Lazy Sunday Afternoon: Songs from films

Some of the most memorable films live on in our affections not just because they’re beautifully shot or well acted or superbly scripted or have a wonderful score. Sometimes what really makes them stick in our memory is a song (I’m referring here not to musicals but to films that happen to feature a song or two). The right sort of song – presented in the right way, in the right place, and at the right time – is capable of heightening emotions to such an extent that it crystallises a feeling forever. The very best make the hair on your neck stand on end, not just the first time but every time you hear them. (I feel I’ve just written the introduction to an Academy Award category – “…and the nominees are..”).

The first example undoubtedly falls into the hair-on-end category. It’s from what may well be the most popular film ever made, at least amongst a vast swathe of men and boys – though I struggle to understand how anyone can fail to find Zulu stirring:

Next is a song that was so successful that its fame has probably transcended that of the film it featured in, Laurel and Hardy’s 1937 Way Out West. I remember finding it absolutely hilarious as a boy. It still tickles.

More Welsh singing I’m afraid. But it’s unavoidable, isn’t it? If you watch this clip from How Green Was My Valley to the end you’ll spot a clear indication that what we’re watching is fiction: I just can’t imagine a house-proud Welshwoman, no matter how discombobulated, allowing all those dirty boots into her parlour.

Finally, something from one of the greatest films ever made, not least because of its atmospheric use of music. Wild at Heart is a beautiful, sometimes quite stunning, reworking of a number of filmic traditions. It’s a brutal film but irony has never been so affectionately deployed. Nick Cage plays an infamous wearer of a snakeskin jacket – “a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom” – and here he is rocking a number of worlds:

UPDATE: Should readers have their own suggestions for memorable songs from films, I’d love to hear them.

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14 thoughts on “Lazy Sunday Afternoon: Songs from films

    October 31, 2010 at 08:31

    You gone done my head in again Gaw – don’t know if it’s half-eight or half nine.
    Although my mum is Usk Welsh, I’ve never seen the film, but at the start of the clip I knew Parry’s Myfanwy was just around the corner. Never been able to explain it, but when the tenors reach that high cadence toward the end I’m a goner. But don’t worry – I’ll be OK in a minute.

    October 31, 2010 at 09:38

    The music in Zulu is truly astonishing, but I don’t think it properly works until one’s seen the film two or three times – at which point those first few notes, wherein Private Owen half strikes up ‘Men of Harlech’, are spine-tingling. The unfortunate consequence of which is that I always secretly think of ‘Men of Harlech’, whenever I hear it, as ‘the theme from Zulu’. Hmmm.

  3. Gaw
    October 31, 2010 at 10:13

    MM, so that’s where it comes from! Sadly, I missed out on the Welsh musical gene. A Welsh male voice choir sang Myfanwy at my sister’s wedding in the beautiful church of St Mary’s Bibury. It was rather emotional!

    Barendina, when I was taken to the Welch Fusiliers Museum in Caernarfon Castle as a very small boy I recall that Men of Harlech was piped into some of the rooms. Magical stuff all round and an experience that’s on my list for the next generation.

    By the way, should anyone have any other Songs from Films nominations I’d be interested to see them.

    October 31, 2010 at 11:05

    These are great, but I’d nominate The Seven Per Cent Solution – Sherlock Holmes analysed by Sigmund Freud – for the wonderful Stephen Sondheim song ‘I never do anything twice’.

    October 31, 2010 at 11:35

    Great selection, Gaw.

    For ‘Most Disturbing Song From a Film’ I’d nominate the Nazi youth singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me in Cabaret.

    October 31, 2010 at 15:25

    Just about anything from a Michael Mann film, e.g. ‘Ten Million Slaves’ from Public Enemies, or ‘Strong As I Am’ from Manhunter. Mann is the foremost blender of the visual and the auditory. Also, Terrence Malick’s use of Arvo Part for a battle scene in The Thin Red Line.

    Gadjo Dilo
    October 31, 2010 at 18:38

    Yes, interesting selection. The only film of these which I have seen in Way Out West – I really must catch up with the others. I’d like to know if Cage was actually singing that: I suspect he was, and if so he’s mighty impressive. If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’d have to admit that the rising cadences of Chaplin’s sentimental Smile from Modern Times still bring a tear to my eye. By way of balance, using Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life in Trainspotting was also good.

    October 31, 2010 at 19:05

    I understood the criterion here to be songs sung by characters in films, rather than just songs in the soundtrack, but in the latter case Trainspotting is brilliant. Pity Boyle hasn’t made a decent film since.

  9. Gaw
    October 31, 2010 at 19:13

    We have gone a bit off topic. But some great suggestions (and a reminder I must watch Manhunter). Thanks to all. Perhaps, Brit, another LSA could feature soundtracks on some theme or another?

    November 1, 2010 at 14:41

    Duduk of the North (from Gladiator)- Hans Zimmer (I Love Hans Zimmer)

    The Duduk pipes are heard through out the mid east and some of eastern europe, the sound is the sound of the soul.

    you tube does not do it justice though.

  11. Gaw
    November 1, 2010 at 14:44

    Wotcha Sean. Have you been away?

    Very affecting. Not unlike my rendition of Bright Eyes on paper-and-comb.

  12. Worm
    November 1, 2010 at 15:36

    Wild at Heart is my favourite film! Other David Lynch movies with good soundtracks are Blue Velvet and also The Straight Story

    Cliche I know, but for me best singing of a song in a film has to be Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River. All the ‘proper’ singers who have recorded a full version of the song since have always overdone it.

    close second fave is probably Ferris Bueller singing ‘twist and shout’

    November 1, 2010 at 19:17

    Get it up on you tube we can all cast our critical ears, I personally had you down as a telyn man.

    Strangely enough no! not till dec when I am going to see the northern lights and stay in a hotel made of ice (not my idea of a weekend away, but there ya go..unless of course I can shoot the reindeer)

    thanks for reminding me.btw

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