I'm sure everyone enjoys a good film, whether at the cinema – armed with a giant tub of popcorn and over-sized drink – or in the comfort of their own home. The big screen has delivered some truly epic movies, from black and white classics to modern blockbusters with all their special effects. Most films are accompanied by a soundtrack with many being as memorable as the film itself. From the title track to the end credits and everything in between, music plays a huge part in any film. In this article we'll explore movie soundtracks and the impact they have on DJs. I'm sure there won't be many readers who remember the classic movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s but that's where our journey begins as we set the scene (no pun intended) for this article.
THE ‘30S & ‘40S
I'm a big fan of movies from these decades, with personal favourites including King Kong and The 39 Steps, both filmed in black and white, as well as The Adventures Of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, which was shot in Technicolour. Make sure you wear your sunglasses when viewing this 1938 classic as it features an array of brightly coloured tights that can come as a shock to the unprepared eye! I digress slightly, so to bring things back on track let's look at one of the biggest movies of the era and the soundtrack that accompanied it. In 1939 The Wizard Of Oz was released and cinema-goers around the globe loved it. The film's soundtrack featured the songs 'We're Off To See The Wizard' and 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead'. The latter actually reached number two in the UK chart in 2013 for reasons that we don't need to go in to in this article, but it is a perfect reminder of the power of digital downloads! The film also included the Academy Award winning 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow', which became Judy Garland's signature song and in later years a hit for artists including Cliff Richard, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Ariana Grande and Eva Cassidy, with the latter probably being the most popular version and the one played by many DJs.
There was no let-up in the ‘40s as the film industry gave us gems like Citizen Kane, It's A Wonderful Life and The Maltese Falcon. Music continued to play a key role, especially in the Disney films of this decade that included Pinocchio, Dumbo and Fantastia, with the latter featuring the track 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King' which is still used to this day by a large UK-based theme park as their anthem. DJs will probably have played, or have in their collection, the song 'As Time Goes By' which appeared in Casablanca and most certainly everyone will have played 'White Christmas', which Bing Crosby performed in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn.
It is in this decade that things started to get interesting from a DJ perspective. In 1956 Doris Day performed 'Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)' that featured in the film The Man Who Knew Too Much and is often dusted off and played at relevant events. In 1952 Gene Kelly belted out 'Singin' In The Rain' from the movie of the same name and I’m sure many DJs will remember the 2005 remix by Mint Royale. In 1958 South Pacific was released and among the many great songs that featured in the film there was one called 'Happy Talk' which went on to top the charts in 1982 for Captain Sensible. Whilst all of these tracks are memorable enough, it was to be a new style of music that would have the most impact on DJs, both then and now, and that is – of course – Rock & Roll!
The 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle included the track 'Rock Around The Clock' by Bill Haley & his Comets, which many suggest marked the starting point of the rock & roll revolution. By 1957 it was in full swing when Elvis appeared in the film Jailhouse Rock which featured the tracks 'Treat Me Nice' and '(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care' as well as the title track which gave Elvis a UK chart topper and DJs a must-play when asked to “stick a bit of rock & roll on”.
Elvis continued to enjoy further film success in the ‘50s when he starred in King Creole, which also spawned a number of big hits including 'Hard Headed Woman', 'King Creole' and 'Trouble', and his film career continued well into the 1960s.
As a film fan, the ‘60s delivered in abundance. Psycho, The Sound Of Music, The Italian Job and The Birds are all highlights, as well as two of my favourite films of all time: Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape. It's the decade that started the institution of ‘The Bond Theme’, including 'Goldfinger' by Shirley Bassey in 1964 and 'You Only Live Twice' by Nancy Sinatra in 1967, and gave us 'Moon River' (Breakfast At Tiffany's – 1961), 'Mrs Robinson' (The Graduate – 1967), 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid – 1969) and 'Born To Be Wild' (Easy Rider). It's also the decade when music and movies really came together with many recording artists moving to the big screen, often with great success. Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Cliff Richard all starred in films that had great soundtracks with many of the songs becoming DJ standards – 'Help', 'Return To Sender', 'Summer Holiday', 'A Hard Days Night', 'Viva Las Vegas', 'On The Beach'... the list is almost endless!
From the haunting strings of the theme to Jaws to the iconic Star Wars anthem, the 1970s had it all. DJs enjoyed an array of brilliant movie songs to add to their sets. Cult films including Shaft, Superfly, Car Wash and The Harder They Came all had spectacular soundtracks, and it was also the era of disco. The Bee Gees enjoyed arguably their best decade as songwriters, penning timeless hits like 'Night Fever', 'Jive Talkin'', 'More Than A Woman' and 'Stayin' Alive' for the movie Saturday Night Fever that must be up there with the greatest movie soundtracks of all time. The star of that film was John Travolta who also starred alongside Olivia Newton-John in the 1978 smash hit musical Grease, which gave DJs a trove of tracks to play including 'Summer Nights', 'Greased Lightning' and 'You're The One That I Want'.
One of the decade’s strangest films has to be The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ve watched it several times and I'm still undecided as to whether I like it or not, but that's academic as it's the song 'The Time Warp' that matters, which for many years was one of my most played party tracks. When it comes to great soundtracks we must also give honourable mentions to Quadrophenia, American Graffiti, National Lampoon’s Animal House, The Stud and Monty Python's Life Of Brian, if only for 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life'. It was a wonderful decade full of wonderful films... and who could ever forget the 'Campfire Scene' from Blazing Saddles!
The 1980s was arguably THE decade for the movie soundtrack and as DJs we were truly spoilt with hit after hit to play at events. Films like Footloose, Beverley Hills Cop, Top Gun and The Blues Brothers gave us songs including 'The Heat Is On', 'Holding Out For A Hero', 'Take My Breath Away', 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' and 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love'. The soundtracks were a huge part of many movies with a lot of them reaching the higher placings in the UK charts and spawning huge hits that included some of the decade’s greatest number ones. 'Two Hearts' – Phil Collins, 'Eye Of The Tiger' – Survivor, 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' – Starship, 'La Bamba' – Los Lobos and 'Fame' – Irene Cara were all movie tracks that topped our chart in this decade.
In the mid-‘80s, 'Ain't Nobody' by Rufus & Chaka Khan and 'Tour De France' by Kraftwerk featured in the movie Breakdance prompting school children everywhere to roll around on a piece of lino during their lunch break. A year later I went to watch Desperately Seeking Susan at the ABC cinema in Sheffield, the film was rubbish but I was 15 and had a bit of a thing for Madonna… 'Into The Groove' is a pretty good song though! We can't leave this decade without mentioning Dirty Dancing. Not only is it a great film – it is, so don't argue – but it gave us a wealth of fabulous songs like 'She's Like The Wind' and '(I've Had) The Time Of My Life' as well as introducing new audiences to classic oldies including 'Big Girls Don't Cry', 'Wipeout' and 'Hey Baby'.
Regular readers will know that there are a few songs that really, really annoy me, so much so that I seem to mention them in almost every article I write, including this one! I don’t know why, but the 1990s saw a big influx of ballads being included on movie soundtracks. Films including Robin Hood – Prince Of Thieves, Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Bodyguard and Titanic gave us the songs 'Everything I Do (I Do For You)', 'Love Is All Around', 'I Will Always Love You' and 'My Heart Will Go On'... I actually feel quite nauseous whilst typing those titles, but DJs had no choice but to play them. They were massive tracks and hugely popular with audiences, if not with DJs like myself. Movie songs were often the choice for the First Dance at weddings and I remember 1998 very well for just that reason. It was the year that the movie Armageddon was released. It was a great film but its soundtrack included 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing' by Aerosmith which every bride then promptly chose for their special day and… for the record… I don't like! It wasn't about me of course, it was about the bride & groom, but it was really hard to announce the happy couple on to the dancefloor before pressing the button that started Steven Tyler's croaking vocal without grimacing with utter discomfort throughout the entire song!
‘90s movies did throw up a few gems though. Men In Black, Dangerous Minds and Space Jam all had strong soundtracks, with the latter delivering R Kelly's hit 'I Believe I Can Fly'. I was the resident DJ at a venue in Birmingham when that track was number one and it became their anthem, which meant I had to play it as the last track of the night... every week... for almost half a year... I’m sure you can imagine how sick of it I became! Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore gave fine performances in the 1990 movie Ghost which included the iconic pottery scene accompanied by 'Unchained Melody' by the Righteous Brothers, another movie track to reach number one. Pretty Woman, Mermaids, The Lion King and Forrest Gump all had impressive soundtracks and I can't leave the ‘90s without mentioning Trainspotting. A cult movie with a stellar soundtrack that included tracks from Iggy Pop, Blur and David Bowie but is probably best remembered for the dance anthem 'Born Slippy'. A staggering track that is as relevant now as it was in 1997.
The way films are made has changed dramatically in recent years but music still plays a huge role and is as important in today's modern movies as it was back when sound was first introduced to the big screen. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie take pride in carefully selecting the music for their movies, often with surprising results that enhance scenes making them even more memorable. Imagine the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs without 'Stuck In The Middle With You'. It would still work but not as well, as that track takes the scene to a totally new level.
The inclusion of retro tracks in films brings new audiences to songs that were hits many years before they were born, which in turn allows DJs to start playing them again. How many of you have been surprised to hear a younger person request a rare track at an event? 'Tiny Dancer' by Elton John is a good example of a request I received from a guest who looked no older than 16. I assumed it was a request for a shy, older relative, but later found out that it had appeared in the movie Almost Famous in what has now become an iconic scene and was a favourite of all his friends of a similar age.
From 2000 on there was a spate of so called 'Chick Flicks' like Love Actually, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary that all boasted fantastic soundtracks. Animated movies like Shrek, Toy Story, The Lego Movie and Frozen all also included at least one song that had guests heading to the DJ booth to make a request. Some songs come and go whilst others look like sticking around for a little while. Tracks like 'Happy' (Despicable Me 2) and 'Can't Stop The Feeling' (Trolls) are strong party tracks that will probably still get played in years to come.
What I hope you take from this article is not only how many great, and not so great, movie songs there have been but how movies influence the popularity of songs by their inclusion, which in turn is passed on to DJs. So the next time you go to the cinema you might pay a little more attention to the music that features and focus less on the person behind you who hasn't stopped talking since the film started!
As they say in Hollywood... that's a wrap!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 89, Pages 34-40.