Music is an important part of film- so much so that often a single perfect song choice on the soundtrack becomes an extraordinary pop culture moment in itself. This is even more impressive given the genres of the movies in these lists do not include musicals. This list encompasses what I believe captures that element of a perfect song placement in a film. It is difficult to do, but when it is done correctly it makes a moment for the ages.
10. Beetlejuice – Day-O (Banana Boat song)
A group of yuppies are enjoying their dinner in their haunted house. Out of nowhere and apropos of nothing, the hostess begins singing Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-O.” She seems possessed as do the rest of the guests judging by their reactions, dancing and lip-syncing to the song. The reaction the ghost couple wanted of scaring the yuppie Deetz family out of their old home does not quite work out as planned which forces them to call upon the bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice.
9. Reservoir Dogs – Stuck In The Middle With You
After a diamond heist gets violent, Mr. Blonde captures a young police officer. As he turns on the radio “Stuck In The Middle With You” comes on and we witness Mr. Blonde sadistically torture the officer while smiling, dancing and making wise cracks. It is a tense moment made memorable in the contrast to the upbeat song.
8. Risky Business – Old Time Rock And Roll
What is a young teenager to do when his parents are out of town? Open up a brothel in his home of course. However, Joel Goodson starts his fun on a much lighter note. He gets drunk and dances around in his underwear to the Bob Seger classic “Old Time Rock And Roll.” It is a memorable scene that predicts the behavior that will cause the events that unfold in the film.
7. The Graduate –The Sounds Of Silence
Benjamin Braddock has just swooped into Elaine’s wedding and stolen the bride. It is an impulsive, and somewhat romantic moment. As the two board a bus they stare off into space and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence” play in the background. It leaves the audience with an unsure feeling about the young lovers. Do they regret their impulsive decisions? We don’t know. The ambiguity is felt in the haunting lyrics.
6. Easy Rider – Born To Be Wild
As Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruise down the road in their choppers at the beginning of this film. Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” plays. The road movie takes them on many adventures through the counter-culture of the American 1960s. The song choices is perfect since it underlines how these men live to be free and are like the cowboys of their generation. Riding the road and meeting people that make up America for good or ill.
5. Apocalypse Now – The End
Apocalypse Now is a dark and nihilistic film about the Vietnam War. Captain Willard played by Martin Sheen, flashbacks to helicopters dropping napalm in the jungle. All juxtaposed with him sweating in a crappy hotel room thinking about his new mission to kill Colonel Kurtz who has gone insane. Listening to this song and seeing the images that director Francis Coppola has chosen puts the audience in a dark and depressing mood.
4. Rocky III – Eye Of The Tiger
In the third Rocky film Rocky has lost a title match against Clubber Lang. His trainer Mickey has passed away and former opponent Apollo Creed has agreed to train him. According to Apollo, Rocky has lost his edge that he had when they first fought. It was the eye of the tiger. The song worked as a perfect fight song for Rocky Balboa. It pumps you up and, for lack of better terms, brings out the tiger in you.
3. Almost Famous – Tiny Dancer
While following the fictitious band Stillwater for Rolling Stone magazine, young William Miller feels over-his-head. While the band’s bus is driving away from a house party. The mood is somewhat melancholy until Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on. Soon everyone in the bus is singing along with the lyrics and spirits are lifted.
2. Wayne’s World – Bohemian Rhapsody
As Wayne’s World begins we are introduced to Wayne, Garth, and their friends. As they drive down the road Wayne snaps in a tape of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Suddenly the car erupts into operatic song as they sing along with the tape. It is a funny and memorable moment that wins the crowd from the start and lead to so many kids in my class learning the lyrics so that they could do the same.
1. Saturday Night Fever – Stayin’ Alive
A dark story of New York’s disco scene in the 1970s there are few more iconic moments in film than Tony Manero strutting down the street with a paint can while the Bee Gee’s sing “Stayin’ Alive.” The movie itself is nihilistic and disillusioning but that moment has been so ingrained in pop culture that it has been parodied countless times.
American Psycho – Hip To Be Square
Patrick Bateman plans on killing Paul Allen because he has a better business card and can get into exclusive restaurants. Patrick has prepped his living room with newspaper and donned a raincoat. In order to cover the noise of the murder he plays the Huey Lewis and the News song “Hip To Be Square.” It is a darkly funny moment that is becomes memorable in the sheer gory nature of the horrific scene.
An American Werewolf In London – Blue Moon
A werewolf has recently bitten David Kessler. On the night of a full moon he is bored and roaming around his love interests apartment. As night comes “Blue Moon” begins to play and David falls to the ground and painfully transforms into a werewolf. The contrast in the calm music and the horrific turn of events transpiring make the scene somewhat humorous and completely unforgettable.
The Big Lebowski – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
During a dream sequence The Dude envisions himself in a porno titled Gutterballs while the Kenny Rogers song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” plays in the background. The dream features many of the characters The Dude has come across in his neo-noir adventure however he doesn’t really gain any new knowledge from the dream. It is a funny moment that will go through your mind whenever you hear the song.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb – We’ll Meet Again
As the atomic bombs drop and the mushroom clouds flourish the Vera Miles song “We’ll Meet Again” plays in the background. It is a moment of juxtaposing sweet farewells and fiery death. Director Stanley Kubrick truly had a dark sense of humor that translated well to film.
Many movies have notable songs that stick in the public consciousness. These songs have an almost mnemonic ability to remind us of the movies. Perhaps that is the power of the film to cement that into our memory. Even so it has lead to greatly entertaining hours of joy, fear, sadness, and anger as we can to connect the songs with these stories. Hopefully, there will be many more great moments to come in future films.