Ever since sound joined the movies, music has been an integral part of the medium of film. Hollywood has continued to have a symbiotic relationship with song, from adapting musicals from the stage, creating musicals for animation and live-action, popularizing new genres with performance scenes, and just plain commissioning songs to pair thematically with the movie. Tucked among all of the ways that music is used on-screen is a recurring phenomenon of a film taking a pre-existing song and making it explode with newfound popularity. Here are six songs (and a couple of soundtracks) that were made by the movies, as well as a couple of soundtrack albums that became huge under unusual circumstances.
1955: “Rock Around the Clock” in Blackboard Jungle
A few myths surround “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. It’s not, as some claim, the first rock and roll song (that’s likely “Rocket 88” from 1951), but it’s generally agreed that it’s the first song of the genre to be #1 on the pop charts. It’s also not Haley’s first single; it wasn’t even recorded by Haley first. What is true is that the song was selected to appear in The Blackboard Jungle after the movie’s star, Glenn Ford, submitted it along with other 45s belonging to his son to the producers of the film; they were looking into what kids were listening to so that their school-set drama could have a contemporary sound. Though the song had been released the year before, it didn’t take off until it was played over the opening credits of the movie. The film also gave a big boost to the career of one of its young stars, Sydney Pointier.
1977: The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
Although you might automatically associate the music of The Bee Gees with the film, they didn’t get in on the action until the movie was basically completed. Some scenes had been shot with other songs (notably the dance rehearsal scene with John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney was scored with music by Boz Scaggs). When securing some of the music rights became an issue, producer Robert Stigwood, who also happened to manage The Bee Gees, went to the band to get them to create music for the film. The group had already done “Jive Talkin’” in disco style, and taken it to #1 in 1975. “Talkin’” was added to the soundtrack, as was their 1976 tune “You Should Be Dancing,” and the Brothers Gibb created five more new songs. “If I Can’t Have You” was performed by Yvonne Elliman, while the band did “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “More Than a Woman,” and “How Deep is Your Love.” The result? One of the best-selling albums in history, with 40 million copies sold.
1983: “Old Time Rock and Roll” in Risky Business
“Old Time Rock and Roll” made the Top 40 in 1978 as a single off of the album Stranger in Town by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. However, it might have settled back down to a lower firmament of rock if not for its inclusion in an iconic scene in Risky Business. In the Tom Cruise-led comedy, Cruise famously dances in his underwear to the song. That scene drove a re-release of the single, which landed in the Hot 100 and almost made the Top 40 a second time. While the 1978 chart position was higher, the association of the song with the Cruise scene conferred upon it a kind of pop culture immortality. The scene itself has been parodied in other films and TV shows, always with the song, and the tune has remained in steady rotation on classic rock radio ever since.
1986/1990: BONUS: The Righteous Brothers Special Achievement Award
Blue-eyed soul duo The Righteous Brothers had two of their songs make movie-related comebacks in a relatively brief amount of time. The first was their 1965 hit, “You’ve Last That Loving Feeling,” which made a return to popular consciousness on the back of Top Gun. Like Risky Business, the song is prominently featured in a scene with Tom Cruise, as he uses the tune to serenade Kelly McGillis in a bar. The duo’s 1965 cover of the 1955 Oscar-nominee “Unchained Melody” resulted in an unusual situation after a resurgence in popularity from it use in the smash hit film Ghost. Both the original version and an updated version of the song were released; incredibly, both versions went to the Top 20, making The Righteous Brothers the first group to have the same song occupy two spots in the Top 20 at the same time.
1990: “Wicked Game” in Wild at Heart
“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak saw a single release from the singer’s 1989 album, Heart-Shaped World. It didn’t go anywhere until director David Lynch included it in his 1990 Palme d’Or-winning film Wild at Heart. DJs began to play the song on the radio, driving it to wider awareness. A new video was commissioned that was directed by Herb Ritts; the legendarily sexy clip featured Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen on a Hawaiian beach and won three MTV Music Video Awards. The song peaked at #6 in the States in January of 1991 and is considered by many critics and sources to be one of the finest modern love songs.
1993: “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” in Benny & Joon
Scottish twin-brother duo The Proclaimers had a major hit in the UK and several other countries in 1988 with their single, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” When the song was included in the Johnny Deep-Mary Stuart Masterson romantic comedy Benny & Joon in 1993, the movie’s prominent use of the song and a recut video featuring scenes from the film drastically boosted its popularity. Before the summer of 1993 was out, the song had hit #3 in the United States.
2001: “Mad World” in Donnie Darko
Tears for Fears recorded the original version of “Mad World” in 1982. It became their first charting song in Europe, though American success would wait a few years until their release of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Michael Andrews (piano) and Gary Jules (vocals) recorded a cover for use in the film Donnie Darko in 2001. Though the song wasn’t initially released as a single, fans of the cult-classic film in the making drove demand for it. Andrews released the song as being performed by him “and featuring Gary Jules.” The song charted around the world and hit #1 on the Adult Alternative Chart in the U.S. The Andrews/Jules version still recurs frequently in other films and TV programs.
2014/2017: The Meredith Quill Memorial Awesome Mix Award
Writer-director James Gunn took an unusual approach when he was putting together Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. He made a significant plot point that Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) always carried a Sony Walkman with a mixtape made by his late mother, Meredith. Dubbed Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the tape included iconic 1970s songs like “I Want You Back,” “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Spirit in the Sky,” and more. The film was a major hit, and a shocking number of the original recordings re-entered the charts, particularly on digital. The album went #1 for 16 weeks. Perhaps even more remarkably, the soundtrack was also released on the seemingly dead cassette format to mimic its appearances in the film. Gunn followed the same path with the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in 2017; the album, which featured “Fox on the Run,” “Brandy,” and “Mr. Blue Sky,” among others, peaked at #4.
Featured image: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock
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