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Needle Drops That Enhanced the Movie

Music and film are so deeply entwined that it’s often impossible to discuss the impact of a film without acknowledging its music, at least briefly. Would the “I’m Flying” scene in Titanic carry as much weight if it wasn’t paired with the enchanting instrumental of “My Heart Will Go On”? Would a new generation be exposed to and learn to love the Harry Belafonte hit, “Banana Boat (Day-O)” if not for its genius placement in the film Beetlejuice? There are many examples one can look to when it comes to songs that become associated with the movies that they’re featured in. Sometimes they aren’t even used in the film for long, but it’s enough to create that association. Think of Yello’s song “Oh Yeah.” The song achieved worldwide success because it was used in the iconic movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  

These songs fall under the category of needle drops. Needle drops take a pre-existing song and add it to a scene in a film to enhance it in some way, usually its emotional impact or associations.  

While it used to be that people got to hear new music from the radio or taking a trip to a record store, these days a lot of the exposure to new music comes from entertainment and social media. As a person born on the millennial-gen Z cusp, I got a mix of both. However, looking back on songs that I feel great nostalgia for, I came to the realization that a lot of them came onto my radar in the first place because of movies. I could hear a song and picture exactly what scene it was used for in a movie I’d seen. I’m sure I’m not the only one either. Check out my list below of songs that I will forever associate with these movies, and I grew to like them because of their use in them. Maybe we’ll have a few in common. 

 

“Milkshakes” – Kelis  

From: Mean Girls 

I genuinely do not think I would have known this song if not for its placement in Mean Girls. This movie was played so frequently on the ABC Family channel, that it would not be an exaggeration to say I’ve seen it at least 50 times. In the movie, “Milkshakes” is used when the main character Cady visits Queen Bee Regina George’s house with the other Plastics for the first time. This is an introduction to not only Regina’s wealth but also to the George family’s dynamics as we see Regina’s younger sister Kylie belly dancing along to Kelis’ music video. Not only is Mean Girls one of the most beloved comedy films from the 2000s, but it’s also one of the most influential, so it’s no surprise a song from this movie would become forever associated with it.  


 

“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf)” – Big Brovaz  

From: Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed 

Where are my live-action Scooby Doo fans at? I can’t be the only one out there who not only loved the films but absolutely loved the soundtracks for both movies. There are so many great song selections used in Scooby Doo 2, but one of the best needle-drops in the sequel is “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf)” by Big Brovaz. The song is used during a scene where Shaggy and Scooby infiltrate a villain's club to try to search for some clues. While in their disguises, a woman asks Scooby to dance, so instead of keeping a low profile, he gets a little too into dancing to “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf).” He’s stage diving, joining a coordinated group dance, and eventually losing her disguise and blowing his cover. The original version of this song by Sly & Family Stone in the late 1960s, so Big Brovaz’s cover used in the film helped bring it to a new generation of listeners. Beyond that, its placement in the film adds to the comedic element that makes Scooby Doo so funny as a character.  


 

“All Star” – Smash Mouth  

From: Shrek 

A list of iconic needle drops wouldn’t be complete “All Star” by Smash Mouth. The song is used in the opening scene of the 2001 smash-hit movie Shrek.  Who immediately thinks of Shrek busting open his outhouse door when the first line of “All Star” comes in? While “All Star” was already doing well on the radio charts, Shrek boosted it even further. Eventually, the song would become one of the most frequently used in meme culture in the 2010s (with a good chunk being Shrek-themed memes), making it even more inescapable. Smash Mouth was initially hesitant to license the song for Dreamworks, but it’s a good thing they did because the legacy of Shrek has helped their careers. The opening scene with Shrek doing his morning routine with “All Star” playing is now considered iconic, and I think it works so well because the song has a “don’t care” attitude which reflects Shrek’s character well. Any other song just wouldn’t feel right. 



“Red Right Hand” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds  

From: Scream 

As the town of Woodsboro is locking up for the curfew to keep folks safe from the mysterious masked killer, viewers are treated to the sound of “Red Right Hand.” The song talks of a man in a dusty black coat with a red right hand. With its rumbling bass effects and Nick Cave’s deep singing, the tone is perfect for this part of the Scream film. As you watch people lock up for the night, pack up their belongings, and drive off in their cars, you can feel the tension in the air, only further compounded by the song selection. “Red Right Hand” became so iconic and synonymous with Scream that it was used in later films in the franchise.   


 

"Supermassive Black Hole" – Muse 

From: Twilight 

Twilight fans don’t even need to be told that the use of “Supermassive Black Hole” enhanced the iconic baseball scene in the popular teen franchise. For those who aren’t fans...well, it’s something that just has to be seen to understand – at least that’s how I feel about it. There’s already a blue tint used in the film that already enhances the vibe of this scene, but paired with a cloudy day, a thunderstorm on the horizon plus “Supermassive Black Hole,” it’s no surprise this scene continues to live on in the collective subconscious. Muse has a lot of songs that fit this sort of vibe, but “Supermassive Black Hole” fits so perfectly because it has this epic yet eerie feeling. Watching vampires with super strength play the great American pasttime is deserving of an epic song. Using this song took what was already a cool scene and made it into an unforgettable one. 



“You Better Swim” - Motorhead 

From: The Spongebob Squarepants Movie 

For a fun kids movie like the Spongebob Squarepants movie, it can be hard to create a serious, unsettling moment. When you insert a song like “You Better Swim” into a scene, however, it becomes almost seamless. This Motorhead track is used as Spongebob and Patrick try to go into a dive bar to retrieve the key to their stolen car. As the pair look nervously through the window, they see all sorts of intimidating fish in biker gear. Some are beating each other up, one is eating nails out of a cereal bowl, and another is looking into the distance, dead-eyed. Using the Motorhead song not only enhances the scene but also introduces kids to a genre of music they may have never heard before. Fun fact: The song is actually a rewrite of Motorhead's original song "You Better Run" changed to fit the underwater life of Spongebob Squarepants.  


 

“Happy Together” - Simple Plan 

From: Freaky Friday 

The beginning of the 2003 version of Freaky Friday starts out with the original version by The Turtles as paintings of mothers and daughters eventually turn to photographs of mothers and daughters before we cut to the daughter of the film, Anna, as her alarm clock goes off. The second she switches it off, the song changes over to the version recorded by Simple Plan. This shift not only sets the tone for the opening scene but the entire film. Anna is into rock music, and using this version also sets up her interests. The upbeat, rock-influenced version pairs well with the opening scene showing how the mother Tess gets so much done while Anna sleeps away, refusing to get up despite her mom’s insistence. It all comes to a head when Tess resorts to grabbing Anna’s feet to try to get her head out of bed, but it’s her little brother’s bullhorn that finally gets her out of bed. The song ends as she slams the bedroom door. The usage of both songs works so well to not only lull the audience into comfort before launching them into the chaos of the Coleman household, but also to show the dichotomy between mother and daughter.  


 

“Tiny Dancer” - Elton John 

From: Almost Famous 

The band Stillwater is in a tough spot before “Tiny Dancer” plays on the bus. Guitarist Russell was off partying somewhere, disrupting the tour. Tensions are high for that reason, but also a number of things I won’t spoil because the movie is an absolute must-see if you haven’t yet. What’s important to know if that tensions are high. Everyone’s a little mad at each other. As they’re on the road to their destination, “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John plays not just for the audience, but the characters too. One member starts to sing along, then another, until everyone on the tour bus is singing along together.  

It’s such an important moment in the film because it shows that no matter how divided things got between them, they all still had their love of music. That will bond them forever. It’s an also important moment for main character William who realizes in this moment that these people have become like his family. The song grounds them all, reminding them of their dreams and why they’re doing this in the first place. The song took what could have been a scene of dialogue or discussion and conveyed the same message without needing any dialogue. The music and actions of the characters said it all.   

Skip to about a minute in if you’d like to get to the song faster.



These are just a few of hundreds of movie moments made magic by the inclusion of the perfect music. Which of these songs do you think made the scenes better? Which scenes did we miss? Sound off in the comments! Thank you for reading.  

 

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