The Most Definitive Music Cues in Film History

There’s a terrific little movie coming out tomorrow called London Boulevard (it’s available now on demand as well), a tough British gangster flick along the lines of The Long Good Friday or Mona Lisa, starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley and directed by William Monahan, who wrote The Departed. But his stylish direction and their charismatic performances aren’t why I can’t get the picture out of my head. It’s because of the Yardbirds.

Three times in the film (the opening credits, the closing credits, and a key point in-between), Monahan fires up “Heart Full of Soul,” the marvelously moody blues-rocker from 1965. It’s a great song, but it’s so well-matched to the film that they’re now all tied up together in my head; it’s pretty safe to bet that any time I hear that song from now on (which, being a Yardbirds fan, will be more often than you’d think), there will be an image of Farrell on his jail cot to accompany it.

And that’s the power of a well-chosen music cue in film; when they’re properly matched, we’ve suddenly married them, and anytime we hear that song we see that scene, and anytime we think of that movie, we hear that song. After the jump, we present ten songs that are forever tied to the movies that showcased them (and, just to keep it fair, there’s no songs from “musicals,” and no songs that were composed specifically for the film in question). Agree, disagree, and add your own in the comments.

“Stuck in the Middle with You” by Steelers Wheel in Reservoir Dogs

As Steven Wright’s K-BILLY deejay puts it, this “Dylanesque bubble-gum pop favorite” was a mostly forgotten tune when Quentin Tarantino employed it for perhaps the most disturbing single sequence in his electrifying 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs. That scene finds psychopath Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) cranking up the “Super Sounds of the ‘70s weekend” on a nearby radio as he tortures a kidnapped police officer for information, going so far as to slice off the cop’s ear with a straight racer as the cheerful ditty plays out. “I don’t know if Gerry Rafferty [half of Steelers Wheel] necessarily appreciated the connotations that I brought to ‘Stuck in the Middle with You,’” Tarantino confessed in 1994. “There’s a good chance that he didn’t. But that’s one of the things about using music in movie’s that’s so cool… when you do it right and you hit it right, then you can never really hear that song again without thinking about that image from the movie.” And he’s right: anyone who’s ever stumbled upon this particular song and not conjured up the image of a bloody, severed ear clearly hasn’t seen Reservoir Dogs.