Soundtracks are the uses of popular music rather than a new score being written. They have become more popular in films, inspired by directors like Tarantino and Scorsese. So to look at some of the best examples of songs being used in film I am joined by Jonny Farley. The brief was just worded as ‘use of popular music’ and can be interpreted different ways. My personal interpretation was of single songs within a film. Without further delay lets get on with the Top 5 uses of songs in film.
- Shuggie: Bob Dylan ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ from Watchmen – Watchmen, like all of Zack Snyder’s attempts at adapting Superhero films is at best divisive. What isn’t however is the opening title montage. What it gives us is a journey through the alternative version of history, all set to this Dylan song. We see the formation of the Watchmen and their involvement in history. We see how the existence of the Watchmen changed history compared to the real world. Dylan’s song is such an inspired choice to use under, because not only does it lyrically tie in with what we are watching, but it’s also a powerful anthem for the film to use.
- Jonny: Shrek – Arguably one of the main reasons the words “All-Star” are imprinted onto the minds of anyone born in the 90s and 00s with access to the Internet, the Shrek films have always been great for using various famous songs to illustrate the “modern-medieval” theme of the series. Ranging from the aforementioned “All-Star” the music jumps from scene establishing hits like “Funkytown” to a post-credits karaoke session with “I’m a Believer” and the sequel’s pop idol parody featuring “La Vida Loca” to name a few. A famous franchise cemented firmly in the childhood of most 20-somethings, Shrek will almost always come to mind when thinking about the songs it uses.
- Shuggie: Redbone ‘Come And Get Your Love’ from Guardians of the Galaxy – The very opening minute or so of Guardians of the Galaxy actually opens with quite a dark and brooding tone, and then the switch comes. As soon as Starlord hit play on that tape of Awesome Mix Volume 1 and we get Chris Pratt singing and dancing around you know exactly what kind of film this is going to be. This is such a brilliant use of music by James Gunn because it perfectly sets the entire tone for the film, and really relaxed me as an audience member. This wasn’t just the same thing that we’d seen in the MCU, but this was going to be a fun space opera. The soundtrack played a pivotal part in creating that tone, and it all started right here with the opening tack.
- Jonny: Quincy Jones ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ from Austin Powers – Mike Myers’ second appearance on this list, the Austin Powers franchise quickly became clear that they captured the right moment in cinematic history to include a “shagadelic” dance number set to “Soul Bossa Nova”. A track pretty much synonymous with the 60s setting of the franchise which is now firmly set into the minds and memories of a generation or two. It’s difficult to hear the song now without it evoking images of the groovy, gyrating flamboyancy of Mike Myers’ titular character.
- Shuggie: Santa Esmeralda ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ from Kill Bill Vol. 1 – There was always going to be a song from a Tarantino on the list, I think surprise will be that it’s not Stuck In The Middle With You. Instead I’m going for the cover of Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and its incredible use in the first part of Kill Bill. The film only really uses the instrumental part of the film, but it creates an incredible atmosphere in the final dual between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii. The scene is stunningly beautiful, in so many ways, and the song only adds to that. It doesn’t hurt that this also led to my discovery of the incredible Nina Simone, but from a purely film point of view I feel the choice still stands on its own.
- Jonny: Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ from X-Men Apocalypse – The most recent film to feature, X-Men Apocalypse might not be everyone’s cup of tea but without a doubt Quicksilver’s time-freeze rescue set to Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” was the single best part of it. After Days of Future Past’s brilliant introduction to the character the pressure was on to up not only his screentime but also the whole wow factor, something they delivered in droves. A signature track of the 80s settings the first few beats in time with his arrival should hold a fond place in the minds of anyone who saw it.
- Shuggie: Lou Reed ‘Perfect Day’ from Trainspotting – Trainspotting is a film that is so synonymous with the music in it. They are both so of that Cool Britannia time period. Songs like Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life and Underworld’s Born Slippy are iconic, and in large part down to this film. For me the great musical moment in this film is Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. It’s such a euphoric swell of sound that is in complete juxtaposition of the moment. As Danny Boyle couples the song with Renton’s heroin taking and overdose, as he sees himself in a grave made up of the carpet he’s lying on. The euphoria of Reed’s music is so starkly different to the horrible events unfurling, and yet it’s a perfect fit. This is a bold, risk taking music choice, and one that absolutely payed off.
- Jonny: Guardians Of The Galaxy – Perhaps the most diversely musical film in the MCU, Guardians brought the 70s into the 21st century and completely mixed up the format for superhero film soundtracks. Gone were the days of nothing-but-score and here came a period of rock and pop, drenching the film in iconically psychedelic and funky themes (something echoed in the more muddled Suicide Squad). Standout tracks include “Come and get your Love” by Redbone simply for the now-iconic title reveal as well as the now pivotally recognisable “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede, a track that has seen its fair share of silver screen time (appearing in Reservoir Dogs, a film later on the list) but was given new life by the Marvel kick-to-the-gut that was Guardians. This is a trend set to continue as shown by the use of “Fox on the Run” in the trailer for the sequel, promising more 70s themes than ever before.
- Shuggie: Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind’ from Fight Club – As soon as I did this topic this was the first moment that jumped to my mind. It features in the final scene of Fight Club (so warning there will be spoilers). It’s a song that perfectly encapsulates the feelings of the narrator after the events of the film. He’s discovered that Tyler Durdan is just a fictional creation in his head, and he’s responsible for everything that’s happened as all the skyscrapers around them blow up. He’s been shown as an unreliable narrator, and by using the question ‘where is my mind?’ this is perfectly captured. The Pixie’s distinctive sound is also a perfect fit for the chaos ensuing around Norton and Bonham Carter’s characters. Brilliant from Fincher.
- Jonny: Reservoir Dogs – As previously mentioned, Reservoir Dogs features a whole range of 70s classics, each set into place by the use of “K Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70s” radio station throughout the film. This Tarantino classic features not one but two of not only cinema’s most iconic shots and use of music. The opening walk, set to “Little Green Bag” is arguably Tarantino’s most recognisable, impressive considering the director’s résumé, as is the climactic “razor scene” set to “Stuck in the middle with you”, a scene so imprinted on pop culture’s mind that it’s the Simpsons’ go-to gag for a Tarantino parody. However, Reservoir Dogs is only one of many iconic and famous uses of music in Tarantino’s films, ranging from “Misirlou” in the Pulp Fiction opening to the heavy R&B tracks on Django Unchained, the man seems to have an unrivalled knack for song and scene pairing.
So those are our picks for the best uses of songs in film. What do you think of choices? Are there any uses of popular music we haven’t mentioned that stand out to you? Let us know in the comments.