Since Al Jolson mumbled “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” screen sound has been as crucial a part of the filmgoing experience as anything else. This includes things like voice, like, and music. There are plenty of examples of crucial, iconic, moments from movies where music plays a substantial role. But, today, I’ll be looking at five of my favorite examples of briefly featured music from movies that, although not crucial to the story, and not the part of the movie that everyone else typically remembers.
As a disclaimer, and for reiteration, this isn’t including a lot of musical pieces that are big parts of the overall push of the film and generally aren’t story-relevant. So, although I might have a secret warm spot in my heart for Part of Your World:
Or Enid Coleslaw dancing to Jaan Pehechaan Ho at the beginning of Ghost World:
And I might have been extremely tempted to put Jessica Rabbit singing “Why Don’t You Do Right?” on the list:
But they aren’t on the list. They’re great songs, outright awesome musical moments, but this isn’t as much about awesome musical moments as it is about random background music that sticks out to me and makes me say to myself, “Hey, I like that song” and severely tempts me to make a trip to the iTunes store.
If I couldn’t find the relevant clip in question, I would try to find the music video, and, barring that, the last resort will be whatever usable clips I can find.
This is not really about movies, but about the video game Portal. Portal is an awesome 3D platforming puzzle game done by Valve Labs (best known for coming up with shooters like Team Fortress 2 and the Half-Life series.) The theme of Portal, Still Alive, was written by singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, who is well known amongst a small fanbase for heartfelt love songs and emotional explorations amongst objects and characters that we don’t commonly give such thoughts (some of my favorites include Skullcrusher Mountain, Code Monkey, and Tom Cruise Crazy.) There is a proportional relationship between how nerdy you are and how much you like these songs; for the record, I like his songs a lot. Still Alive is a song about how the main character failed to kill crazy sarcastic killer robot GLADOS.
It’s not really about movies, unless I argue Portal is a rather cinematic video game, which is kind of a stretch. But it’s pretty much my favorite song out of a video game. And it’s a great song, so enjoy getting it stuck in your head.
Song: Blue Monday
Film: Nancy Drew
Commentary: Those of us who grew up either late Gen-X or early Gen-Y will probably remember a considerably different version of Blue Monday
And people who are considerably more music aware and/or older will remember the original version done by New Order:
Nancy Drew is one of those movies that I didn’t want to like as much as I did, and if you claim I liked it I will start shouting louder than some of those people at town hall meetings (this dose of scathing political satire has been brought to you thanks to Son of Double Feature.) But it’s a pretty cute, funny, movie, and this song more or less blindsided me.
They also had a great cover of Kids in America by The Donnas, and Dare by Gorillaz amongst the musical awesomeness. Apparently the music supervisor and I have some common ground musically.
Song: First We Take Manhattan
Artist: Leonard Cohen
I ended up hearing this song at the theater during the credits for Watchmen and downloaded it immediately that night. The fact that they couldn’t find some place to cram a snippet of this movie into the movie proper is a shame. But I left the theater, and I left it dancing. Leonard Cohen, of course, is an excellent songwriter, and this is one of my favorite songs he did, if only for, “I don’t like your fashion business, mister.”
Song: The Imperial March
Artist: John Williams
Film(s): the Star Wars series
Commentary: If you’re like me, this song begins running through your head when dreaded authority figures are striding through the hall. With the exception of the overture, this is probably the most recognized piece of music from the movies, and with good reason. It’s loud, it’s big, it’s in your face, like the Empire itself, it dominates. And it’s probably the best music a cape-swooshing villain could hope to follow him.
Song: Every Me and Every You
Film: Cruel Intentions
Commentary: I previously mentioned the most iconic part of Cruel Intentions. (I am not up to it, so please insert your own relevant lesbian joke here.) All Sapphic makeout sessions notwithstanding, I remember watching this movie, and after Ryan Phillipe’s character (Sebastian) drives off humiliating his psychiatrist’s daughter, this song is pumping as he drives his awesome car down the freeway. It is extremely mid-90s jangly vaguely alterna-pop in that at times magical period after Nirvana but before Limp Bizkit. The video is also pretty standard fare (cut between movie clips and live performance.)
And…the number one 1 choice…
Artist: Prince and the New Power Revolution
Film: Batman (1988)
Commentary: There are probably more iconic scenes out of Tim Burton’s Expressionistic foray into Gotham City. “Where does he get all those wonderful toys.” The parade scene. Batman and Joker’s final confrontation on the clock tower. But my favorite scene has, and always will be, the one where the Joker defaces all the paintings. And this song is probably the perfect accompaniment to that scene. And he indeed rocks a party like no other can.
But what are some of your favorite non-iconic musical moments? Comment and let me know!