The Best of the Best: When Music Met Movies…

Have a bonus post!

I’m not exactly a fan of the silent era, but honestly, without music, what’s the point of the sound era?

I don’t just mean movie musicals.  Though there are some great ones, you won’t find them here.  Sorry!  To a post about “music in movies,” they’re solicitors.  Because music can define a movie with a simple scene.

I haven’t included YouTube links, and please don’t search these on YouTube.  If a song or other musical opus is listed below, it means that the effect of its placement can only be felt through watching the movie, start to finish.  Movies are not skits, y’all, so to embed from YouTube would be like saying, “This was a really good musical guest performance this weekend on SNL.”

But this post isn’t about me, and that’s what it’s beginning to seem like.  Without further ado…the movies, the music, and in no particular order, the list that results from the best combinations (and consider those you have yet to see an entry on your “to-watch” list!):

Saturday Night Fever
The Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive”

For those who wonder, no, Saturday Night Fever is not a musical.  You’d think it was because it’s about dancing and it has one of the most unforgettable soundtracks.  While the rest of the movie isn’t at all what it’s made out to be (contrary to Travolta in Grease, which has a soundtrack filled with falsettos and whatnot), it’s worth watching for the first scene.  And the credits, I think.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “How Deep Is Your Love”…Bee Gees.

A Clockwork Orange
Malcolm McDowell (a cappella cover of Gene Kelly) – “Singin’ in the Rain”

Yeah, I did include a completely different scene.  McDowell’s “Singin’ in the Rain” rendition was purely ad lib, a moment where he was fully immersed in the writing, which itself sides us with the disturbing fun he has for the first half.  If it says anything, even a narcissist like Kubrick loved it; he’s allowed very minimal ad lib in his films: the only other times being “Heere’s Johnny” (The Shining) and a rant in Full Metal Jacket.  So the scene is, in context, amusing satire, but it’s deeply disturbing imagery, only elevated by the performance given.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Symphony No. 9” by Ludwig van.  (I’ll leave it at that because, y’know, that’s how Alexander DeLarge would say it!)

Pulp Fiction
Chuck Berry – “You Never Can Tell”

Who knew I would include Pulp Fiction?  Who was surprised I went with this scene?  Well, I am greatly honored that as far as what you’ve read, I have written the first list of best music scenes.  Who has seen this scene?  If you’re hand’s down, I suggest making a two-and-a-half-hour (though I assure you, the movie flies) change to that.  It was the feel-good scene of ’94, and it remains so today.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill…and several surf tracks, including but not limited to “Comanche”, “Misirlou”, and “Bullwinkle Part II”.

Dazed and Confused
Aerosmith – “Sweet Emotion”

I could include the entire soundtrack as a mention here; it’s what brings you to the ’70s more than anything.  But as neither volume of the soundtrack (that’s right, two volumes!) includes Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”, which may be the best way to start a movie on the ’70s, I’ll just let “Sweet Emotion” be.  Also of note: “Sweet Emotion”, when listened to alone, happens to be one of my least favorite Aerosmith songs.  Dazed and Confused made me think twice.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I don’t want to waste your time listing, but I’ll start with “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper.

Richard Wagner – “Flight of the Valkyries”

I may have watched Apocalypse Now, which we all know is the most famous use of the song, by now, but as I write this post, I’m baffled by how Zack Snyder put Dr. Manhattan as a powerful figure, only heightened by this opus’s climactic use.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “The Times, They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan; “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel [see also – The Graduate].

2001: A Space Odyssey
Richard Strauss – “Also sprach Zarathustra”

You’ll find this one at the top of so many lists.  If I told you any movie had no dialogue until at least twenty minutes had passed, you’d assume I refer to a boring movie.  Not 2001: A Space Odyssey, as most of it is “Also sprach Zarathustra”, or “Thus spake Zarathustra”, Richard Strauss’s immense, gargantuan tone poem, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen” (“A Book for All and None”).  Ditto the end of the film, which, upon initial release, was missed by 251(!) who walked out because the movie was slow (and, y’know, interesting).  I’d also like to believe that Stanley Kubrick chose the song carefully.  Zarathustra is an alternate name for Zoroaster…look it up and you shall feel the symbolism I do ringing in your innards.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss II.

Eyes Wide Shut
György Ligeti – “Musica ricercata”

It’s basically Jaws.  Here’s the piano progression: E, F.  There, now make some sense of it.  I’ll ask you to listen to this one actually, just for the sound.  It’s simple.  It’s almost boring.  Okay, it is boring.  But it made Eyes Wide Shut one of few experiences that I feared would keep me of my sleep.  Kubrick again, by the way.


Kill Bill Vol. 1
Nancy Sinatra (cover of Cher) – “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”

Now here’s the most interesting you’ll find on the list.  Technically, this is only used in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and the chorus is put right upfront, because Bill has just shot “the Bride.”  But the same chord progression is used throughout Vol. 1 AND 2.  And by the end, the entire song has been scripted.  Pretty cool, right?

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Woohoo” by the’s (c’mon, it’s annoying fun!)

The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”

Martin Scorsese has used this trick over and over.  When he feels a scene is filler, but has a certain importance, he puts in the Rolling Stones’s “Gimme Shelter”.  You can call this effect “Exile on Mean St.”  (Get it?  Like Exile on Main St., except for the director of Mean Streets?  Ah, whatever.)  It’s the difference of a stick of dynamite, and he’s used it best in 1990’s Goodfellas (in my humble opinion), followed by 1995’s Casino and 2006’s The Departed.  Let’s not forget that The Departed also had the Stones’ “Let It Loose”, from the album Exile on Main St. itself.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Layla” by Eric Clapton (the piano exit); “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” by the Shangri-Las.


Blue Velvet
Roy Orbison – “In Dreams”

There’s no way to describe this scene other than, “Lynchian,” which itself is as much the film critic’s undefinable term as “mise-en-scène.”  Maybe the only thing that makes the experience even more memorable (for better or for worse) is Dennis Hopper as that sick freak Frank Booth.


The Silence of the Lambs
Q Lazzarus – “Goodbye Horses”

Again, I’m trying to keep the images G-rated, or at least not ever-so-obviously R-rated.  The whole time this scene goes on, Ted Levine brings out everything sick and twisted you can[‘t] imagine in his Buffalo Bill.  Let’s just say that even after I evaluate how it’s used in Clerks., I won’t be able to get this scene out of my mind.  (It goes without saying that I do applaud it, and Levine’s all-around performance…makes you wonder how messed up the man himself is.)



Groundhog Day
Sonny & Cher – “I Got You Babe”

You kind of have to watch this movie in the right move.  Either the scenes where Bill Murray wakes up only to “I Got You Babe” are funny as hell, or annoying as hell.  Still, a good 20% of why this deserves to be watched every February 2nd.  (And, people, from a Pennsylvanian: it’s not a holiday!)

P.S.: I hope the .gif showed up above, as opposed to an image.  You can’t just take a still of Bill Murray banging the (bleep) outta that alarm clock.


The Producers (1968)
Mel Brooks & Co. – “Springtime for Hitler”

Yes, the 2005 version was a musical.  Yes, Springtime for Hitler was a musical inside of a movie.  No, the 1968 version was not a musical.  Just a movie about musicals and producing them.  It made Mel Brooks into an equally beloved and behated writer as soon as it hit theaters, and it remains true to this day.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Nada – if we were talking about the musical version, there’d be too many to count.

The Elephant Man
Samuel Barber – “Adagio for Strings”

It’s not the usual Lynchian choice.  If you’ve seen the movie, then I’ll break my own rule and implore you to look up the scene.  You’ll tear up if you have a heart, I guarantee, from just the one scene.  It’s beautiful, and the five minutes are spread so beautifully.  But the movie itself, it’s just as lovable.


The Big Lebowski
Kenny Rogers – “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)”

Yeah, that’s the whole title of the song.  A fact that’s more believable once you’ve witnessed that which is Gutterballs, the whacky acid trip that “The Dude” has in The Big Lebowski.  I won’t spoil any more.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (far off, but still far out, man): the Mariachi “Hotel California”.  Flea, can the other Chili Peppers handle that?  Maybe not when he starts licking a bowling ball.

The Exorcist
Mike Oldfield – “Tubular Bells”

FUN FACT: Mike Oldfield was 19 when he released his “Tubular Bells”.  That was in 1973, most likely when The Exorcist was in post-production.  So while it IS a song on its own, it wasn’t made for The Exorcist; they just got their hands on the “sound sequence” in a timely manner and used it to make the movie even more fun/frightful.  Neat, right?


Interview with the Vampire
Guns n’ Roses (cover of the Rolling Stones) – “Sympathy for the Devil”

For those who don’t know already, I HATED this movie.  The one good, if not-at-all-redeeming, thing about it which I remember is the music.  The score, great, but can’t put that here.  “Sympathy for the Devil”, played at the very end, deserves a nod–even if, like the rest of the experience, it’s beset by corny dialogue.


Reservoir Dogs
George Baker Selection – “Little Green Bag”

This was the independent and, moreover, seemingly low-budget for Quentin Tarantino; yet it remains his flashiest use of music–and one of his most iconic openings.  (Even Beyoncé used it a few years back, in her video featuring Lady Gaga, right?  Oh yeah, and there was a Kill Bill homage in Lady Gaga’s video featuring Beyoncé, remember that?  I digress.)  It’s even more fun to listen to without the visuals, after having seen the movie.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel; “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede.

The Breakfast Club
Simple Minds – “Don’t You (Forget about Me)”

You knew I’d get to this at some point or another.  Made for the movie, but it made history.

The Turtles – “Happy Together”

Oh how I do wish I could find the finale that features this song ever so beautifully…not an image has shown up for me (how…?).  Anyway.  Side note that about six seconds of this song were also used in The Simpsons Movie.  Remember, when Homer first imagines himself dancing with the pig?  Classic, though…just watch Adaptation. and tell me you aren’t enamored of the last scene.


…and, finally:

The Graduate
Simon & Garfunkel – “Mrs. Robinson”

I’d considered not including this, since the version recorded for the movie doesn’t sound that good, but it’s such an important piece in The Graduate.  And when Dustin Hoffman starts whistling it, he brings it to a peak.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “The Sounds of Silence” by S&G [see also – Watchmen].

Happy Labor Day!

Enjoy my post? Please share it using one of the buttons below!