Moving Pictures: Music in Movies

Sometimes it just really works.  The perfect song for the perfect scene of a movie.  Not songs written FOR a movie mind you, but a song that the filmmakers searched out and found.

It can make an otherwise average scene in to one that transcends.

Here is a list of some of the best use of pop/ rock songs in movies.

“Sweet Emotion,” Aerosmith – ‘Dazed and Confused’

What better way to open a story about teenagers in the ‘70s than with the greatest bass line of all time? As the harmonies start, we are treated with a  shot of a muscle car as it cruises a high school parking lot. The opening montage is perfect because it introduces many of the main characters at once – the potheads behind the school smoking, the senior girls readying their hazing supplies, the geeks playing cards in study hall, and a football player in shop class, drilling holes in a wooden paddle for incoming freshmen.  The nostalgic two-minute intro is able to set the story beautifully without a single character saying a word; wisely, he gave that job to Steven Tyler and the band.

“Louie, Louie,” The Kingsmen – ‘Animal House’

Legend has it that director John Landis added this performance to the script after hearing Belushi’s drunken and obscene version at an after-rehearsal party. Is it true? Who cares? It’s an inspired choice of music in a scene that’s easily believable as the capper to a long day and night of drinking, fraternity, and brotherhood for all.

“Layla,” Derek and the Dominoes – ‘GoodFellas’

The closing instrumental to Derek and the Dominoes’ “Layla” is apparently the perfect length to whack a handful of mobsters and tie up some loose ends. Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiiro) has just pulled off a major heist and, to keep details of the job under wraps, he kills just about everyone involved in the robbery, only we don’t see the murders; we just see bodies tumbling from dumpsters and hanging in meat lockers. We’re not entirely sure why it works, but Jim Gordon’s piano coda serves as the perfect backdrop for this brilliant scene, which culminates with the unexpected hit on Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).

“The End,” The Doors – ‘Apocalypse Now’

The entire movie, all three hours, leads up to the scene of Willard rising from the river, methodically making his way to Kurtz, and taking him out. Both Kurtz and the beast being sacrificially slaughtered seem not only to be aware of their fate but to embrace it as part of their destiny. The closing scene and song was a perfect introduction to reflection, duty and…, “the horror.”

“Cant you hear me knocking”  The Rolling Stones- ‘Blow’

This based on a true story directed by Ted Demme and starring Johnny Depp opens with a little jungle noise and gunfire in the background.  Then when the words “BLOW” come on the screen the wicked Keith Richards guitar riff from blow comes crashing in.  It fits, the movie was riveting, but it really could have sucked from then on out and it would be listed here.  Perfect call.

‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ Stealers Wheel- ‘Reservoir Dogs’

I always loved this song.  But after’ ‘Reservoir Dogs’, nobody can listen to the song the same way again, as a psychotic Mr. Blonde slices off the ear of a hostage cop.  Holding the ear, Mr. Blonde asks, “Can you hear me?”

‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ The Rolling Stones –‘The Big Chill’

A college friend’s suicide reunites a group of baby boomers in this coming-of-middle-age film and this spirit-lifting Stones classic sets the tone. Especially starting out on the church organ…

“In Your Eyes” Peter Gabriel-‘Say Anything’

You have to respect a man who’s willing to suffer for love — and given how long he held that boombox over his head John Cusack’s arms must have been killing him. Great scene with a great song.

“God Only Knows” The Beach Boys- ‘Love Actually’

If you haven’t seen this movie, rent it,buy it, download it, DVR it, whatever you have to do.  And if you are with somebody who does not tear up during the final airport scene while this song is playing check them for a long hidden zipper.  They are not human.

  “Bohemian Rhapsody” Queen, -‘Wayne’s World’

By itself, this operatic rocker has nothing to do with “party time,” but when the tape is popped into the deck of Garth’s car it gives rise to music’s most excellent cinematic moment. Let the triumphant head-banging begin!

Have any great uses of songs in movies you want to add?

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5 responses

  1. Rachel

    Any song on Joe Dirt is awesome: That Smell, Skynyrd; Ramblin Gamblin Man, Seger; Rocky Mountain Way, Joe Walsh; If you want my love, Cheap Ticket the list could go on and on!!!!! Life’s a garden, Dig It!

    February 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm

  2. sarah

    “Tiny Dancer” – on the bus in “Almost Famous” when the young Cameron Crowe looks at Penny Lane and says he needs to leave the rock n roll circus to get home, to which she replies, “you are home”….

    February 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm

  3. Ben

    Moving in Stereo by the Cars – Fast Times at Ridgemont High In the Phoebe Cates fantasy scene

    February 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm

  4. Okay, had to watch it with my then-11 year old daughter, 13 going on 30 had two good music cuts: Thriller by Michael Jackson on the dance floor, and “Vienna” by Billy Joel. One of the rare occasion s when the entire song was used, and it really fit well.

    February 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm

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