MUSIC IS EXPRESSLY DESIGNED to make us feel. Good or bad, revived or suicidal, inspired or aroused, contemplative or melancholy. Combine it with a story and visuals – the right sort of visuals, that is, as opposed to some clever-dick mash-up full of flashing images and zappy edits – and the impact can be almost indescribable. In the best possible way (albeit not necessarily in the best possible taste). Even when the song has already been in your life for yonks.
So here’s a few precious moments where, for yours truly, the fusion hits the spot time after time…
I Saw The Light – Todd Rundgren (Kingpin, directed by the Farrelly Brothers)
Those cheeky Farrellys may do bipolar cops, conjoined twins, semen hair gel and zipped-up penises but they sure as hell don’t do sentiment – with one marvellous exception. In a scene featuring such unedifying sights as tenpin has-been Woody Harrelson flexing a hook on his right hand and sporting the world’s worst comb-over (and even climaxing between the legs of a plastic doll), the song that introduced the world to the genius of the Godd Otherwise Known As Todd supplies an improbable counterpoint. Celebrating both a brewing romance with Mrs Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach, and a touching bromance with Amish oaf Randy Quaid, how could it not inspire Sofia Coppola to use Hello It’s Me to similar if vastly more downbeat effect in The Virgin Suicides?
You Belong To Me – Bernadette Peters and Steve Martin (The Jerk, directed by Carl Reiner)
Boy meets girl. Boy licks girl’s face. They stroll along a twilit beach. He strums a ukele as she sings an old song, then they merge in a gorgeous two-part harmony. Saccharin-sweet, way too yucky for the stony of heart but utterly irresistible to anyone in possession of a working soul.
Come Go With Me – The Del-Vikings (Joe vs The Volcano, directed by John Patrick Shanley)
So there’s Tommy Hanks, the young, funny Tommy Hanks, stranded in the middle of the sea on a raft, dying of something incurable and bent on ending it all. Company is confined to a tranny. The radio sort. As he twiddles and tunes it in, the strains of a ditty familiar, presumably, from a less taxing youth, bring respite and the beginnings of a soft, serene smile. He starts moving to its bouncy beat, jerky, ungainly motions that would have been sneered at among the writhing bodies in Studio 54, yet somehow in sync, and totally joyous. He knows it won’t last long but, for now, he’s alive.
Beyond The Sea – Bobby Darin (Diner, directed by Barry Levinson)
Baltimore at the fag-end of the 50s. A gang of boyhood pals wrestle with nostalgia, longtime grudges, OCD, violent bookies, premature alcoholism and, most dastardly of all, women. As morning dawns, a lane-wide, wing-tipped mansion of a car cruises towards us, accompanied by Bobby Darin’s immaculate croon. In the front seat, serenity and optimism displace angst, fear and loss of innocence. For a few precious moments, they can convince themselves that the world is theirs, for the asking and the grasping.
My Father’s Gun – Elton John (Elizabethtown, directed by Cameron Crowe)
Poor, poor, pitiful Orlando Bloom. About to be exposed and shamed as the designer of a training shoe that lost his company $1bn, dumped by the girlfriend who was only in it for his money, unable (he thinks) to capture the heart of the new lass in his life, Elt and Bernie’s most resonant six minutes find him driving across country to scatter his father’s ashes and, finally, letting the tears flow. I know it doesn’t sound promising but honestly…shelve that scepticism and wallow.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love – Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers (American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas)
A white Thunderbird pulls up at the traffic lights. Richard Dreyfuss, all dimples and idealism, glances across from the back seat of his sister’s car to see a blonde princess eyeing him up. We see her mouth the ultimate come-hither: “I love you.” He couldn’t be more chuffed. “I just saw a vision! I saw a goddess…the most perfect, dazzling creature I’ve ever seen…She spoke to me, she spoke to me. I think she said ‘I love you’. This means nothing to you people…you have no romance, no soul. Someone wants me!”
Good Thing – Fine Young Cannibals (Tin Men, directed by Barry Levinson)
More Levinson, more Baltimore, more Tricky Dickie Dreyfuss and even more losers. This time it’s 1963 and Roland and the guys appear more than a tad incongruous pepping up a scene in a crowded bar where rival aluminium salesmen – Dreyfuss and Danny De Vito – stalk each other, yet the sheer joie de vivre of that pounding piano and those “hey-hey-heys” quells all qualms about anachronism. Plus, it’s funky as hell.
TB Sheets – Van Morrison (Bringing Out The Dead, directed by Martin Scorsese)
No bout a’doubt it. Nobody has exploited Mick ‘n’ Keef’s back catalogue remotely like Marty, most lovingly and thrillingly in Casino with Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’. Even so, it was the agony of the Belfast Cowboy’s Ladbroke Grove period that supplied the hardest evidence of the ultimate celluloid rocker’s winningly unique way with matching drama to crotchets and quavers and aural textures. While Van laments his girlfriend’s tubercular plight, Nic Cage’s druggy, near-dead eyes dare us to look away as he drives his ambulance through the streets of NYC, every death, every failure, writ agonisingly large. We can’t. Helplessness was never more vivid. Nor painful.
Everyone – Van Morrison (The Royal Tenenbaums, directed by Wes Anderson)
More Van, this time in cheerful rather than miserable bugger mode. Along with Cameron Crowe, Anderson has breathed fresh life into 60s and 70s music: think obscure Kinks and neglected Stones and even Bowie in Portuguese. He outdid himself on the credits for his third, name-making dissection of dysfunctional family dynamics, quite the happiest graveyard scene ever shot.
I’ll Never Fall In Love Again – Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello (Austin Powers 2, directed by Mike Myers)
The context is ludicrous but the beauty is undeniable. Amid all the zany if side-splitting silliness, an oasis of exquisite tenderness. Burt looks astonishingly handsome for a septuagenarian. Not since Alison has Elvis sounded so…so…vincible.
The End – The Doors (Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Coppola)
Well, you knew this would be in there somewhere. Had to be. Perish the thought, but was this where the notion of inventing a non-genre and calling it “classic rock” came from? It scarcely deserved such a vile fate. Still, Coppola liked it so much he used it twice in the same movie, as bookends. Much as the drunken cavorting of Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard to Jimbo’s hauntingly graceful baritone build-up remains one of the silver screen’s more endlessly repeatable scenes, it is the way Francis deploys this stately Oedipal romp at the climax of the criminally maligned Redux version that really grabs you by the rollocks. Six minutes of silent explosions and blazing fires and wanton destruction. So who, exactly, were the good guys?
It’s For You – Pat Metheny (Fandango, directed by Kevin Reynolds)
Boy meets girl. Love reigns o’er all. Jealously guarding his freedom, boy dumps girl, whereupon, after a decent passage of time, girl falls for boy’s best mate. Cue wincing agony: bound for Vietnam, boy does the best man thing as girl weds best mate (also bound for ‘Nam). Kevin Costner has never looked more natural nor achingly vulnerable than he does as he watches them dance to the sublime combination of Lyle Mays’ swirling synth and the Pat-Man’s gentle strumming. But tradition and duty insist he must dance with her too. Best mate is adamant. Reluctantly, she consents. Kev pulls out a bandana; she recognises it instantly, and melts. “Hey,” he calls to the band, “how about a fandango?” They oblige. And so the rhythm perks up and they trip down memory lane, spring-heeled and light of heart, serenaded by the Pat-Man at his nimblest and prettiest. The vocals may be wordless but it still gets me whimpering every time.