The Song Doesn’t Remain the Same

1 Mar

Perhaps the worst movie to ever win an Academy Award, thanks to its catchy title tune

With all the fuss and confusion about the paltry nominations for Best Original Song in this year’s Oscars, it got me wondering: what are some of the Best Non-Original Songs featured in feature films?

I’m not thinking about standards of particular eras that serve as cultural shorthand, like the American Graffiti or The Big Chill soundtracks. I’m also not considering those that play over the opening or closing credits, or in the trailers but not the film itself. And, to further narrow the field, I only want original versions by the original artists. (This, unfortunately, disqualifies one of my favorites: the a cappella version of  Radiohead’s “Creep” used in the trailer for The Social Network, performed by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian women’s choir. Find it on iTunes—it’s chilling and so worth the $0.99.)

What I’m interested in are songs that become indelibly linked to the story and spirit of particular films. There are the classics. For instance, “As Time Goes By” and “Singin’ in the Rain” had already appeared on Broadway before becoming movie music. And thanks to Say Anything, “In Your Eyes” will always conjure up Lloyd Dobler holding his boom box aloft. But then there are those songs that I’ll never be able to decouple from certain movies even if I wanted to, such as:

  • The unspooling of the second half of “Layla” as corpse after grisly corpse surfaces in the aftermath of Joe Pesci and Robert Di Niro cleaning house following the Lufthansa heist in Goodfellas
  • Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” as #11 on Awesome Mix Tape #6 belonging to the whackjob coke dealer played by Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights
  • Inglourious Basterds’ anachronistic use of David Bowie’s “Cat People” (itself an Original Song from the movie of the same name) as Shosanna Dreyfus puts on her red lipstick and prepares to incinerate her movie theater with Hitler trapped inside

My vote for the best – and creepiest – use of an existing song in a film? “Low Rider” and The Young Poisoner’s Handbook.

Based on a true story, it chronicles Graham Young (Hugh O’Conor), a brilliant, amoral British teenager. He becomes obsessed with thallium and slips it to friends and family, finally succeeding in murdering his hated stepmother (played by Ruth Sheen in a horrifically repulsive performance). After serving several years in a psychiatric ward, Graham is deemed fit for release and gets a job in a camera factory.  All seems to be well until he is shown the secret to making their shutter system: thallium.

Excitable boy they all say ...

His obsession returns, unfortunately for his co-workers. As his murderous plans kick into high gear, the twitchy bass line and ramshackle percussion of War’s paean to East LA hotrods propel Graham forward, wide-eyed and treacherous. To further throw everything off balance, it sounds like they’re playing the song a little faster than normal. It’s brilliant.

Here’s the scene – the song starts at about 1:38.

So, what would be your nominations? Can’t wait to listen to your favorite films.

See you on the flip side …


9 Responses to “The Song Doesn’t Remain the Same”

  1. Pam Houghton March 2, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    How about Super Freak from Little Miss Sunshine – the beauty pageant scene? One of my favorite movies and a really funny scene.

    • lpon45 March 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

      that’s a good one!

  2. Chuck Moss March 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Layla in Goodfellas was my number one, as well. Leaving out opening credit music and ‘soundtrack’ movies like Easy Rider…my favorite non-Tarantino song iis actually TV. The 1st Miami Vice show with G. Gordon Liddy, when Crocket is heading thru swamps to the Doors ‘Can’t See Your Face In My Mind.”

    • lpon45 March 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      I could have a whole list of great TV scenes scored by existing songs, too … my favorite Doors’ song usage was in an episode of My Name is Earl. Earl had to complete a whole series of tasks in a specific order to make amends to a guy he landed in prison – including buying donuts from the one-legged girl Earl had ditched, lugging the guy’s uncle up and down stairs in a wheelchair, and other preposterous stuff. Each time he started, “Peace Frog” would begin … then begin again … and again. It’s a hoot.

  3. alice March 4, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Live and Let Die by Wings for James Bond

    • lpon45 March 10, 2012 at 12:26 am #

      that’s one of my favorite movie soundtrack songs – and it has a piccolo line in it which is totally awesome!

  4. SurfinSteve March 5, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    “You Could Be Mine” song by Guns N’ Roses
    The greatest actor ever – Arnold Schwarzenegger – Terminator

    • lpon45 March 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

      gotta say that’s perfection right there …

  5. alice March 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    I have an other choice, “Shout” in Animal House

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