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The greatest musical moments in film

Have you ever noticed the power of music?

Music is the often overlooked but always essential extra character in any film, and part of the reason certain scenes stick with us is because of how perfectly they’re married to their soundtrack. Perhaps there are some that you’ve never experienced before, or moments that have stuck with you and you’re not quite sure why.

The power of music is something we delve into in our podcast, ‘Get Lost In Great Film with James King’ - and who better to talk to about how it enhances any scene than Rachel Portman who composed the music for Chocolat and Emma? Check it out here - and let us guide you through some of the best musical moments below:

The late nighters

Psycho (driving to the Bates Motel scene) - A Narrative For Orchestra
When you think of Hitchcock’s masterful suspense thriller, you usually picture that iconic shower scene. But Rachel Portman remembers a different scene to dissect: Marion’s frantic drive through the pouring rain accompanied by “chugging, uncomfortable, anxious, biting strings”, foreshadowing the events about to befall her.

For more of Rachel’s insight and to find out what other musical moments she picks, have a listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Drive - Nightcall
This is the sort of song that makes you want to learn to drive, move to LA and cruise around the dark streets pretending to be up to no good - or, in Ryan Gosling’s case, actually being up to no good. In 2014, Zane Lowe re-scored the film for television with music from a load of popular modern artists - The 1975, CHVRCHES and Bastille, among others.
Reservoir Dogs - Stuck in the Middle with You
If you are ever going to cut someone’s ear off - and we simply cannot advise that you do - this is somehow both the least appropriate and perfectly matched song to do it to. During auditions, Tarantino told actors to do the scene either to Stuck In The Middle or another song of their choice: almost everyone stuck with Stuck In The Middle - “they were saying that they tried to come up with something else,” he told Rolling Stone, “But that’s the one.”
musical moments
Kill Bill - Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Another Tarantino classic - he’s the master of reviving an old song and shooting it through with new meaning. In this instance he uses it before the opening credits as a literal soundtrack to what’s going on. Though Nancy Sinatra sings this version, it was actually originally written by Sonny and recorded by Cher!
Slumdog Millionaire - Paper Planes
As the two kids hustle for pennies on the train they’re stowed away on - leaping between carriages and generally breaking every health and safety rule in the book - MIA’s Paper Planes plays, somehow conveying both the majesty and horror of their actions. Weirdly, another film used the song in 2008, the year Slumdog came out: stoner comedy Pineapple Express.

The headbangers

Trainspotting - Lust for Life
Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life was the perfect scuzzy, pulsing undertow for Trainspotting’s famous Choose Life monologue as we meet Renton and co very much choosing heroin instead. The song was the main marketing tool for the film too - Danny Boyle even directed a whole new music video for the song.
musical moments

Wayne’s World - Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody had been a monster hit in the UK before Wayne’s World but it took Wayne and Garth rocking out in their beat up old car to make it shoot up the US charts and cement it as the iconic cultural artefact it is today. Mike Myers fought tooth and nail to include the song, remembering that he and his friends would drive around trading ‘Galileo!’s when they were teens.
Black Panther (car chase scene) - Opps
Kendrick Lamar’s entire Black Panther soundtrack was sizzling with energy and snarl but this track, which underpins the iconic chase scene, was perhaps the most powerful of all.
Napoleon Dynamite - Canned Heat
The king of nerds busts a move in front of the entire school and cements Canned Heat as the soundtrack to one of modern film’s greatest dance scenes. Fancy learning the moves yourself? Here’s a handy ten-step guide.

The Tearjerkers

Breakfast at Tiffany’s - Moon River
Does it get more romantic than Audrey Hepburn yearning for a simpler life on her fire escape with a towel in her hair, before delivering the most incredible ‘Hi’ in cinema history? According to songwriter Henry Mancini, the studio wanted the song taken out - until Hepburn herself told them that would happen over her dead body.
The Graduate (final scene) - The Sound of Silence
Though it pops up three times in the film, it’s the use of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic in the final scene that really makes it. Boy gets girl, yes, but then what? It acts like the voice inside the couple’s heads as they make their way into the future on a rickety old bus. Have they done the right thing? It ruffled feathers at the time because the song had actually already been released and charted a year earlier: like someone structuring a film around that Doja Cat song Say So now.
musical moments
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (Yondu’s funeral) - Father And Son
Just you try to stay dry eyed while Cat Stevens sings about paternal love and the entire galaxy honours the passing of Quill’s adopted father with a firework display: just you try.
Stand By Me (final scene) - Stand By Me
Ben E. King’s Stand By Me gave its name to the film, which seems fitting considering how perfectly it rounds it off. Gordie has just finished writing his memoir, reflecting that he never had any friends like the ones that he did when he was twelve: then goes outside to take his 12-year-old son to the pool just as the song’s distinctive güiro beat kicks in.

The heart-swellers

The Lion King - Circle of Life
If you’ve ever lifted your cat, dog, rabbit, hamster, lizard aloft to the sounds of this song then you’ll know how powerful it is. Elton John wrote and recorded the first demo of the song using Tim Rice’s lyrics in an hour and a half! That’s gazelle-like speed, Elton.
BlacKkKlansman - Too Late To Turn Back Now
A moving scene showing music and dance as escapism from the awful realities 1970s America. But it’s also director Spike Lee’s reaction against dating apps - “It was a very shortcut way to show they were falling in love with the song and that dance together. That's how it used to be back in the day before Tinder. You used to ask any girl to dance. Come now, you know what I'm talking about!”
The Breakfast Club - Don’t You Forget About Me
The greatest essay-reading scene cinema has ever known, the Breakfast Club say their goodbyes as the Simple Minds beg them not to forget each other - and who can forget Judd Nelson’s final fist pump? Swooooon. The band didn’t want to record the song at first - it was written by someone else specifically for the film. They changed their tune when it hit #1 on the charts though.
musical moments
Dirty Dancing - Time of My Life
The perfect end-of-summer-camp song - and don’t try to tell us that you’ve never tried to pull off that lift! Disco queen Donna Summer was originally intended to record the song, but she dropped out because she didn’t like the title of the film. She must have been related to Baby’s dad...