Thursday, May 3, 2012
The release of the hit film The Hunger Games and its accompanying soundtrack, including original tracks from artists as diverse as Arcade Fire and Taylor Swift, had some thinking about the history of pop music written specifically for movies. While Easy Rider popularized the use of found music, some directors have desired to work with the artists they love without all of the context and baggage found music carries. Here, the best of the best originals:
15. “Moon River,” Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
“Moon River” remains an oddity in that it was written for a movie, with Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini making sure it worked with Hepburn’s vocal range, but it’s been so overshadowed by Andy Williams’ cover that the original version is often forgotten.
14. “Lose Yourself,” Eminem (8 Mile)
Written from the point of view of Em’s character in the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, “Lose Yourself” was the first rap song to win an Academy Award. It stayed at Billboard’s No. 1 spot for 16 weeks, making it his most successful single.
13. “Theme from Shaft,” Isaac Hayes (Shaft)
Perhaps the most famous title song of any movie, it was written on condition that Hayes receive an audition for the title role, which never happened. It was still released as a single and it’s one of the few songs written for a picture to head to the top of Billboard’s charts.
12. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” David Bowie (Cat People)
Paul Schrader’s Cat People remake was largely overlooked, but its title song went on to be a huge success, not to mention a second life in film when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
11. “Exit Music (For a Film),” Radiohead (Romeo + Juliet)
While written for Romeo + Juliet and referring to this status in the title, Thom Yorke specifically asked that the song be left off the film’s soundtrack. Instead Radiohead brought it in as another classic track on OK Computer.
10. “Fight the Power,” Public Enemy (Do the Right Thing)
Even after its release on Fear of a Black Planet, “Fight the Power” has remained indelibly linked with the movie that spawned it. Spike Lee commissioned the song and directed its music video – in two different versions.
9. “We Are Sex,” Bob-Omb Beck (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World)
While it’s not uncommon for songwriters to have actors perform their works in movies, that’s usually left to musicals. But Edgar Wright hired Beck and Nigel Godrich to score his entire picture, including songs played by the band Sex Bob-Omb.
8. “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Elvis Presley (Blue Hawaii)
Elvis Presley played numerous songs for his various pictures, most of which were far better than the movies they were featured in. While nearly all of the films are for Elvis diehards only, the songs have had much longer lifespans, and many of his classics, such as “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” only came about because of them.
7. “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” Cat Stevens (Harold and Maude)
Although Harold and Maude is filled with Cat Stevens tracks, only a handful were written specifically for the film. Unfortunately, Harold and Maude’s lack of box office success meant that this classic was long unavailable since no soundtrack was released – until a limited edition vinyl a few years ago.
6. “I’m Easy,” Keith Carradine (Nashville)
Robert Altman was extremely concerned with authenticity when he filmed Nashville, so he asked his actors to write the songs they would perform in the film. Keith Carradine was the only cast member, who managed to ride his song into the Top 40 and a record contract.
5. “Save Me,” Aimee Mann (Magnolia)
Magnolia’s soundtrack was almost entirely written and performed by Aimee Mann, and “Save Me” was written just for the feature. Paul Thomas Anderson also directed its video, although it’s not one of his better works.
4. “Miss Misery,” Elliott Smith (Good Will Hunting)
While the rest of Good Will Hunting hasn’t aged well, its legacy of launching a then-unknown Elliott Smith’s career still makes it worthwhile. The song is everything the film isn’t: subtle and honest.
3. “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Simple Minds (The Breakfast Club)
Conversely, the success of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” seems impossible to imagine without its placement in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.
2. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Bob Dylan (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid)
The always tumultuous relationship between Sam Peckinpah and his producers led to Pat Garrett getting re-edited and then buried at the box office. Dylan’s contribution to the soundtrack was the most successful part of the picture. Dylan actually wrote every song for the film; Peckinpah liked it so much that he offered Dylan a role in the picture.
1. “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon & Garfunkel (The Graduate)
This may be the first song that comes to mind when people think about pop songs in films. It was famously altered at the behest of director Mike Nichols to be about Mrs. Robinson rather than Mrs. Roosevelt so as to fit better with the movie, a small change that completely transforms its meaning.