Think back to some of your favorite moments from movies. Did they leave an impression in your mind because of a song? By song, I don’t mean the score (although that’s certainly worthy of a post too). I’m talking about the way filmmakers include our favorite songs into movies to make a scene more meaningful and impactful. In some cases, movies and songs become synonymous with one another, and even if we hear the song outside of viewing the movie, we instantly think of the movie anyway.
To honor the beautiful marriage of film and music, I compiled a list of my favorite musical moments in movies
“Strawberry Letter 23,” Jackie Brown
I’ll start with Tarantino because he is a master at incorporating songs into his movies in really visceral, memorable ways. The scene from Reservoir Dogs where Mr. Blonde cuts off a police officer’s ear while listening to “Stuck in the Middle with You” is the first thing people bring up when talking about that film. And who doesn’t love the scene where Vince Vega and Mia Wallace do the twist to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” in Pulpfiction. However, my personal favorite is from Jackie Brown. Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson, convinces a potential snitch to get in his trunk to provide backup during a deal. He then puts on “Strawberry Letter 23” by The Brothers Johnson while carefully putting on his glove and removing his gun. He then pulls around the block, gets out and shoots the guy in the trunk.
The scene is so memorable because the song is such a bizarre choice to play while preparing to murder someone. The song literally talks about flowers and rainbows. You also see Ordell put the tape in like he’s soundtracking what he’s about to do.
“Big Rock Candy Mountain,” O Brother Where Art Thou and “What Condition my Condition was In,” The Big Lebowski
This one is a tie, which I know shouldn’t be allowed, but it is my blog after all. The Coen Brothers have made some of my favorite movies: True Grit, Fargo, and so on. O Brother Where Art Thou was the first one I saw, so it has a special place in my heart, especially the part where the three main characters escape the chain gang together soundtracked to the folk song “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” The song gives the opening sequence a charming, whimsical feeling that sets the tone for the entire film.
That being said, I equally love the “Gutterballs” scene from The Big Lebowski, also by the Coen brothers. After the Dude gets drugged, he has this nutsy hallucination where he is at a cosmic bowling alley with his (kind of) love interest Margot. They do this crazy dance routine to Kenny Roger’s “What Condition My Condition Was In.” You really should just watch it because trying to explain it would just ruin it.
“Life’s a Happy Song,” The Muppets
This opening number from the reboot of the Muppet franchise features everything I loved (and still love) about the Muppets. Upbeat, positive energy, and corny humor, all within an extremely catchy tune. Bret Mckenzie, ½ of Flight of the Conchords, handled the music for The Muppets, which really was a match made in heaven. Who else could have written a rap for the evil oil baron, Tex Richman? Even if “Rainbow Connection” is the more iconic music scene from Muppet movies, I like this one better.
“Wicked Little Town,” Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Stephen trask wrote the lyrics and music for this musical, which was later adapted into a film. The film features many catchy glam rock songs that fit the gender bending themes well. The movie is about Hedwig, a trans woman, who is an aspiring rock musician. The main conflict stems from Tommy Gnosis, an old love interest, stealing Hedwig’s songs and getting famous from them. Although it sounds pretty straightforward, it’s a pretty trippy movie that has some really moving moments.
“Wicked Little Town” is one of the more poignant songs from the film and is essentially Tommy’s apology to Hedwig in song form. Before the song, Hedwig has a nervous breakdown and sheds all her feminine clothing. becoming her old self. Nothing much happens in the scene. Tommy just sings to Hedwig, but it’s really powerful in the context of the movie because the two characters finally find their peace with one another.
“As Time Goes By,” Casablanca
Casablanca has a special place in my heart because of the memory associated with it. I remember watching it with my dad and and being floored by it. I had never really seen any other old movies (ones I liked at least), and I had the realization that older movies could be good.
One of the things I really like about Casablanca is its use of the song “As Time Goes By.” Even though Dooley Wilson, who plays Sam the piano player in the movie, doesn’t actually play the piano, his vocal performance of “As Time Goes By” is beautiful in a melancholic way. He only sings a few bars before Rick interrupts him, but that scene has become such an iconic moment in film. This is a good example of a song becoming completely synonymous with a film. Although the song was written and performed before the movie’s release, “As Time Goes By” will forever be associated with Casablanca
“Still,” Office Space
This movie is all about all the annoying parts of working in an office. The characters are particularly fed up with a fax machine/printer but eventually get their revenge with a baseball bat and “Still” by the Geto Boys playing in the background. The scene is really humorous and memorable because of the juxtaposition of gangster rap and schmucks with a crappy office job.
A Day at the Races
All of the Marx brothers played instruments but only Harpo and Chico played in the movies. I always love watching Chico tear up the piano. My favorite performance is in A Day at the Races but Go West is pretty cool too because he plays the piano with an apple at the end of the song. The songs work well in between the flow of one liners, gags, and slapstick.
“Rhapsody in Blue,” Manhattan
I always think about this Woody Allen movie when I hear George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” While Allen’s character, Isaac, is reading out loud different openings for his novel, the song plays in the background accompanied by shots of Manhattan. It’s such an awesome moment when after Isaac reads “New York was his town, and it always would be,” the music crescendos until we see fireworks lighting the sky amid New York skyscrapers.
“Sound of Silence,” The Graduate
Props to my mom for introducing me to this movie. I love the opening credits, which is basically just Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin, in an airport coming home from college. It’s set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” and while it’s not very exciting, it establishes the tone of the film really well. With the music and Hoffman’s acting, you get the sense that Benjamin is feeling scared and despondent.
What do you guys think? Did I miss any other movies that used songs in a really cool way? Let me know here or on facebook what you think.