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Hit Popular Songs Worth Their Weight in Gold in Successful Movies

Leonard Cohen Songs Used in Many Movies - Rama
Many song hits aren’t written specifically for cinema soundtracks, but songs and their writers get a new lease of life from being part of a profitable film.

Music/song reinforces movie action, stokes emotion, heightens terror. Popular songs increase chances of a hit movie, especially if soundtracks are released. Dirty Dancing (1987) soundtrack success surprised the record company, but “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” recorded by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes wasn’t a hit before the film. Most film-hits, though, are already song-hits.

Most Popular Artistes

Some artists see several songs featured in favourite lists. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” shot to Billboard Number 2 twenty years after release: it was in Wayne’s World (1992). Their “Don’t Stop Me Now” (1978) played in British horror comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004), while Queen’s with David Bowie, “Under Pressure” (1981), was prominent in black comedy, Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).

Bowie’s own songs sung in Portuguese on acoustic guitar by Sen Jorge were in The Life Aquatic, and “Ashes to Ashes” in the 2009/10 British TV series of the same name. “Young Americans” (1975) was used ironically in Brecht-style Dogville (2003), criticised as anti-American.

Canadian poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s 1988 “Everybody Knows” was in 1990 comedy Pump Up the Volume; “I’m Your Man” was in rom-com/sadomasochistic Secretary (2002); “Suzanne” in Lars von Trier’s 1996 Breaking the Waves; bits of “The Future” and “Waiting for the Miracle” in Natural Born Killers (1994), and three tracks from Cohen’s 1967 debut album were in McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971) because director Robert Altman loved them.

Folk-poet Bob Dylan and his song “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” were in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), but he wrote it for the film. Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger’s solo in Performance (1968, released 1970), “Memo From Turner” was a hit post-movie , while the band got “2000 Man” (1967) into Bottle Rocket (1996) and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Tell Me” into Scorsese’s 1973 Mean Streets.

Fellow Brit Peter Gabriel had 1986‘s “In Your Eyes” in 1989‘s Say Anything. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” was in 2000‘s Almost Famous, plus Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” ; 1973’s “Daniel” was in 1974‘s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and 1970s “Amoreena” was in Dog Day Afternoon, 1975.

Fred Neil’s 1966 song “Everybody’s Talking” got into 1969’s Midnight Cowboy sung by Harry Nilsson and his 1971 version of “Without You” into The Rules of Attraction (2002). Pink Floyd got “Hey You” (originally written for The Wall, 1979) in The Squid and The Whale (2005), and 1968’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” in Zabriskie Point (1970). Simon and Garfunkel reinforced early chart careers with “Mrs Robinson” in The Graduate (1968). Roy Orbison had his 1963 hit “In Dreams” portrayed in Blue Velvet (1986) and Frankie Goes to Hollywood had “Relax” (1983) in 1984‘s Body Double.

Reusing Old or New Songs Is Hollywood Tradition

Vera Lynn’s World War II, “We’ll Meet Again” returned in 1964‘s black comedy, Dr Strangelove. A Clockwork Orange included Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain”; Sam Cooke’s version of 1934’s “Blue Moon” appeared in An American Werewolf in London (1981). Beetlejuice (1988) utilised Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song”. Bill Haley and the Comet’s 1954 “Rock Around the Clock” starred in Blackboard Jungle (1955).

“Venus in Furs” from 60s psychedelic band Velvet Underground went into Last Days (2005), about Kurt Cobain’s final hours. One-time Velvet singer, Nico, got “These Days” into The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and another, Lou Read, got “This Magic Moment” into 1997’s psychological thriller Lost Highway. Nina Simone’s trad-spiritual “Sinnerman” was in Inland Empire (2006), and “Just in Time” in Before Sunset (2004).

The Big Lebowski (1998) used 1968’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition. The Bee Gees put existing “Staying Alive” into Saturday Night Fever (1977) with a host of future hits. Reservoir Dogs (1997) took Stealer’s Wheel’s 1973 folk song, “Stuck in the Middle With You”.

Goodfellas has “Layla” by Derek & the Dominos, aka Eric Clapton. Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) took “Nobody But Me” (1968) by Human Beinz; Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1984 “The Killing Moon” appeared in 1998’s Gia and 2001’s Donnie Darko.

BJ Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” wasn’t a hit before Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969). Equally, Rocky III top-tenned Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”: it was written for the film. Taxi Driver lifted Jackson Browne’s “Late for the Sky”, Prince had “Partyman” in Batman, Louis Armstrong’s “Stardust” was obvious placement in Stardust Memories, while Air Supply’s “All Out Of Love” was publicised in Happiness.

The Who put “The Seeker” into American Beauty and “A Quick One While He’s Away” into Rushmore. A whole movie, Tommy, was made around their songs. Equally, with Abba, Mamma Mia was about their songs, and “Waterloo” featured in Muriel’s Wedding. The Beatles’ early 1960s’ “Twist and Shout” got into Ferris Beueller’s Day Off (1986).

Besides film songs by Tangerine Dream, Risky Business (1983) used “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”. The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” played over closing credits of The Adventures of Sebastian Cole (1998) and final scene and credits of Fight Club (1999).

The directors’ art uses existing popular songs to strengthen movie appeal. For pop song providers, the dream is songs covered and/or put in films. That’s show business. It will never end while cinema needs music and pop craves outlets. Fittingly, The Doors’ song “The End” is in Apocalypse Now.

First published on Suite 101, 12 June 2010.

Photo: Leonard Cohen Songs Used in Many Movies – Rama

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