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CAN A SONG ENHANCE A FILM?

CAN A SONG ENHANCE A FILM?

Certainly the journalists at Paste On Line Think So

and they convinced Norman Warwick

Immediately prior to the the recent Academy Awards presentation event, the Academy awarded some brass to the top achievements in film over the last year, The Paste music editors assembled and published a list of what they believe are the greatest songs ever penned for film. However, the  ranking was not limited to just Best Original Song winners and nominees. Instead, they took a more panoramic view of the best musical moments that Hollywood has had to offer over the last century—including standouts from Spider-Man 2Blue VelvetSuperfly and, yes, Shrek 2.

There is nothing more enjoyable for me than to listen to, or read, experts speaking enthusiastically about their subject. So I strapped myself in, to read of their 50 best original songs written for films. I was particularly impressed by the arguments of Paste editors  Olivia Abercrombie and Matt Mitchell on at least ten of their choices.

So come join us, and then check out Paste On Line for their far more comprehensive submissions.

Sufjan Stevens: “Mystery of Love” (Call Me by Your Name, 2017)

Take me back to the summer of 2018, a time filled with dreams of a blissful European summer and a breezy summer romance. Never mind that I was 17—or still in high school and stuck in the blistering Texas heat rather than sequestered in a cozy Italian cottage—but Sufjan Stevens transported me to that place with “Mystery of Love.” The delicately plucked strings paired with his airy vocal capture the weightlessness of young love with the lyrics “And what difference does it make / When this love is over” painting a picture of passion splashed with sorrow—something that Stevens has mastered so effortlessly. He wrote “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon” for the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack, expressing the serene yet miserable intimacy of an earnest, short-lived relationship between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Though certain revelations about Hammer make it difficult to watch the film nowadays, I can still count on Sufjan’s music to transport me to a fantasy land of idealistic romance.

John Parr: “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” (St. Elmo’s Fire, 1985) (left)

Few films are as quintessentially 1980s as St. Elmo’s Fire, and few songs are as quintessentially 1980s as John Parr’s theme song for it. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” has the great power of being miles greater than its source material, as Parr crafted a real bonafide pop-rock masterpiece that held the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in 1985. Not only are the “I can see a new horizon underneath the blazin’ sky / I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher” lines ear candy, but members of Toto, REO Speedwagon and Mr. Mister perform on the track. Talk about an all-star affair from top to bottom.

B.J. Thomas: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

Though it’s B.J. Thomas’ voice at the center of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” the song was written by pop dynamo Burt Bacharach and his collaborator Hal David. Though I prefer the song’s appearance in Spider-Man 2, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” was penned by Bacharach and David for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969. It’s a simple story, as the song’s narrator forgoes all worries by embracing the hope that happiness will soon come, and Thomas really sells it with his sincere singing performance. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” became a #1 hit in the US, Canada and Norway and won a Best Original Song Oscar, and its jubilant stroke of soft-rock ecstasy is still full of energy more than 50 years later.

Elliot Smith: “Miss Misery” (Good Will Hunting, 1997) (right)

Has there ever been a more fitting title for an Elliot Smith song? “Miss Misery” is tragically gorgeous, just like all of the indie folk artist’s work. This is one of the times that the Academy got a nomination right, even if “Miss Misery” didn’t win for Best Original Song—though, if you are going to lose to anyone, it might as well be Celine Dion. Smith wrote the track for Good Will Hunting, but he also recorded an alternate version with different lyrics that was later released posthumously. The lyrics changed a fair amount from the original, showcasing a more vulnerable version of the final song that is more in line with Smith’s earlier work and themes. The film version has a more complex production, transitioning from Smith’s raw recorded tracks to a more ornate arrangement. One of the most glaring changes in the final verse, though, is the switch from “To vanish into oblivion / Is easy to do / And I try to be, but you know me / I come back when you want me to” to “He vanished into oblivion / It’s easy to do / And I cried a sea when you talked to me / The day you said we were through,” shifting the perspective of blame. Both versions are the perfect gut-punch to pair with the credits of Good Will Hunting.

Bob Dylan: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 1973)

Not every song written for a film is guaranteed to be considered one of an artist’s best works—and certainly not one written by someone as prolific as Bob Dylan—but the folk titan’s turn on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” somehow wedges its way into his own pantheon. Written for the forgettable Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is one of the greatest folk-rock songs ever, let alone one of the greatest movie songs ever. It’s sublime and minimal—at least by Dylan’s standards in the 1970s—and relies on gospel harmonies and a dainty acoustic guitar arrangement. Though this period in Dylan’s career wasn’t rife with commercial and critical adoration, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” feels was an apt precursor to his upcoming renaissance—and it’s the best thing about Sam Peckinpah’s movie, which was good for Bob but not so good for Sam. Such is how it goes, though.

Simon & Garfunkel: “Mrs. Robinson” (The Graduate, 1967) (left)

The version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” we first heard in The Graduate in 1967 is slightly different from the one that appeared on Bookends a year later. In the former, the song is fragmented and dispersed across a crucial scene in the final act of the film—as Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) drives across California to stop Elaine Robinson’s (Katharine Ross) wedding. Initially, “Mrs. Robinson” was titled “Mrs. Roosevelt,” a nod to former First Lady Eleanor, and was presented to director Mike Nichols after he was not floored by Paul Simon’s previous offerings—“Punky’s Dilemma” and “Overs.” Simon later returned with only the “dee de dee dee de dee dee dee” melody, but Nichols was over-the-moon about its potential—and the rest was history. “Mrs. Robinson” quickly became one of the first soundtrack songs of its kind, arriving without orchestral backing and leaning into the folk-rock popularity sweeping across the musical zeitgeist at the time. God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson, indeed.

Bruce Springsteen: “Streets of Philadelphia” (Philadelphia, 1993) (right)

Before I was a massive Bruce Springsteen fan, I was a massive Philadelphia fan. Really, “Streets of Philadelphia” was my first non-radio introduction to The Boss, when I was entering my high school cinephile phase. Now, years later and an embarrassing level of Springsteen fandom later, I can safely say that “Streets of Philadelphia” is not only his most underrated track, but one of his very best. Written for Jonathan Demme’s 1993 HIV/AIDS drama, Springsteen strips his entire rock ‘n’ roll bravado away for a harrowing electronic ballad that potently expresses a fear of succumbing to a fatal disease and the tragedy of it in the first place. What the New Jersey native came up with—including the lines “And my clothes don’t fit me no more, a thousand miles just to slip this skin”—remains the very greatest (in my opinion) Best Original Song winner of all time, one that was coupled with Neil Young’s equally great “Philadelphia” and remains a crucial, distinguishable song penned for and during the AIDS crisis in America.

Huey Lewis and the News: “The Power Of Love” (Back To The Future, 1985)

I think it’s safe to say that Back To The Future was one of the first movies to ignite my love of filmmaking. The post-Star Wars ’80s sci-fi aesthetic combined with some killer music—what else could you possibly want? Huey Lewis and the News gave us two immensely catchy hits for the time travel romp, including the more aptly-named “Back in Time,” but “The Power of Love” has that infectious keyboard sting that emits dangerous levels of joyful nostalgia. “It’s strong, and it’s sudden, and it’s cruel sometimes / But it might just save your life,” Lewis sings in the chorus. I swear no one makes jubilant music like Huey and his News.

Judy Garland: “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz, 1939) (left)

We couldn’t make this list without the movie song. Film is our escape from the real world, and Edgar Yipsel Harburg captured that spirit in “Over the Rainbow”—sung through the eyes of a young girl dreaming of leaving the colorless plains of Kanas. “Someday I’ll wish upon a star / Wake up where the clouds are far behind me,” Garland yearns in her crystal clear tone, portraying the youthful enthusiasm of Dorothy Gale. Garland’s heartfelt rendition stole our hearts nearly a century ago and launched her to megastardom. There’s a reason that it is one of the most covered songs in history. It’s timeless and always will be.

Audrey Hepburn: “Moon River” (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961)

I remember being 17 and watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time and, in a flash, becoming transfixed by Audrey Hepburn’s performance of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.” While Frank Ocean would later cover the track and re-introduce it to a new generation, Hepburn’s original rendition remains the most powerful. While its inclusion in the film makes no sense plot-wise, when you really think about it, you’re fine with looking the other way—because it’s just simply too beautiful a tune to have any real gripe with, and the image of Hepburn singing it on Holly Golightly’s fire escape is just picture-perfect. And much of that is because of Hepburn, whose delicate and untrained voice emphasized the sincerity of “Moon River.” Paramount Pictures reportedly wanted to remove the song from the film altogether, to which Mancini vehemently refused. I think we’re all lucky that Mancini won that battle.

For a full list of the fifty songs chosen by the Paste Team as the best of the best, visit their on-line site at Paste. There is nothing more enjoyable than hearing real experts enthuse about and explain their passion.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The primary sources for this piece was  published in Paste on-line magazine. Other sources have been attributed in our text wherever possible.

Images employed have been taken from on line sites only where  categorised as images free to use.

For a more comprehensive detail of our attribution policy see our for reference only post on 7th April 2023  entitled Aspirations And Attributions.

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