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Song, Scene, Stuck


Sometimes all it takes is just a couple of notes, other times it’s well into the hook of the song that causes me to experience déjà vu.  I’m not alone.  There are an overabundance of earworms that are lodged in our brains, that are forever connected to a specific moment or scene in a movie–so much so, that when we hear them, we immediately begin playing the entire sequence back in our minds. It’s an effective form of storytelling that directors and musical supervisors employ.  However, there are some song/scene combinations that are able to exist apart from one another–meaning you still enjoy the song, because it doesn’t have that strong of a connection, while others have been ruined altogether.  Today, I give you what I consider to be the most memorable examples of this phenomenon.

Obviously, no director is more brilliant in crafting unforgettable song/scene moments than Quentin Tarantino–so he’s out.  Also excluded–English director, Guy Richie, who I consider to be a poor-man’s Tarantino.  Despite this, the additional criteria is actually quite simple, the song couldn’t have been created as part of the film’s original soundtrack and also the song had to exist prior to the movie’s release.

Arguably the most timeless example was the use of Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll in 1983’s Risky Business.  The song underscores the scene in which a young, scantily-clad, sunglass-wearing Tom Cruise lip-syncs the lyrics as he dances and writhes around in his parents’ living room.  While the pairing remains an iconic moment in popular culture, it unfortunately forever rendered the song unlistenable–due to the fact that you now have a pantless Tom Cruise forever seared into your consciousness.

Another case in point.  Honestly, how many of you Gen Xer’s were inspired by the scene in 1989’s Say Anything… to woo back your girlfriend or feigning love interest by standing outside her bedroom window, holding a boombox high above your head, and reminding her about that awkward night you slept together while blasting Peter Gabriel’s 1986 single In Your Eyes for all the neighborhood to hear.  Now raise your hands, did it work?  That’s what I thought.

However, not all the entries are that extreme.  Take Little Richard’s 1956’s Long Tall Sally which was deployed in 1987’s Predator for example.  The tune serves either as background noise or hype-music for Schwarzenegger and his group of mercenaries en route to their jungle drop zone.  Hearing the music, we see the team bathed in the red-interior lights of their helicopter, yet, as Richard’s brash vocals belt out the hook “we gonna have some fun tonight…” audiences are left to wonder if the song is meant as a battle-cry for the unsuspecting commandoes or the otherworldly monster that awaits them.

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Queen.  I had it all–posters, t-shirts, VHS recordings of live shows, albums, cassette tapes, CDs–you name it.  I consider them one of the greatest bands–in terms of music and showmanship–ever assembled.  While my stance may be disharmonious to your musical sensibilities, you know that when their sprawling, six-minute 1975 hit, Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the radio in your car, you simply cannot resist singing along.  Don’t be ashamed, everyone does it, and no other movie has captured this cultural phenomenon better than 1992’s Wayne’s World.

Funny thing, every time I stop to fill up my car and I see how low gas prices are these days, I have to fight the temptation to engage in some playful get-to-know-you game with the other refuelers’ whereby we spray each other with extremely flammable gasoline while blasting Wham’s 1984’s buoyant hit, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.  Wonder where I got such a crazy idea?  Um, the 2001 film Zoolander of course.  Continuing with the theme of tragic car scenes underpinned by memorable music, there’s three more that come to mind.  First of all, there’s Jim Gordon’s piano coda from Derek and the Dominos, 1971 blues track Layla to underscore the violent, callous and self-serving nature of post-heist Jimmy in the 1990 crime film, Goodfellas.  Or who could forget the moment in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when Ferris convinces his best friend Cameron into using his father’s most-prized possession–a limited edition, red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California–to pick up Sloane, while the 1985 song Oh Yeah by the Swiss avant-garde Electro-pop group Yello, frames the entire scene.  I agree Ferris, “a man with priorities so out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile”.  Lastly, the unfortunate effects of a driving while impaired and distracted are realized when The Dude–high and gripped with paranoia, thinking he’s being followed–totals his car, while jamming to C.C.R.’s Lookin’ out My Back Door in the 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski.

Aging has a way of humbling you.  Sometimes when I go on UK’s campus, which is barely recognizable to someone who graduated nearly twenty years ago–at least I believe I graduated–I feel like teaching a class in the ways of old-school hard-partying, no studying, still passing, college life to these young millennial know-it-alls.  Yet every time I get the urge to make a scene, I’m reminded of how well that worked for Adam Sandler in the 1995 film Billy Madison.  Whenever I hear Billy Squier’s 1981 track The Stroke, I realize, my arrival will be just as well received.  (Note to self:  don’t even think about popping your collar.)  Additionally, any time some nobody, acquaintance, or bully from high school tracks me down and sends me a friend request on Facebook, my opinion of them softens somewhat as I scroll through their miserable life, and the urge to seek vengeance wanes.  I simply, cross their name off my kill list, put on my lipstick, and go to my happy place just like Steve Buscemi did, while E.L.O.’s 1977 song Telephone Line plays softly in the background.

Not every song/scene combination is remembered fondly, some visual ear-worms are downright cringe-worthy.  Whether you’re a fan of bluegrass music or not, nothing should send waves of sheer panic and terror down your spine more than the first licks of the 1955 instrumental Dueling Banjos, which was made popular in the 1972 thriller, Deliverance.  Poor Ned Beatty.  Likewise, anytime my ears hear even the faintest haunting melody of Q Lazzarus’ 1988 song Goodbye Horses, I pinch myself to ensure I’m not hallucinating from starvation, trapped in a freaking pit, while my abductor shucks, tucks and plays dress up, above me, like the girl in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs.  Then there’s Leonard Cohen’s 1984 spiritually rapturing, Hallelujah, which will forever be synonymous with superheroes banging on a owl-shaped flying thingy as seen in the 2009 film Watchmen. Additionally, as if the 1964 song The Crying Game, made popular by Boy George thirty years later, isn’t wincing enough, it’s used so skillfully during the turning point of the 1994 film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective–anytime anyone hears it, they mumble, “Finkle is Einhorn…Einhorn is Finkle”.  And no matter how hard you try to repress your memories of that scene, the sight of Jim Carrey cowering naked in a shower is something you can never unsee.  Finally, after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 futuristic eye-opening masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange, the whimsically and consummately choreographed song Singing in the Rain–taken from the 1952 movie of the same name, took on a much darker persona.

In this Christmas season, it’s hard to escape all the cheerful holiday songs on MixMas, but it’s not a swell time from my vantage point because anytime I hear Bobby Helms’ 1957 rockabilly classic Jingle Bell Rock I’m reminded that a beautiful, coked out girl jumped to her death in the intro of 1987’s Lethal Weapon.  However, it’s not all bad, the holiday’s are abundantly filled with sentimental nostalgia, like the scene in 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswald is trapped both emotionally and literally in his own attic.  As Clark reminisces over his own forgotten childhood memories of Holidays past, he’s reminded too of the season’s fleeting nature, while Ray Charles’ 1985 standard, The Spirit of Christmas further emphasizes the point home

Finally, there’s Iggy Pop’s 1977 heart-pounding track Lust for Life which is used to usher in the 1996 film Trainspotting.  As Renton, a heroin addict played by Ewan McGregor, attempts to evade capture, he delivers a deeply personal and ambivalent monologue about life alternatives which is still relevant today.  “Choose a job.  Choose a family.  Choose a big television.  Choose a washing machine, a car, a disc player” and for God’s sake, choose another ******* song–this scene’s taken!

Now that I’ve given you my picks, what are your most unforgettable scene/song pairings?

Article written by Matthew Mahone

Follow me on Twitter @M_E_Mahone