11 Best Needle Drops in Film History
Iconic Movie Music Moments
Needle drops. The use of an existing song, appearing in a movie strategically, intertwined with and enhancing a scene through its tone, characters, and catharsis.
While there are countless examples where the music exists to bring a certain mood to the scene in the background, when the song comes to the foreground and the characters themselves get in on the song—whether through enjoyment, sadness, or demonic possession–is when it’s most fun to watch.
Here are 11 of the best needle drops in film history where the film’s characters bring the song to life.
Wayne’s World (1992): Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
The entire sequence of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in Wayne’s World is iconic, though it’s more notably memorable for the five characters in the car - lead by Wayne and Garth in the front - head-banging, a reflection of the only way people can rock out to the song nowadays. Even though the sequence is broken up slightly after the car stops to pick up a friend and Wayne gazes at a guitar in a shop window, it doesn’t feel disjointed, as the crew belt out the highs and lows of the song.
Baby Driver (2017): The John Spencer Blues Explosion - Bellbottoms
The espionage-like song from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bellbottoms is the perfect song to open a film that’ll have you on the edge of your seat. The scene itself moves with the pace and mood of the song, before crashing into reality, pausing, before Baby bops and sings along, pumping himself up - and using a water bottle as a microphone and the windscreen wipers as he moves his head in line - while the rest of the crew rob a bank. It’s a perfect blend of work and play in all one scene, as the song continues through the ensuing erratic car chase against the police.
Beetlejuice (1988): Harry Belafonte -Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
Cleverly inserted into Beetlejuice is Harry Belafonte’s Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) as a moment of demonic possession of Lydia’s parents and dinner guests. The actors’ ability to make it seem like they’re being controlled against their will, while also seeing the fun - along with horror and confusion - on their faces at the various dance moves and instances of singing, it’s a wonder anyone kept a straight face.
Lydia played the part of the viewer in this case, laughing at what was unfolding in the corner of the room.
Back To The Future (1985): Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode
The people of the past weren’t ready for Michael J Fox’s rendition of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, and neither were the viewers of Back To The Future with just how good it was, including the iconic red Gibson, the riff, and the slide on his knees - made even better that it was indeed Fox playing, despite his Parkinson’s diagnosis. However, it wasn’t just the song that Marty brought to the people of 1955 to kick-start rock-n-roll, he managed a couple of other “to-come” references, including The Who’s windmill, Eddie Van Halen’s tapping, Jimi Hendrix’s playing behind his head, and Angus Young’s floor spasms. We love it. And our kids love it.
Magnolia (1999): Aimee Mann - Wise Up
The surrealness of a host of characters from Magnolia, interconnected coincidentally by all singing Aimee Mann’s Wise Up created a moving and emotionally tangible sequence with the characters - lead by actors such as Julianne Moore, John C. Riley, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and William H Macy - singing along to poetic lyrics moving viewers to tears. The sequence more so resembles a music video than a sequence from a film which makes it all the more moving.
Jerry Maguire (1996): Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Free Fallin'
Finding the perfect song on the radio at the perfect time is important, so when the titular character from Jerry Maguire just closed a deal, he was flicking through stations trying to find a song that was just the right feel for the mood.
He stumbles upon Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and instantly went into a mood, belting out the song’s chorus at the top of his lungs. The pleasure and delight on Jerry’s face, tapping the steering wheel in tune, and holding the notes for longer than needed, showed his pure joy in that moment as he drives away, blissfully happy.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999): Frankie Valli - Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You
While the scene might be over-the-top and a little cheesy, Heath Ledger singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You by Frankie Valli in 10 Things I Hate About You had everyone swooning.
How it starts, with Patrick’s charming voice and a marching band joining in is only the beginning, as Patrick’s dance moves on the steps of the grandstand and evasion from security had the soccer players (which included who Patrick was singing to, Julia Stiles’ Kat) - and the viewers in stitches.
Anchorman - The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004): Starland Vocal Band - Afternoon Delight
A quirky rendition of Afternoon Delight by Starland Vocal Band comes out of nowhere in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, though, with the film’s humour, it’s not so out of place as the group are asking Ron about what love feels like. Between Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner, their harmonies work beautifully together in tune, especially that of Carell and Rudd. They complete the song with Koechner executing the guitar swoop found in the original song.
Reservoir Dogs (1992): Stealers Wheel - Stuck In The Middle With You
The monologue of explaining the soundtrack to which you will kill to - similar to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho - is a chilling addition to this scene in Reservoir Dogs. A relatively upbeat folk song, Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel, turns torture into fun for Mr Blonde, cutting off the ear of Marvin after singing along and shuffling around to the track. Even when Mr Blonde exits the room, the music stops, only to pick back up as if the song continues when he re-enters, as it associates the violence to that isolated room.
This Is the End (2013): Backstreet Boys - Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
Anything you can think of, it’s yours. That’s how it works in Heaven, according to This Is The End. Naturally, Jay Baruchel (without verbalising) wishes for a performance by the Backstreet Boys, who perform their hit, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) to a large crowd of white-clothed people who are in Heaven.
It’s a funny end to the apocalyptic black comedy. The fully choreographed dance by the five members of the group that extends into the entire ensemble makes a satisfying watch.
Almost Famous (2000): Elton John - Tiny Dancer
The use of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer in Almost Famous creates an uplifting moment in the film’s storyline, and showcases the power of music within relationships, able to bring people together, despite moments of the characters fighting beforehand.
With the song already playing as the band and groupies are on the bus, noting Russell is down, everyone comes together to belt out the song, progressing into a crescendo that is the only correct way to sing - or shout - its lyrics. It makes for a poignant and evocative scene, and reminds viewers of home being where your closest people are.
Deadpool (2016): Salt-N-Pepa - Shoop
Albeit briefly, Shoop by Salt-N-Pepa appears in the opening scene of Deadpool’s existence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing on the titular character’s Walkman while he’s sitting, dangling his legs over the side of the highway, drawing. We hear the song play from the device, and Deadpool bopping and singing along, as we get the first fourth wall break that is to become synonymous with the character and his franchise, before spotting bad guys and jumping down with minimal maximum effort.
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Jason Irvine is a writer based in Broken Hill, Australia, with a primary focus on sport, and cultural topics including music, TV and film. They currently work as a journalist with the Barrier Truth newspaper, as well as online publication, Edge of the Crowd, and is the host of sports films podcast, Goals on Film.
You can follow Jason on Twitter @jaseirvs
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