Name that Tune


I was out a few nights ago, having a conversation I frequently have: Songs that are inextricably linked to a piece of pop culture. I want to clarify: This isn’t the AFI “Top 100 Songs” list, because it’s not meant to be songs written for a specific film. These are not songs that would appear on a soundtrack. Rather, these are songs that already existed in the zeitgeist that the director or filmmaker appropriated for use in a scene. These songs have become so identified with the scenes in which they appear that you can’t hear them without thinking of that specific scene. This list is by no means comprehensive, so if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments! Also, please note that I haven’t included any Quentin Tarantino movies on this list, only because he is so phenomenal at choosing music for his movies that it warrants its own list.

The most addition to this list is “My Cherie Amour,” after its crucial role in “Silver Linings Playbook.” I won’t spoil any key plot points for those who haven’t seen it, but suffice it to say Bradley Cooper’s character’s obsession with this song means I won’t be able to hear it again without thinking of this movie.

  • When I was describing this list to my friend Tessa, the prime example I could give her was this scene from “Almost Famous.” I love this scene because it is a microcosm for the whole movie – the band and its hangers-on coming together, united in song, pleasantly ambling about life.
  • Of course, when discussing the post with Tessa, she gave me two of the songs that perfectly epitomize what I was going for, both from “Dirty Dancing”: “Love is Strange” and “Time of My Life.” No way to hear these songs without being immediately transported to Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze dancing.
  • I remember laughing so hard the first time I saw “There’s Something About Mary,” and that good feeling lasted all the way through the credits thanks to the Farrelly brothers’ use of “Build Me Up, Buttercup.” Always fun to see how good a time the cast was having while filming. images
  • Hearing Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” still takes me back when AJ was trying to figure out how to ask out Liv Tyler’s Corey.
  • “Say Anything.” The boombox. “In Your Eyes.” Perfect song for the perfect scene.
  • Though the song has been covered by many different artists, I still can’t hear “You’re just too good to be true…” without thinking of Heath Ledger serenading Julia Stiles. (And in no way does that sentence feel dated. Except entirely.)
  • “I think we’ll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody, gentlemen.”images-1
  • While you wouldn’t think of it as a movie with a musical legacy, two songs from “The Hangover” bring me back to hanging out with the Wolfpack. The first is Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” playing when the guys drive into Vegas. The second (probably more memorable to most people) is “In the Air Tonight” with special guest Mike Tyson. (Of course, my favorite song from the movie, the “Tiger Song,” doesn’t merit mention on this list simply because it was written for the film. Still, great song.)
  • Like most high schools, Usher DJ’d the prom in “She’s All That,” and “The Rockefeller Skank” will never be the same.
  • You’ve got the touch…you’ve got the power, yeah!” Mark Wahlberg at his finest. I don’t hear this song all that much, but truthfully if I’m going to have “Boogie Nights” flashbacks I’d rather it be this scene than Heather Graham trying to act.
  • There’s no way to hear “Twist and Shout” without picturing Ferris Bueller on a parade float in Chicago.images
  • Or “Louie Louie” without picturing Belushi and his “Animal House” castmates drunk-singing along.
  • No way to hear “Old Time Rock and Roll” without picturing this classic Tom Cruise scene.
  • I cannot hear “Ain’t too Proud to Beg” without thinking immediately of Jeff Goldblum et. al dancing in “The Big Chill.”
  • Like most people of my generation, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” was played for the first time by Marty McFly.
  • While it may be popular to scream at concerts, “Freebird” will forever be the song playing when Jenny thinks about jumping in “Forrest Gump.”
  • Not sure Harry Belafonte imagined “Day O” being forever linked to “Beetlejuice.”
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  • Any time I hear “Mad World,” I immediately think of “Donnie Darko.” (Note: this one is a bit of a cheat, because the Gary Jules version was done specifically for the movie, but the song was already in existence as a Tears for Fears song.)
  • Cameron Crowe obviously has a strong musical background, and his choice of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin” in “Jerry Maguire” is a great choice for that scene. As Jerry is driving happily back from Cush’s house, (temporarily) secure in the knowledge that he has retained his biggest client, he (and we, by proximity) can’t suppress a smile as Petty’s song is played.
  • If you had asked me in 1995 if I ever could have imagined “Shout” being associated with anything other than a string of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I would have said there’s absolutely no way. Thank you, “Wedding Crashers,” for easing that burden.
  • Michael Stipe they’re not, but Farley and Spade make an admirable attempt at getting out all of the words to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” in “Tommy Boy.”

Of course, every now and again we have to break our own rules, and since this is my blog, I figure I can be a rule-breaker*. While the song was written for the movie, there is no way I could ever hear College’s “Real Human Being” and not immediately think of “Drive.” The song is so entwined with the movie that one can barely exist without the other.images

The same is true of “Somewhere Out There,” made famous in “An American Tale.” And how could anyone hear “Danger Zone” without remembering the good times of Goose and Maverick in “Top Gun”?

*I won’t go so far as to discuss songs like “Footloose” or “What a Feeling,” which were created entirely for the movies in which they appeared as title songs. Even I have limits to my rule-breaking.


3 thoughts on “Name that Tune

  1. There are a few from Big Lebowski, but as Margaret said, Gypsy Kings Hotel California might be the most memorable.

    A couple others that came to mind:
    New Slang (The Shins) – Garden State
    Canned Heat (Jamiroquai) – Napoleon Dynamite

    And this may be cheating, but any time I hear Dust in the Wind I feel the urge to shout “You’re my boy Blue!”

  2. great calls! kevin, tessa and i were discussing the “garden state” scene so i was on the fence about including it (i was swayed by her pervasive argument: “ew. zach braff.”)

    thanks for commenting, guys!

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