While an amazing soundtrack from an Oscar caliber composer can put a movie over the top, sometimes you just have to buy the rights for a classic jam. The right song for the right scene can elevate a scenario more than something original. If done well, it can also elevate the popularity of the song years after its initial release. These are my Top 10 Non-Original Songs Used Perfectly in a Movie. You be the judge as to wether or not the movie as a whole is good, but these moments are fantastic.
10. ‘Day-O, The Banana Boat Song’/Harry Belafonte (“Beetlejuice”):
Composer Danny Elfman solidified what was destined to be a legendary career with his work on the classic dark comedy “Beetlejuice”. The main theme is instantly recognizable. But the best musical moment came when director Tim Burton decided to use one of the most upbeat and catchy songs ever while a group of evil rich people are being possessed. The moment Catherine O’Hara belts out the famous ‘DAAAAYYYYY-OOOOO! ME SAY DAY-O!” a narcissistic dinner of rich people turns into a dance party, and none of the people know what has come over them. Fun was the wrong take for the ghosts to take in hopes of scaring their new house owners away. I don’t believe in ghosts, but if they do exists and we’re gonna jam out to a Harry Belafonte tune then count me in.
9. ‘Come and Get Your Love’/Redbone (“Guardians of the Galaxy”):
Already established as a massive franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe decided to test the waters with a non-household name such as a “Spider-man” to see just how far this machine had the ability to go. Enter “Guardians of the Galaxy”, a group consisting of a nerdy white dude, a hot green skinned chick, a mouthy raccoon, and a giant tree monster. Sounds ridiculous. Turns out this group of previous no-names may perhaps be the most fun the MCU has ever cooked up. The tone is set during the opening credits with star Chris Pratt jamming out to “Come and Get Your Love” on his walkman while dancing around an alien planet. Even utilizing a strange creature as a fake microphone, Pratt aka Star Lord sets the stage to let the audience know they’re gonna have a good time. After all, they’re “The Guardians of the Galaxy” bitch!
8. ‘Sail Away’/Enya (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”):
Another moment my dear friend and film lover Scott Riddle and I experienced together which I shall never forget. After the success of the original Swedish films based off the best-selling novels it was director David Fincher’s turn to bring the source material to the U.S. Armed with the star power of Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. Combined with a large budget, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” looked to be a huge hit. Turns out it was a dud. When your opening credits sequence is your best moment in a movie, that is no bueno. However, myself as well as Riddle were rolling in the aisles during the climactic torture scene with Craig and Stellan Skarsgard. This was a good rolling in the aisle as the Enya song ‘Sail Away’ plays with the hero gasping for air and is so brilliant that I have no idea who thought that peaceful jam would work in this particular moment. But whoever did, thank you. It increases the creepy atmosphere to another level.
7. ‘Bad to the Bone’/George Thorogood (“Terminator 2: Judgement Day”):
Some people you just do not mess with. Stepping aside does not mean that you are a pussy. But when a ripped Arnold Schwarzenegger approaches, please move along. Stay in your lane pony boy. Unfortunately for them a cocky group of bikers learn that lesson the hard way. Yes, Arnie does walk into a biker pool hall totally naked in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. The drunks in the bar think they can ridicule and take the robot from the future down. In the end, Schwarzenegger walks out wearing one of the bikers duds, grabbing a motorcycle, and even steals the bar owners shotgun while looking the man in the eyes. After all, Arnie is ‘Bad to the Bone’.
6. ‘Johnnie B. Goode’/Chuck Berry (“Back to the Future”):
This kid sure can play the guitar like a maniac, but Marty McFly (Matthew J. Fox) is a bit of a nerd that hangs out with a wacky scientist he refers to as Doc (Christopher Lloyd). He finds himself in a complicated time-travel loop involving a Delorean in “Back to the Future”. Marty must make sure his parents way back in the 1950’s hook up at the school dance before he and his siblings are erased from history. With all things almost lost, his future father steps his game up and kisses his future mother. All is saved, but before McFly goes back he leaves the conservative crowd with one hell of a show, performing the yet to be recorded in the current time “Johnny B. Goode”. Songs can transcend generations. Chuck Berry’s classic is one of them.
5. ‘Tiny Dancer’/ Elton John (“Almost Famous”):
Living the life of a rockstar is almost always insane, a big reason why most of them don’t last long term. Director Cameron Crowe actually started off as a rock & roll journalist and made an ode to one of his passions in the heartfelt “Almost Famous”. A small town teenager played by Patrick Fugit totally B.S.’s his way into getting hired by Rolling Stone magazine. The young guy is tasked with traveling along a summer tour with the up-and-coming band Stillwater. At the center is their lead singer Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). The man is talented, but he is also an absolute nutcase that takes partying hard to another level. His insane behavior often wears on the rest of the band. When things don’t look good after another drug infused evening, nobody is speaking to each other on the bus. Then the driver puts on ‘Tiny Dancer’ and, just like I’ve always seen happen in real life with this jam, everyone comes together and rocks out. Cameron Crowe knew that, while some original music is necessary, this Elton John classic was the perfect choice for a great scene.
The Righteous Brothers were highly popular in the 50’s and 60’s. Ask your grandparents about ’em. But today, even if you haven’t seen the movie, who doesn’t think of the clay sex scene in “Ghost” when ‘Unchained Melody’ comes on? So many movies, comedy programs, and talk shows have parodied it. Hell even the popular performance artist ‘Tape Face’ from America’s Got Talent became an internet sensation when he re-created it with one of the show’s judges. It is easy to parody, but in all honesty the original is genuinely beautiful and a perfect showing of erotic passion. Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze absolutely embody true love, making Swayze’s killing minutes later all that more tragic. Yet the two will always have this final private bedroom moment to remember.
3. ‘Singin’ in the Rain’/Gene Kelly (“A Clockwork Orange”):
PREFACE: THIS DOES NOT SHOW THE ENTIRE SCENE OF COURSE. On the opposite end of the music spectrum, director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “A Clockwork Orange” takes such a joyous song and ties it to an act of absolute evil. Malcolm McDowell as Alex leads his crew of ‘Droogs’ around a dystopian version of London as they beat, pillage, rape, and pretty much do whatever they want without consequence. The worst comes when the crew decides to invade the house of a rich old man to beat him, destroy his house, and rape his pretty young wife. The story goes that Kubrick wasn’t satisfied with the way the intense scene was coming together until, in between takes, McDowell started singing the Gene Kelly classic. Boom, that’s what we’re looking for. Pure evil that takes absolute joy in his actions the same way Kelly took joy in kissing a girl for the first time in the original “Singin’ in the Rain”. Beating and rape scenes have happened many a time in movies. Never have they appeared to sound like such family fun which is why this one sticks with you.
2. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’/Queen (“Wayne’s World”):
Everyone was still jamming to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ at ballgames, but for the most part a lot of their music was starting to slowly fade after the death of Freddy Mercury. Enter Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. The early 90’s seasons of SNL were pretty weak before the Tina Fey, Will Ferrel, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon group got things back together. However, one of the few sketches that holds up was “Wayne’s World”, with its movie affiliate still a cult classic. To kick off the idea of the “PARTY ON WAYNE… PARTY ON GARTH!” mentality, accompanied by three other rocker friends, Wayne puts on a little Queen. They reenact the famous ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ video to absolute perfection. Because of this performance ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ became one of the few songs in history to be top ten on the billboard charts nearly 20 years after its release. I know James Cordon does carpool karaoke, but this is the OG version. Never be afraid to rock out on the road.
1. ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’/Bob Seger (“Risky Business”):
How many people have recreated this scene? How many times have talk shows made Tom Cruise recreate this scene? I don’t have a joke here, this is a legitimate question and if someone knows please let me know. While he had a few films under his belt, a star was born when Tom Cruise literally took off his belt and slid across the hallway floor in his socks and undies. “Risky Business” is a classic raunchy teen comedy with a high school kid home alone getting involved with a stripper and a vengeful pimp. Getting things back together before his parents return home from a trip turns out to be a nightmare. But hey, his first night home alone is a blast. Cruise just jams out, not needing any pants, and blasts his favorite song. What teenager has not done this the first time they were home alone? In a way it’s a right of passage.