18 January 2012

A little film music, please...

The other day I was watching a n episode of the cop series Blue Bloods, and a character came into a room where a woman was rehearsing a song for party. The song was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

All I could think was that the producers were running a bit late. It was about five years ago that I concluded that the FCC had passed a new rule requiring every TV show to feature "Hallelujah." It was getting bizarre there for a while. They even put it one of the Shrek movies. A great song yes, but children's music? Not hardly.

Anyway, that got me thinking about songs in TV and movies. I am not talking about musicals, but songs that pop up in non-musical shows, either because one character starts singing, or because it simply appears in the soundtrack. Happens all the time, of course, but sometimes the combination is so synergistic that it changes how I feel about the song. So here are a few of my favorites.

An episode of The West Wing called "Two Cathedrals" ends with the staff rushing off to a press conference where they will discover whether their boss intends to launch what they think will be a doomed run for re-election. The music is Dire Straits "Brothers In Arms" which both captures and sets the tone of a determined team going to a crisis.

I used to have friends who played Irish music in an Irish bar. Audience members would often ask for "Danny Boy," which they loathed. They always pointed out that it was written by an Englishman (okay, the tune was Irish traditional). But now when I hear this song I always think of this scene from one of my favorite movies, Miller's Crossing. Amazing use of the soundtrack, no? (By the way, if you haven't seen the movie, and think you might some day. please skip this clip. I don't want to spoil one of the best scenes.)

In this episode of Scrubs the hero, J.D., makes friends with a woman who is waiting for a heart transplant. She tells him that her dream was to be a Broadway star, but she couldn't sing. The song was written by Colin Hays, and like all the songs in this column, it was NOT written for the show.

And now we get back to my favorite Jewish Canadian Buddhist. The first three songs on Leonard Cohen's first album were "The Stranger Song," "Winter Lady," and "Sisters of Mercy." Those are also the songs that appear in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. It's almost as if Robert Altman grabbed the first album he saw and slapped the first few tracks into his movie, except that they work perfectly as themes for the title characters and the prostitutes, respectively. A friend of mine was astonished to hear that there were three songs in the moviie. Not a fan of Cohen's voice, he thought they had all been the same one.

So, what shows changed the way YOU look at a song?


  1. Sorry, the West Wing video was there over the weekend. It is gone now. Want me to hum it?

  2. You know, Rob, this is a great article. I never thought of that before, for some reason. At least not consciously. However, I can think of several cases where the interaction of music with what transpired on screen definitely effected my view/enjoyment of that music for years to come – sometimes even for the rest of my life.
    Chief among the examples that spring to mind, is the theme song to the old TV show Lost in Space, which (years later I realized) had evidently been lifted largely from Max Crook’s Musitron organ solo in the Del Shannon hit song Runaway.
    So, too, I remember the way my friends and I were instantly captivated by the video montage scenes in Miami Vice the first time we saw them. It looks hackneyed to me now, but completely sucked me into the plotline/setting/characters, et al, way back when.
    My favorite music/screen action interplay, however, has to be the fantastic score of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Man! What can beat it? Even the opening credits – those racing lines (later to transmogrify into the sharp edges of high rise buildings) chasing across the screen to an accompaniment of rampaging musical notes (to my ears at any rate). Even at this very moment, I can sit here while writing and envision and hear the whirling fury of it all. See the mathematical precision of those lines. Somehow it leaves me feeling as if I’ve seen a Jackson Pollock come to life.

  3. Like Dixon, I never consciously thought of today's topic before, but I found both the article and Dixon's comment interesting. More than the music in movies and TV, I remember music and songs associated with most major events in my life.

  4. I don't know about songs but the lovely Swedish film Elvira Madigan did great things for one of Mozart's piano concertos.

  5. What I remember from Elvira Madigan is Vivaldi's Seasons. And what I remember from West Wing is a very sad and wonderful episode where someone a major character is just getting to know dies (won't say more--no spoilers), and I think the song was Hallelujah.

  6. Elizabeth, it was Hallelujah all right. In fact, go to Youtube and type in the name of any series you liked in the last few years and the word Halelujah. you might be surprised. (House, scrubs, etc)

    Too bad Cohem sold the rights And then got robbed by his manager.

  7. A Clockwork Orange and Beethoven--what a pairing!

  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sS9xhiudphU is Jackie Wilson singing "Danny Boy". Even if you don't care for the song, you will love it.

  9. Put me down for the music in The Big Chill, especially the Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, and The Band's The Weight (watched some of The Last Waltz for the nine millionth time the other night). Has Cohen's Suzanne ever been in a movie?

  10. I do like Cohen's voice, although I hadn't realized he was so popular on television. I think he did a track for Natural Born Killers.

    Tony Joe White's voice has grown to resemble Cohen's.


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