The Songs to Make Films to

In the past couple of weeks, I finally got around to watching the Elton John biopic/musical, Rocketman. I really don’t know what took me so long. It’s safe to say that I enjoyed it massively. However, my intention isn’t to write a review.

Going into the film I anticipated, as well as hoped, that Tiny Dancer would be included. It’s my favourite Elton song and one of my favourite songs in general. I didn’t discover the song through the usual outlets and was extremely late to the party when it came to the aforementioned maestro. Growing up, for me, he was The Lion King, jackets like curtains, bowl head and the friend of Princess Di’. I had no idea he’d made so many iconic songs. It wasn’t for many years, when I watched Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous that I discovered this wonder. Watching Taron Egerton perform his version of Tiny Dancer in Rocketman, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to that wonderful film, and that scene…

But more of that later. After wandering off deep within with my own thoughts about Billy Crudup’s moustache, I started to think about all the songs over the years that I’ve discovered through film. I often listen to film scores, but in this case I wanted to look for moments in film that have been heightened or enhanced by the right musical cue. Thinking back, it really wasn’t that difficult.

I’ll start with an entry from last year, and a truly beautiful one at that; Robert Redford’s swan song The Old Man and The Gun. The score for this film is truly remarkable and I’ve listened to it a lot over the past year, but I’m not going to dispense with my own self imposed rules at entry number one. There’s a moment, towards the film’s dramatic climax where Redford’s ageing bank robber makes a run for it. Years of film watching have taught us that this moment of a thrilling high speed chase calls for a big, hyper-intensive, tension filled piece of film score. Not this sumptuous film though. As Redford makes a run for it we are treated to the delights of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”; a folk, melancholic ode to sadness and alcoholism. As the inevitable speeding chase gets going the volume of tyres, sirens and police radios are turned right down, as the song takes centre stage. What could have been generic and bland, in what is genre defying to that point, continues in its previous mould and blossoms into something truly beautiful. Despite the song’s sad themes, somehow it feels triumphant in amongst the ensuing chaos. I’d never heard the song, or of Jackson C. Frank before this film. The two coming together are perfectly harmonious.

Speaking of harmony, another moment involving a car (technically a pickup truck) with several gorgeous overhead shots, accompanied by a truly wonderful song, is Boyhood. The music throughout plays a huge part, as it’s often an indication to a time jump in the narrative. After we leave Mason and his mum (played incredibly by Patricia Arquette) having said their goodbyes after leaving for his first year of university, we’re met with the camera swooping over Mason’s truck. Accompanying and lifting everything up to level with that swooping shot, are the sounds of Family of the Year’s “Hero”. Like Scorsese before him, director Richard Linklater it’s pretty much unmatched in dropping in the right song within a film’s narrative. Dropping the right musical cue is right there at the outset of his career in Dazed and Confused, and has been ever present throughout. I can’t think of a better choice in any of his films than this though. It fits perfectly, almost as if the band were asked to create a song to fit this very moment. I’m aware of films often being re-scored to frame it as an alternative viewing experience, Drive being one such example. I think that if anyone tried to do this with Boyhood, there’s a very real possibility that I’d attempt a citizens arrest.

Moving on to the coolest man alive (behind Billy Crudup and his lip warmer in Almost Famous), Bill Murray. There could be several candidates here but I’m thinking specifically of Groundhog Day. Thinking of that film, the obvious choice is “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher. Despite the song’s beauty it becomes Murray’s tormented soundtrack throughout. Therefore it would be an odd choice, not to mention I’d obviously heard this song before seeing the film; a film might I add, that I adore. I’ve watched it consistently since seeing it in the cinema in ‘93 and have owned it on VHS, DVD & Blu-Ray. For me, it’s near perfect. I think I know it that well that I’d almost become complacent with some of the film’s greatest moments, and recently found myself in tears watching Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell dance to Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me”. Now, I know that I know this song. I’m sure of it. But when I watched it recently it hit me out of nowhere how beautiful the song was and it was like I was hearing it for the first time. Again, I know I’m repeating myself, but it is the perfect song for the perfect moment. The fact that I could get something new out of a film I’ve seen countless times, just speaks to the wonder of the film and the choice of Mr. Charles.

But let me get back to Crudup’s moustache.

Crudup. Moustache.

Firstly, for anyone who hasn’t seen Almost Famous, I implore you to do so. Cameron Crowe, the writer and director, is probably most well known for Jerry Maguire. A great film in it’s own right, however for me this is his crowning achievement. I love this film. That’s the second time I’ve used italics to emphasise a point about it, so you should know I’m not messing about. To set the scene, Crudup’s guitarist, member of fictional band Stillwater (also noted to be supposedly based on Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers), has returned to the tour bus after a huge falling out with fellow band members; led by Jason Lee’s character, lead singer Jeff Bebe. The tension is rife and no one is talking. It would seem the end is nigh for this once promising band. But then you hear it, building through the scenery, as the camera takes in each member of the bus. The intro of the piano and the first lines come in before someone starts to sing along quietly. As the lines pass by and we know that she’s “a seamstress for the band” the song has clearly caught on. More and more people are singing and at once it has become a healing, and unifying, presence for this fractured and egocentric group. As the chorus comes crashing in and the titular Tiny Dancer is appealed to be held closer, all of the bus is in unison. Without anyone saying they’re sorry, all is forgiven. The band is still alive and, as the passengers, we have just experienced cinematic euphoria. I’m fairly certain I would have heard the song before seeing this film. However, it took for me to experience this moment to truly hear (italics again). That is the power of cinema, and that is why I love Tiny Dancer.

On a side note, this blog could have gone on and on. If I had done so, my loyal core of 3 readers may have even given up. So instead of carrying on, my honourable mentions are as follows (let me know yours in the comments, but not you Mum):

BlacKkKlansman – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose “Too Late to Turn Back Now”

Jackie Brown – The Brothers Johnson “Strawberry Letter 23”

Clockers- Marc Dorsey “People in Search of a Life”

Dead Presidents – The Undisputed Truth “Smiling Faces Sometimes”

Ex-Machina – Oliver Cheatham “Get Down Saturday Night”

Blue Valentine – Penny & The Quarters “You & Me”

2 replies on “The Songs to Make Films to”

  1. Rob you can’t ban your Mum! So here’s my choice. I admit it was a difficult decision with Thunderbird Hans Zimmerman with Pete Haycock from Thelma and Louise and City of Stars Justin Hurwitz from La La land in close contention but without hesitation it’s the closing scene in the Graduate where Ben bangs on the window and shouts Elaine to come with him. The build up to this scene is wonderful, car breaks down, runs to the church, assaulted by her father, crucifix taken off the wall and rammed across the door to prevent them being followed to jump on a passing bus. They sit on the back seat, Elaine in wedding dress and veil, Ben dirty cream anorak both smiling. Then you hear “ hello darkness my old friend…….” the beautiful Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. End of film. Nuff said.

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  2. Great article! Strawberry letter 23 is epic. Although, the best Movie song has to be eye of the tiger from Rocky 3. Still makes me feel like I can run through walls.

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