10 Favorite Uses of Song in Film

One of my biggest pet peeves in film is when a director uses a song from popular music as a lyric-by-lyric narrative for whatever action is taking place on the screen. This was done constantly in Forrest Gump. When Jenny picks up her things and walks out on one of her various hustler boyfriends we hear Jim Morrison’s vocals from the Doors classic “Love Her Madly”: Don’t ya love her as she’s walking out the door. A worse offense came from Moulin Rouge which used Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to describe aristocratic fops using the Moulin Rouge show as spectacle instead of art: Here we are now, entertain us. Incidentally, I think Cobain was ultimately making a statement regarding youth-driven music being misinterpreted for commercial purposes by aristocratic psuedo-intellectuals, which makes the director’s use of that song either ironic of prophecy-fulfilling.

My other pet peeve is when a director simply replaces his or her own lack of talent in building an emotional climax by co-opting the emotional impact of an already well-known song and simply playing it in the background while awful actors kiss and cry and fight and fuck. Music should help establish the tone, not prop it up on a crutch. I call that the “McG Special”.

But there are instances in which I feel that a filmmaker taps into some kind of extrasensory connection with a track, and despite there being no direct connection between the music and what’s happening on the screen it simply connects. These are typically seen from directors who know and understand music. Having spent endless hours working on writeups for rock albums, I’ve come to believe that with music, people are either tapped into the ether or they aren’t.

So without further ado, here are my 10 favorite uses of music in film. These could easily have been 50, but those which aren’t on the list are the reason we have a comments section. In no particular order:

Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” from Zodiac

Geto Boys “Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta” from Office Space

Creation’s “Making Time” from Rushmore

Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” from Trainspotting

Due to the numerous garbage remix/remash videos on YouTube I’m just posting the song, not some retard’s re-imagining of the scene inter-cut with footage from Harry Potter. Fuck I hate people on YouTube.

Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” from Magnolia

Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” from Stranger Than Fiction

The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In” from The Big Lebowski

Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” from Almost Famous

King Crimson’s “In The Court of the Crimson King” from Children of Men

Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” from Boogie Nights

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4 thoughts on “10 Favorite Uses of Song in Film

  1. Wow, your ten are pretty close to my ten. The only one I’d add is Donovan’s “Atlantis” from Goodfellas as Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry kill the insulting goombah at the bar. Though I guess that’s slightly redundant since Scorcese probably invented the ‘putting pop songs to dramatic use’ ploy.

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