Even before the advent of sound, movies had live accompaniment as they played in theaters. That's because music's intrinsic ability to convey moods greatly augmented what audience's were experiencing as they watched the visuals on the screen. Once the sound era was ushered in, talented composers joined the collection of artists working in Hollywood. Later, Broadway musicals began to be adapted for the silver screen.
Eventually, original music not written for the screen was incorporated into soundtracks, opening up a Pandora's box. There are countless memorable pairings of music with movies, ranging from classical (Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" in 2001) to rock (The Cars' "Moving in Stereo" in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). However, the pairings can work so well, they can alter the experience of listening to a song. The following are songs forever ruined for us.
"The End" by The Doors / Apocalypse Now - Greg Barbrick
I was a second-generation Doors fan, having gotten into them while I was in high school. That was when Rolling Stone put Jim Morrison on the cover, with the classic caption, “He’s hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead.” The Doors were everywhere, and for a self-consciously rebellious kid, there was nothing cooler than “The End” from their first album. After graduating, I wound up working for a music and video distributor, and one of the fringe benefits was taking home “defective,” videos.
Apocalypse Now was one of my first (and best) finds. Owning a movie was a pretty big deal back then, because they cost about as much as a month's rent. My friends would come over, we would drink a bunch of beer, then pop in Apocalypse Now. Here’s what I learned from that experience: drinking and watching movies do not mix. Well, it worked for about 10 minutes for me, then I was out. So I got to know the opening scene of Apocalypse Now very well. “This is the end, beautiful friend,” intones Jim Morrison, while the jungle explodes in flame. Then as the helicopter blades dissolve into a whirling ceiling fan in an awful Saigon hotel room, Martin Sheen smashes a mirror with his hand. All the while, “The End” builds to its shattering crescendo.
Coppola’s use of “The End” with those stunning images was so perfect that it is impossible for me to separate them to this day. So thanks, Francis. Of course, a few too many brewskies and a not-so-defective video tape may have contributed to the situation as well.
"Layla" by Derek and the Dominoes / Goodfellas - Gordon S. Miller
Martin Scorsese, one of the best filmmakers of all time, really knows how to match music with images to make memorable scenes. While Scorsese has frequently made use of Rolling Stones songs, it's Eric Clapton's classic-rock staple about unrequited love that I'll never hear the same way again.
The kicker is Scorsese only uses the piano coda from "Layla," so I am able to enjoy the song from the beginning, having forgotten what's to come. But once the piano kicks in though, all I can see is the slow, gliding reveal of dead bodies of those involved in the Lufthansa heist Jimmy (Robert De Niro) had whacked because they didn't listen to him about not spending the money from the robbery. Cracks me up every time.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen / Wayne's World - General Jabbo
Queen is easily in my top-five bands of all time. One of my great musical regrets is never having seen them in concert when I had the chance. I consider “Bohemian Rhapsody” one of the crowning achievements of what can be done in a recording studio, but one movie nearly ruined this song for me — Wayne’s World.
I was in high school when Wayne’s World came out, and while Queen were not as popular in the States as they had been previously (or are now), most music fans knew who they were and people like me were still carrying the torch for them. So when people at my school started asking if I had heard of that new group, Queen, I was stunned. Had they not heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” before? Surely they must have heard “We Will Rock You” at least. It wasn’t even these factors that nearly ruined this brilliant song for me, however — it was the video.
Thanks to Wayne and Garth, anytime the rocking part of the song kicked in, sure enough, people would start emulating the head-banging scene from the video, and I hated it. I suppose it was my inner music snob coming to the forefront at an early age, but I felt like my song had been taken away from me. Suddenly, people who thought Queen were a new band were realizing what Queen fans always knew, that they were a great band and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a great song.
I’ve since gotten over this and recognize Wayne’s World (a movie I actually do like) as the beginning of renewed interest in Queen on this side of the pond. Not a day goes by where one cannot hear one of Queen’s biggest hits on classic-rock radio and while I’d like to think it was just a matter of American fans coming to their senses, I do think Wayne’s World jump started the band’s career in America.So while I once cursed their names, I now say, “Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.”
"Stuck In The Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel / Reservoir Dogs - Shawn Bourdo
I guess I should be happy that I had 20 years to enjoy Stealers Wheel's "Stuck In The Middle With You" song. The Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan song from 1972 was an important part of my Seventies music experience. The Stealers Wheel's song was a staple of our local rock radio station. It's an upbeat catchy tune that comes out of that comfortable sing-a-long family of groups for me like The Eagles, George Harrison solo projects, and the country influence of Pure Prairie League.
Fast forward this song to 1992. The arrival of grunge and hip hop had put a hold on most stations playing these Seventies-pop classics. Quentin Tarantino released his first film Reservoir Dogs full of Seventies underground pop classics played as part of a radio station featured in the background through the film. The key scene to the film is a torture scene of a police officer by Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). The scene has some amazing dialog that builds the tension brilliantly. But nothing solidifies a scene in the brain like associating it with music. Tarantino's use of such a light peppy hit song amidst the torture made the Mr Blonde character more creepy and dangerous, but it forever associated the fun song with a severed ear.
Over twenty years later (longer than the song had been out when the film was released), I've not been able to enjoy a song of my childhood without subconsciously reaching for my ear.
"There is a Light that Never Goes Out" by The Smiths / (500) Days of Summer - Chris Morgan
If a movie is going to "ruin" a song for me, it is going to have to be a bad movie, and it is going to have to wedge itself in my brain so that, whenever I hear the song, I am reminded of the film, in all its awfulness, and I am the worse off for it. Fortunately, I have gotten pretty good at avoiding terrible movies, but I let myself down when it came to the insipid, inane, and downright idiotic (500) Days of Summer. Now, I didn't even make it deep enough into the movie to get to the part with the Hall and Oates song which, if it is anything like the 20 or so minutes I sat through while slowly dying inside, I'm sure was abjectly awful and would sully that song too.
No, I speak instead of "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" by The Smiths. This is the song that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is listening to when Zooey Deschanel makes it known that she too enjoys The Smiths. This shocks JGL, and he asks "You like The Smiths?" as if it is the most astounding thing ever. You know who else likes The Smiths? A ton of people! They are a very popular band. That's the only reason they got name-dropped in your shitty film to begin with! So now, when I hear the words "to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die," I am reminded of this scene, and this movie, and I seek the nearest cliff to drive my car off.
"She Will Be Loved" by Maroon 5 / The Last Song - Kristen Lopez
Maroon 5 is a band people love to hate or hate to love. There is no middle ground. As a die-hard fan of theirs since their inception, I’m a harsh judge whenever their music shows up in a movie and generally said music is relegated to the soundtrack and not actually a focal point of the film itself. All that changed when I saw the 2010 Miley Cyrus weepie, The Last Song.
The movie is what it is-a Nicholas Sparks weep fest about a faux-rebel girl and her father whose dying-but any and all goodwill it could have established was ruined halfway through the movie when our heroine (Cyrus) and her suitor (Liam Hemsworth) are having their meet-cute date. As they’re driving through all the cypress-covered South Carolina landscape, Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved" comes on. It’s a romantic song so it wasn’t unexpected to hear it. The problem is once Cyrus opens her gob and starts singing it only to be complimented by Hemsworth for her “beautiful voice.” Sorry, Miley but you’re no Adam Levine…and I understand that’s a relative statement. It gets worse when Hemsworth, intentionally or not, starts screaming the lyrics and sounding like a chicken about to go through the McDonalds grinder.
The song isn’t the Beatles, but I have several fond memories associated with that song all of which are ruined by the combination of Cyrus and Hemsworth vocally eviscerating it. If anything, this is the last song I want to hear from Maroon 5 because of this film!
"Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf / Easy Rider, Coming Home, et. al - Mat Brewster
Did the movie ruin the song, or did the song ruin the movie? I can’t say there was a time I ever loved “Born to Be Wild” but I do remember singing along with my friends in Junior High and finding some enjoyment in it. In the years since I’ve come to rather loathe it with pretty much every cell in my music loving soul.
This is mostly because it has become such a cinematic cliche. It started with Easy Rider, where interestingly enough it was initially used as a placeholder never intend to make the final film. At some point the filmmakers realized it resonated with the film's themes and it stayed. Ever since, it seems every movie or television show that features anybody on a motorcycle has to include it in the soundtrack somewhere.
It's gotten so bad that when a movie includes the song I let out an audible groan, roll my eyes, and throw popcorn (or my TV remote) at the screen. Come on, Hollywood, surely you can find another song for your cruising the open rode in a sweet ride scenes than this.
Now's it's your turn to tell us in the comments what song has been ruined for you by what movie.