I was in junior high when MTV came out and it was heaven. I was a music and movie lover, and having bands create short films for their songs (well, the ones that were more clever than just having concert footage)…it was art. Music to my ears (and eyes).
When I’m reviewing movies, I’ll often comment on the film score. But I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of my favorite movie scene/song combinations. Now, that doesn’t mean an awesome song that’s played in a movie. Hell, I love “Fortunate Son” by CCR, but it’s been used in 50 movies (most of them Vietnam-era films). If a popular song is used, it should be for a good reason. Oftentimes, the more obscure songs are a lot more interesting.
Many times there would be a movie I loved (Good Will Hunting), playing a song I loved (Baker Street), but the two didn’t work well together.
I instituted a few rules before compiling this list. For example, I didn’t want songs written for the movie, but previously released songs that fit the scene/film perfectly. The term they use now is “needle drops.” To qualify, two things have to occur. I have to like the song, and I have to like that scene. There have been plenty of songs I’ve loved that were in crap movies or scenes. Or sometimes, there’s this dilemma. I dug the songs in Guardians of the Galaxy (who doesn’t love Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” or laugh seeing Chris Pratt rock out to “Hooked on a Feeling”?). But you can’t just throw a bunch of songs on a soundtrack, making a “mix tape” and get credit for that. It’s kind of like the same reason I don’t like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” They basically just become lists. So while hearing The Runaways and Raspberries in Guardians was cool, you don’t get credit for assembling ‘70s tunes we all love (and you’d lose points for including “Spirit In The Sky” “Born To Be Wild” and “Pina Colada Song”, which has been done so often). Now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did it right with Cat Stevens “Father and Son.” It’s just a shame that the movie wasn’t very good.
The Graduate is one of the best movies ever, and Simon and Garfunkel were perfect with “Mrs. Robinson” and “Scarborough Fair” but the use of “Sounds of Silence”…was just too somber and was a poor choice for that scene. I’m guessing 97.4% of the population would disagree with me on that, though. And, “Mrs. Robinson” was written specifically for the movie, which disqualifies it.
I thought the use of Springsteen’s “Drive All Night” would have been perfect in Cop Land. If I didn’t see New Jersey sheriff (Sylvester Stallone) put the record on. There was a foreign film a decade ago (I think it was called The Tree) where a woman put on a Springsteen album to play “I’m on Fire” before dancing with a strange man who showed up at her house. Uggghhh! Putting the album on, and literally watching the “needle drop” ruins the needle drop moment for me (unless the story involves a DJ). It’s the director thinking they’re being clever, letting us know how the character is feeling through song lyrics we already know. It’s forced. And someone needs to explain to me why Tarantino had Sharon Tate do that twice with Paul Revere and the Raiders albums. What did that add to Once Upon a Time…? If those are the only records in her collection, no wonder wannabe musician Charles Manson murdered her (what? Too soon?).
I covered the best soundtracks in a previous story (you can read it here: https://fox5sandiego.com/news/best-movie-soundtracks-ever/ ). Now it’s time to tackle the best scene and song combo! I’m going by what I can remember in my head. Tarantino scours his record collection for the right songs. I think if something is right, it should pop into your head. Unfortunately, after I write this list, I’m sure something will pop into my brain that I forgot about (or somebody will point out their favorite that slipped through the cracks). I’ll kick myself thinking of stuff I missed.
Here are my Top 100 Needle Drops on Screen:
- “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, in GROUNDHOG DAY. The song is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I love knowing that Cher probably saw this movie and thought — How wonderful for Bill Murray. He gets to wake up to my song each morning and spend an entire day with Andie MacDowell. And at some point during the middle of the film the realization hit her — that of all the songs in music history, this was the one chosen because it would make you feel like hell hearing it every morning, thousands of days in a row.
- “Miserlou” by Dick Dale, in PULP FICTION. The entire soundtrack is amazing, but starting the movie off with this energy, and bringing attention to this surf guitarist that many had forgotten about, is great. When I interviewed Dale, he told me because of this movie, followed by the Black Eyed Peas sampling it — he was able to buy a new house.
- “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel, in RESERVOIR DOGS. I had no intention of putting two Tarantino movies in a row, but this is just the perfect scene and song, watching Michael Madson dance around, and torture a police officer, after low-key DJ Steven Wright (the comedian), intros the song.
- “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop and “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed, in TRAINSPOTTING. I really wanted to pick one song per movie, otherwise, it turns into merely praising the soundtrack (and this one makes my best soundtrack list in the story link above). But these scenes were both so perfect. Having someone OD on heroin, slipping into the carpet, while this beautiful Reed ballad plays…is magic.
- “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Strauss, in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Why can’t I go classical? It’s my list! I read once that this is the first time a filmmaker used classical pieces of music for a film score. I’m too lazy to look up if Stanley Kubrick was the first, but either way, the classical pieces worked wonderfully.
- “Oh Yeah” by Yello, in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. I know, it seems weird going with an ‘80s teen comedy, right after a movie that uses composers like Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss. Yello was a weird Swiss band. The songwriter ended up investing his money from this hit and amassed a $175 million fortune. Now that’s how a one-hit wonder should do it! The song has since been used in a few other movies, surely after it was spotted in this. The film also uses Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” cleverly.
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, in WAYNE’S WORLD. Queen was one of my favorite bands as a kid, but I had grown tired of this song because of classic rock radio. Yet seeing a bunch of stoners rock out to it in a blue AMC Pacer…how could you not fall in love with it again? All that even led to a Mike Myers cameo in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody (a surprisingly disappointing biopic).
- “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away) by Enya in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. A guy is about to torture and gut Daniel Craig. Instead of saying, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die” before taking a laser to his crotch…he instead plays some new agey music to get him in the mood. Perhaps the only thing creepier was Buffalo Bill dancing to his weird song in Silence of the Lambs. Something about killers using music just works (although Christian Bale using Huey Lewis in American Psycho doesn’t make the cut; no pun intended). The movie also gets credit for a great opening that uses a cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and made it look like a James Bond opening on steroids.
- “The End” by The Doors and “Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner, in APOCALYPSE NOW. I’m cheating for two reasons here. I’m picking two songs, because they were just perfect. Every filmmaker should be able to pick the perfect song to open their picture. It’s unfortunate that most don’t. But picking a more obscure Doors song, and the lyrics combining with the images and face of Martin Sheen, as Huey helicopters come into the shot – it’s all so perfect, and…the start is the end, for this character. And of course, the Wagner helicopter scene is a classic. It cost a million dollars to film that one scene, and it was worth every penny.
- “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson, in MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Apparently the song Bob Dylan turned in for the movie didn’t impress them (it was Lay Lady Lay). So they went for this cover of the Fred Neil tune. Lovely choice. “Everybody’s Talkin’” is such a great song, Bruce Springsteen just stole the chords, without giving any credit, on the single for his last record.
- “Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith, in FANDANGO. Kevin Costner has said in interviews this is the best movie he ever did. I agree. College guys avoiding the draft that could send them to Vietnam. It starts nicely with the uptempo “Saturday Night’s (alright for fighting), and ends with the melancholy of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. Brilliant way to bookend a film with great songs.
- “Street Hassle” by Lou Reed in, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. Who knew Noah Baumbach would become one of the best filmmakers around? It was so amazing to hear Bert Jansch songs (one of Jimmy Page’s favorite guitarists), but ending the movie with “Street Hassle” — an epic song that’s street poetry, starting with a string quartet, as the naive teenager runs back to see that squid and whale in the museum that scared him as a child, as if this will solve everything — wow! That closing scene should be shown in film schools.
- “Moonlight Mile” by The Rolling Stones, in MOONLIGHT MILE. When Ellen Pompeo stomps out of the backroom of a bar, to see who played the song on the jukebox (it was her song, with her fiance who is MIA in Vietnam), everyone is startled as she goes from anger, to collapsing in the arms of a young Jake Gyllenhaal, who recently lost his fiance during a shooting. Apparently the filmmakers wanted “Let it Be” but couldn’t get the rights. I think this song works so much better (and is a better tune, sorry Paul).
- “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Yeah, it was cool to hear Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” after the nerdy guy is told to play Led Zep if it comes to making out with his date, but…why wasn’t it Zeppelin IV like his friend suggested? But nothing beats seeing Phoebe Cates on a diving board and hearing Ric Ocasek (RIP).
- “New Slang” by The Shins, in GARDEN STATE. When Natalie Portman turns on Zach Braff’s character to The Shins, she couldn’t have picked a better song. It was a bit contrived, but fit the theme of the movie nicely. They also used Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” better than the movie of that same name. That’s how you do songs in movies, folks.
- “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, in HIGH FIDELITY. A great book, a great movie, and a nice love letter to great music. It’s also a love letter to lists (as you can see, I’m quite fond of). This scene is a nice tribute to guilty pleasure songs, and one-hit wonders, all in one. Jack Black dancing through the aisle of a record store, telling his co-workers he plays it at the start of every week to get himself pumped up. Had Phil heard this each morning of Groundhog Day, perhaps he wouldn’t have been so miserable.
- “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, in IRON MAN. As a kid who loved the song “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult, I always wanted that song in a Godzilla film, and so I wondered if Marvel would use the song of the same name. The movie ended with Tony Stark admitting he was Iron Man, immediately followed by Tony Iommi’s guitar riff. Well played.
- “You’re Dead” by Norma Tanega in, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. The movie opens with an interesting and sometimes humorous montage of creepy images, and this lost chestnut by a weird folk singer who was best known for the novelty hit “Walking My Cat Named Dog” and because she dated Dusty Springfield. When I met filmmaker Taika Waititi, I spent a lot of time praising him for his song choices. I’m guessing he’ll stick with John Williams stuff for the Star Wars movie.
- “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, in ALMOST FAMOUS. A band is fighting on the tour bus. They could break up soon. Yet when you all sing along to a tune you know the words and hum along! Or scream at the top of your lungs. If anyone knows the power of music, it’s certainly a successful band.
- “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, in RISKY BUSINESS. Now, any other list would have the underwear dancing scene. I’m just not much of a Bob Seger fan and the truth is, any song would have worked for that scene. Just as any song works that some character sings along to in their car. We always laugh (Step Brothers did that best). Yet watching this high schooler lose his virginity, on a train (to Rebecca De Mornay)…that gives this scene the win. Bonus points for a great film score by Tangerine Dream. And, honorable mention for a great use of this song in The Hangover, when Mike Tyson air drums, and then punches, Ed Helms. Fun Fact: In real life, Tom Cruise had a two year relationship with De Mornay after stealing her from her much older boyfriend — Harry Dean Stanton.
- “Navajo Joe Theme” by Ennio Morricone, in ELECTION. As funny as the seduction scene was when “Three Times a Lady” was played, watching Tracy Flick lose her mind during a school election — was incredible. And to use a song that was part of a film score from another movie (a Burt Reynolds 1966 Spaghetti Western). This is probably the shortest scene/song combo I have, as it’s probably a mere 10 seconds long. Tarantino has used Morricone scores in a few of his films and should really give it a rest.
- “Pick Up The Pieces” by the Average White Band, in SWINGERS. It was fun hearing Dean Martin and many swing songs, but when the gang goes from one party to another (one time in a slow motion scene that’s a nod to Reservoir Dogs), it becomes an instant classic.
- “Mandolin Concerto” by Antonio Vivalldi in KRAMER VS. KRAMER. One week in my teens, I searched for two pieces of music I loved as a kid. Both turned out to be Vivaldi. When I was 4-years-old, I was watching Sesame Street and they played a somber piece of music as they showed a single flower dripping with water in a flower pot in the heart of a busy city. I was at my grandmother’s apartment and just started crying, because it was so moving. She was asking me what was wrong and I couldn’t explain it. And when I was 13, watching Kramer vs. Kramer on TV, I loved this quick mandolin music in a montage where Dustin Hoffman is finally, learning how to do the things for his son that his wife always took care of. (it was the “Guitar Concerto in D major” in the flower video).
- “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” by The Doors, in THE WORLD’S END. Director Edgar Wright is one of the best in the business with song selection (as you’ll see later in this list). Using The Soup Dragon’s “I’m Free” was a nice choice, but I’m picking The Doors scene. The long time mates are middle-aged men doing a pub crawl, and have found out their hometown is inhabited by alien robot creatures. They want to act natural to not arouse suspicion, but when the carnival sounds of this song start, and they walk in perfect unison — you can’t stop laughing (the facial expressions of Martin Freeman and Nick Frost help).
- “Sing Sing Sing” by Louis Prima, in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY. I miss the days when we could talk about Woody Allen making great movies. He uses Cole Porter as much as Scorsese uses The Rolling Stones. I’ve always loved this song, and once impressed my grandmother when she heard it on one of the mix tapes in my car.
- “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, in BEVERLY HILLS COP. I thought Vanity was the sexiest singer around as a teen (and so did Prince), and when Eddie Murphy takes the guys into a strip club and this was playing — it hit the spot.
- “Heat of the Moment” by Asia in, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. Now, this was a tough choice. It was hysterical watching a drunk Leslie Mann singing to Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” with a scared Steve Carrell knowing he just might, if she doesn’t barf or kill him before they get home. But since the guys make fun of the framed Asia poster he has, and that song drops as he hops on his bike to go get the woman he loves…that scene wins out. The movie gets bonus points for romantic Lionel Richie when he’s about to seduce…himself. Bonus bonus points, for having Jane Lynch trying to seduce while singing in Spanish.
- “Heroes” by David Bowie in, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. After Bowie died, too many movies started using his songs (I was disappointed with the interesting Frances Ha using “Modern Love”). You can’t beat a scene of kids blissfully rockin’ out to this song while driving down the freeway, with hands in the air. It’s just annoying that they have such a hard time tracking the song down. I mean…it’s friggin’ Bowie, and it’s the name of an album. It wasn’t some obscure b-side. They get extra credit for a fun dance scene with “Come on Eileen.”
- “Blue Moon” by Sam Cooke in, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. This movie had all “moon” songs (they couldn’t get the rights to “Moonshadow” and I have no clue why they didn’t use “Moonlight Drive”). “Bad Moon Rising” worked nicely, but the calm before the storm, of one of the best vocalists in music history — made this scene magical. Loved hearing the doo-wop version by The Marcels in the closing credits, too.
- “Oh Yoko” by John Lennon, in RUSHMORE. It was great to hear The Faces and Kinks, and Wes Anderson is quirky in all aspects of his movies. But having Bill Murray and a young Jason Schwartman working out in a factory to this song…is just genius. I’m guessing even Yoko Ono wouldn’t have suggested it.
- “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by The First Edition, in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. This weird, early psychedelic song from Kenny Rogers, was such an interesting choice. You’ve got the dude (or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) getting drugged and having a bizarre bowling fantasy. So many filmmakers would have gone with an obvious stoner song. Bravo, Coen brothers.
- “Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes, in DIRTY WORK. The movie got horrible reviews, but it made me laugh. Norm MacDonald is a comedic genius (he stars and wrote the screenplay). Right before a ballroom brawl, Chris Farley (RIP) runs to the jukebox, to play G-7, for The Rolling Stones “Street Fighting Man.” He accidentally presses G-8, and we get pina coladas served at the bar while people fight. This was the first movie to do this, and since then, so many have copied the move of having a cheesy song play while someone is getting shot, tortured, or punched. At least three movies have done it with John Denver music. The last film I recall doing this was The Hitman’s Bodyguard, with Samuel Jackson falling for Selma Hayek while she beats up a bar full of thugs and Lionel Richie’s “Hello” is playing on the jukebox. So let’s credit the first movie to give us this bit — Dirty Work.
- “Tequila” by The Champs in, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. I actually thought Pee Wee was funnier on HBO, before he was a household name and one of his comedy shows was shown. Tim Burton made an okay movie, with this classic dance scene.
- “Shelter From The Storm” by Bob Dylan, in JERRY MAGUIRE. I loved watching Tom Cruise composing his thoughts while The Who’s “Getting In Tune” plays. Such an underrated track (buy “Who’s Next” if you don’t already own it). Blood on the Tracks is the best Dylan album and this is one of the last songs on it. Cameron Crowe was a music writer in San Diego before becoming a filmmaker, so…it makes sense that he’d choose the perfect tunes.
- “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, in GOODFELLAS. Two “shelter” songs in a row. It’s arguably the best Stones song, and arguably the best Scorsese film. Problem is, he’s now used this song in three movies. We get it. You love the Stones, but move on (he even used Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction” in Casino). Scorsese nailed it by using Donovan’s “Atlantis” in a montage scene. He also gets bonus points for an amazing courtship scene with “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals.
- “Still” by Geto Boys in, OFFICE SPACE. When the office staff has had enough with the printer in the copy machine always jamming, they take it out and bash it with a baseball bat, as this rap song plays, as if it’s a gang initiation or someone being jumped in prison. Incredibly funny (so much so, that The Family Guy parodied it). Mike Judge also used rap cleverly in the beginning, when Michael is stuck in traffic, blasting a song by Scarface, but turns it down when an African American walks by.
- “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel in, SAY ANYTHING. Any other cinephile compiling a list like this would have this scene in their Top 5. We love John Cusak holding up a boombox blasting out a lovely ballad (to the cute Ione Skye, daughter of singer Donovan, whose song “Jennifer Juniper” was used brilliantly in Election, but I digress). The problem is that this is merely an average Cameron Crowe film, and you wonder why neighbors aren’t screaming out their window “Turn that down! Make her a mixtape like every other guy does!” At least when I went to a party where you had to dress as an ‘80s movie character, it gave me an easy costume — long coat and boombox with the “So” cassette playing.
- “Fight the Power (Part 1 & 2)” by The Isley Brothers in, OUT OF SIGHT. Not to be confused with the Public Enemy song from Do The Right Thing. Out of Sight had a great score and great song selections. This was played when the bad guys go to Detroit to commit a crime. Years later in Las Vegas I was talking to director Paul Feig outside of a screening for his Melissa McCarthy film. I told him when he started the movie with this song, I thought of Out of Sight. He bent over screaming, saying “No! I didn’t think anybody else would notice that!!” I laughed and said, “Nobody will. That was 15 years ago.” He should have said “The song is on the album ‘The Heat is On,’ our movie is called The Heat, and it’s an awesome groove.” He would have been right on all counts.
- “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, in BODY DOUBLE. I was a teenager watching this Brian De Palma movie on HBO. A guy investigating a murder shows up on a porn set and this song plays. It became a music video. I wasn’t even sure what was going on, but thought it worked well. One other movie/song on my list does the same thing, basically creating a music video in the middle of the movie (spoiler alert: it’s Donnie Darko).
- “Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night, in BOOGIE NIGHTS. An amazing soundtrack, and you’d think with a movie about the porn industry, “You Sexy Thing” would’ve been the choice. It’s a shame I’m sticking to one song per film. Mark Wahlberg shows up to a party at Burt Reynolds house for the first time, and we hear Jimmy Greenspoon’s opening keyboards to the song, with the perfect lyrics to describe the debauchery about to ensue (side note: it was written by Randy Newman, who has contributed immensely to great music on screen).
- “Just Once” by Quincy Jones/James Ingram, in THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. This is one of those underrated ‘80s teen flicks, and they nailed it with the songs. Two tracks by The Cars, U2, Oingo Boingo, The Waitresses, and the three best ballads of 1981 — Oh No, Open Arms, and Keep on Lovin’ You. But when the movie ends, with the guy not getting the girl (but her going back to the guy who dissed her after he got her pregnant) — “Just Once” plays on the radio as he drives away crying. “I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough…” it crushes you.
- “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison, in BLUE VELVET. That doesn’t mean the Bobby Vinton classic is chopped liver. Poor Vinton, his version of “Blue Moon” didn’t make my list earlier, either.
- “Alone Again Or…” by Love in BOTTLE ROCKET. It’s awesome that in Wes Anderson’s first movie, he uses two songs from Arthur Lee and Love (the other being “7 and 7 is”). It’s not the best movie, but Anderson showed signs of talent (and great music selection). Owen Wilson falling in love with a maid…with Love coming out of the speakers…
- “Keep A-Knockin’” by Little Richard (RIP), in CHRISTINE. When I read the Stephen King book, I thought it was clever how he started each chapter with car themed song lyrics. But the scene in which a woman gets locked in the Plymouth, that has some Fury over the new love in the teen’s life…having him knocking and pounding on the door, makes this the perfect track. Side Note: Little Richard’s best song “Long Tall Sally” was used nicely in Predator.
- “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, in CAT’S EYE. I hadn’t planned on two Stephen King’s in a row, it just happened that way. When James Woods watches as comedic legend Alan King tortures a cat to this song…it’s both horrific and hysterical all at once. And it was for a good cause — to get him to quit smoking.
- “Head Over Heels” by Tears For Fears, in DONNIE DARKO. Yes, “Mad World” is also wonderful. I just liked the music video images created when “Head Over Heels” plays, and these are teenagers in high school. The montage of it is perfect. This movie got me into an argument with Roger Ebert, who gave it a thumbs down. He laughed as he told me he got over 30,000 letters from people telling him he was wrong, the most mail he ever received on a review. He watched it again and changed his review.
- Everybody’s Gotta Live” by Arthur Lee, in JO JO RABBIT. The first thing I said to director Taika Waititi after a screening of this in L.A. was, “I’m so glad you used an Arthur Lee song. I love Love.” He smiled and said, “I’ve wanted to use that song in a movie for almost 10 years and I kept hoping nobody else would.” He told me about a few other versions of the song he found online and we had a great conversation about ‘60s music. Watching the war end on screen, while Lee is crooning, “Everybody’s gotta live/And everybody’s gonna die/Everybody’s gotta live/I think you know the reason why…”
- “In The City” by Joe Walsh, in THE WARRIORS. The movie is overrated, but it had its moments. Walsh is my favorite Eagle (sorry Lebowski). His songs on screen are great. One starts off 40-Year-Old Virgin (Life of Illusion), one is used in Fast Times (Waffle Stomp), and in the fight scene in Urban Cowboy, that classic guitar riff of “All Night Long.” Those would have all made my list but they were written for the films.
- “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer in, THE FULL MONTY. Old guys stripping. What’s there not to like? Loved when they were in line at the bank to cash unemployment checks, and the song comes on. You see their arms and legs subtly move, as they’re practicing their moves.
- “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies, in FIGHT CLUB.
- “I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes, in THE FAMILY FANG. The movie opens with a scene where a little kid robs a bank. It’s absolutely hysterical. And this song is slow, and when it picks up, it’s the exact moment the security guard sees the gun and pandemonium ensues. A perfect intro to this bizarre family. I read an interview with Christopher Walken recently where he was asked about some of his movies that people don’t know about. He said there’s nothing he can do about how they’re marketed, but he was bothered nobody saw The Family Fang. He said it was only in theatres for a week in New York and L.A. This movie made my Top 10 in 2015.
- “Down By The Water” by PJ Harvey, in THE BASKETBALL DIARIES. As much as I love The Doors, their song (Riders on the Storm) doesn’t work as well as Harvey’s scene. There’s also great use of the song “People Who Died” but that’s by the Jim Carroll Band, and the movie is about Jim Carroll, so that doesn’t count.
- “Fearless” by Pink Floyd, in EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! I was surprised that in Richard Linklater’s movie Dazed and Confused, they never played the Zeppelin song. At least this movie played the Van Halen rocker. It was an utterly boring film, despite all the praise it got from other critics. But it was a blast watching philosopher/stoner Wyatt Russell lighting up while Pink Floyd plays; and so much more interesting then if they went with one of the hits from Wall or Dark Side. Hey…Jeff Bridges did a movie called Fearless. Anybody ever play the Pink Floyd song at the start of that movie to see if they match up like The Wizard of Oz?
- “Think” by Aretha Franklin in, THE BLUES BROTHERS. I think this was an updated version she recorded with the Blues Brothers band. Her husband/cook in the movie was Matt “Guitar” Murphy and he and Franklin died within months of each other in 2018. I like to think they’re jammin’ together at that big blues joint in the sky. My friend Glenn was one of the cameramen for that scene. He’s going to kill me because this didn’t make the Top 50.
- “Mirror In The Bathroom” by The Beat, in GROSSE POINTE BLANK. This movie and Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion both came out the same time my high school reunion was happening. This movie does a better job with their songs. Minnie Driver is the hip DJ playing a few Clash songs, and I always dig hearing the Violent Femmes. You cannot fu** with that band! But the hitman fighting scene with The Beat, is hard to beat.
- “Try A Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding, in PRETTY IN PINK. I didn’t want to put lip-synching scenes on this list, as they’re always fun. But watching Jon Cryer trying to make Molly Ringwald laugh in a record store is inspired.
- “The Mikado” by Gilbert & Sullivan in FOUL PLAY. As a kid, that opening overture scared me. It’s an incredible piece of music, from the opening timpani drums to the bassline and horn section. The entire movie was a nice tribute to that classic operetta (which you can’t see live anymore, for PC reasons).
- “Good Thing” by The Fine Young Cannibals, in TIN MEN. This Barry Levinson film was criminally underseen. Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito fighting with each other. They’re salesmen in early ‘60s Baltimore, and the Cannibals give us some funk and soul that sounds like it’s from that era. Where did FYC go?
- “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, in ARGO and at the end of THE BIG SHORT. The only song to make it on this list twice. I’ll call this a tie.
- “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones, in THE BIG CHILL. Two “big” movies in a row. Tom Hanks should be next. Anyway, I was just entering high school when this movie came out. I loved it, but hated the fact that “old people” all went ga-ga over the soundtrack. They took a bunch of oldies and slapped them in a movie. Who wouldn’t like hearing The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye? I’ll admit, the use of Aretha’s “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” are perfect for the situations, but…having the Stones song play at a funeral to start things, as William Hurt smiles — it’s a perfect way to introduce us to the laughter and heartache that’s to follow. Or maybe it’s the fact that now I’m one of the “old people” and can appreciate old friends getting together at a funeral.
- “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure, in ADVENTURELAND. Such an underrated teen comedy/coming of age story. My favorite music moment was the pretentious Ryan Reynolds, who was sleeping with all the teenage girls and trying to impress them with his stories of jamming with Lou Reed, and not even knowing the title of the song “Satellite of Love.” But, The Cure song perfectly encapsulates what it would be like to hang out with your friends at an amusement park all summer.
- “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Joe Cocker in, 9 ½ WEEKS. At the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, I was having dinner with friends when I looked at the wall above me to see what piece of memorabilia they had. It was the handcuffs from this movie. Perfect to have them in a restaurant, as Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke used a lot of food in their sex scenes. It was 50 Shades decades earlier, and not a very good film. It’s the perfect use of this song, just as Tom Jones version in The Full Monty was. Side Note: This is another song Randy Newman wrote.
- “Can We Still Be Friends” by Todd Rundgren, in VANILLA SKY. Again, Cameron Crowe has perfect songs for the scenes. He went back to Peter Gabriel for “Solsbury Hill”. Even subtle things that nobody probably caught — like Tom Cruise walking by a VW van, that was a recreation of the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan record. I’m still bummed McCartney’s theme song lost the Oscar to Eminem! But it was nice for Rundgren to get some love, and it made for a very powerful murder scene. The use of Radiohead and the Beach Boys was also genius. This movie should have been a huge blockbuster. And Cameron Crowe is easily the best filmmaker when it comes to the perfect song for the scene (don’t send me letters saying Tarantino; his use of Jim Croce in Django, and a few other big missteps, disqualifies him from his early success at it).
- “What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke, in ANIMAL HOUSE. Cooke is one of my favorite singers, and something about this song starting with the lines “Don’t know much about history/don’t know much biology…” as we see the dopey John Belushi character pile food on his tray in the cafeteria. All the songs were used perfectly (and Otis Day and the Knights were a great house band, smokin’ on the Isley Brothers “Shout”). A drunken Belushi singing “Louie Louie.” Good times. I interviewed San Diegan Stephen Bishop, who did original songs for the film. He had a scene as a hippie, where Belushi smashes his guitar. I told him he should have kept it. He said, “I did, and…the entire cast signed it. It’s on the wall of my office.” If his office is ever broken into and those guitar pieces stolen, I have an alibi.
- “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen, in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. This is the movie that put these guys on the map. Director Edgar Wright is amazing when it comes to songs in films, and he makes this list many times.
- “It’s Different For Girls” by Joe Jackson in, 200 CIGARETTES. I rolled my eyes before this started, thinking it was going to be a bunch of young people trying so hard to be hip. Yet it was a good movie, with an awesome soundtrack. Roxy Music’s “More Than This” (but too many movies use that; best was Bill Murray doing a karaoke version in Lost in Translation). Loved the Nick Lowe and Bow Wow Wow, but…for them to go with this lesser known, terrific Joe Jackson song — makes it the winner.
- “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend, in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Not to be confused with The Who movie of the same name. This was my favorite film of 2010. And starting it off with kids riding bikes to this song (which like a lot of great songs in movies, doesn’t appear on the soundtrack album). I also thought it was cool that when we see a scene of Mark Ruffalo having sex with a cute, much younger African American employee of his, they’re playing Bowie’s “Panic in Detroit.”
- “Sound & Color” by Alabama Shakes, in WAVES. This band is one I’ve loved on CD, but was disappointed the two times I saw them live. Their songs are used perfectly on screen, and to end the movie, with a girl riding her bike (just a coincidence that bike riding played in the previous film)…she cathartically throws her arms in the air. It gave me goosebumps. And that’s what a great scene (and ending) should do.
- “Working Man” by Rush, in GOON. Some might argue the funnier use of Rush in a movie was in I Love You, Man. Paul Rudd is surprised Rashida Jones has never heard his favorite band. So he cues up “Limelight,” not realizing a song coming out of computer speakers doesn’t sound all that impressive. But in the hockey movie, where we first see the enforcer beat up all his teammates in a practice the way Neil Peart (RIP) beat the drums — it’s a great moment.
- “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, in BENNY & JOON. It was at a time when we weren’t yet tired of the quirkiness of Johnny Depp characters, and…this soundtrack; John Hiatt and Pinetop Perkins! And some nice tunes from Temple of the Dog and Joe Cocker, but my favorite…those twins from Scotland. Their concert at the Casbah in 2003 was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
- “Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite, in SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER. It was an underrated movie, and an underrated band (with Mick Jones from The Clash). The soundtrack disappointed me by only having one of Mike Myers bizarre jazzy poetry readings. But hearing “Rush” (the song, not the band) in the montage where he’s courting Nancy Travis, who’s a butcher (and possibly an axe murderer)…created the perfect vibe.
- “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Metallica, in DADDY’S HOME. The filmmakers did this brilliant bit where, whenever the cool, tough dad (Mark Wahlberg) shows up, they play the opening riff of AC/DCs “Thunderstruck.” Will Ferrell plays the wimpy stepfather trying to deal with this guy. So the cameo at the end, when John Cena rolls up on a Harley, as the even tougher ex-husband of the woman Wahlberg married — his “theme song” is Metallica; because, if you’re gonna rock harder than AC/DC, you go Metallica.
- “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, in BABY DRIVER. This is the only entry on my list I don’t feel good about. That’s because Baby Driver was a mess of a movie. It’s just a series of music videos, and the narrative made little sense. But if there’s one thing Edgar Wright knows, it’s how to use songs for scenes. It was awesome to hear Queen’s “Brighton Rock” but the Jon Spencer song/scene is easily the best of the bunch. It was too damn cool not to include.
- “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks, in LOVE, SIMON. This is the rare one I’m including where a character did what I hate for these scenes — put the album on the turntable. Yet it started this lovely coming of age/coming out story, with arguably the best Kinks song ever. Now, I seriously doubt this kid is listening to the Kinks, but who cares? Fun Fact: I met Ray Davies four hours before his concert in San Diego and told him this was my favorite song and they should play it. He said it wasn’t on their set list, but that someone in the band suggested they give it a go a few months ago, so he said he’d think about it. They did the song that night, and a few days later in the L.A. Times, the reviewer was ticked that the song was played in San Diego, but not in Los Angeles. Ha! Thanks, Ray.
- “Love Man” by Otis Redding, in COUSINS. The worst use of Redding was “Dock on the Bay” in Top Gun. “Love Man” has been used in a handful of films, but watching an exuberant Lloyd Bridges, at 85-years-old, getting ready for a date with the help of his grandson, while this plays…is one of many romantic moments in this underrated Ted Danson/Isabella Rossellini flick.
- “Runaway” by Del Shannon, in CHILDREN OF THE CORN. I was in 9th grade when this came out and it freaked me out. There was something so interesting about the scene where two little kids are in a bedroom, listening to old 45s on a record player. It’s like the only music they have access to…are the records the adults left behind before they were killed by the demon children running this village. But at least they left some good tunes.
- “Gone Daddy Gone” by the Violent Femmes, in I, TONYA. The movie had a few choice song selections, but the Femmes are one of my favorite punk bands and this is one of my favorites of theirs (Gnarls Barkley does a gnarly cover).
- “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, in KINGSMAN: SECRET SERVICE. I didn’t think I’d be yelling “Play Free Bird” while writing this list, but…watching Colin Firth get hypnotized and single-handedly kill every person inside a church while this plays…well, you don’t usually laugh that much during a grizzly scene in a movie unless it’s Tarantino. On the subject of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I liked hearing “Tuesday’s Gone” in Dazed and Confused but wasn’t a fan of that movie, so it doesn’t make this list.
- “Howlin’ For You” by The Black Keys, in LIMITLESS. I’ve seen them live numerous times, and it was a pleasant surprise to see it in the film. The guitar riff fit the images of a stoned slacker who writes…and becomes a genius after taking a certain pill. Great cast, great movie. I’m not sure why critics were mixed on it.
- “When I’m 64” by The Beatles, in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. The trailer merely showed this opening scene, which had a cute baby being tossed in the air, while this Sgt. Pepper tune played. Oftentimes, you hear a song in the trailers that isn’t even in the movie. Oddly, T.S. Garp is murdered well before he reaches 64. (Sorry. I probably should have put a SPOILER ALERT in there).
- “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, in ROBOCOP (2014). A few weeks before this remake came out, I played two songs for my wife that she had never heard before. One was John Mayall’s “Room to Move” which had crazy harmonica (Jerry Seinfeld wisely used it in his documentary Comedian). The other was “Hocus Pocus” which had crazy yodelling from this wacky Dutch band. Then this movie used it in a scene where a field test is done, showing the robot destroy everything in its path. It was the best thing in the movie.
- “The Pusher” by Steppenwolf in, EASY RIDER. Most people doing a list like this, would put the big hit on here — “Born To Be Wild.” You can’t have a motorcycle scene in a movie now without it. I wouldn’t fault others for putting The Band’s “The Weight,” an incredible tune. To me, the movie sucked (it had a few moments), but it had a great soundtrack and The Pusher is one of the great drug songs. Fun Fact: Tarantino had Uma Thurman say a snippet of it while snorting coke in the bathroom in Pulp Fiction; I’m sure nobody even caught it. Fun Fact 2: the song was written by Hoyt Axton.
- “Ape Man” by The Kinks, in CLUB PARADISE. I was on a first date, excited to see the new Robin Williams movie, directed by Harold Ramis, who brought his SCTV cast for small roles. What could go wrong? Well, everything. It was awful. I remember leaving the theatre in UTC saying to her, “At least they played a Kinks song.” For my money, Ray Davies was just as good a songwriter as Dylan.
- “Hungry For Your Love” by Van Morrison, in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN. This is one of those rare movies I loved, despite the ending. A schlocky and awful way to end things, despite Joe Cocker singing. The rockers worked well in this — ZZ Top during a bar room brawl, and Pat Benatar when we first meet the women getting gussied up as they drive their VW to the base. But it’s the romantic songs that I loved (and hey, this was a romance). It’s just odd how low the volume was when they played. You can barely hear the Dire Straits “Tunnel of Love” in a scene where Richard Gere goes up to Debra Winger in a bar after they broke up. And it’s hard to hear Van the Man as David Keith gets lucky for the first time in the backseat of a car by the beach (nothing more romantic than that, huh?)
- “Who Do You Love” by Bo Diddley, in LA BAMBA. I’m not a fan of Richie Valens (“Donna” might be the worst ballad ever written), but this was a good biopic. It was fun to hear Brian Setzer sing “Summertime Blues” and Los Lobos doing Valens’ best song — “Ooh! My Head.” But my two favorite songs that worked incredibly with the scenes — Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” (which came out the year Valens died, making that scene even sadder) and the opening of the film — that Bo Diddley beat, while we watch the black sheep of the Valenzuela family ride up in a motorcycle (he’s played brilliantly by Esai Morales).
- “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” by Robert Palmer, in THE WAY, WAY BACK. I never would have imagined Robert Palmer making a list like this. But the party scene where Sam Rockwell has this playing in the background, just cracked me up. And you can barely hear it. When I met the screenwriter, actor, directors who created this funny and heartwarming movie (Jim Rash and Nat Faxon), it was right before we were going on the air on Fox 5. They had won an Oscar for writing The Descendants and I figured they must have had this brilliant reason for choosing the obscure Palmer track. They looked at each other sheepishly, and Jim sort of put his head down as he said to me, “Well…uh…I think we tried to get a few other songs before we landed on that, but we couldn’t afford them.” Ah. So much for thinking the perfect songs were always painstakingly thought about. Side note: their movie Downhill (Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) this year was actually good, despite what other critics said.
- “California Sun” by The Rivieras, in THE DOORS. The Doors are my favorite band, but this movie (aside from Val Kilmer’s performance) is awful. Yet this song, which came out in the mid-60s, was perfect for Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek meeting on Venice beach. The only other non-Doors song I remember in the movie was Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” which is the only non-Doors song on the soundtrack.
- “All The Young Dudes” by World Party, in CLUELESS. One of the best teen comedies ever made; and when Cher (the character, not the singer) talks about how teen guys have greasy hair and backwards baseball caps, and “How does that make us swoon?” — it’s the perfect song to play. The only thing that would have made that scene better is if it were the original version by Mott the Hoople.
- “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy in, FORREST GUMP. This movie played a lot of songs I loved, but I hated how they were used in the film. A variety of Doors songs while he learns to play ping pong? Nilsson done for a scene like Midnight Cowboy, and CCR for the Vietnam scene. Oy! This movie had the worst, most cliche needle drops in movie history, but it gets credit for Eddy’s twangy guitar when Forrest runs for the first time.
- “Always See Your Face” by Love, in LADY BIRD. This was my favorite movie of 2017, and Love is one of those underrated ‘60s bands I love. When she goes to her first college party and this song by Love is played, she’s feeling homesick (and soon, real sick), as Arthur Lee sings: “Won’t somebody please/help me with my miseries/Can’t somebody see/What this world has done to me.” Now, I’m not sure college kids would be listening to Love. I suspect quirky filmmaker Greta Gerwig just liked the song after its use in High Fidelity. And who could blame her?
- “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by The Beatles, in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. It was so refreshing that they didn’t go with Pink Floyd’s “Money” or the O’Jays. The Beatles are also strict about who can use their songs in films. Fun Fact: Mick Jagger was in the studio when the song was recorded, and he sings backing vocals.
- “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, in SHE’S ALL THAT. It wasn’t all that as a film, but I adore the ballad, so I included it.
- “Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills & Nash, in 1969. Bruce Dern was perfectly cast as a disapproving father of hippies. Keifer Sutherland and Robert Downey, Jr. played great hippies (although Downey may have used pot as a gateway drug in real life). They did a great scene with “Tuesday Afternoon” but the one with “Wooden Ships” perfectly conveyed the era and story. Fun Fact: The song was written by David Crosby (on his boat) and Paul Kanter (of Jefferson Airplane). So it’s one of the rare songs in music that was recorded by both of their respective groups.
- “I Melt With You” by Modern English, in VALLEY GIRL. Quirky Nicolas Cage in his first big film role. This song was helped by MTV airplay and the montage scene in this movie, putting this British band on the map.
- “London Calling” by The Clash, in ATOMIC BLONDE. I didn’t care much for this movie, but it’s my favorite Clash song.
- “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles, in WITHNAIL AND I. Before Richard E. Grant got his Oscar nomination a few years ago as an alcoholic gay hustler, he was an unemployed drinker in this. Having George Harrison produce the movie, probably made it easier to get this tune in the film.
- Teenage Dream by T. Rex, in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. Edgar Wright working his music/movie magic again. I can’t believe this movie flopped. It was a blast. It was the bomb.
- “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, in IMMEDIATE FAMILY. A story where a couple (Glenn Close, James Woods) want to adopt a baby that a young, rebellious couple is going to have. While it was great to hear J.J. Cale and Little Feat, it was clever to hear “Motherless Children” by Clapton. And when the two women bond, and dance while listening to this Morrison classic…it’s a heartwarming moment.
- “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys, in THE DEPARTED. This won an Oscar for “best picture” and it’s one of the most disappointing Scorsese films (that’s another story for another day); but when Leonardo DiCaprio goes to prison as a ruse to infiltrate the Irish mob, playing this song while he works out is perfect. It’s getting overused now, though (as is Scorsese continuing to do mob pictures).
- “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue, in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. I know, it’s a dumb title for a movie, but it’s a brilliant comedy. Not only that, they use songs perfectly. An example would be when they go back in time, to the ‘80s, and Craig Robinson’s old band is performing. He tells the crowd “Here’s a song from the future” and they go into the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get it Started.” And the movie ends after we find out Lou, among the many things he changes in the past when going back in time, has become the singer of Motley Crue (now named Motley Lou). The closing credits come up with him on stage with the band, with a re-done version of their video for “Home Sweet Home” with him instead of singer Vince Neil. That’s how you do it, folks.
“Street Life” by The Crusaders, in SHARKY’S MACHINE. In the early ‘80s, Burt Reynolds was the coolest dude on the screen. Hearing this jazz-funk song, which starts with an aerial shot of Atlanta, as the slow saxophone plays… and when it picks up, the camera goes down to show Sharky walking through the streets carrying a duffel bag. There’s no doubt this opening inspired the opening of Jackie Brown (and I believe some of the same music was used in both films). Perhaps if I watch it now, it won’t hold up. But I was a kid when I saw it, the noir vibe added a nice layer to the usual cop/action flicks we got so much of in the ‘80s.
“Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack, in JACKIE BROWN. Tarantino took the song from the movie, and in his tribute to blaxploitation films, also had the font of his title written the same as “Foxy Brown” — starring a still beautiful Pam Grier (who was in her late 40s). Now, it’s hard not to also love the scene with the Delfonics (“they’re pretty good”); and I really didn’t want to pick a lot of film openings. I also hesitated picking this one, because he so obviously stole from the opening credits of The Graduate and Sharky’s Machine. Tarantino really needs to stop “borrowing” from all the films he loves.
“Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant, in HOT FUZZ. After the disaster that was Baby Driver, I think Edgar Wright will get it right again in the near future.
“Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes, in JUST MERCY. Michael B. Jordan drives into Alabama, with the Alabama Shakes rockin’ on the stereo — it was a great touch. Not just because of the band name, but the lyrics: Attacking/Defending/Until there’s nothing left worth winning.
“Crystal Ship” by The Doors, in TRUE BELIEVER. James Woods was the long-haired hippie lawyer, mentoring Robert Downey, Jr. before he was Iron Man. Great choice of songs with Lou Reed’s “Busload of Faith” and “Freedom Rider” by Traffic. When The Doors song starts midway through, as a lawyer is up late wondering what to do, and we hear Morrison croon “Oh tell me where your freedom lies/the streets are fields that never die…” it just felt right. It’s a shame the band X (who does a great cover of “Soul Kitchen”) did a disappointing cover of this song in the X-Files movie.
“Band on the Run” by The Wings, in OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE. This Farrelly brothers’ penned film flopped, but it was actually pretty good. Nice role for George Wendt as one of Alec Baldwin’s poker buddies. They played the great Lee Micheals track “Do Ya Know What I Mean” too. With the McCartney track, there’s an edit with an aerial shot of the trees and greenery, that goes into “Band on the Run” (but it starts when the guitar and song kicks in and the words “Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash…”), making the song and scene feel like something fresh.
“Death and the Maiden” by Franz Schubert, in DEATH AND THE MAIDEN. A Roman Polanski movie that he probably shouldn’t have done, seeing as how the subject was a woman (Sigourney Weaver) getting revenge on the man (Ben Kingsley) who raped her when she was a political prisoner. Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” (string quartet in D minor) was played as she was blindfolded and raped, and it creates one of the most powerful endings I’ve seen on screen. So great that it was almost the same exact scene the filmmakers of The Portrait of a Lady on Fire used in their movie last year.
“American Girl” — the Tom Petty song, deserves an honorable mention. It was used on the first day of school in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and was the first thing we hear in Silence of theLambs, as a girl is singing along in the car, before meeting Buffalo Bill. It’s also been in ChasingLiberty, FM, and Meryl Streep ruined it with a cover in the awful Ricki and the Flash. Fun (or sad) Fact: It’s the last song Petty ever played live on stage.
UPDATE: I knew there’d be something that popped into my head after I published the story. One of the songs that would have made my Top 20 of this list, is the Hal Ashby movie “Coming Home” (Jon Voight, Jane Fonda). At the end, when Vietnam Vet (Bruce Dern) takes off all his clothes and runs into the ocean, while folk singer Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was” plays. Incredibly powerful.