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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Five Best Plus: Original Songs Much Better Than Their Films

Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages"
courtesy of
I've done lists involving music and the movies before, but decided to take a little different approach this time. Plenty of films have debuted with accompanying songs that have topped the charts. But, not all those songs' films were any good. In fact, a lot of the chart-topping tunes have been far and away better than the films that brought them into the mainstream. So, here's the list - the five plus best examples of songs that debuted in a film that was much worse than it deserved. None of these films are musicals and, whether or not these songs were specifically written and recorded for the movie, the film's release was what put it on the radio and on MTV. Here they are in chronological order, with a bonus or two.

"Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini
Performed by Audrey Hepburn

Now, there's a huge fan base for this squeaky clean film, but watch it closely and you'll realize that it's just not a good movie. Holly Golightly may be an iconic character in Truman Capote's book and Audrey Hepburn's screen persona, but the films itself is just misguided, save for the performance of the beautifully simple Mercer and Mancini tune. They wrote a simple tune specifically so that it would match Hepburn's limited range for the film and, what began as a brief performance became the most enjoyable part of an otherwise sub-par film. But, it is the best movie about a spoiled girl who loses her cat. So there's that.

Every Song from Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Written and Performed by The Bee Gees

The songs and film that defined the disco era came in 1977 with Saturday Night Fever, boasting an iconic soundtrack by the Bee Gees. This was the star-making role for John Travolta, though the film itself is a bit sexist, raunchy, and messy. Originally based on a magazine article, this story of a Brooklyn youth who "makes something of himself" on the dance floor is ridiculous. Don't get me wrong - it's fun to watch and laugh at, but it serves no purpose beyond a photograph of the era. Somehow, some way, Travolta pulled an Oscar nomination out of it - if anything, a sign of the times. But, as critical as I can be of the film, the soundtrack was fantastic to this day. RIP Robin Gibb.

"Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III (1982)
Written by Frankie Sullivan and Jim Peterik
Performed by Survivor

Plenty of people associate this motivational anthem with the first Rocky film, but it didn't actually appear until the third one. Rocky III certainly isn't the worst of the series, but that doesn't mean it's any good. What this film did was introduce the world to Mr. T, playing Clubber Lang, a younger, more arrogant boxer than Stallone's Rocky (this role would lead to "The A Team" and subsequent other roles for Mr. T). When Stallone couldn't get the rights to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," he commissioned the band Survivor to write this song for his film. The song amps up the cheese a bit, but it's still used regularly in sporting events and pumps you up just with the first guitar riffs. Needless to say, Rocky III doesn't do that.

"Everything I Do (I Do It for You)" from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Written by Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen, and Robert John "Mutt" Lange
Performed by Bryan Adams

Now, it's not the worst incantation of the Robin Hood story (that goes to you, Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe), but it's still not a good film, for a number of reasons. Paramount of these is the fact that star Kevin Costner doesn't talk in a British accent when everyone else in the film does. But, accompanying this below average film was this touching ballad performed by Bryan Adams. Senior proms around the world could grab a hold of this one and, though you may think it pours on too much sentimentality, it's still one of the better love songs written in the past thirty years.

"Gangsta's Paradise" from Dangerous Minds (1995)
Written by Coolio, Doug Rasheed, Larry Sanders, and Stevie Wonder
Performed by Coolio

Think of all the good films that have been made about a teacher or principal turning around a school full of misbehaving kids. Dangerous Minds does not fall into that category. Based on the autobiography of a former US Marine who becomes a teacher in southern California, this terribly acted and miscast movie somehow was a box office success, birthing a failed TV show of the same name (starring Annie Potts). Starring Michelle Pfeiffer as the ex-Marine (yes, you read that correctly), this film's popularity can only be attributed to this ear worm from the unexpectedly popular Coolio, birthing an early example of rap going into the mainstream. The song only garnered more popularity after it was given the Weird Al Yankovic treatment ("Amish Paradise"), giving way to some legal battles. And yes - I owned the cassette single of this song.

"Kiss from a Rose" from Batman Forever (1995)
Written and Performed by Seal

I will preface this by saying that I owned a VHS copy of this film when I was younger...I was a terribly misguided youth, I guess. Anyway, when Joel Schumacher jumped behind the camera after Tim Burton walked away after Batman Returns, he turned a relatively dark series into a campy, overblown one, casting Val Kilmer as the title hero and throwing in height-of-his-popularity Jim Carrey as The Riddler and bracingly irritating Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in what still is not the worst Batman film (Batman & Robin is atrocious). But, accompanying this weird vision was this sweet ballad from R&B singer Seal, which took adult contemporary radio by storm. It's a shame it's associated with this film.

"Bring Me to Life" from Daredevil (2003)
Written by Amy Lee, Ben Moody, and David Hodges
Performed by Evanescence

A casualty of the early comic book movie craze, this Ben Affleck starring vehicle about the titular blind superhero is poorly acted and horribly directed. It somehow then spawned an even worse sequel starring Jennifer Garner and focusing on her character, Elektra. On the plus side, it did show how wonderful Colin Farrel can be playing a villain and introduced the world to a rock band that, for about five years, would rule the airwaves. This song has a weirdly dramatic feel to it and was played out by the end of my sophomore year in college, but it's still an exciting rock anthem that I can't help but sing along with.

And, just for fun, a few more that are still better than their films, but not quite as dramatically.

"Footloose" from Footloose (1984)
Written by Kenny Loggins and Dean Pitchford
Performed by Kenny Loggins

The original Footloose will always be a fun, mindless piece of entertainment, though not a great film, exactly. But the Kenny Loggins tune that shared a title with the film is anything but boring - a toe-tapping number that's sure to get you out of your seat. Please - watch and listen to this. Ignore the cover and remake.

"Blaze of Glory" from Young Guns II (1990)
Written by Jon Bon Jovi
Performed by Bon Jovi

Young Guns and its sequel are fun, modern westerns that showcased some of the "brat pack" in a different way, just at the end of their prime. They aren't great movies, but they aren't bad ones either. What is great, though, is the Bon Jovi theme song from the sequel - an epic, rock ballad with a western flare that just screams to be karaoked.

"I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard (1992)
Written by Dolly Parton
Performed by Whitney Houston

The movie is terrible - the song is better, but still has the ability to get under your skin. That being said, Whitney Houston's cover of the Dolly Parton love song shows the vocal strength of the late superstar in a way no other song could. But this movie...good God.

"Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile (2002)
Written by Eminem, Luis Resto, and Jeff Bass
Performed by Eminem

I like 8 Mile - it's a relatively decent film that follows a familiar plot line, but sets it in a part of the country not usually used at the setting of musical biopics. Plus, it's a pretty decent starring turn from Eminem. But, come on...this is one of the best rap songs ever written. It ties in so tightly with the film, but somehow manages to stand alone as a work that should be admired. And, it became the first rap song to win the Oscar for Original Song.

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