Movies and music go hand in hand. A good movie has a solid plot, a sharp screenplay and impressive acting. Add to that mix some memorable tunes, and you’ve got a great movie.
Everyone knows those songs considered to be theme songs for their respective movie: “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun, “In Your Eyes” from Say Anything, “Footloose” from, well, Footloose. But there’s another class of movie music that does just as much to make a movie as those overplayed “theme” songs. These songs weren’t necessarily written for the movie, but their presence has elevated certain movie scenes to classic status, and in doing so, the music and movie are now inextricably connected. Take heed: several of these clips are for mature audiences only.
1. “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger: Boogie Nights
This is one of the most tense but hilarious scenes from a movie ever. It is impossible to hear this song and not think of the wacked-out crackhead in his bikinis “motoring” while this random Asian boy lights poppers. The increased intensity of the song beautifully mirrors the increased anxiety Dirk Diggler and crew feel as they try to get out of an ill-advised drug deal unscathed.
2. “Rollin’ with the Homies” by Coolio: Clueless
Clueless is one of my all-time faves, and the music throughout is perfection (especially The Muffs cover of “Kids in America”). But the party scene in which Tai gets hit by a shoe and Elton helps her ward off a concussion by singing this song is just classic.
3. “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall: The Devil Wears Prada
Okay, so maybe this isn’t a classic movie scene. But it is a fantastic movie, one that I will never pass up when it shows up on my television screen, and this song will forever be tied to the opening scene.
4. “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel:
This movie is gory, gruesome and vulgar, but I was obsessed with it in college. I actually think I loved the soundtrack more than the movie. Steven Wright’s K-BILLY Super Sounds of the ’70s introduced me to many gems, most importantly this one, which accompanies the most horrific scene of the movie, in which Mr. Blonde cuts of the poor policeman’s ear. I don’t feel right about embedding it in this post, so you’ll have to check it out on your own. Do not click if you’re squeamish. Seriously, you’ve been warned.
5. “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne and “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
The quintessential high school movie, upon which all other high school movies were made. There are so many great songs throughout that it seems wrong to pick just two. But who are we kidding? Jackson Browne’s ultra-cheesy “Somebody’s Baby” is repeated every time Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy Hamilton has another sexual escapade (and there are quite a few). And Phoebe Cates walking in slow motion in her red bikini to “Moving in Stereo” was the fantasy of every boy who was over the age of 6 in the ’80s. In fact, for the longest time I didn’t even know that it was a real song by the Cars — I just knew the instrumental part that plays throughout Brad Hamilton’s dream sequence. I would include the clips here, but they are a bit R-rated for my blog. So you’ll have to just rent the movie yourself. Then you’ll see. Instead I’ll include this live version of “Moving in Stereo” circa 1978. The outfits are just awesome, as are The Cars.
6. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed
I don’t know what it is about Martin Scorsese and this song, but they sure do love each other. “Gimme Shelter” is featured in three of the greatest gangster movies of all time, and I have to believe Scorsese tried to find a way to work it into Gangs of New York but it ended up on the cutting room floor. Here’s the “Pittsburgh Connections” scene from Goodfellas:
7. “Perfect Day” by Hoku: Legally Blonde
The opening scene, like the rest of this movie, is just ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean this song isn’t burned on my brain in the form of Reese Witherspoon.
8. “Magic Man” by Heart: Swingers
Vince Vaughn at his most hilarious and most adorable. “Drugs are bad, Jenny eats something…”
9. “Just Once” by James Ingram: Last American Virgin
The best movie soundtrack that never was, this raunchy classic ’80s flick features so many great songs that shaped my love of new wave music, including “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls” by the Gleaming Spires, “I Know What Boys Like” by The Waitresses, “Since You’re Gone” by The Cars (more awesome outfits in this video) and “I Will Follow” by U2 (which accompanies the most dramatic abortion scene you’ll ever see in a teen movie). But the soundtrack also had it’s fair share of love songs, most notably “Oh No” by The Commodores, “Keep on Loving You” by REO Speedwagon and this terribly depressing love song by James Ingram that accompanies the most pathetic ending scene of an ’80s teen movie ever:
10. “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush: She’s Having a Baby
One of the most beautiful songs perfectly married to a gut-wrenchingly dramatic scene from an otherwise lackluster film. Kevin Bacon’s fear and sadness are heartbreaking. I wonder if I can connect him to every other film on this list?
I also have one honorable mention I didn’t include because I couldn’t find a suitable clip for it. This in no way diminishes its importance in my mind.
“Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol: Can’t Buy Me Love
You’ve never seen a drunk girl throw a cup on a record player with such precision before. “At least, at least I got paid.”