I love good music. And while I appreciate how some films (for example, Star Wars) manage to create a completely original orchestral accompaniment that complements the action, sometimes I like to relax in familiar territory with some good old pop songs on the movie soundtrack.
Here are 10 movies that perfectly use classic rock n’ roll or other types of pop songs in extremely clever ways.
1. Bad to the Bone – Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Could there be a more perfect theme song for the Terminator himself than “Bad to the Bone”? Released by George Thorogood and the Destroyers in 1982, this song shows up early on in Terminator 2: Judgment Day before we know whether the Terminator is a good guy or a bad guy. It throws the audience off and plays with our expectations. He technically is “bad to the bone” because underneath his skin his endoskeleton was designed by the murderous Cyberdyne, but we have to wait and see if he’s really bad in his core programming.
2. Bohemian Rhapsody – Wayne’s World
The image of Wayne, Garth, and their compatriots lip-synching and head-banging to Queen’s epic 1975 ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody” while driving around in a 1976 AMC Pacer is pure magic. For me, that’s the highlight of the whole film. It captures the main characters’ fun-loving and sensitive sides with its sudden shifts between hard rock and piano solo. Plus, the film finds a creative way to skip past the so-so beginning of the song to the really good part by having it play off of a partially rewound cassette tape. That just serves to highlight the characters’ lack of sophistication, as well as their love of fine music.
3. Come and Get Your Love – Guardians of the Galaxy
I absolutely love Guardians of the Galaxy. What really sets it apart from other comic-book movies is its music. It was no easy task to have a story set entirely in outer space with a cast of unknown alien characters, and make it accessible to non-Marvel geeks. This movie dealt with that problem by offering a huge helping of classic tunes from the ‘70s. It gets things started on the right note with 1974’s “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone. As Star-Lord puts on those headphones and starts dancing in front of a hostile audience of space rats, you instantly fall in love with this film.
4. I Got You Babe – Groundhog Day
1965’s “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher is the perfect song to capture Phil Connors’ increasing sense of despair about his situation in Groundhog Day. He’s stuck repeating the same day again and again seemingly for eternity, and he has to wake up to this sappy love song every single morning when the clock strikes 6:00 a.m. The song becomes torturous and it even seems to be mocking him with its repeated line, “I got you, babe.”
5. I Put a Spell on You – Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus isn’t a very good movie. It has some amazing makeup work on walking-corpse Billy Butcherson, but there’s little else I actually enjoy about the film. Except a little musical number the witches sing at a dance. The song they sing is “I Put a Spell on You,” which is a rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 song of the same name. They rewrote most of the lyrics, but it is obviously based on the same tune and idea. And it fits seamlessly in this film about witchcraft. In a movie full of crash-and-burn moments, this is one scene that takes off beautifully.
6. Johnny B. Goode – Back to the Future
So classic. The addition of Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit “Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future is a stroke of genius. Not only does it introduce rock n’ roll to a group of teenagers a few years before they’re ready for it, but it also provides an excellent juxtaposition of Marty McFly and his father George. Johnny B. Goode “never ever learned to read or write so well, but he could play a guitar just like he’s ringing a bell.” George is a master at writing and Marty is a master on the guitar. They just need a little self-confidence to help them become famous for their unique talents. The other two verses of the song have even more intriguing things to say about the characters, but they aren’t included in the film, so I’ll just encourage you to check them out as anecdotal curiosities.
7. My Guy – Sister Act
There are so many perfect songs in this movie; how do I choose the best one? Easy. It’s gotta be the rendition of Mary Wells’ 1965 hit “My Guy,” which they renamed “My God.” This could not be more perfect. The main character’s name is Mary and the sermon it complements is about Mary Magdalene. The more the merrier, I guess. A bunch of nuns singing about the No. 1 guy in their lives is hilarious and touching at the same time. They might be celibate, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of love for God.
8. Nature Boy – Untamed Heart
Untamed Heart is pretty much my favorite romantic film. It’s bookended by Nat King Cole’s melancholy 1948 tune “Nature Boy,” which entails all the tragic beauty of this love story. I dare you to watch this movie and listen to this beautiful song without your eyes tearing up a little. I especially love its enlightening line, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” (The song starts at about 3:13)
9. Rock Around the Clock – American Graffiti
I just noticed that a lot of these songs appear at the start of their films. Oh well. That’s just the way it goes. American Graffiti greets us right off the bat with the cheerful 1955 tune “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. Its happy-go-lucky style prepares us for the fun we’re going to have during the course of this film. Plus, it subtly lets us know that this film is going to be filled with nonstop rock n’ roll tunes “round the clock” until the morning finally dawns.
10. Tequila – Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
There’s an undeniable charm to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Director Tim Burton imbues the strange man-child of Pee-Wee Herman with some surprisingly endearing qualities, such as his ability to turn any lemon into lemonade. For example, when Pee-Wee is surrounded by dozens of big, tough bikers who are ready to tear his scrawny head off, how does he respond? By engaging in a crazy dance sequence to the 1958 rock n’ roll classic “Tequila,” of course. Isn’t that what any of us would do? This ridiculous scene showcases everything we love about Pee-Wee, from his nonchalant attitude to his incredible flare for fashion.
Music has a special way of bringing films to life. I limited this list to movies with songs from at least a decade earlier, but there are plenty of movies that make creative use of excellent contemporary songs, like 1978’s Halloween and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” or Top Gun and “Danger Zone,” just to name a few.
If you think of any other clever uses of old pop songs in newer films, feel free to share them in a comment below.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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