Songs Discussed in Movies
People are passionate about music. Their own unique experiences shape the way they respond to a melody or understand a lyric. A song can attach itself to a moment in time and forever be linked to a memory whether you want it to or not. If you hear Justin Bieber's "Baby" the morning of your grandmother's funeral, chances are when you hear the Biebs again, you'll think of grandma. Forever. Filmmakers know this. Using just the right song can make or break a scene in a movie. Or, if the movie sucks, it can ruin a song for the audience. All those people who hated The Big Chill still can't listen to Motown without picturing that damn kitchen scene (awkward dancing + packing up dinner leftovers = most memorable part of the movie).
"A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton (2002)
Movie: White Chicks (2004)
Some movies actually bring the songs into the narrative, making the music a part of the story itself. If art imitates life, then it would only make sense that characters would feel just as passionate about music as we do. And, like us, they're pretty vocal about it. Here's a look at movies that feature conversations about songs. But be careful, you just might end up loving a song you hate or hating a song you love.
"How did you know? I love this song!"
People tend to associate Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" with a white girl playing a piano because it's performed by... a white girl playing a piano. But the 2004 comedy White Chicks
revealed an unexpected demographic. Carlton explained in her Songfacts interview
"It's actually the secret song of that big, black dude in the SUV, it's like his jam. But the irony is that people associate it with a white girl playing the piano. It's like his secret jam, so it's able to push through all of those micro genres and you can't profile who's going to like the song. That's what they were displaying in that scene. And I really liked that a lot."
At first the movie plays into the "white girl anthem" stereotype by having a car full of privileged white girls singing along to "their jam," while Shawn and Marlon Wayans, who are undercover as two ditzy socialites, struggle to sing along with the lyrics. When a sex-crazed football player with an eye for white ladies sets his sights on Marlon, he tries to play him "A Thousand Miles" to get him to back off but instead he replies: "How did you know... I love this song!"
"Auld Lang Syne"
Movie: When Harry Met Sally (1989)
"My whole life I don't know what this song means."
Rob Reiner's classic romantic comedy follows Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) through years of disliking, begrudgingly liking, genuinely liking and finally loving each other. Harry professes his love to Sally on New Year's Eve as "Auld Lang Syne" begins to play at the stroke of midnight. Harry admits he can't figure out the folk song, which was restored by poet Robert Burns in the late 1700s: "My whole life, I don't know what this song means. It means 'Should old acquaintance be forgot.' Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances or does it mean that if we should happen to forget them, we should remember them which is not possible because we already forgot?"
Sally suggests it's about old friends. For two people who spend many years as "old friends," it's a fitting interpretation. Like Harry, its meaning also puzzled Mike Stivic, Reiner's character on All in the Family
"Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" by The Delfonics (1970)
Movie: Jackie Brown (1997)
"This is pretty. Who is this?"
It wouldn't be a Tarantino movie without '70s pop culture references, but Jackie Brown takes it a step further. The title character's penchant for the smooth sound of the Delfonics' "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)
" becomes a key element in the plot. It all starts when Jackie, a flight attendant who is fresh out of jail on a drug charge, plays her Delfonics record for bondsman Max Cherry. We won't give anything away beyond that, but anyone who's seen Reservoir Dogs
knows those '70s hits always spell trouble.
As he did with John Travolta and projectile bloodletting, Tarantino brought The Delfonics back in vogue. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" may have been long forgotten, but it was far from an undiscovered gem; the song earned the Delfonics a Grammy Award for Best Performance by an R&B Duo or Group in 1971.
"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey (1981)
Movie: Monster (2003)
"Oh man, I love this song!"
The inspiring lyrics to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'
" knows no bounds. Even serial killers get a surge of positive energy when they hear that chorus soar. Before it turned out the lights on The Sopranos
and lit up the stage on Glee
, the song was used in a movie about a prostitute-turned-killer Aileen Wuornos and her lesbian lover.
, Aileen (Charlize Theron) gets the courage to admit her true feelings to her female friend (Christina Ricci) while "Don't Stop Believin'" blares over the speakers at a roller-skating rink. They kiss, to put it lightly, after talking about how much they love the song.
didn't pluck the song out of obscurity. Why did an instantly recognizable song that had a regular slot on every classic rock station suddenly become a hot track after appearing in a gritty true crime flick? It's because after that scene in Monster
, it wasn't the same song anymore. Writer Steven Rosen explains, "For both, this constitutes a bold, public moment of coming out and finding love – and, for a while at least, hope. It makes what follows all the sadder, because we glimpse a different path. Monster gave 'Don't Stop Believin'' a newfound profundity. It was no longer just nostalgia."
When director Patty Jenkins approached the band for permission to use the song, lead singer Steve Perry responded and offered to be a music consultant for the film.
"Hip to be Square" by Huey Lewis & the News (1986)
Movie: American Psycho (2000)
"It's also a personal statement about the band itself."
If that statement doesn't leave a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach or make you want to flee the room, then you haven't seen American Psycho
. When Christian Bale signed on to play the sadistic serial killer Patrick Bateman in the darkly comedic movie, everyone warned him it would be career suicide. Activists like Gloria Steinem were fighting to keep the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' explicitly violent novel off the screen. The furor surrounding the film also spurred rumors after it was completed. It was rumored that Huey Lewis refused to allow "Hip to be Square" to be featured on the movie's soundtrack because he was disgusted by the film, despite Bateman's unabashed praise of the song before he killed one of his victims. With axe in hand, he stopped to ponder:
"I think their undisputed masterpiece is 'Hip to Be Square,' a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself."
So, was Huey really trying to dissociate the band from the movie? The official reason points to a lot of red tape: the film's production team failed to secure the rights for both the film and the soundtrack, so when the album was released with "Hip to be Square," it was pulled off the shelves.
A better understanding of Lewis' thoughts on the movie were revealed in 2013 when he did a parody of the scene
with Weird Al Yankovic as the murder victim to Huey's Bateman. "Try parodying one of my songs now," Lewis yells at what's left of Al as "I Want A New Duck" plays in the background.
"Hold On" by Wilson Phillips (1990)
Movie: Bridesmaids (2011)
"I listened to 'Hold On' probably 10,000 times when I got my driver's license."
The comedy Bridesmaids
follows Annie (Kristen Wiig) in a downward spiral that unfortunately coincides with her best friend Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) upcoming wedding. Annie lost her bakery, her boyfriend, and is about to lose her best friend to her stuck up fellow bridesmaid Helen Harris III (Rose Byrne). Helen is the perfect party planner, but that doesn't stop her from stealing all of Annie's ideas for the wedding. She even books Wilson Phillips to perform during the ceremony after Annie reveals "Hold On
" was Lillian's favorite song as a teenager.
Wendy Wilson told AOL Music: "It's funny that through this movie the song got a resurgence of its special meaning because it really meant a lot to people 20 years ago and it still has throughout the years, but when you think about the song and the meaning it's totally awesome in terms of the movie. To me it was so appropriately placed. We're so excited about that. It's really wonderful. But, we thought we were being so corny up there!"
"I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder (1984)
Movie: High Fidelity (2000)
"He offended me with his terrible taste!"
"I Just Called to Say I Love You
" was a major success for Stevie Wonder. It debuted in the 1984 movie The Woman in Red
and earned accolades a mile long: it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and dominated the R&B and adult contemporary charts. It became Stevie's first #1 solo chart-topper in the UK, it was nominated for three Grammy awards, and it won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
But Jack Black wasn't impressed with these mere trifles.
In the comedy High Fidelity
, Black plays a die-hard music lover and record-store employee who can't hold back his disgust for inferior music. In one scene, he turns on a customer who's trying to buy a copy of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for his daughter's birthday.
He says, "Well, it's sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells 'I Just Called to Say I Love You?' Go to the mall."
He continues: "Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song!" And then: "Is she in a coma?"
Those of us who grew up with "Superstition
" and "Higher Ground
" could relate.
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones (1968)
Movie: Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)
"I was raised by two lesbians? Come on, Mick!"
In 1986, no one imagined they could talk to people all over the world through a computer. In the spy comedy Jumpin' Jack Flash
, Whoopi Goldberg does just that. Her character, Terry, works late nights at a bank and finds herself helping a desperate British Intelligence agent who taps into her computer and will only identify himself as "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Before she can communicate with him again, she must figure out his password that's hidden in the Rolling Stones song
. She stays up all night trying to decipher the lyrics.
"Mick, Mick, Mick! Speak English!"
Another classic rock connection is the name of Terry's boss: James Page (after Led Zeppelin's guitarist).
"Like a Virgin" by Madonna (1984)
Movie: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
"Let me tell you what 'Like a Virgin' is about..."
After Madonna watched Quentin Tarantino's debut film Reservoir Dogs
, she was inspired to give the director a gift: a copy of her Erotica
album, signed "To Quentin. It's not about dick, it's about love. Madonna." Tarantino told Playboy
that the singer wanted to meet him in person to defend her song's honor.
She's referring to an argument over "Like a Virgin" during the opening scenes of the crime movie, which is about the fallout for six criminals after a jewel heist.
While Mr. Brown (Tarantino) insists the song is about "a girl who digs a guy with a big dick," Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) disagrees. He claims it's about a vulnerable girl who finally meets a sensitive guy. Billy Steinberg
, who wrote the lyrics, told us the real story: "I had been involved in a very emotionally difficult relationship that had finally ended and I had met somebody new and I remember writing that lyric about feeling shiny and new." And while Madonna reached out to Tarantino, Steinberg says the only thing Madonna gave him was a nosebleed ticket to one of her shows
"Linger" by The Cranberries (1994)
Movie: Click (2006)
"You know I'm such a fool for you."
The comedy Click
brought waves of '90s nostalgia when Adam Sandler's character used a remote control as a time travel device to revisit his first kiss with his future wife. He discovered "Linger
" by The Cranberries was playing during the crucial moment.
couldn't have come at a better time for the band's lead singer Dolores O'Riordan, who was just eighteen years old when "Linger" climbed the charts in 1994. By 2006, three years after the band went on hiatus, Riordan was ready to explore a solo career and made a cameo appearance in Click
as a wedding singer. A year later, she released her first solo album, Are You Listening?
Sandler went even further back and dug out an oldie for his 2010 movie, Grown Ups
. Bob Welch's 1977 hit "Sentimental Lady
" was the ultimate makeout song in their youth, and David Spade nearly tears up when he hears it again
"Love Gun" by KISS (1977)
Movie: Role Models (2008)
"Who are these clowns?"
Who knew the easiest way to bond with a kid was to introduce him to KISS. In Role Models
, two screw-ups (Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd) are forced to participate in a Big Brother type program. Scott's character not only opens his little brother's eyes to the KISS's greatness, but also to the explicit meaning behind the song "Love Gun
." He says:
"Paul Stanley wrote it about his dick. Seriously, this song is called 'Love Gun.' And it's about Paul Stanley's dick, and how this girl's gonna get some of his dick!"
No wonder Stanley names "Love Gun" one of the top 5 signature KISS songs.
"Love is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar (1983)
Movie: 13 Going on 30 (2004)
"We are young. Heartache to heartache we stand. Love is a battlefield."
Pat Benatar was 30 years old when she shot the music video for "Love is a Battlefield
," playing a teen who's forced to grow up on the mean streets after her father kicks her out. In 13 Going on 30
, Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) suddenly finds herself thrust into adulthood when she literally wakes up as a 30-year-old woman (think a less appealing version of Big
without Tom Hanks or a Voltar machine). Even though she's still a kid at heart, Jenna manages to impress a group of young girls with some deep wisdom: "We are young. Heartache to heartache we stand. Love is a battlefield."
But the '80s music references don't stop at Benatar. Earlier in the movie, her best friend Matt doesn't fare as well when the popular girls make fun of him for liking "Burning Down the House" by the Talking Heads. Jenna also livens up a boring work party by getting everyone to dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
"Misty" by Erroll Garner (1954)
Movie: Play Misty for Me (1971)
"Weren't you gonna play 'Misty' for me?"
In his 1971 directorial debut, Clint Eastwood plays a disc jockey who's stalked by an unstable fan - a woman who always has the same request: "Play 'Misty' for me."
And now we have a pretty one for lonely lovers on a cool, cool night.
It's the great Erroll Garner classic, Misty.
And this one is especially for Evelyn.
Dave (Eastwood) hopes to have a no-strings-attached relationship with his favorite caller, but things go Fatal Attraction pretty quick when Evelyn (Jessica Walter) won't take no for an answer. Jean Shepherd, author of the holiday classic A Christmas Story
, claimed the movie was based on one of his own harrowing experiences when a crazed fan tried to stab him. Rumor has it, she yelled "Say uncle!" Kidding aside, Shepherd was actually a successful radio personality, and he met his third wife when she was a frequent caller to his program.
The jazz standard "Misty" was composed by Garner in 1954 and popularized by Johnny Mathis in 1958. Mathis' version inspired Eastwood to use the song as a key element in the psychological thriller.
"Mr. Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan (1965)
Movie: Dangerous Minds (1995)
"So, what if I told you that 'Mr. Tambourine Man' is a code name?"
Michelle Pfeiffer knew the only way to get a group of budding gang members interested in poetry was to connect the subject to drugs. As an ex-Marine-turned-teacher in Dangerous Minds
, she used songs like Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" to show the students how to unlock hidden meaning in verse. In this case, she argued that singers were forced to disguise drug references in order to make it past stringent censors.
Despite lyrics like "take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship" and "the smoke rings of my mind," Dylan denied the song was about drug use. But if you can believe Pfeiffer in the part of an ex-Marine, then you can believe just about anything.
"Pocketful of Sunshine" by Natasha Bedingfield (2008)
Movie: Easy A (2010)
"Blech! Worst song ever!"
Natasha Bedingfield's 2008 single "Pocketful of Sunshine
" is a song you won't soon forget. Not because it's that great, but because it's so damn catchy. In the comedy Easy A
, Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) becomes addicted to the song after hearing it in a musical greeting card. She claims it's the "worst song ever!" yet she listens to it all day long, sings it in the shower and makes it her ringtone. That's dedication.
The song even plagued Stone after she filmed the movie. In an interview promoting the film, she recounted how she ran into one of the "Pocketful of Sunshine" songwriters (presumably Danielle Brisebois) on the street:
"She was like, 'Seriously, we're not mad, we're totally into it. I wrote the song.' and I was like, 'Well your stupid song is still stuck in my head!'"
"Puff the Magic Dragon" by Peter, Paul, and Mary (1963)
Movie: Meet the Parents (2000)
"Puff is just the name of a boy's magical dragon. You a pothead, Focker?"
In 1964, Newsweek
published a feature about hidden drug references in popular songs and included Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon
" as a prime example. The trio denied the allegations, saying the song is about the loss of innocence, not about rolling and smoking joints.
In Meet the Parents
, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) tries to make conversation with his future father-in-law, who happens to be a big Peter, Paul and Mary fan. "Puff the Magic Dragon" is even one of Jack's favorite songs. Greg, who clearly has caught Dangerous Minds
one too many times on TNT, makes the mistake of pointing out "the whole drug thing."
"She Loves You" by The Beatles (1963)
Movie: Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
"I'm an adult. I want to have fun. I want to go to Liverpool and discover the Beatles."
Imagine if the world never heard of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr and the four Beatles were replaced by one Cage. Nicolas Cage. Thankfully, even in fiction Cage can't supersede the Beatles. Not even when his own uncle directs the movie.
In Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married
, Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) collapses at her high school reunion and wakes up to find herself back in 1960 during her senior year. Among her classmates is her future philandering husband, Charlie (Cage), who spent his teenage years trying to make it big as a singer. Peggy Sue tries to alter the course of the future by offering him some help with a new song she "wrote": "She Loves You
." Of course, it would become a smash hit in three years by the then-unheard-of Beatles, but nobody but Peggy Sue knows that.
Charlie is convinced the song would go over better if he replaced the "yeah yeah yeah" with "ooh, ooh, ooh." It's no wonder his future self remains an appliance salesman.
It's not surprising, though, that Charlie was baffled by all the "yeahs." Even John Lennon said it was a new idea to him when he and Paul McCartney penned the song in 1963:
"I don't know where the 'yeah yeah yeah' came from [but] I remember when Elvis did 'All Shook Up' it was the first time in my life that I had heard 'uh huh', 'oh yeah', and 'yeah yeah' all sung in the same song."
"Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel (1972)
Movie: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
"You ever listen to K-Billy's Super Sounds of the '70s?"
Stealers Wheel's upbeat "Stuck in the Middle with You
" serves as a jarring contrast to the notorious torture scene that unfolds around it in Reservoir Dogs
"You ever listen to K-Billy's Super Sounds of the '70s?" Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) casually asks a bloodied police officer before he mangles him with a straight razor.
Before he gets down to business, Mr. Blonde gives a spontaneous performance of "Stuck in the Middle with You" while the horror of what's to come builds in the cop's mind. It's probably not the reaction Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan had in mind when they recorded the song in 1972, but that's why it works so well. Tarantino explains:
"Personally, I don't know if Gerry Rafferty necessarily appreciated the connotations that I brought to 'Stuck in the Middle With You.' There's a good chance he didn't. But that's one of the things about using music in movies that's so cool: the fact that if you do it right, it's about as cinematic a thing as you can do. You're really doing what movies do better than any other art form. It works in this visceral, emotional, cinematic way that's special. And when you do it right and you hit it right, then you can never really hear that song again without thinking about that image from the movie."
Like anyone who's seen Reservoir Dogs
can attest, the image of a bloodied ear will forever be linked to "Stuck in the Middle with You" as will any station offering the "Super Sounds of the '70s."
"Superstar" by The Carpenters (1971)
Movie: Tommy Boy (1995)
"Talk about lame."
"Yeah, totally. You can change it if you want."
David Spade has a soft spot for '70s hits. Long before he was choking up over "Sentimental Lady" in Grown Ups
, he was weeping over the Carpenters' "Superstar
" in Tommy Boy
Spade and Chris Farley try to act cool and bash the song when it comes on the radio, but it doesn't take long before they're belting out "don't you remember you told me you loved me baby" with tears streaming down their faces. The song also becomes a point of contention between Nicolas Cage and Donal Logue in Ghost Rider
. Logue wants nothing to do with the song and Cage insists "nobody messes with Karen Carpenter."
Although the Carpenters' 1971 version of "Superstar" is the most well known, it was originally recorded by Delaney and Bonnie in 1969. Richard Carpenter fell in love with the song when he heard Bette Midler perform it on The Tonight Show
"The Marriage of Figaro Overture" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1786)
Movie: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
When Mel Stuart was directing Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
, he assumed the audience had a much stronger grasp on classical music, but realized his error when one of the jokes sailed over nearly everybody's heads. When Wonka is about to lead his guests into the glorious Chocolate Room, he plays a few notes on a miniature piano to unlock the door. Mike Teavee's know-it-all mother quickly identifies it as "Rachmaninoff" when it's actually Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro
"The joke would have played much better if we had used the far more recognizable notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: da-da-da-dum," Stuart mused in his book Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
"Waterfalls" by TLC (1994)
Movie: The Other Guys (2010)
"Do me a favor... don't go chasin' waterfalls."
Song lyrics have a way of burrowing into our brains without our permission and sometimes without us even knowing it. Michael Keaton experiences this phenomenon in the 2010 cop comedy The Other Guys
, when his character, Captain Gene Mauch, continues to quote lines from TLC's songs.
Mauch tells Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell): "Do me a favor...don't go chasin' waterfalls."
Gamble replies: "Was that accidental or were you trying to quote TLC on purpose?"
He insists he doesn't know anything about TLC, but later references "No Scrubs
," "Creep" and "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg
Director Adam McKay told MTV News the story behind Keaton's recurring bit:
"We were trying to write phrases for the captain that were tough-guy euphemisms," McKay said. "We had a draft where he said all this crazy stuff and out of that I started to say, 'Don't go chasing waterfalls,' and everyone started laughing. Then we called it back two more times, and then Keaton was doing them so well, we added more."
"We came up with a whole backstory that he drove his son to college and his son played a TLC greatest hits CD the whole time but the captain was never aware what he was listening to," he added. "We knew at least 35 percent of the audience would have no idea who TLC is, but we were like, 'Screw it! It's too funny!'"
"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane (1967)
Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
"Jefferson Airplane, 'White Rabbit'. I need a rising sound."
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
, the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) are in the midst of a surreal, drug-fueled trip to Vegas when Gonzo overdoes it on the LSD. He ends up trying to kill himself in a hotel bathtub and his method of choice is Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit
." He demands that Duke throw the radio in the water when "White Rabbit" peaks. Duke agrees, but throws a grapefruit at him instead.
In the book, Gonzo is listening to Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World
" before he asks for "White Rabbit."
May 3, 2013