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The 411 Music Top Five 02.19.13: The Top 5 Uses of Song in Film

February 19, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


Criteria: What we were looking at this week were the use of popular songs within films as opposed to scores, full soundtracks or the like. The songs could be songs done specifically for a film (i.e. musicals, Bond themes, et cetera).

Honorable Mention: Too many.

5. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen (Wayne’s World)

This is one of the most hysterical movie openings ever. Never has lip syncing been executed with such hilarious fashion. It’s a great kick-start to the ridiculous nature of Wayne’s World and also pays wonderful tribute to the song. What makes it so damn funny is that most people actually do this everytime the song comes on the radio. Hell, even before Wayne’s World came out.

4. “You Make My Dreams” – Hall & Oates ((500) Days of Summer)

One of my all-time favorite romantic films is 500 Days of Summer. The use of Hall & Oates in this scene is just absolutely brilliant. This is the perfect representation of how a guy feels when he has sealed the deal with his lady, just on top of the world and walking above the clouds. Joseph Gordon-Levitt executes the humor perfectly.

3. “Immigrant Song” – Karen O. with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

2011’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has one of the most brilliantly crafted opening titles ever. Just the sheer two-minute mayhem of the sequence puts you inside the character Lisbeth’s head. I remember actually watching it in theaters and just being blown away. In fact, I told a friend who worked at a theater at the time, that if he did not have time to see the movie, to catch the opening titles before it left theaters.

2. “Lose Yourself” – Eminem (8 Mile)

When I think of music in films, it’s difficult for this one not to stick out. Eminem perfectly captured the essence of 8 Mile just in one song. Even the Oscars recognized this when they awarded him the Academy Award for “Best Original Song.” Say what you want about 8 Mile, but this single still gets me fired up.

1. “Je Ne Regrette Rien” – Edith Piaf (Inception)

This is undoubtedly my number one pick because of the mechanics that were used with this song within the film. If you look on YouTube, you will find that Hans Zimmer actually used the song itself to incorporate into some of the score. It is just a brilliant subliminal element to the movie. This is one of the best demonstrations on how to use a song as a plot device.

Honorable Mention: “Born Slippy” – Underworld (Trainspotting), “Stuck in the Middle With You” – Stealers Wheel (Reservoir Dogs), “Unchained Melody” – The Righteous Brothers (Ghost)

5. “Seasons of Love” – Rent (Rent)

I feel no shame (or, as some might put it, I’m shameless) about considering myself a Renthead. Jonathon Larson’s 1996 rock musical about a group of friends living the Bohemian lifestyle in New York City under the specter of AIDS is a fantastic story and one of my all-time favorite musicals. The 2005 film version, which was directed by Chris Columbus and featured most of the original cast, is a divisive piece of work among Rent fans but I could myself firmly on the pro-film side. That being said, I won’t deny that the musical is more powerful. One of the things I did really like that the film changed up was putting the musical’s signature song “Seasons of Love” at the beginning of the film instead of at the beginning of the second act as it is in the musical. It’s an incredibly powerful performance and really gets the film off to a great start.

4. “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails (Se7en)

This was the first one that came to mind when I came up with this topic. David Fincher and Trent Reznor have quite the cimenatic history, and it began all the way back when Fincher took Nine Inch Nails’ signature song “Closer” and set it to an incredibly disturbing opening that set the tone for Se7en. This opening is iconic and while I have more of an intellectual appreciation for the Dragon Tattoo opening, this is the one I always emotionally go to. Which may say more about me than I want to admit…but anyway.

3. “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” – Urge Overkill (Pulp Fiction)

Quentin Tarantino is the undisputed master of finding songs and using them in his films to great affect. Most of the songs he uses are older hits or obscure tracks, but my favorite of his is the cover of Neil Diamond’s 1967 hit “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” that was covered by Urge Overkill. Uma Thurman takes this scene and owns it as the music plays and I just find myself transfixed. It’s one of the great moments in an already-great film.

2. “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John (Almost Famous)

Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical narrative feature film is flat-out one of my all-time favorite films. And this particular scene, which takes place right after the “I Am a Golden God” acid trup party, is one of the most memorable. It almost conveys the mission statement of the film; Stillwater is at a low as they drive away from the party that Russell crashed, and no one’s talking. Then “Tiny Dancer” just erupts out of them, one at a time, until they’re all swept away by the music. It’s an exuberant scene and it drives home the point that Penny says to young William Miller at the end of it: “You are home.”

1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen Wayne’s World )

It’s probably the most famous and iconic use of a popular song in a film ever done. Wayne, Garth, Alan, Terry and Neil rocking out to Queen is so random and off the wall that you just have to appreciate it, right down to their willful ignorance of the fact that they’re driving, yet Garth is headbanging. It’s not the most powerful and its not my favorite, but it is probably the best moment.

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it

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Jeremy Thomas

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