recently i had the chance to read and rather superb article from New York's celebrated Time Out magazine about the 50 Greatest Uses Of Songs In Movies. this sort of list is usually debatable at best, but they did a rather good job with it.
i would, however, nitpick with a few selections in their list, as you well might when you read it. i've selected ten other great music moments in movies for your consideration, some of which you may feel should be on that list instead of some of the ones chosen.
as Time Out appears not to have had any particular criteria except not to "cheat" and reference any musicals, i've followed path, using songs that are either specific to the film or were just used by the director to dazzling effect.
note that beyond this point *** SPOILER WARNINGS *** are applicable, but if you have not seen any of these films yet there is a very good chance that you had no intention of seeing them. if that's true, hope you change your mind after reading about one or two of them! here we go then, in no particular order.
Playing With The Boys by Kenny Loggins
yes, indeed. if we are going to discuss music in movies, why not with a film that was basically one long advert for young Americans to join the armed forces, using music as a soundtrack just like any above-average or indeed superior ad would?
the piece of music i refer to here, of course, is the soundtrack to what is widely viewed as the single most uber-homoerotic scene in any film in the history of the movies. yes, the volleyball scene. young, tanned, semi-naked muscular men bonding, flexing their wares for the benefit of other men and themselves. the scene has no valid place or purpose in the film at all, apparently existing just to amuse Tony Scott. whereas his brother Ridley tends to slide towards subtle direction, Tony likes to see a film camera as a massive sledgehammer to ram home a message to the audience. sticking a song called Playing With The Boys on this scene was basically writing "this is a sledgehammer" on the hammer he was hitting people in the face with. genius.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB
Don't You Forget About Me by Simple Minds / Changes by David Bowie
a masterpiece of teenage angst cinema that has lived through the decades for all sorts of reasons. i imagine that kids these days warm to it because it shows how life was prior to iTwat and BlueBerry devices when one had detention - we kind of actually spoke directly to each other.
the film is bookended by Don't You Forget About Me to superb effect, but it's the use at the start of the film that gets it included here. nice as the bit at the end with Judd Nelson raising his fist is, before you ask. if memory serves, at the start you have an instrumental of it playing, and up onscreen comes a quote from David Bowie's Changes. this perfectly sets the tone for the next 100 minutes or so of your life, making all the more sense as the movie progresses. whoever set it up like this knew exactly what they were doing. what a shame Simple Minds turned their back on this song for so many years, really.
Macho Man by The Village People
there, you see, a film does not have to be an all time classic to have a great musical moment in it. Terminator 3 is nowhere near as bad as people who worshipped the smoke and mirrors covering bad plot Terminator 2 would have you believe, but by any standard it's at best an average film with the odd truly spectacular moment.
Schwarzenegger did little, if anything, to hide the fact that he had agreed to do the film purely for an absolutely obscene amount of money. just how little he cared for what went on in the film so long as hourly deliveries of cash in a massive truck perpetuated is in many respects highlighted by the scene where he parodies the "sunglasses" on moments from the first two films. this time around, Arnold stands and puts on a pair of pink, star-shaped glasses as this classic from the Village People plays. it somehow managed to avoid accusations of stereotyping and being homophobic, perhaps because it is a really, really funny scene.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Singin' In The Rain by Gene Kelly / Malcolm McDowell
OK, perhaps it does beggar belief that in their list of 50 musical moments Time Out somehow managed to miss this one!
i am pretty much sure that i do not need to give much detail in regards of the first appearance of this song. apparently thought up and filmed by Stanley Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell on the spot, it remains one of the darkest most macabre moments in cinema history; succeeding as it does in making any normal view laugh out loud when one should be horrified. somewhat forgotten is how later in the film McDowell gives a second performance that is crucial to the plot, and let us not forget the sensational use of the original version of the song over the end credits.
Kubrick features rather a lot on the original 50 list, but with apologies to 2001 you kind of suspect that it was this use of music that he shall mostly be remembered for.
Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix
the only reason i own this film on DVD is for the use of this song. whereas there are some rather funny moments (Ms Christie under the table, anyone?), overall the film was produced by someone with ego issues, highlighting these by making a film which showed off the abundantly sexually active Warren Beatty 'acting' as the abundantly sexually active Warren Beatty with the suggestion that he might cut hair. hidden beneath this layer of the film, though, is a better film only hinted at, touching the loneliness and shallow nature of the protagonists' "just sex nothing else" life.
this part hidden away comes to the fore in a party scene towards the end. in it, Beatty is torn between pursuing two women. you see him rushing backwards and forwards in a superb physical manifestation of his psychological confusion, with Manic Depression playing away. the mixing of the song here is the trick. at first it sounds like it dips in volume to synch with his movement in and out of the main party room. on repeat viewing, however, it's clear that the song has been mixed to show the dips in his confusion and mixed feelings. brilliant.
Jumpin' Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones
Martin Scorsese features on Time Out's Top 50 more than once, and indeed shall feature again a little later on this list. and with good reason - when it comes to the correct music for a scene, few if any can be declared to be better than Mr Scorsese.
this scene in particular is legendary, and has perhaps been seen in documentaries and highlight packages by about one hundred times more people than ever saw the film. at least! although we had been introduced to De Niro's character at the start of the film (Johnny Boy blowing up letterboxes or similar, as i recall), here we get to see him proper. He arrives at a bar with two ladies who he has either picked up or (ahem) hired, checks in his pants and then proceeds to walk down the length of the bar with them, all smiles and greeting people. Keith Richards' legendary guitar and Jaggers' howling vocal provide the best soundtrack possible with the lyrics telling you all you need to know of the character. it's a moment that makes you think "i really wish i could do that".
LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS
The Boss By James Brown
in terms of audacious and career defining debut films, none more so than this first effort from Guy Richie, you could argue. he clearly clocked Scorsese's trick of making a great scene iconic with the correct soundtrack here. practically any scene involving music from this film, from the opening with Ocean Colour Scene's Hundred Mile High City to Fools Gold by The Stone Roses at the end, could have been selected. i, however, went with this one purely for the out of the box thinking shown on all fronts.
there was much mirth and humour found in the press by the idea that Vinnie Jones, footballer and nose biter of note, was to move into acting. no one thought there was any chance of him or any footballer (except Cantona) pulling it off, so his introduction to the film needed something a bit special. having the sounds of James Brown in uber-funk mode as Vinnie walks in, clad in as much black clothing as he is flashy gold jewellery, and then watch as he proceeds to smack someone senseless with, of all things, a sunbed is indeed something a bit special.
Guy Richie has a knack for this, shown by the use of Oasis in Snatch and The Clash in RockNRolla. to see what a good trick it is, watch a bad imitation - in the otherwise good film Layer Cake, one gets a scene of violence to the soundtrack of Ordinary World by Duran Duran. it just does not work.
Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood
sometimes it feels like the only two people in the world who love this film are myself and Patrick Bateman out of American Psycho. that should concern me a bit i suppose, but it does not. it's just that for some reason the rest of the world is unaware of what an amazing, excellent film this is.
not only does this film put the song to great use (it is the soundtrack to the, erm, adult-orientated movie-within-a-movie that Craig Wasson and Melanie Griffith are making), it also puts the band to great use, having most of them visible in the scene itself. Holly Johnson appears to sing the song and guide Wasson through the (ahem) exploits going on, Paul Rutherford is sat at the bar chilling, digging everything. i have never had it confirmed if the other three members of the band are in the scene somewhere, although one of the chaps in a mask looks like it might be Ped.
what better song, i ask you, could be used for the scene to which it appears as the soundtrack for? it's the kind of thing the song was composed for. a masterstroke, if you will excuse the expression, by Brian De Palma and the team who made this film to get the song and the band involved.
GROSSE POINTE BLANK
Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie
if i had to select a favourite moment, then it is probably this one if not the one above. yes, it's that good.
the film soundtrack is loaded with 80s classics from both sides of the Atlantic. it is also filled with amazing moments of filmmaking and storytelling. in regards of the latter there, it contains one of the greatest scenes ever. John Cusack goes to visit the grave of his father. he stands in silence, empties a bottle of whiskey onto it, throws the bottle away and then walks off. in less than two minutes you have the entire story of this particular father-son relationship, presented visually in a way better than most films that have spent hours on this one particular theme have managed. genius.
combining the soundtrack and visuals best, however, is the bit at the school reunion dance, where ruthless but cute hitman Cusack is left alone with a baby briefly. in comes the "this is our last dance" verse from Under Pressure as a hypnotic scene plays out where Cusack and the baby stare into each others eyes. in a way as subtle as you can imagine, the facial expressions of both change, as if they are exchanging tales of innocence lost and innocence to be preserved and saved for as long as possible. one leaves the scene with a feeling that all of a sudden Cusack "gets" this whole "feeling" business that has been oddly absent from the last ten years of his life. a truly beautiful moment in a wonderful, must-see film.
Jump Into The Fire by Nilsson / Magic Bus by The Who / Monkey Man by The Rolling Stones
now then, Goodfellas, and indeed this scene, feature in the Time Out list. for some reason, though, they focus on the end of this part with the piano exit / coda from Clapton's Layla. whereas the whole scene - Henry Hill's last day as a GoodFella - is breathtaking, it's the start of it which i remembered the strongest.
there are few better ways to start any day than with a blast of Harry Nilsson. if that day is to feature firearms and drugs, then the roving bass, the smashing drums and splendid guitar and howls of Jump Into The Fire is what you want. if you are going to do an absolutely massive line of coke with your mistress and then look up with wide, bloodshot eyes, then Mick Jagger screaming "I'M A MONKEEEYYYYYAAAH" is what you want to be hearing. if you're going to be ripped to the hilt on coke and go out driving, all but ramming your foot through the floor of the car as you slam on breaks to avoid an accident whilst you are in a vehicle full of guns and silencers that do not fit, then Roger Daltrey wailing "i want it, i want it, i want it" would probably be the best way to describe the rush. in respect of the latter, Scorsese specifically selected Daltrey's vocal from Live At Leeds for this scene.
considering how many music-related scenes from GoodFellas could be picked here - how about De Niro contemplating murder as he stands at a bar smoking with Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love playing for a start - just how dazzling this montage is should be apparent. i have been known to just skip to this segment and watch it again and again, to be honest.
well, that's my "other" ten to go on top of the linked list. i hope this has brought back some memories for you, or indeed inspired you to go and watch one or two of the films. or just Grosse Pointe Blank at the least. if i have missed any out, or you know of equally good or even better ones, feel free to leave a comment!
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!