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.”
This next entry centers around a vintage pop ballad of a bygone era. The 1950’s looked back upon somewhat nostalgically by some generations — many assuming it was simpler, more wholesome time. But in reality it wasn’t an “…era of uninterrupted, healthful, intergenerational harmony”1. And there were plenty of heartbroken teens pining for doo-wop during this nuclear-fueled Cold War period with the Soviet Union, “When we was brung up proper!”, as some would say.
Pittsburgh’s The Skyliners group voiced a number Top 40 pop numbers during this time (and in later revivals), with heartache chasing them over the years2, ironically. They fashioned a memorable, heartfelt song3, Since I Don’t Have You, as the decade came to a close in 19594. Has stood the test of time with many artists subsequently covering the tune5, being a staple on Oldies radio, and carving a niche with social groups who claim doo-wop music as part of their upbringing6.
American Graffiti (1973) and Mischief (1985) also used the song to highlight their earlier era and love interests
Why it was noticeable when needle-dropped so prominently in two distinct 1980s genre films, five years apart, that played coyly with its meaning and tone outside of that era.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
It’s a given a classic tune showing up in a far out ’80s sci-fi feature film would be pretty unexpected. Then again, screenwriter W.D. Richter’s directorial debut is exactly that. Crafting Earl Mach Rauch’s tale of an adventurer-brain surgeon-turned alien crime fighter into an inventive, quintessential cult film. Initially dismissed as weirdly unintelligible by critics and ticketbuyers, its lead character — who’s also a rock musician and physicist — gave scorer Michael Boddicker the idea to use something out of the blue with Peter Weller in the role. After noticing a young woman crying during his musical set, the compassionate Banzai attempts to soothe the distraught Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) with a impromptu rendition of the Skyliners’ ballad; even as its lyrical mourning decidedly unhelpful for a suicidal girl who is holding a gun.
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Contrast that with Richard Donner’s use of the number in his Lethal Weapon sequel years later. The great American TV/film director, and its Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn score, sprinkled a number of Skyliners numbers into the film’s soundtrack7. Doo-wop primarily used as a tuneful cue to Martin Riggs’ (Mel Gibson) state of mind since the death of his wife. The brokenhearted widower chasing South African diplomat-drug runners, romantically coming alive after meeting the consulate’s secretary (Patsy Kensit). Since I Don’t Have You playing on the radio postcoitally as the Afrikaners’ helicopters and automatic weapons come to take him out. Artfully signalling Riggs’ doomed relationship with Rika (by the same people who killed his spouse), but also hinting the villains won’t possess him, either.
The entire series can be found here.
- Nostalgic for the 50s? Let me give you a history lesson by Catherine Bennett. ↩
- Janet Vogel committed suicide on February 21, 1980, aged 37; Joe Verscharen died of cancer on November 2, 2007, aged 67; Wally Lester died of pancreatic cancer on April 21, 2015, aged 73; and Jimmy Beaumont passed away on October 7, 2017, aged 76 ~ Wikipedia ↩
- “Songwriter Joe Rock, who composed this song along with Jimmy Beaumont, wrote most of the lyrics while sitting in his car between stoplights. He was upset about a girl who had just left him.” ~ Songfacts ↩
- Topped out at #12 on the pop chart and #3 on R&B’s in 1959. ↩
- “Guns N’ Roses recorded this for their 1994 album The Spaghetti Incident and hit #10 in the UK with their cover. Art Garfunkel hit #38 UK with his 1979 cover, and Don McLean‘s 1981 version went to #23 in the US. Other artists to record the song include Chuck Jackson, The Vogues, Lenny Welch, Ronnie Milsap, and The Brian Setzer Orchestra.” ~ Songfacts ↩
- Can’t tell how many times I’ve heard and slow-danced to this tune at quinceañeras, wedding dances, and house parties during my high school years and beyond; many doo-wop numbers part of the Mexican-American subculture in Southern California, musically. ↩
- Although, “Since I Don’t Have You”, “This I Swear”, “Lonely Way”, “How Much”, and “Believe Me” were never released on the film’s soundtrack album (9 25985-1). ↩