This is the next entry in a series from early 2012 that looks at the use of “needle dropped” songs, many of them popular tunes, in movies. Specifically, in more than one. Yet they are not officially considered part of a film’s score. A score consists of those orchestral, choral, or instrumental pieces some consider background music. Both music forms are equally utilized as cues by filmmakers for a specific purpose or to elicit certain reactions by the audience.
I’m fascinated by this in general, and movie soundtracks have long intrigued me. This convergence of the music and film arts I’ve spent much time toward. My wife can confirm this. Some (not all) movie soundtracks have incorporated those songs the director or music programmer showcased in their production along with the film’s score.
A few filmmakers have made it part of their work to incorporate well-known or popular song as a recurrent element. Why not? Music and movies make for a wonderful tandem, and I regularly watch out for them. As usual, I give credit to my blogging colleague over at Fog’s Movie Review for helping to ignite this series care of his excellent post, Tossin’ It Out There: What’s YOUR Favorite Song From a Movie?:
“… there’s a deep connection between the two arts, and sometimes that winds up creating an inseparable bond between the two in the viewer’s mind.”
Since we are in the midst of the Halloween season, I’ll proceed with a rock anthem many construe as dark (it’s not) and timely (it is). This one written and sung by the lead guitarist of the Long Island heavy metal/rock band Blue Oyster Cult. That (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, penned by Buck Dharma (aka Donald Roeser), arrived with the 70s shouldn’t surprise those old enough to remember the time. When many hard rockers of the day pictured themselves dying early — by the notorious era’s midpoint, the music death list would include Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and of course, Jim Morrison, among others — it remains befitting.
Although, it wasn’t exactly prophetic as Mr. Roesner is still quite alive to this day.
Built almost entirely around Roeser’s stellar guitar riff — it being the one song I taught my children how to air guitar as toddlers (much to their mother’s chagrin) — the track has gathered fans from each subsequent decade thereafter. Listen to the lyrics carefully to see why. Enough to also be referenced on film and TV over the years. Two of which utilized the driving barre chords and the poetry of the lyrics to great effect from two distinct and contrary decades. The tune reverberated best in a pair of movies from the 70s and 90s, in striking backdrops by two wholly different directors dealing with death in their films.
The film that put director John Carpenter literally on the map remains iconic, in more ways than one (see J.D.’s fine look at this from last week, if you doubt me). Scored famously by the newcomer-horror-auteur himself, Carpenter would make this his lone needle dropped tune in the entire film. And he’d do it almost innocuously. Placing the song faintly in the background, care of a car radio, in an early scene between a pair of potential female victims driving to their destinies. The stalked Laurie Strode and her friend Annie, caught in happenstance. Cleverly clueing the audience to the mayhem coming home to roost as a result. The Reaper of the lyrics relating to the death that awaits us all. In this case, fate coming in the form of Michael Myers. The He who not only came home, but the one who’d cut the thread spun.
The Stand (1994)
In perhaps a more pronounced statement, typical of the period (saying, “It was the 90s.” just doesn’t have the same ring), local-borne director Mick Garris opened with this track. His use of Blue Oyster Cult’s best song in his four-part 1994 television miniseries, the adaptation to what’s likely my favorite Stephen King novel, made for one of the all-time best musical intros. Roeser’s haunting song reprise chronicled the superflu’s vestige from the lab that gave it birth, all while the credits rolled. As the virus leaves on its purge of humanity, the tune’s use of the cowbell being another harbinger of things coming home, was memorably disturbing. The noted horror novelist’s well-known penchant for incorporating music and song references into his work matched up extraordinarily with the material presented.
“Come on baby
(Don’t fear the reaper)”
The song is well scattered among popular genre film: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (covered by The Muttonbirds) closes Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners during the closing credits, and Gus from Scream sings it. Hell, even the sports film Miracle incorporated this famed anthem to good effect.
The entire series can be found here.