Jarv’s entirely subjective and not at all coloured by personal prejudice list of the Greatest Songs written for films!
I haven’t done a list for a while, but it’s a quiet Friday and I’ve not watched anything due to the sun being out, and therefore compelled to go to the pub. However, a discussion earlier today led to me thinking about what are the greatest songs ever recorded for films?
To define the rules here- the song has to have been expressly commissioned and recorded for the movie. So the likes of Little Green Bag or Son of a Preacher Man are hereby prohibited from the list. Secondly, because Bond films could probably supply the whole list themselves, I’m only allowing 1 Bond theme. Thirdly, no Disney, because those tend to be musicals anyway, and the obvious candidate is Elton John’s Circle of Life from the Lion King. Which leads me in to 4, if I don’t like the artist in any way then that’s out, so ta ta Elton, and also goodbye McCartney. Fifthly, no Rap/ Hip Hop, because as a genre it relies on samples, and the sample is invariably not commissioned for the film. Finally, I’m not doing this in any particular order- these all have merits, it’s just 10 great tracks.
And I’ll cheat if I feel like it. So, let the list/ pointless arguments commence!
Huey Lewis and the News: The Power of Love (Back to the Future)
Who doesn’t love this? Who doesn’t love Back to the Future? Aside from my assistant, who’s never seen it. Admittedly, she has the massive drag factor of being French, and therefore is actively prohibited from ever having an opinion about music, but Jesus suffering fuck, how can you not have seen Back to the Future? Honestly, it makes me despair of the youth of today. Anyhow, ranting aside, The Power of Love is a storming tune, and one that fits the time of the film perfectly. Performed by Marty McFly at the Battle of the Bands in BTTF, Huey (judging) hilariously criticises it for being “too damned loud”, a sentiment not shared by fans of the film since.
The song developed a life all of its own after the film was released, and despite not being the official “theme” of Back to the Future, is, I’d argue the tune most associated with it. Nevertheless, it went on to be a global smash, peaking at Number 1 in several places in the world. Aside from Continental Europe, which just proves my point.
Judy Garland: Over the Rainbow (The Wizard of Oz)
There’s no denying that this is a track that really has stood the test of time. Garland was miles too old to be playing Dorothy, frankly, and as such had a more fully developed voice than a girl the correct age would have. When she belts out Over the Rainbow at the start of the Wizard of Oz, it’s still, to this day, a genuinely magical cinematic moment.
Written by Harold Arlen(music) with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, this eventually grew to become Garland’s signature track, to the extent that she even performed it for troops during World War 2. It’s astonishing now to think that Mayer deleted it from the film, believing that it slowed things down too much- talk about your “I could have signed the Beatles” type of decisions. Luckily, associate producer Arthur Freed and Garland’s voice coach Roger Edens fought to keep it in the film and eventually won out.
Frequently hailed as one of the most important songs of all time, Over the Rainbow has been covered endlessly with Eva Cassidy’s version, in particular attracting huge praise. There’s something about the wistful quality of the tune that will, I suspect, draw female singers often, and it’s testament to the song that a cover version some 60 years after the original was recorded was rated by the BBC as one of the 20th Century’s best tunes. Perhaps because, like Garland herself said “It’s so symbolic of everybody’s dreams and wishes that I’m sure that’s why some people get tears in their eyes when they hear it.”
Curtis Mayfield: Superfly (Super Fly)
The first appearance from Blaxploitation in this list. To be fair, the 1970’s could probably provide half of it were I so inclined.
Blaxploitation is all about the cool, and there’s little cooler than this. Super Fly (I haven’t seen the film) is about a young black drug dealer’s battle with the underground and features a performance by The Curtis Mayfield Experience. I’m actually a bit cross with myself that I haven’t seen the film.
Nevertheless, the song is so successful, that despite me not having any relationship with the film itself, I’m hugely familiar with it and it does, frankly, rock. It’s a cracking slice of 70’s soul/ funk that lurks on my ipod and makes me smile nowadays.
Isaac Hayes: The Theme from Shaft (Shaft)
The definitive Blaxploitation, featuring a storming turn from Richard Roundtree as the titular private dick who’s a hit with the chicks, Shaft is a frankly superb film. I’ve seen it a number of times, and every time I always enjoy it.
However, a big part of the appeal of Shaft is the soundtrack. Another slice of classic 70’s Soul/ Funk, Isaac Hayes double album was a massive success, and the title track, the epic Theme from Shaft, clocked in at number 1 with a bullet in the Billboard 100.
It may be endlessly parodied, but it still remains a fantastic tune, and this represents one of the finest marriages of music and film that I can think of. Hayes, aside from being Chef, never musically reached these heights again, although his on-screen career does include gems such as his turn in Escape From New York, and Roundtree ended up stuck in interminable garbage such as the seemingly endless Shaft sequels. Still, there aren’t many out there that can lay claim to being a cultural icon, but, partially because of Hayes’ epic music, Roundtree surely can.
Carly Simon: Nobody Does it Better (The Spy Who Loved Me)
This is my one and only Bond theme, and it’s the best. While Shirley Bassey may be forever linked with Bond themes, having performed more of them, and some of the classics, I think Simon’s Nobody Does it Better is the best of the themes. Incidentally, as an aside, McCartney and Wings’ Live and Let Die was considered before I disregarded it due to my pathological loathing of the vainglorious overrated sanctimonious ex-Beatle. Not to mention that Wings were to blame for the truly horrible Mull of Kintyre.
The Spy Who Loved Me has, arguably, the greatest opening to any bond film. Truly iconic, the ski chase down the mountain culminating with the Base Jump and the Union Jack parachute is one of the most famous, and most parodied Bond moments ever. Nevertheless, it’s also fantastic, and when the song comes up behind it, there’s a cheeky feel to the film, it’s fun, it’s brave and it’s bold- really, nobody does it better than Bond.
Incidentally, the makers of the new Bonds might want to look at this to remind themselves why people like Bond (hint, it’s not because he’s Jason Bourne in disguise).
As Garland became inextricably associated with Over the Rainbow, so too did Simon to some extent with Nobody Does it Better. It may not be an instant association (You’re so Vain would probably be that for me), but the song was an astonishing hit, and she has since entitled her greatest hits albums “Nobody Does it Better”.
In this case, Carly, nobody has.
Simon & Garfunkel: Mrs Robinson (The Graduate)
Brilliant song, this one, from a genuine classic.
Paul Simon was originally contracted to produce three songs for the Graduate, as Mike Nichols had grown to become obsessed with the midget’s music. However, due to touring commitments he’d only managed one. Nichols was less than pleased about this, and so begged Simon to write the rest. Simon responded with that he didn’t have time, but here’s a new tune he’d done called “Mrs Roosevelt”. Nichols reply? “It’s now called Mrs. Robinson”.
Thus, music and film history was made.
The end of the Graduate is endlessly parodied, for a change, but it’s a great film, and Simon’s perky little number fits right in to this, and went on to be a pretty massive hit in both Britain and America.
Kenny Loggins: Danger Zone (Top Gun)
Yes it’s cheesy, but so’s the film. The film’s also a touch in the closet, much like its star.
Top Gun is a big, bombastic knuckleheaded film, one that almost transcends stupidity, but there’s something fun about watching dogfighting. The opening scene, though, is, again, the best bit of the film and the Moroder and Whitlock penned Danger Zone really encapsulates what the film is going to be like.
Originally meant to have been recorded by Bryan Adams, who declined due to not being happy with the Jingoism on display, Danger Zone only passed to Loggins as third choice- and I can’t believe he was behind hair metal poseurs Toto in the queue. That’s absurd.
Still, it’s a fun song, but the Top Gun soundtrack is full of bizarrely amusing and strangely appropriate musical choices- one that always makes me laugh is “Playing with the boys” during the homoerotic beach volleyball sequence.
They must have known, surely.
B.J. Thomas: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
Burt Bacharach and Hal David have an almost unequalled career penning songs. Spanning decades, they really have a very strong case for being the original hit factory.
Anyhow, Thomas was, for a change, not first choice for this tune, yet when he took it on, the song turned into a massive hit, peaking at number 1 in the Billboard charts. So, it all worked out nicely for him, then.
The scene it’s in, is Butch riding the bicycle with Etta (Katherine Ross). It’s a moment of levity, the calm before the storm so to speak, and is another scene that’s been endlessly parodied. In fact, it’s so good, that the song/ scene has appeared in other versions films- including Spider-Man 2 where it was used to accompany Peter’s sense of levity, much as it was in Butch and Sundance.
Not only was Raindrops and the film a commercial success, but it was multi-award winning as well, including the Oscar for Best Original Song. Not that that means anything, but it’s indicative of just how good a sequence this is.
Bob Dylan: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid)
This reminds me: I haven’t seen this film in ages.
Specially commissioned for the film, Dylan’s epic Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is a great tune. Describing the final moments of a deputy as he lies there dying of a gunshot wound, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is absolutely appropriate for a film detailing the final encounter between one of the Old West’s most iconic gunslingers and the lawman that took him down.
This is another one that’s been endlessly covered, and it’s the song that fits my theory about Dylan being a better writer than performer, as the covers, particularly Clapton’s epic version, tend to be far superior to the original.
Still, a great tune, from one of Peckinpah’s better films.
Survivor: Eye of the Tiger (Rocky 3)
I, actually, don’t think this is that great a tune. However, I’m including it for a very specific reason. In my mind, and lord knows why this is, but when I think of Rocky, I almost always think of this song rather than Bill Conti’s Gonna Fly Now.
This says something about the tune in my mind. Yes, it may not be the best piece of music ever recorded, but there’s a certain adrenaline charge to the song; a level of bombast that fits both the story of the champion boxer and the time it was filmed in.
Stallone actually wanted Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust for this, but was unable to get it, so requested this version done especially for him by Survivor. The principle difference between the album and movie versions is that, in an act of pure 80’s cheese, the film version features samples of actual tiger noises in it.
There were loads considered that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another, but this deeply flawed and biased list is at least a starting point for us to have our usual bicker about.
I’m going to come back to this musical theme at some point, probably with either scores or soundtracks.
So until then,