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Musical Moments That Made the Movie

harry nilsson

Some memorable movies just wouldn’t hit the same without certain songs in a particular scene.

Here’s a representative cross-section of some of these films. Did we miss a favorite? Share it in the comments!

“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

 These are images of fun and frivolity as Paul Newman and Katherine Ross ride a new-fangled bicycle while B.J. Thomas serenades with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”  The lighthearted vibe belies the grim fate that awaits these two affable outlaws in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“The Pusher” from Easy Rider (1969)

 Easy Rider is often heralded as a touchstone of 1960s freedom and rebellion among America’s youth. Lest we forget that these two road-trippin’ hippies sell drugs to fill their custom chopper’s gas tanks, man.  “Born to be Wild” is the mega-hit from the stunning soundtrack.  However, filmmakers and co-stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper choose to kick-start their watershed movie with another Steppenwolf rocker, “The Pusher.”  And by so doing, establish the dark undercurrent that flows through a covertly cautionary tale.

“Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance (1972)

This is a touching musical connection as a suburbanite guitarist strikes up a duet with this backwoods boy on banjo in the 1972 adventure drama Deliverance.  “Dueling Banjos” would become a top-ten hit.

The weekend river rafting trip to come will be a journey into hell.


“Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky (1976) and Rocky II (1979)

 If Bill Conti’s adrenaline rush “Gonna Fly Now” from the dramatic boxing classics Rocky and Rocky II doesn’t roust you off the couch, what will?

“Woolly Bully” from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

 It’s not “jammin’ with the Stones” as Sean Penn’s classic Jeff Spicoli character fantasizes in the teen dramedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  But when he crashes the stage with the band on the Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ rambler “Woolly Bully,” it may be the next best thing for this super chill surfer dude.

“Jump Into the Fire” from Goodfellas (1990)

Ray Liotta’s coked-up character “Henry Hill” frantically runs a series of nefarious errands in the gangster drama Goodfellas.  All the while he sees (or hallucinates) a helicopter hovering above his car.  Director Martin Scorsese’s selection of the bombastic Harry Nilsson barrage “Jump Into the Fire” is the perfect, perhaps the only, choice for the pivotal point’s musical accompaniment.

 “Bad Company” from Crossing the Bridge (1992)

Three friends cross the Ambassador Bridge from Michigan to Canada, circa the mid-1970s.  They’re en route to do risky business with some very bad actors.  Fittingly, the titular track from Bad Company’s debut album blasts as the young men cross the border over the Detroit River.

This moment from 1992’s Crossing the Bridge strikes as eerily ominous.  Soon, and in menacing measure, we are to learn why.

“Courage” from The Sweet Hereafter ((1997)

A man drives a station wagon toward a situation that he believes will initiate a hefty legal settlement in the Atom Egoyan masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter.  His teenage daughter rides in the backseat.  She’s recently confined to a wheelchair following a tragic school bus accident in a small Canadian town.  The girl may see matters quite differently than her wretched excuse for a father.  The song that plays is “Courage” by The Tragically Hip.

It’s appropriate.  And it is moving.

-John Smistad

Photo: Harry Nilsson (Getty Images)

18 comments on “Musical Moments That Made the Movie

  1. Ellen Fagan

    What a stellar selection of vibe-altering movie tunes!!

  2. Mark Hudson

    The eerie opening of “Apocalypse Now” as whirring choppers and “The End” by The Doors welcome us into the nightmare is hard to beat.

  3. Everybody’s Talking at Me, Midnight Cowboy, hits it out of the park.

  4. Richard Cecil Short

    I nominate “Can’t Buy Me Love” from “A Hard Day’s Night” when the boys break free and romp, run and jump in an empty field.

  5. Willem Reese

    Maybe “multiple moments” 😉 , but the recurring variations on the theme in “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) seemed to fit the mood and period nicely.
    And to stray even farther, Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” at the last scene of “Breaking Bad” worked.

  6. Need to see “The Last of the Mohicans”. Yes, “Baby Blue” nails the prevailing message in a way that echoes even now…

  7. Barry Baddams

    In Deliverance during the “dueling banjos” scene, Billy Redden, who played the young banjo-playing local, didn’t know how to play banjo. To make it look authentic, a skilled banjo player of similar age to Billy (15) hid behind & played the chords and picked with his arms in Billy’s sleeves. There are photographs online of this scene being shot.

  8. Dean Bryant

    The rapturous “Twist & Shout” scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

  9. Ooooohhhh yeah……

  10. Timflyte

    Let’s not forget in ” The Big Chill ” , the scene of the funeral in church , where the character gets up to play the huge church organ and starts playing ,The Rolling Stones song ” you can’t always get what you want ” which then seques into the Stones record.

  11. All-time classic moment from one of my all-time FAVORITE films. Thanks VERY much for reading!

  12. “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush in the John Hughes film She’s Having a Baby is one of the most poignant things I’ve ever seen in a movie. She actually wrote it for the film.

  13. Need to see this, Ed. I like Hughes. Thanks as ever for reading, sir!

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