Top 5 Songs in Movies

Am I starting a meme with this? I think I am. Read on and see if you want to blog your own choices and let me know about it in the comments section (or just create your own list right there). The idea is to talk about your favorite songs in films. Those beautiful moments when a piece of soundtrack matches a scene so perfectly, it gives you goosebumps, or just makes the film and song that much cooler. The rules (which you may break at your leisure, of course) are simple: Stick to soundtracks played over the action. No scores written for the film, no songs sung exclusively by the actors (i.e. in musicals), and no selections from television shows (they'll be a future post). Songs that play over credits are eligible, since they comment on the film as a whole, but they're not as interesting. I'll personally stick to one song for any given film, though you're free to like more. Fair enough? Here we go.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Quentin Tarantino
Before I get into my list, let me just put the master out of the way. I could run a Top 20, even a Top 100, of JUST Tarantino song choices. I won't. And I can't really choose one song out of his entire oeuvre. From Little Green Bag in the opening of Reservoir Dogs to the wonderfully anachronistic Gasoline in Inglourious Basterds, there's hardly a misstep. I'm a huge fan of the soundtrack-before-film technique, and no one does it better. Instead of a scene, I present a relevant interview filled with clips.


Now that I've apparently already broken my rules, let's get into the Top 5. I start with a very personal, even silly choice...
5. Take My Breath Away (Sandy Lam Yik-Lin) - As Tears Go By

Wong Kar-Wai is a director I admire greatly who also makes very interesting song choices across all his films. This Chinese version of Take My Breath Away is kitsch and ridiculous, in some ways because the original is associated with the 80s-cool Top Gun, and yet immediately memorable as the love theme between As Tears Go By's cousin lovers. I love it for its camp value as much as anything, and really don't want to apologize for it.

4. Bring Me to Life (Evanescence) - Daredevil

I know a lot of people hate Evanescence, but their two songs on the overly heavy Daredevil soundtrack are perfect. Bring Me to Life is set up by the band's My Immortal, earlier in the film, a beautiful song that acts as a dirge for both Elektra's father and her ability to love Matt Murdock. Later, as Daredevil and Elektra get ready for battle each in their own space, Bring Me to Life raises Elektra and in ironic fashion, her relationship with DD, from the dead. The song is a duet and so is the scene, despite the characters not being together, and the action cut to it is immensely satisfying. Also note how each song has an eye motif appropriate to the lead character.

3. Hey (Pixies) - Zack and Miri Make a Porno

I've been a fan of the Pixies since I first heard Doolittle in the summer of 1990, but Hey was renewed for me in the way it was laid into this movie. Rarely have words so well matched to a scene. The final series of "We're chained" blow a hundred "I'll never let you go" hand-slipping moments from Titanic and elsewhere out of the water.

2. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan) - Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

Here's where I get teary-eyed. Bob Dylan composed all the music for this Peckinpah classic, including Knockin' in Heaven's Door which has since become a classic itself. Over the death of Slim Pickens' character, it is heart-breakingly moving despite the fact that Sheriff Colin Baker isn't much more than a cameo. His quiet death is that of the frontier's way of life, beautifully evoked by Dylan.

1. Wise Up (Aimee Mann) - Magnolia

But when it comes to grinding my heart into a fine powder, no song use compares to P.T. Anderson's Magnolia. Wise Up is that lyrical moment of despair at the center of the film, as the camera moves in on each of the characters, as the song plays on Claudia's stereo. Connecting them in their loneliness and isolation is a song that, in a transcendent movie moment, they each sing a verse to (always well chosen too). It quite literally gives me the shakes. The film breaks the fourth wall again at the end, with the more hopeful Save Me, another great moment, but only made possible by this centerpiece. It is my all-time favorite use of a song in a film.

Over to you, film and music buffs. What are your favorite uses of soundtrack in film? Give me about a week, and I'll let you know what my favorite musical tv moments are.

13 comments:

snell said...

Quentin's use of music is so brilliant, he changes the songs in your mind...you can never hear them again without thinking first of the movie scene where it was used. And so damnably clever...KB1 opens with Nancy Sinatra singing "bang bang my baby shot me down," and KB2 at the end has Beatrix's baby go "bang bang" while mock shooting her. Using the opening song of one movie to foreshadow the end of the next movie?? Insane...

Blanco said...

Tarantino's use of 'Stuck in the Middle With You' by Stealers Wheel was so birlliant!

Jeff R. said...

Leaving aside Tarantino, actual Musicals, and movies that are, content-wise, actually about music, I'll note that good != serious, and nominate either "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Ballroom Blitz" as seen in Watne's World.

Kyle said...

"O Fortuna" by Carl Orff in Excaliber... still gives me goosebumps when I watch it...

Alain Degrace said...

5. The Banana Boat Song (Day-0) - Harry Belafonte from Bettlejuice. Not the most inspiring and moving song, but you can't hear it now without thinking about this fun little movie.

4. Our Town - James Taylor in Cars
A great montage that gets me everytime. Great song by a great song writer. Nostalgia at its very best.

3. Eye of the Tiger - Survivor in Rocky 3. Okay, bad movie, but the song goes beyond the silver screen and as become an anthem of motivation and self-determination.

2. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen, Wayne's World. Jeff R. and I are seeing eye to eye on this one. Another of those songs that will be forever linked to the scene. Still today, if the song plays on the radio and you're in your car, you're just waiting to start headbangin' to the middle part of the song, even if you're almost passed out ;-).

1. What a Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong in Good Morning Vietnam.
Simply put, showing the backdrop of a cruel war while playing this sweet uplifting and hopeful song by one of the greats, redeems the movie everytime I watch it.

Didn't make the cut, but was discussed last weekend on our trip to Quebec: I Need A Hero, Bonnie Tyler in Short Circuit 2. Yeah, it's a silly movie, but I got goosebumbs when I watched it as a kid.

Anonymous said...

The Coen brothers use music almost as well as Tarantino. My favorite is Tumbling Tumbleweeds in The Big Lebowski. I can't think of a better song to introduce the character of The Dude and the general theme of the film.

A close second would be Danny Boy in Miller's Crossing. Much in the same way Stuck in the Middle with You will always call to mind razors and severed ears, I can never hear Danny Boy now without seeing Albert Finney blasting away with his tommy gun.

-The Mutt

Siskoid said...

Donutworld pays the meme piper with Dan's own Top Five.

Teebore said...

Hmm...I'll have to think on this one a bit. So many to choose from.

Count me amongst those who now associate Bohemian Rhapsody with Wayne's World.

Teebore said...

PS I forgot the mention I similarly adore that scene from Magnolia. It most likely will make my list as well.

visibleprocrastinations said...

It was very hard to come up with 5 tracks that meet the requirements, the majority of my favourite soundtracks are scores written for movies. I have gone with the five that have really stuck in my memory.

Honourable mention to “Stigmata” by Ministry in the movie Hardware

eq5. Born to Be Wild (Steppenwolf) – Easy Rider

eq5. Suicide is Painless (Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman) – M*A*S*H

4. Die Walküre: Ride Of The Valkyrie (Wagner) – Apocalypse Now

3. Burning Bridges (The Mike Curb Congregation) – Kelly’s Heroes

2. Swinging on a star (Bruce Willis & Danny Aiello) – Hudson Hawk

1. Dead Souls (Nine Inch Nails) – The Crow

Although it breaks the rules, I’d really give #1 to
Always look on the bright side of life (Monty Python) – The Life of Brian

cheers :)

My Top 5 Songs in Movies

Dan McDaid said...

Great choices, Siskoid - nice to see a scene from the perma-unfashionable Daredevil on here. That scene is an absolute killer (though it works better - inevitably - in the context of the film itself).

Another vote for Holding Out For a Hero, over here. A perennial spine-tingler, though it doesn't work terribly well in the film it was recorded for (I think): Footloose. Used to blistering effect in - yes - Short Circuit 2, but also the pilot episode of Lois and Clark and (a particular favourite, this) as Shrek storms the castle in Shrek 2.

Also recently featured on an ad for a forthcoming showing of Army of Darkness. I was so excited, I could hardly speak :)

PS. Love the blog.

Siskoid said...

Thanks Dan.

Holding Out For a Hero... that song's been around, hasn't it. If you know what I mean. Wink wink

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