The Needle Drop

I’m a complete and total sucker when life pairs two of my favourite things – movies and music – in an ungodly goodly way. I love being moved by a score, I love a soundtrack I can relate to, but nothing arrests me like the perfect pairing of a movie scene and a pop song.

You Make My Dreams, Hall & Oates from 500 Days of Summer

This? This is genius. Have you seen this movie? SEE THIS MOVIE! It’s about this guy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls for a fanciful, quirky woman, and for a time at least, it’s totally magical and transformative and the best thing about it? She lets him have sex with her! This scene is the morning after – the world is just different. In fact, it’s 10% better. Or 50% better! He literally wakes up with a song in his heart and a bounce in his step. The world is smiling back at him! His own reflection is proud. It’s crazy but it’s relatable. I feel like this too often probably, but if a good song comes on my MP3 (and a good song is always coming on!) and the sun is shining and life is good, then yeah, I’m the girl shaking my bootie down the street. Rarely do other people join in, let alone the bird from Cinderella, but I think it’s only a matter of time. My life is 10% better just knowing this exists in the world.

Stuck in The Middle With You, Stealers Wheel from Reservoir Dogs

This one has possibly made life just a little bit worse. In fact, I have not, since watching this, been able to hear this song and not feel a slight stinging in my ear. But I loved it. Quentin Tarantino is kind of a superstar when it comes to his ingenious pairing of image and sound. Here, Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde boogies down to his favourite oldies radio station while severely torturing a cop. The image is graphic and horrible but the song is light and catchy. Your eyes and your ears are experiencing two different things, which makes your belly do a queasy thing and it’s fucking brilliant, man. I mean, I hate it, but I love it. And Mr. Blonde? He just loves it. He’s having a party. Gives you a lot of insight into just what kind of guy we’re dealing with. Watch at your own risk.

Where Is My Mind, Pixies from Fight Club

The perfect song for the perfect scene – the music is haunting and kind of apocalyptic, the lyrics vague and dream-like. The song is asking Where Is My Mind? when it’s entirely possible that Edward Norton’s protagonist is only just finding it for the first time in the whole movie. The ending is meant to be ambiguous but David Fincher leaves us with a beautiful moment, giving us time to digest the blows we’ve just been dealt.

Wise Up, Aimee Mann from Magnolia

If you’ve seen this movie, and you totally should, you can’t ever forget it. It rains frogs, goddammit. It’s way too complex to  explain the varied bisecting characters and stories, but it’s a whole group of people who are in bad situations – the movie tackles regret, loneliness, family violence and exploitation. In the middle of a whole heck of a lot of hard times, every major character takes a turn singing Aimee Mann’s beautiful but unforgiving song Wise Up.

It’s not what you thought
When you first began it
You got what you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

You’re sure there’s a cure
And you have finally found it
You think one drink
Will shrink you till you’re underground
And living down
But it’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

Prepare a list for what you need
Before you sign away the deed
‘Cause it’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
Till you wise up

No, it’s not going to stop
Till you wise up
No, it’s not going to stop
So just give up

These lyrics prepare us for the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson isn’t giving out absolution. Mistakes can’t always be erased. There are limits to forgiveness. If you’re looking for a happy ending, look elsewhere. Hard truths, softened by an ethereal melody.

The Blower’s Daughter, Damien Rice from Closer

This movie just kills me and this end shot with the song layered over top really hammers home the wrist-slitting qualities of heart break and loss. Like, if you weren’t quite depressed enough, Mike Nichols finishes you off with this song just so you can be sure that there’s no happiness to be had here, only pain and confusion. Ouch.

Then He kissed Me, The Crystals from GoodFellas

Martin Scorsese might be the king of pop songs and movies so it’s hard to just pick one – hell, it’s hard to just pick one from GoodFellas. But I’m going with this one because it’s a classic Marty shot, a famous minutes-long steadi-cam single take that follows Henry as he leads Karen into the bowels of the Copacabana, passing out twenties like nobody’s business and basically impressing the panties off her. The song mimics this with its carefree feeling and sweep-her-off-her-feet lyrics. You feel and see and hear things from her perspective; it’s a whirlwindy pop song power trip that shows how much privilege he has while also reminding us that he came in the back door. One of my favourite three minutes of film ever.

Tiny Dancer, Elton John from Almost Famous

Who but Elton John could unite a bus full of cranky, burnt out super-egos? In a movie chock-full of songs, this one is particularly well chosen, but we wouldn’t expect any less of Cameron Crowe, would we?

Old Time Rock N Roll, Bob Seger from Risky Business

I resisted including this one for as long as I could, but rarely does a scene rival this one in our collective audience consciousness. It has transcended the movie and belongs now to pop culture’s hereafter. I have never dated a man who hasn’t at least partially recreated this scene for me unbidden and I have never seen this song fail to pack a dance floor.  Tom Cruise dances around in his underpants (apparently unchoreographed) and a star is born.

I’m Kissing you, Des’Ree from Romeo + Juliet

Now to cleanse your palette and possibly enrage you, I present to you for your consideration: Baz Luhrmann. It’s nearly criminal to leave him off a list like this, but people have mixed feelings about anachronistic music in period films. This movie was released the exact year I was reading Romeo + Juliet in high school and our English class boarded a bus and drove an hour and a half so the girls could all sob as we watched the movie in a dark, dark theatre. Oh, Leo! Remember when you were briefly a teen heartthrob? Baz Luhrmann does, and this movie serves as a shrine to that era. But it’s also William Shakespeare doing a teen drama, and this song reminds us that in this moment, forget the flowery language and the hundreds of years of venerating the bard – this is about adolescent love at first sight. I’m sad that I can’t find you the exact right scene but I’m pretty confident that the song will take you to the spot I’m talking about. Meanwhile, Baz Luhrmann is famous for inserting crazy music where you wouldn’t think it belongs – Prince into Shakespeare, Nirvana into the can-can, and Jay-Z into The Great Gatsby. Does Baz Luhrmann get a pass for being inventive or is it just as jarring as when somebody thought to use Queen’s We Will Rock You in A Knight’s Tale or David Bowie in Inglorious Basterds?

It turns out that I could geek out for hours on this subject, so I’ll cut myself off here – for now. Meanwhile, please tell me YOUR favourite musical moment in a movie! Matt, I know you just wrote about Somewhere Over the Rainbow in Face\Off last week, and Sean, I’m guessing yours is probably from Top Gun. 🙂

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18 thoughts on “The Needle Drop

    1. seanathant

      Baby Groot is awesome! That would definitely be on there. As would the tractor scene from Footloose. And I especially love the Reservoir Dogs and Magnolia picks, those are both fantastic scenes near and dear to me. Magnolia in particular lifts the whole movie to another level, what a brilliant move to hear the cast actually singing the words.

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  1. Billy

    I LOVE this post! There’s a couple of movies there I didn’t know (Magnolia and Tiny Dancer) and one I’d forgotten (Risky Business). I’ll keep it short with a list (I also forwarded your post to my son, to show him the importance of soundtracks in films:)).
    Two of my favourite eternal films wouldn’t be what they are were it not for the soundtrack, which can be extremely dangerous. Not sure they qualify as musical moments as the music pervades the whole film, so I’ll just list them: Navarrete’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Betty Blue and Nick Cave in Wings of Desire (the original German of course). Ok a bit depressing I know sorry 🙂
    As for musical moments, per se, I do love Kevin Kline’s test of being a “real man” in In & Out!

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  2. The Telltale Mind

    One of my fav subjects – music does help to make a movie a movie. A good example I like is Judgement Night with Emilio Estevez and Dennis Leary. When the movie first came out, I did not care for rap music and that soundtrack just blew my mind and melded perfectly with the film. There are probably 8 billion examples I could give, but that was the first one that came to mind. I do like the ones you named above and the Groot one in the previous comment too.

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  3. Matthew Thompson

    Man I forgot about that 500 Days of Summer part you posted. That was perfect. This is a great topic. I really like the bit in Garden State where she lets him listen to The Shins (the Frou Frou song at the end is good too). Also Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” at the end of Good Will Hunting. I fear I’m just choosing these because I love those songs though… haha. Your choices have better reasoning!

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  4. Dan

    I am IN LOVE with this post. Very few things beat a great pop song worked seamlessly into a film. My favorite scenes of these are Wise Up (even if Magnolia falls apart for me at the end), The Blower’s Daughter (GOD Closer is BRILLIANT), Tiny Dancer (<3), the dance number from 500 DOS (the animated bird!), and the Goodfellas scene (I always forget that it's The Crystals, but every time I see it I can't imagine another song working so well).

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    1. Jay Post author

      I had actual rage toward Magnolia for like 5 years. Then for some reason I gave it a 2nd chance and completely loved it. I’ll never understand how that happened.
      Agreed that Closer is brilliant. It really itches me!

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  5. mikeladano

    These are all great scenes. Tiny Dancer, I will never forget that scene!

    For me personally, I some of the most memorable movie/music scenes are in John Carpenter’s “Christine”. When the dude is trying to break into the car, and suddenly the radio starts blaring, “You keep on knockin’ but you can’t come in…” (LIttle Richard) I love it!

    ANd another great Little Richard scene — Predator.

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  7. Kevin

    I’ll be damned if I didn’t have this same idea for a future post. I’m doing it anyway at some point soon. I’ll link you up. Now I’m just going to have to think of some new ones, since you stole so many of my favorites. LOL.

    Great great post!

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  9. themesongsteve

    “It’s 10% better”–I love that. Two favorites of mine are Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise.

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