Sometimes music can completely detract from the scene in which it is a part of, and other times the result can be so successful it lifts the scene into the echelon of the great. The five songs below I believe compliment the films in which they are a part of beautifully.
1. One – Aimee Mann
From the motion picture Magnolia
Paul Thomas Anderson 1999
I could’ve chosen any number of Aimee Mann songs from this movie; Wise Up, Save Me, Momentum, but while all are tremendous in setting the mood for the scenes they are in, none quite demand the immediate attention of One.
Mann’s wistful and brilliantly balanced vocals provide the backdrop for arguably the greatest opening scene in cinema history, where we see the bleakly funny and tragic effects of irony as the stage is set for a heart-rendering journey into the lives of several American strangers, who share everything and nothing in common.
As the frogs start falling and the movie comes to a close, there is something we all now all know for certain: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”
2. The End – The Doors
From the motion picture Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppolla 1979
Another song choice taken from the first scene in a movie, and another that sets the tone for the entire running time. As the movie starts and we gradually see a Vietnamese rainforest incinerated by a napalm strike while we hear the sound of choppers and Jim Morrison’s drug-induced vocals, we absolutely understand that while it is the beginning of the film, it is the end of innocence. It’s fitting that the song re-appears in the final scene also as a footnote to the heart of darkness and a symbol that while the mission is won, the destruction of the American dream is ever closer.
3. The Times they are a Changin’ – Bob Dylan
From the motion picture Watchmen
Zack Snyder 2009
A song that (along with the brilliantly conceived and structured montage) details and pronounces an entire alternate universe is a song worth noting. Zack Snyder had achieved similar success in pairing great tracks with his films previously (especially in the fantastic Dawn of the Dead), so the fact that this stands out as the best speaks volumes for the quality of the scene.
4. Jh2 – Sean Spillane
From the motion picture The Woman
Lucky McKee 2011
When family man and lawyer Chris Cleek goes hunting for deer in the Maine wilderness, he spots a much unexpected figure drinking from the creek below him. Focussing with his rifle scope it becomes clear that he has discovered a feral woman. He grins, his eyes widen, and Sean Spillane starts belting out a punk inspired indie tune:
“I see you walking down the street, with your little black shoes, and I’m thinking that I know I gotta make you mine. In my head I got a song, and I know it won’t be long, ‘cos I know it’s so right there’s no way it could be wrong.
Now I’m standing next to you, wondrin’ what I gotta do, and my stomach’s just twistin’ with emotion. My legs are going numb, everything I say is dumb, and I realise its just imagination.
You look at me with a smile, hold it for a little while, but it feels like our eyes just met for years. Girl I know I wanna date you, love and marry and then hate you, wanna go for a ride that lasts a hundred years.”
At this point there is just one question on the mind of the viewer: “what on earth am I watching?”
5. Stuck in the Middle with You – Steelers Wheel
From the motion picture Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino 1992
Tarantino has always been the master at juxtaposing intense scenes with catchy pop tunes, and never has he done it better than here. We’re watching Michael Madsen torture a cop in an abandoned warehouse, and we’re tapping our feet… genius.