Music and the Movies


One of the most famous scenes in film history comes from Hitchcock’s Psycho. The scene when Janet Leigh’s character gets murdered, dubbed the “shower scene”, is widely accepted as one of the most iconic movie scenes ever. Part of the influence of this scene comes from the 77 different camera angles and extreme close-ups that Hitchcock uses. The true hair-raising effect, however, stems from the unmistakable, chilling screech of jabbing violins that has become a staple in the thriller genre.


The music in a movie can completely change the emotional impact that movie has on the audience. The most famous scenes in movie history almost always have an iconic song that has a huge impact on the scene’s significance. “Gonna Fly Now” in the stair scene in Rocky, “Old Time Rock And Roll” in the dance scene from Risky Business, “Time of my Life” in Dirty Dancing. All of these songs heightened the connection audiences had with the scene. Some of the most beloved, quirky scenes stem from the music involved. Think of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in Wayne’s World or the “Twist and Shout” scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Music is vital to the success and emotion of a film and without it, movies would not be the same.


Some movies have become famous because of their soundtracks. Perhaps one of the most famous soundtracks of all time was for The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night. Most people think the soundtrack was just another album released on its own, but the album actually came from the movie. What makes this soundtrack different is that all of the songs were written by the stars of the film. The iconic opening chord, dubbed the “G7sus4 heard ‘round the world”, makes the movie memorable from the get-go. Some of the Fab Four’s most popular songs came of this soundtrack: “A Hard Day’s Night”, “If I Fell”, “And I Love Her”, and “Can’t Buy Me Love”. While the album’s popularity has out-lasted the popularity of the film, A Hard Day’s Night has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time and to those who grew up in that generation, it is forever connected to memory of Beatlemania.


While very different from the rock-n-roll based A Hard Day’s Night, another iconic movie soundtrack is that of Saturday Night Fever. You can count on one hand how many soundtracks have redefined an entire music genre, and this album should be number one on that list. Released in the late 70s, Saturday Night Fever pushed America into the infamous (although brief) disco era. Disco might forever have been remembered as a mere bump in the road of American music culture had it not been for this film. The film popularized some of the most popular disco tracks that people still can’t resist dancing to 40 years later. It includes hits like “You Should Be Dancing“, “Boogie Shoes“, “Stayin’ Alive“, and “Disco Inferno”. Although they’re considered by many today as outdated, fad hits, they defined the disco phenomenon. I dare you to listen to “Stayin’ Alive” and not feel the urge to dance, even a little bit. The soundtrack was certified 15x platinum in the US and remained on the Billboard charts for 120 weeks, topping them for 24 weeks straight. It is one of the most popular and influential soundtracks of all time.


Some movie soundtracks far surpass the movie itself in terms of popularity. To me, the epitome of this type of soundtrack is Garden State. I’m going to be honest and say that I’ve actually never seen the full movie. Released in 2004, Garden State is a comedy-drama written and directed by Zack Braff and, other than its cult following, most people consider it a good but not very memorable film. However, the soundtrack, for which Braff was awarded a Grammy for Best Compilation Sountrack Album, is in my opinion one of the best. Featuring artists such as The Shins, Coldplay, Simon & Garfunkel, and the (at the time) lesser known Iron & Wine, the soundtrack could be one of the best mix-tapes of all time. Every track was hand-picked by Braff, who also picked many of the songs for his comedy series Scrubs. Commenting on his selections, Braff said “I made a mix CD with all of the music that I felt was scoring my life at the time I was writing the screenplay.” Braff compiled a group of songs that complement each other perfectly and feel almost like they should have never been apart.


Another soundtrack that immediately comes to mind as one of the greatest is that of 500 Days of Summer. While the film exhibited huge success on its own, its soundtrack is one of the most beloved of the modern era. The album is a pleasing mix of classic hits like Hall & OatesYou Make My Dreams True“, blended with a host of offbeat artists such as Feist, Black Lips, Carla Bruni, and Regina Spector. The whimsical indie tracks match the quirky nature of the movie perfectly.


Whether they’re a mix-tape of various tracks or an original album, movie soundtracks are extremely powerful. They have the ability to determine, or even surpass, the popularity of the movie itself. The carefully crafted mosaic of tracks can determine the emotional connection any viewer has with the film. And because they stem from a storyline, the albums themselves are unique in that they tell a specific story that you can still get a sense of when they stand alone. Soundtracks are also a powerful vehicle for music discovery and have launched some famous artists and even genres into the mainstream. Next time you go to see a film, try and imagine it without any music (or don’t because it would be so much worse).


I’ll leave you with one of my personal favorite movie music scenes: