A collection of good films with good soundtracks is the desert island entertainment solution for me, combining my two foremost entertainment passions. Assuming my desert island has a power source of course.  There are many, many good examples of songs being used in films. Some directors seem to excel at it.  Quentin Tarantino (no surprise he is represented here twice)  is one, Martin Scorcese is another.

Akira Kurosawa said “Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it.”  All of these  songs do that. But in my opinion what sets them apart is that they have come to be synonymous with the films they are in.  No easy task.

Next week: Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought Was Led Zeppelin II

1. Stuck in the Middle With You-Stealers Wheel-Reservoir Dogs

“Reservoir Dogs” was Tarantino’s directorial debut.  Made for a mere $1.5 million, likely less than the budget for the opening credits in “Avatar”, the film was a commercial and critical success, despite an abundance of graphic violence.  Woven through it is some very good music, often introduced by the radio voice of “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” in the background.

This clip is not for the faint of heart nor for those who have a fondness for this boppy little number from the Scottish folk group founded by Gerry Rafferty. If the former, I will warn you it is not easy to watch.  Michael Madsen reportedly had difficulty finishing the scene.  If the latter, you will never again hear the song without thinking about the scene. Guaranteed.

2. Misirlou-Dick Dale and His Del Tones-Pulp Fiction

I can’t think of a song which does a better job of opening a movie.  Period. Like a good opening track on the first side of an album, this song let’s you know where you are going.  And in this case, you realise, following the “honey bunny” and “this is a robbery” scene, that you are in for one wild, frantic ride.

Derived from a Turkish folk song, Misirlou was first released by Dick Dale in 1962.  It quickly became a staple of Calfornia surf rock bands including the Beach Boys and the Ventures.  Although Dick Dale had without doubt already achieved legendary status before “Pulp Fiction” was released in 1994, the use of this song while the opening credits ran  brought him  a new generation of recognition.

3. Oh, Pretty Woman-Roy Orbison-Pretty Woman

This song was suggested by someone far wiser than me. It is included to show that I am open minded and serious about my work here as I have no real fondness (nor dislike either for that matter) for the two principal actors in “Pretty Woman”.  It is tough however to ignore a film that takes its title from a (very very good) song.  This is the late great Roy Orbison at his best.  It was a worldwide success for him in the early 1960’s and he was awarded, posthumously, a Grammy for his performance of it in the 1991 TV special, “Roy Orbison and Friends,  A Black and White Night”.

4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-The Rolling Stones-Casino

Scorcese has a thing for music in general and the Rolling Stones in particular.  He co-edited “Woodstock”, directed “The Last Waltz” and also directed “Shine a Light”, a Rolling Stone’s concert film recorded over two nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York in 2008.  He has used Rolling Stones’ songs extensively in his films.

The opening riff to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is Keith Richards guitar at its distorted, slippery, sleazy, missing a string, open G tuned best. To my ears, it is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.  The song itself takes a wonderful (apparently unscripted) detour with extended solos by Bobby Keys on sax and Mick Taylor on guitar.   Scorcese uses all of this to maximum effect, the “cocaine eyes” reference more or less summing up the Sharon Stone character, the portrayal of which earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

5. I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever)-Stevie Wonder-High Fidelity

Given that the film provided my blog with its name, it had to be included.  What makes the song work so well in my opinion is that we hear all of it, and not just a snippet (like the way Scorcese used “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”), while Rob is making a mix tape for Laura.  And somehow, Stevie Wonder’s talent pulls off a schmaltzy song without sounding schmaltzy.  Genius all round.

  1. Cranky Cowgirl says:

    Good post. Here’s my by no means definitive list. Probably a bit too sweet for you, remember, I’m a girl. And of course, the best marriage of music/film is the first time it was ever done, Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising. Spielberg completely ripped off the concept for American Graffiti and never, ever, gives Anger any credit.

    1. Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as the credits role, Shampoo
    2. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” scene in the pool hall – The Deerhunter
    3. Ronettes, “Be My Baby” Mean Streets
    4. BeeGees, “Stayin Alive” Saturday Night Fever
    5. Scarborough Fair, Simon & Garfunkle, The Graduate.

    • topfivevinyl says:

      Yes, we knew you were a girl, Cranky Cowgirl being the first hint.

      Good picks. I note “Mean Streets” was Scorcese’s first flim (apart from a couple student flicks). Harvey Keitel (also in “Reservoir Dogs”) must have a thing for acting in the films of musically literate rookie directors.

      Good call regarding “Scarborough Fair”, the easier choice of course being “Mrs. Robinson”.

  2. james shinkle says:

    Spot on!

  3. earthboy011 says:

    First two choices are bang on. This is a tough category because what counts is not just the song but how it was used. One that stands out in my mind is a movie that made me never want to listen to the song again. The movie was Good Morning Vietnam and the song What A Wonderful World. The juxtaposition of the scenes of destruction and the rosy sentimentality of the song is very effective. Other entries: The Killing Fields for Imagine; Midnight Cowboy for Everybody’s Talkin’; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head; The Sting for The Entertainer; Wayne’s World for Bohemian Rhapsody.Not to mention Pulp Fiction for Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon. Pulp Fiction wins hands down for best soundtrack.

    • Cranky Cowgirl says:

      Might be interesting to further divide this into Top Five movies that use existing songs vs. movies where the songs were written for the movie. (Saturday Night Fever.) The Graduate fits both categories as all the songs had all already been released except for Mrs. Robinson, which was written specifically for the movie

      • topfivevinyl says:

        Top Five Movies Using Original Songs? Not many come to mind, although Yellow Submarine is one. Many have a title track and perhaps one more. Earthboy’s Everybody’s Talking falls into that category two if I recall.

      • Cranky Cowgirl says:

        Well okay, let me rephrase the exercise. Top five original songs written for a movie. U2 wrote a number, I believe, including Until the End of the World, for Wim Wenders. Neil Young, Philadelphia:

      • topfivevinyl says:

        I think Dylan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid would be at the top of my list.

    • topfivevinyl says:

      Yes, both have to be there. Lots of good songs in movies that are just good songs in movies.

      Wonderful World in Good Morning Vietnam is your version of Stuck in the Middle in Reservoir Dogs: you never again will hear the song the same way.

      I read somewhere that Tarantino chose the music for Pulp Fiction before he wrote a word. Makes some sense, as every song in it is perfect for the scene.

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