My Ten Favorite Songs from Fictional Universes
I would love to live in a universe where these bands were real.
When I entered high school in the early 80s I was a musical neophyte. I didn’t know any popular music and I ended up becoming a sponge listening to everything from Iron Maiden to Journey. I grew up in the era of MTV, so I was bombarded with Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson videos. The idea of music and visuals became cemented in my mind. A lot of the big music videos of the day were in reality mini-movies.
Music and movies have always been at the forefront of my pop culture existence and when they collided it was always a pleasure.
Over the years, there has been some amazing original music in movies and television. Below are my top ten favorites, pretty much in order of my preference.
10. Billy Mack, “Christmas Is All Around” (Love Actually, 2003)
Love Actually is one of those movies with half a dozen intertwined storylines. It’s one of the three Christmas movies we watch every year. The “Christmas is All Around” story might not be my favorite, but it is one of the funnier ones. The line, “Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!” still makes me smile.
9. Robin Sparkles, “Let’s Go to the Mall” (How I Met Your Mother, 2006)
I watched How I Met Your Mother right from the start and really loved the characters. It didn’t stick the landing, but the show overall was a joyous, fun, expression of that time and place. The moment we learn about the secret early life of Robin Scherbatsky, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television. The Robin Sparkles hit “Let’s Go to the Mall” and the video that goes along with it is spot-on 1980s culture (of course, with the song coming out in 1993.). The whole Tiffany vibe was perfect and the fictional song itself still gets stuck in my head. It’s was so awesome even Colbie Smulders made an update for our COVID times. Watch out for Robin Daggers though…
8. Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, “Mad About Me (The Cantina Song)” (Star Wars, 1977)
Mos Eisely Spaceport, you won’t find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy… and music! It may have taken a few Expanded Universe tales for everyone to learn the name of the Cantina band and their infectious song, but aren’t we all better for it? Probably the greatest John Williams song of all time.
7. Eddie and the Cruisers, “On the Dark Side” (Eddie and the Cruisers, 1983)
When this movie came out, I had no idea who Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were and definitely no idea who John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band were. I did not see Eddie and the Cruisers in the theater as I’m pretty sure no one did because the movie tanked. This was one of those movies that when it hit HBO and home video, exploded in popularity. “On the Dark Side” charted and there was a sequel made.
I’m sure I watched this movie on HBO a dozen times and every time Michael Paré lip-syncs I think he’s doing an absolutely terrible job. However, the song is definitely the best Bruce Springsteen song he never recorded.
6. DJay with Shug, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (Hustle & Flow, 2005)
As a one-time MTV winner, one of the perks was seeing Hustle & Flow a few weeks early. At the time, we had no idea what movie we were getting to see and everyone at the party was pretty stoked for anything.
Without a doubt, the best part of the entire movie is when Taraji P. Henson does the best bit of acting in the entire movie. I don’t remember any of the character names or anything else, but when she first hears her voice coming out of the speakers… its magic. The camera has her face framed perfectly as she does the “OMIGOSH” move with her hand covering her mouth as she hears the hook. I’ve watched the clip a bunch of times and it’s still amazing. It is beautiful and pitch-perfect.
When we all walked out of the theater, all any of us could do was sing, “It’s hard out here for a piiiimp” over and over again.
5. Stillwater, “Fever Dog” (Almost Famous, 2000)
Perhaps, my favorite Cameron Crowe movie (I waffle between this one and Vanilla Sky) with the best original songs. My friend Andy Fischer worked on the film and sent me a CD of the Stillwater songs. I knew Jason Lee wasn’t really singing, but it was a while before I learned Marti Frederiksen provided the vocals with Peter Frampton and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam playing the guitar parts.
“Fever Dog” is such a silky and swampy track.
4. Steel Dragon, “We All Die Young” (Rock Star, 2001)
While there are lots of good hard rock originals (all of the Steel Dragon tracks are killer) and scenes in Rock Star (The “Blood Pollution” one is outstanding) nothing comes close to the audition scene.
The movie’s premise, the lead singer of a tribute band ends up becoming the lead singer of the band his tribute band was paying tribute to, sounds outlandish except the part where it happened for real with Ripper Owens and Judas Priest. The audition scene with Mark Wahlberg looking like he’s going to choke and then finds his voice is so much fun. It’s actually a touch inspiring.
Also, it’s worth noting Whalberg is better at lip-synching to Miljenko Matijevic’s vocals than Jason Lee in Almost Famous and ten times better than whatever Michael Paré was trying to do.
3. Spinal Tap, “Big Bottom” (This Is Spinal Tap, 1984)
In 1984, I loved the hair metal of the time. All the California, Sunset Strip, Whisky a Go-Go, Rainbow Bar and Grill bands were my favorites: Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison, Dokken, Quiet Riot, and the like. So, it was no surprise that Spinal Tap made me laugh even though I understood they were satirizing heavy metal music and the bands of the time.
Spinal Tap, the band, was probably the first time I realized there could be a real, live band made just for a movie.
All the Spinal Tap songs make me laugh. I remember thinking “Tonight We’re Gonna Rock You Tonight” was hilarious. Of course, “Big Bottom” was the song everyone remembered. I mean, how could you forget lyrics like, “My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo, I like to sink her with my pink torpedo.”
2. The Oneders, “That Thing You Do!” (That Thing You Do!, 1996)
I’m sure at one time in my life I knew Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne wrote this song. It is the pinnacle of bubblegum 60s and fits the movie perfectly. I can’t imagine the movie with some other song.
The scene when everyone in the band plus Liv Tyler hears the song on the radio for the first time is joyous and brimming with happiness. Among all the songs listed here, I think “That Thing You Do!” is the one that will get stuck in your head permanently. You’re welcome.
1. Jackson and Ally, “Shallow” (A Star Is Born, 2018)
It’s pretty obviously the best song on my list. In fact, I think it might be the best original pop song for a movie ever. The track was all over the radio, but the thing is… I never got tired of hearing it.
BONUS — Thunder Alley, 1985
My favorite cult movie is Thunder Alley. I’ve written about it before, but just recently found the entire movie on YouTube. I love every one of these songs. Don’t ask me why… I just do.