives a sidewalk dance through the opening credits — a hint that this will be about the struggles of a neighbourhood. Radio Raheem’s boombox also blares “Fight the Power,” which, in a pivotal scene, becomes the catalyst for a mob riot.
Daniel Rey – “Welcome to the Dollhouse” in Welcome to the Dollhouse
A campy, rollicking theme for Todd Solondz’s tale of suburban, middle school malaise. Dawn Weiner’s nerdy older brother Mark plays clarinet in a band called The Quadratics. Heartthrob Steve Rodgers agrees to sing in The Quadratics, if Mark will help him with his computer science homework. Dawn falls for Steve, but she could never have him, she’s just a dorky kid. Nevertheless, in her mind, this is his song to her.
Bobby Vinton – “Blue Velvet” in Blue Velvet
While Isabella Rossellini sinks her teeth into the standard later on, it’s Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” that opens the film in true Lynchian fashion, skewering the vision of idyllic small-town America.
Jonathan Richman – “There’s Something About Mary” in There’s Something About Mary
The Modern Lovers frontman lends something classic to the theme for the Farrelly brothers’ gross-out rom-com. Accompanied by drummer Tommy Larkin, Richman appears throughout the film as a Greek chorus, recapping and commenting on the action. This little ballad is just as sweet and infectious as Mary’s smile.
The Doors – “The End” in Apocalypse Now
“The horror…the horror….” A chilling song that bookends the film and cements Morrison as the poet laureate for the Napalm End Times (even though it was supposedly written about breaking up with a girlfriend). To many, Vietnam seemed like the end of something — if not the world…a generation, an era.
Yello – “Oh Yeah” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari. Oh yeah! An unce-ing, rototoming, chicka chicka-ing, indulgent electronic oddity for a movie that wants you to say “yes” to everything, even if that does mean you’ll have to drive home backwards to reset the odometer.
Paul Giovanni – “Willow’s Song” in The Wicker Man
In this scene, Willow tries to seduce Sergeant Howie, who’s come to pagan Summerisle to investigate a missing girl. “Willow’s Song” is all kinds of autumnal and seductive, but it’s also just a plain great example of ’70s psych folk.
Simon & Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence” in The Graduate
Benjamin Braddock is concerned about his future. He’ll tell you about that many times. He’ll also sleep with a married woman and then fall in love with her daughter. This song will play throughout and speak to his uncertainty each time.
Elliot Smith – “Needle In The Hay” in Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson’s consistently great film soundtracks are only one facet of his very recognizable fingerprint. Among the many, many outstanding musical moments in his films is this especially affecting scene in which Richie Tenenbaum shaves his large beard and long hair, and then removes the razorblade and cuts his veins wide open. All to the tune of popular music’s most depressing songwriter’s most depressing song.
Dick Dale – “Misirlou” in Pulp Fiction
As pulpy as it promises, even this spoonful of surf-rock Americana that plays over its title sequence is hyper-cool. It’s the prefect anthem for the kind of bad motherfuckers that people this film.
Sonny & Cher – “I Got You Babe” in Groundhog Day
This is the song that wakes up Weatherman Phil Connors at 6 a.m. on Groundhog Day over and over and over. Maddening. He kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil, he lands in jail, he kills himself a few times, and still, “I’ve Got You Babe” every morning. To be certain, something’s got him.
Peter Ivers – “In Heaven” in Eraserhead
A double dose of Lynch. The Lady in the Radiator and her song are poor Henry Spencer’s only respite from the horrors of his everyday (ughh, that “baby”), until he disappears with her into heavenly white light.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey” in Lost in Translation
For a movie about the fleeting connections between disparate cultures and generations, this serves as a closing love song that treads lightly, but blissfully all the same. “Just Like Honey” drives home the promise and hopefulness of that inaudible thing that Bob whispers to Charlotte before he leaves her in the busy Tokyo street.
Pixies – “Where Is My Mind?” in Fight Club
And, of course, this indelible scene. Probably the only song that the HQ’s of the world’s most powerful credit companies could ever explode to. Seems like a Gen X dream realized a little late.