Once in a while there is a moment in film where a song fits the scene so perfectly that it becomes so memorable that you think about the film every time you hear the song. In no particular order here are my top ten.
Tiny Dancer, by Elton John from Almost Famous (1999): I’m really not an Elton John fan but there is something amazing about this scene. It is uplifting and totally memorable.
Stuck in the Middle With You, by Stealers Wheel from Reservoir Dogs (1992): Before Reservoir Dogs when I heard this song I thought of the bizarre video with clowns in it. Now all I see is the brutal, bloody and violent scene where an ear is cut off. My memory of the scene is always far more graphic than what actually happened on screen. That’s the power of cinema!
Where Is My Mind, by The Pixies from Fight Club (1999): I have always loved this song, but seeing it in the final scene of Fight Club amongst all the destruction is just stunning.
Wise Up, by Aimee Mann from Magnolia (1999): A bizarre ensemble piece in a bizarre ensemble film, like the film it works far better than it should.
Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen, Wayne’s World (1992): A lot of Wayne’s World really hasn’t aged well but this scene is still great.
Perfect Day, by Lou Reed from Trainspotting (1996): Thanks to the BBC, Perfect Day is perceived as a happy and positive song about a perfect day. The way it is used in Trainspotting will change your perception of the song forever. Many people have long held the belief that the song is actually about heroin addiction, something that I’m sure wasn’t lost on the filmmakers when choosing it!
Layla by Derek and the Dominos from Goodfellas (1990): Nine times out of ten when Layla is played on the radio they cut it short and we don’t get the great instrumental second part of the song. Scorsese ONLY gives us the second part of the song in a fantastic scene.
The End by The Doors from Apocalypse Now (1979): A few years ago I was lucky enough to see a new print of the original version of this film as it was originally intended. On a big screen in the cinema with no title or credit scenes. The melancholy and doom laden opening is perfect “This is the end, Beautiful friend, This is the end, My only friend, the end”. And don’t you just love the irony that a film lasting three hours starts with the line “This is the end”!
Just Like Honey, by The Jesus & Mary Chain from Lost in Translation (2003): How do you end a film like Lost in Translation in a way that is true to the subtlety of the relationship? As Bill Murray’s character is driven to the airport and we hear the first few bars of ‘Just Like Honey’ you expect the credits to roll, but then we get a great final scene enhanced by a great song.
Sorry about the quality, this is the best version I could find.
Duetto-Sul Aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro recorded by Deutsche Opera Berlin from Shawshank Redemption (1994): The only classical entry on the list as I’m not much of an opera fan but this is a great scene where the song is part of the film. Despite being used in countless TV adverts every time I hear it I think of the film.
A note on the selection. I have excluded songs written for a film.