Thursday, August 6, 2015

Top 15 Songs that Should Be Retired From Movies

Some songs are used so well in certain movies, that filmmakers should write those tracks off, as they will never be able to use it better. With this list, I’m not highlighting tracks that are obnoxiously overplayed in films and TV shows, but rather, songs that were used to perfection in one movie, and should thereby be banned from every other film. I also chose songs that, despite being used flawlessly once, they are still used often today.

Example: after “Tiny Dancer” appeared in Almost Famous, it’s almost as if the song was retired from movies. It’s popped up on a few TV shows, but I can’t recall hearing it in a movie since 2000 (yeah, except you, Ted 2). Same with “Then He Kissed Me.” Adventures in Babysitting and Goodfellas had their way with it, and for the most part, the track has been left alone.

I hope you enjoy the list, and do feel free to share the tracks you think should be retired from films.

“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Unless it’s being used ironically (as it is, brilliantly so, for Tom Cruise’s introduction in Magnolia), there’s no reason “Also Sprach Zarathustra” should continue being used in movies. 2001 all but owns this song. The two will forever be married, as they remain one of cinema and music’s finest unions.

“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf
Easy Rider (1969)
“Born to be Wild” is used constantly in movies, but it’s first, and best, appearance was during the opening credits of Easy Rider. Some movies, like Borat, use the song as a throwback to Easy Rider, which is really the only acceptable way to use it.

“Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
There’s a general theme to this post, and that is, the first movie to use a song typically uses it best. No exception here. “Stayin’ Alive” started and ends with Saturday Night Fever. Period.

“Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner
Apocalypse Now (1979)
I mean come on. No explanation needed.

“Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber
Elephant Man (1980) and Platoon (1986)
This is actually an even split, as Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is used expertly in two films, David Lynch’s quietly devastating The Elephant Man, and Oliver Stone’s autobiographical war film, Platoon. Up to you to decide which film uses it better (my vote is for The Elephant Man – that ending), but the point is no other film should assume they can get away with using this track.

“The Weight” by The Band
The Big Chill (1983)
“The Weight” will always be tied to that glorious static shot in The Big Chill. It’s the morning after a particularly adventurous night of drink and drugs, and the camera sits still, all the way in the back of the kitchen, as we watch each person wake up and begin their day. The scene ends with one of the best lines in film history, as Jeff Goldblum slumps over, staring into the hollow void of his coke hangover. I won’t ruin the line here for those who haven’t seen the film, but my God, what a gem.

“Oh Yeah” by Yello
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Even though Yello’s “Oh Yeah” is almost always used for humorous meta reasons, once you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there’s no denying what film owns this track.

“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
Do the Right Thing (1989)
It’s unfathomable to me why any other movie or TV show would choose to use this song. I can’t imagine having stones big enough to think I could use “Fight the Power” better than it is used in Do the Right Thing.

“Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones
Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006)
Between these three modern classics, it’s safe to assume that “Gimme Shelter” is forever linked to Martin Scorsese Pictures.

“Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
“Stuck in the Middle with You” pops up in TV shows more than it does in movies, and it’s smart for filmmakers to avoid it. Michael Madsen and his playfully psychopathic dance moves, after all, do own the track.

“Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992)
“I can’t let ya take the man’s wheels, son.”

“Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
Boogie Nights (1997)
Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” (the first track we hear on Rahad Jackson’s “Awesome Mix Tape #6”) doesn’t appear often in movies, but “Jessie’s Girl” is everywhere. Seems silly, because as far as I’m concerned, the only movie setting this song should be played in is Rahad’s bitchin’ pad.

“Where is My Mind” by The Pixies
Fight Club (1999)
I remember watching Welcome to Me recently, and during the 20 seconds it chose to use The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind,” my head went straight to Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter standing in silhouette, watching the buildings fall. I was completely taken out of Welcome to Me, just as I am every film (other than Fight Club) that uses this song.

“Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
“Clair de Lune” has appeared in a shitload of movies, but for my money, it has never been used better than during the silent dénouement of Ocean’s Eleven. Perfect, just perfect.

“Gymnopedie No. 1” by Erik Satie
Man on Wire (2008)
Like “Clair de Lune,” “Gymnopedie No. 1” has some serious mileage to it, having been featured in films for the past 45 years. But the moment Philippe Petit took his first step out onto that wire, “Gymnopedie No. 1” was forever linked to Man on Wire.


57 comments:

  1. Wonderful idea for a list, and great choices! I have two to add: Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Vangelis' score for Chariots of Fire. Never want to hear either of them in a movie again. As for songs that I think are used perfectly in some films and shouldn't be used again: any song from a Sofia Coppola film, Street Hassle (The Squid and the Whale), Modern Love (David Bowie), The Blower's Daughter (Closer), Ruby Tuesday & Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (The Royal Tenenbaums).

    I wish directors were more interesting in their song choices. There are literally thousands of good songs out there waiting to be listened to, so why not look for them? Let's take Pride as an example: the songs used there are so varied and good, and more importantly, are used effectively by the director. Maybe directors should try utilising only one artist's catalogue, like Ashby did for Harold and Maude, or Nichols for The Graduate?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoops, meant to write Modern Love (Frances Ha).

      Delete
    2. It definitely seems like now more than ever, music supervisors are expanding their choices less and less. I remember everyone flipping out about the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, and when I saw the movie, I was like, "Yeah, great tracks, but they've all been used better in better movies." SO many songs out there, stop using the same exact ones!

      Loved your choices by the way, and what you said about Ashby and Nichols.

      Delete
    3. Pedantry here - a couple weeks late! - but Mauvais Sang has the rights to "Modern Love" - Frances Ha was just paying homage. :)

      Delete
    4. Now I have to see Mauvais Sang asap.

      Delete
    5. Definitely check out Mauvais Sang. Frances Ha's homage has nothing on it.

      Delete
  2. I have to agree with all of these. Just because one movie or TV show used it doesn't entitle other movies and TV shows to do the same. (That said, "Stayin' Alive" was used hilariously for Sherlock. Always cracks me up when I see it.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that Sherlock moment too. Usually, the only time I think it's okay to use such a popular song (like "Stayin' Alive), is for meta humor reasons.

      Delete
    2. A lot of these can be forgiven for meta reasons; pretty much any use of "Flight of the Valkyries" is intended to evoke Apocalypse Now - a pretty common reference, too!

      Delete
    3. I agree for the most part. But it's not always used for meta reasons. And even the meta instances... it's just used So. Much. I mean come on, there are other tracks out there, you know?

      Delete
  3. Pretty much any of the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey should stay in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Same for anything from Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, exactly. It's like, "Sorry, Godzilla, you're not using Ligeti's 'Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra' better. You just aren't."

      Delete
    2. You know, Godzilla was exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote. I liked the movie (I'm a Godzilla fan, what can I say?), but that part really irked me. My two major complaints about the movie were using Ligeti and killing off Cranston.

      Delete
    3. Also, if your project isn't called The Graduate or Arrested Development, there's no reason to use "Sound of Silence".

      Delete
    4. Fully agree with both of these comments.

      Delete
  4. You are so right on here, Alex. Scorsese and "Gimme Shelter" are one of the reasons I love movies...period. And the use of the Debussy in Ocean's Eleven is absolutely perfect and should never be touched by any movie again. I recently watched Man on Wire for the first time, and that Satie piece, so familiar in so many ways, literally moved me to tears here. It is the exact moment I realized how truly masterful that doc is. Great list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kevin! So happy you like the choices. That moment in Man on Wire tears me up too. It's just so perfect.

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. Thanks Bill! And thanks so much for the tweet!

      Delete
  6. Oh, these are amazing choices. I know Scorsese loves the Stones but he needs to stay away from them for a bit and try to find other things sometimes.

    There's a bunch of songs that I think should not be heard from in movies again like any version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". I'm kind of over that song. I would also like to not hear New Order's "Blue Monday" as I'm just fucking tired of that song.

    And since the horrific experience that was Aloha, that film put me off from listening to songs that appeared in that film as they were badly used. I really need to find Cameron Crowe and just beat the shit out of him. I need to have access to his computer and all of his music files/collection and just fucking destroy it. He ruined music for me man...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks man. Jesus, I totally forgot about Aloha... I don't think I can do it. It just sounds so, so, so bad. I definitely agree that Cohen's "Hallelujah" is overused in film.

      Delete
  7. I agree with all but one of your choices, Alex. For me, Clair de Lune will always be the property of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata. The recital scene is such a evocative ending to a masterful, offbeat film.

    A few others: "Hip to be Square" will always be linked in my mind with American Psycho; ditto The Mamas & the Papas version of "Dedicated to the One I Love" and Morvern Callar; and "Be My Baby" with the opening credits of Mean Streets. You could probably fill an entire list with Scorsese films. Among his many other talents, he's fantastic at pairing and sometimes juxtaposing music and visuals.

    Tokyo Sonata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VM5LbbH4yNo
    American Psycho: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ruw9fsh3PNY
    Morvern Callar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Z0lNch5qkQ
    Mean Streets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0KMxLvsvLI

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SUCH perfect choices. I do love that moment in Tokyo Sonata, that's a very good call there. For anyone else to use "Hip to be Square" in a movie is just silly. And "Sussudio" for that matter.

      Delete
  8. Excellent choices! (Especially Stuck in the Middle With You) I associate that song with Reservoir Dogs every time.

    I'd actually love to see you do a list of overplayed songs too. lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I thought about braving an overplayed list. Maybe I'll do it now! :)

      Delete
  9. Awesome list! Gimme Shelter always makes me think of Scorsese's crime movies, it would be weird if he made a movie about that and didn't use the song. Some other that came to my mind while I was reading this are:

    The Verve - Bittersweet Symphony (Cruel Intentions)
    Guns'n'roses - Sympathy for the Devil (Interview with the Vampire)
    Oasis - Fuckin' in Bushes (Snatch)
    Coldplay - The Scientist (Wicker Park)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ohhh love your choices. "Bittersweet Symphony" is used so well in Cruel Intentions. And I still have never seen Wicker Park. Definitely need to change that, as I absolutely adore Rose Byrne.

      Delete
  10. Cool list! Yes please, no more Gimme Shelter. I'd add All Along The Watcher by Jimi Hendrix too. It's just in too many war movies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Katy! "All Along The Watchtower" is a great choice. That and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" are the go-to for Vietnam-era movies.

      Delete
    2. I gather "All Along the Watchtower"'s overuse is because it is - as far as I can remember - the only Hendrix song filmmakers can get the rights to (since his estate is notoriously tight-fisted with his songs ... but they can't do anything about a Dylan cover).

      Delete
    3. It's one of the few tracks the estate gives the rights too, for sure. "Fire," "Purple Haze," "Voodoo Child," and "Foxy Lady" get a lot of play as well.

      Delete
  11. What a fabulous idea for a list! And I love your choices.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post, man! Great choices. I wouldn't argue with any of these.

    ReplyDelete
  13. God that scene from Boogie Nights is just the fucking best. Great list man :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mark! Alfred Molina is such a beast in that scene.

      Delete
  14. Totally agreed on Gimme Shelter and the Stones in general for Scorsese. Of course, he can't help himself and already has a Stones-esque show coming out with Boardwalk creator Terence Winter and Mick Jagger himself. The thing about Gimme Shelter in particular is that I hope Marty doesn't use it again. It just didn't fit in The Departed for me. It'll always be linked to Henry Hill doing coke in GoodFellas and the V/O scene about Tommy going out of control in Casino.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't really mind "Gimme Shelter" being used in The Departed, but I agree that it is used better in those previous two films. I'm so excited for Vinyl, by the way. Looks insane.

      Delete
  15. Mad World
    Sympathy for the Devil
    All Along the Watchtower

    Enough already.

    ReplyDelete
  16. SUCH a great post, Alex! Stayin Alive is the anthem of Saturday Night Fever...I could never imagine this song recreating the same feel again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Courtney! Yep, "Stayin' Alive" belongs in SNF and really nowhere else.

      Delete
  17. When I read through your explanation the very first song I thought of was Stuck in the Middle with You. A few of the choices aren't ones I can picture the scene and song in my head, but for most of them I knew exactly what you were referring to.

    The list walked a gray area where already existing music was used for movie scores, whereas some movies' main theme are so synonymous with them that they should never be re-used (i.e. Jaws.) Others wrote songs for the movies that are heavily identified with them - i.e. Falling Slowly from Once. On the other hand, Singin' in the Rain (the song) had been around for at least a couple of decades, and had been used in several movies, before it got immortalized in the film of the same name. But then there's that scene from A Clockwork Orange...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so right about "Singin' in the Rain." That's a very difficult choice. My heart is with its use in A Clockwork Orange, but Gene Kelly on that lamp post...

      Delete
  18. For so many of these, I think I've never noticed the song in other movies except the ones you mention here. It's like these mentions represent the use of a song on a level that elevates the meaning and that's the only proper way to use a song.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, exactly. That's precisely how I feel as well!

      Delete
  19. I love most of those songs you mention, though there comes a time when using them in movies is no longer fresh. Louie Armstrong – What A Wonderful World is another that certainly is great but would be happy if it got retired from movies. Same with Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh for sure, two solid choices. What movies do you think use those songs best?

      Delete
  20. Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings (same as you, Platoon and The Elephant Man, so powerful)

    Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World (the way was used in Good Morning Vietnam is difficult to top)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, that'd be my pick as well. Great stuff.

      Delete
  21. YES to all of these! (Though, I'd consider a mention for 8 1/2's use of Ride of the Valkyries.) LOVE the Ocean's Eleven, The Big Chill, and Man on Wire mentions. Those are so underrated, yet perfect choices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks buddy! You're right, 8 1/2 does use that song really well.

      Delete
  22. Great idea for a list. I agree with all of these. Especially Stuck in the Middle With You. How can anyone listen to that song anymoire without thinking of someone getting their ear cut off. I would also add Sympathy for the Devil and Don't Fear the Reaper. I love both of those songs, but every time someone plays the devil or the reaper in some sort of movie or TV show they play those songs it seems. It's so cliche at this point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks man! What films best used Sympathy for the Devil and Don't Fear the Reaper in your opinion?

      Delete