I haven’t done one of these lists in a while, which is a bummer, because they’re always a lot of fun and they inspire spirited feedback. But when a dear childhood friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that he can’t hear the song “Just Once” by James Ingram without thinking of the heart-wrenching ending of “The Last American Virgin,” it got me thinking.
There are so many songs that, when I hear them now, I immediately recall the movies in which they’ve been featured. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola use pop music so frequently and skillfully in their films, the songs and the images become intrinsically entwined — and the soundtracks become as memorable as the movies themselves.
So here are five songs that always remind me of the movies in which they’ve appeared. There are so many great ones, it was hard to narrow it down. But I’d love to hear what’s playing in your movie jukebox, so feel free to chime in with your favorites.
_ The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982): Although the scene in which Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character loses her virginity in the dugout to Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” is a very close second. But Phoebe Cates emerging from the swimming pool in a red bikini in Judge Reinhold’s slo-mo fantasy sequence is, like, THE image of the movie. To this day, whenever I hear that guitar riff off the top, I have to say: “Hi, Brad. You know how cute I always thought you were.”
_ Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in “Blue Velvet” (1986): It’s such a David Lynch moment, with its twisted mix of dreamlike romanticism, dark humor and unbearable tension. Dennis Hopper’s startlingly psychopathic character is obsessed with this Orbison ballad and stands mesmerized and mouthing along as a flamboyant Dean Stockwell lip-synchs it for him — that is, until Hopper snaps, as is his tendency. Apparently, Orbison didn’t even know Lynch was going to use the song in the film, but its inclusion helped reignite his career.
_ Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” in “Animal House” (1976): I love the use of this song in the famous cafeteria scene for a couple of reasons. First of all, the lyrics comment so perfectly on John Belushi’s unabashed crassness as Bluto. But it’s also a great fit because the rhythm is so smooth as Bluto calmly pushes his tray along, piling it high with food and randomly shoving items in his mouth. Every time I hear it, I think to myself: “See if you can guess what I am now.” I want to go watch this entire movie right now, even though I’ve seen it a million times.
_ Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” in “The Big Lebowski” (1998): The Dude is just so happy to have his car back — and he’s so happy the police were able to find his Creedence tape. And he’s just bopping along to this perky tune, enjoying a drive in the Los Angeles sunshine — until he drops a joint in his lap, freaks out and crashes. (I love that little high-pitched squeal Jeff Bridges does here when The Dude is scared; he also does it when the nihilists drop the marmot in the bathtub.) I also like the way the Coen brothers cut the drum portion of the song to tight shots of little Larry’s homework. Just a fun scene in a movie I dearly love.
_ Britney Spears’ “Everytime” in “Spring Breakers” (2013): Harmony Korine’s colorfully nightmarish look at girls gone wild is ballsy in a million different ways. But one of his most daring choices here is also his subtlest and sweetest. A devilish James Franco as the wannabe gangster rapper Alien sits down at a poolside piano and plays his bikini-clad, gun-toting partners in crime a song to inspire them: this tinkly, plaintive Britney Spears ballad. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful and poignant moment in a film that’s usually more interested in shocking you.