Andy Warhol pointed out that we'd all be famous for fifteen minutes, and for most of us, that fifteen is over with all too fast, and we never get it back. But for a small, select, lucky few, the random mechanics of the universe brings a second helping of karma - sometimes raising you to fame that eclipses your first. Here's a list of songs that were long forgotten, but were brought back into popularity thanks to revival through some other media, be it film, television, or the almighty commercial.
Love and Marriage by Frank Sinatra (1955)
They might "go together like a horse and carriage," but Sinatra's hit didn't go anywhere for about 32 years, and then it was chosen as the ironic theme song to FOX's TV sitcom Married... with Children, a show that could have used Hooters' slogan: Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined. Kind of an anti-Cosby Show, it was FOX's first prime-time series, preceding The Simpsons by two years.
"Love and Marriage" was originally recorded for Capitol Records in August of 1955, where it climbed to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for 15 weeks. Oh, and this is the first year the Billboard charts start. It was originally produced for a televised performance of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town for the NBC show Producer's Showcase. From George Gibbs to Al Bundy!
Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel (1973)
A #6 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1973, this was Stealers Wheel's biggest hit of their career. It was written by Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty (the founding members of Stealers Wheel), and released on their self-titled debut album. That album was produced by none other than the legendary team of Leiber and Stoller. However, most readers today probably know it as the ideal music to torture a cop by, in Quentin Tarantino's break-out 1992 crime thriller film Reservoir Dogs. In the film, the song is used in a gruesome scene where somebody loses an ear - the bouncy melody contrasting with the psychotic act in a way that only Tarantino (and maybe Kubrick) can work to perfection. At right is the original video.
Shortly after the film's release, Stealers Wheel enjoyed a career resurgence, with numerous groups covering the single, a dance version released in 2001, and finally the band - sans the founding members - reforming in 2008. Tarantino might be a Leiber and Stoller fan in general, if his subsequent use of The Coasters' 1956 hit "Down in Mexico" in his 2007 thriller Death Proof is anything to go by. We could go on about Tarantino's revival of old hits all day, but let's move on to less obvious examples.
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (1975)
Do we even have to tell you which work brought this song back to the mainstream? For those few of you who were not immediately teleported to a car with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey headbanging along on an unforgettable nighttime ride, the film that brought this song back is 1992's Wayne's World, which along with The Blues Brothers is the best of the SNL character movies. Pity those whose only exposure to this genre is The Ladies Man, Superstar and A Night at the Roxbury.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" originally only made it to #9 on the Billboard charts when first released in the 1975 Queen album A Night at the Opera, but the 1992 revival saw it go to #2, boosted the film soundtrack sales, and provoked a video mixing Queen with film footage, resulting in an MTV music award - tragically, all of this after Freddie Mercury's death. By the way, speaking of classic songs revived by Wayne's World, how about Joan Jett & the Blackhearts' replay of "I Love Rock And Roll," originally written by The Arrows - have you seen our Songfacts interview with Alan Merrill?
Sweet Jane by The Velvet Underground (1970)
We'll take any excuse to Velvet Underground! The song's ride to popularity begins with a cover version by Cowboy Junkies (a Toronto alt-country group) in 1988. It saw hit status at #75 on the Canadian charts and #5 on the US Modern Rock chart - and it would have ended right there if not for the inclusion of this version in the 1994 Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers.
There's Quentin Tarantino again, this time writing the screenplay. The soundtrack, produced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, sold over 500,000 copies in the US, making it a gold album. It also peaked at #9 on the Billboard album tracks - insultingly higher than the entire Velvet Underground album catalog ever reached. As you might have guessed, "Sweet Jane" is Lou Reed's old stand-by, written by him and released on the doomed 1970 Velvet Underground album Loaded.
Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones (1981)
While the Stones certainly hadn't languished into obscurity by 1995, their 1981 single "Start Me Up" from their album Tattoo You had been off the radar since its peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then along came Microsoft promoting its new operating system, Windows '95 - and they licensed the song for the TV commercials. Today, it's hard to imagine a hysteria over an operating system, but back then Windows '95 was greeted with a fervor seen these days in whatever Apple's latest and greatest might be.
Having the biggest corporate entity in America use your song in a worldwide advertising campaign tends to renew interest in your work. And when users saw the computer crash and got the famous Blue Screen Of Death (abbreviated as "BSOD"), they could identify with the part of the chorus that goes "You make a grown man cry!" Keep in mind, the advertising industry has just about made a career out of leaving out the negative lyrics in a song when they use it in a commercial- so Ford had no problem also using this song in their 2003 commercials.
Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley (1987)
Internet culture mavens, you can stop holding your breath now! Written in 1986 by the legendary UK songwriting and record producing trio of Stock Aitken Waterman, and released on Astley's 1987 album Whenever You Need Somebody, this song was already a major hit, peaking at #1 on dozens of charts all over the world. But nigh on twenty years had gone by when a little meme on the imageboard 4chan was discovered and popularized by one Linus Torvalds, author of the Linux operating system, who on March 31st, 2008, filed bug report #439858 with Red Hat Linux complaining that he couldn't get the YouTube plug-in to work and thus couldn't Rickroll anyone for April Fool's Day!
Rickrolling is of course the web-user prank of linking to a video of the song while claiming it's a link to something else. Rickrolling quickly spread to Fark, Digg, Reddit, and other social news sites (they still had geeks on these sites in those days), and then to the whole world - we don't have to even tell you the rest, right? Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to Rickrolling. The practice has even spilled over into the real world, as the video at right shows. For Rick Astley, it may not be his first choice for a second life, but he's cool with it. "It's just one of those odd things when something gets picked up and people run with it," says Astley. "That's what's brilliant about the internet."
Singin' In The Rain by Gene Kelly (1952)
We saved the ultimate example of this phenomenon for last. What do you think is the earliest use of "Singin' in the Rain" in a film? The 1971 Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange? The 1959 Hitchcock thriller North by Northwest where Cary Grant whistles in the bathroom while pretending to take a shower? Nope, try again. Whatever you do, don't say the 1952 Gene Kelly film of the same title, because that's not even close. Judy Garland beat it by a clean 12 years with the 1940 film Little Nellie Kelly, Jimmy Durante did it before her in 1932's Speak Easily, and it also was used in 1929's The Hollywood Revue of 1929, the second full-length musical feature produced by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and one of the earliest "talking" motion pictures to have ever been made.
We know it was written with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown, and credited in 1929, but allegedly it was performed earlier than that in 1927. And from there, the thread disappears into the mists of history, our of reach of all singles' charts, before the Brill Building and into Tin Pan Alley, before the Great Depression, and... who knows? Maybe they'll find film footage of a winking flapper dancing to it in black-and-white stills, and even then we won't know the origins of "Singin' in the Rain."