It's always a great moment for a music geek: You're watching a movie, and all of a sudden some obscure song you love comes on and works like gangbusters in a scene. Maybe it's "Monkey Man" in "Goodfellas." Or "Head Over Heels" in "Donnie Darko." Or "Life on Mars?" in "The Life Aquatic." These moments not only make the movie better, they transform songs and sometimes give them whole new meanings. (Raise you hand, "Stuck in the Middle With You.")
Sometimes you find your own songs that you think would work great in a movie. I know I do. So I'm playing music supervisor for any director that wants to use me. Here are 10 (or so) songs in search of a soundtrack, and proposed scenes to stick them in.
The song: Spoon, "Back to the Life"
The scene: Opening credit sequence for a thriller or horror movie.
"Back to the Life" begins with this great crazy laugh, then lurches into a lo-fi shuffle with lots of weird noises coming in and out and Britt Daniel talking about this world not being meant for us both like a ghost crawling out of a grave. In short, it grabs your attention. Also, it rocks.
The song: Matt Sweeny and Bonnie "Prince"Billy, "What Are You?"
The scene: A guy driving alone at night.
Have you seen that Vincent Gallo movie, "The Brown Bunny"? The one that Roger Ebert called the worst movie in the history of the Cannes Festival? I did, and Roger Ebert is wrong. "The Brown Bunny" is not very good, but it's not the worst of anything because there are several scenes where a guy drives around and listens to sad songs on the radio. No movie that has even one scene like that can be all bad (not even "Elizabethtown," which really puts the rule to the test). This spooky little number about a drag queen spanking his girlfriend (I think) ain't Gordon Lightfoot, but it is custom-made for late night ponders behind the wheel.
The song(s): The Warlocks, "Whips of Mercy"/Richard Hawley, "Hotel Room"
The scene: A dark, sexy scene in a David Lynch movie
Whenever I think of "Mulholland Drive," which I'm pretty sure belongs on my top 10 list of the greatest movies of all-time, the scenes are always scored to "Whips of Mercy" by The Warlocks. Like the movie, it's out of focus and hypnotic, blurry and sharp, mysterious and primal. It's also hotter than Naomi Watts getting it on with Laura Haring. (OK, maybe not.) "Hotel Room" seems like it already was in a David Lynch movie, though that might be the Chris Isaak/Roy Orbison vibe. Either way, Hawley's brilliant '50s goth goes with Lynch like Frank Booth and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The song: The Who, "They Are All in Love"
The scene: The main character is suffering with romantic issues
"They Are in Love" has one of my favorite lyrics ever: "Good bye all you punks, stay young and stay high/Hand me checkbook, and I'll crawl off to die." Pete Townshend wrote that about the Sex Pistols and his own innate sense of inferiority. While there's no way Pete could have known this, because the show came out 25 years later, it also applies perfectly to"Freaks and Geeks," where some high school kid feels alone and inadequate because everyone is getting laid but him. "Freaks and Geeks" is off the air, but this song could work great in similar high school geek story.
The song: Billy Joel, "Leave a Tender Moment Alone"
The scene: A stylized dance number for a romantic comedy.
OK, this is a very specific scene, I realize. But hear me out: Let's say a guy and a girl go on a date. There are lots of wacky mishaps. The guy keeps screwing up and getting mad at himself. But the girl likes him anyway. So he drops her off, does an awkward goodbye, and starts walking away. That's when he sings this song, an already show-tuney track about romantic incompetence from some forgettable 1980s album Joel made after he married Christie Brinkley. It sounds hokey, but this could be the next great "Singin' in the Rain" style production number. Am I ever wrong about these things?
The song: Cheap Trick, "Mandocello"
The scene: A love scene between two characters where one of the characters is about to die, get kidnapped by aliens, etc.
Whenever I hear "Mandocello," a ballad so great it's even better than "The Flame," I think of heartache. Specifically, the heartache I felt the night after I broke up with the first girl I ever loved. I drove to the Eagle's Nest in Neenah to meet a friend so I could drown my sorrows, and this song was playing on my CD player. The part where Robin Zander sings, "We can go down slowly like the rest" just ripped my heart out, and I proceeded to have a hearty man-cry. Anyway, this is a great love theme for melancholy doinking. You know, the kind of love scene that makes you more sad than turned on.
The song: Sam & Dave, "When Something is Wrong with My Baby"
The scene: A slow dance that slowly turns into a love scene
You know that Cheap Trick love scene I was just talking about? Forget all that. "When Something is Wrong With My Baby" is for hot, sweaty doinking. This song is about being so connected with your lover, you actually feel the same things. And this tune, which epitomizes what my friend Mark calls GYGO (Get Your Groove On) music, will make lovers want to get connected literally. Believe me.
The song: Badfinger, "The Name of the Game"
The scene: A flashback detailing a character's life story.
This might be one of my all-time favorite songs. Pete Ham's lyric is a gentle story about the meaning of life, and his melody is as good as anything from the second side of "Abbey Road." And that means a lot. I want "Name of the Game" played at my funeral. Not because I think it says anything about my life, but because it just feels like a song that you play when somebody dies.
The song: The Kinks, "Young and Innocent Days"
The scene: The one right before the credits, where the main character reflects on everything that happened to him/her during the movie
I'm shocked Wes Anderson hasn't used "Young and Innocent Days" already, actually. He uses Kinks songs all the time, and if "Oh La La" by the Faces somehow wouldn't have been available for the end of "Rushmore," this song would have been a killer replacement. Ray Davies says in three minutes what takes the movie 90 minutes to say, and does it more powerfully. "It's too late, so late, young and innocent days." Top that, Wes.
The song: Guided by Voices, "Little Whirl"
The scene: Closing credits for a coming age of movie.
I can't understand a single word of "Little Whirl" except "so sad" and "I don't care." Maybe that's why this song sounds like a melancholy high school memory to me. "Little Whirl" is an articulate statement of intarticulate wistfulness. And the dude from "Scrubs" should have put it at the end of "Garden State."