It’s peak blockbuster season, which is as suitable a time as any to ponder: whatever happened to movie songs?
By which I mean not songs that are massive because they’re in films, such as Hakuna Matata from The Lion King – as freshly reworked by Donald Glover et al for the new live-action reboot (see page 34 for Cath Clarke’s review) – or songs inspired by movies, or soundtracks composed by star musicians, or even Bond themes. But rather tie-in pop singles released specifically to help promote a would-be blockbuster as it hits cinemas, traditionally accompanied by a video incorporating clips from said film, and sometimes even wacky cameos by cast members.
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A staple of any self-respecting major motion picture campaign of the 1980s and 1990s, such glorified trailers have become increasingly rare over the last couple of decades, probably owing to the music video’s diminished status as an influencer in the digital age. Will we ever again see the impressively uncool likes of Wet Wet Wet topping the chart for an entire summer, all because they did an otherwise forgettable cover of a Troggs number which, by clever duality of marketing, became synonymous with Hugh Grant getting off in the rain with her out of the L’Oréal adverts? Much as this may not be a bad thing, almost certainly the answer is no.
Did you love the song because you loved the movie, or the movie because you loved the song? Did one need ever have anything to do with the other in any artistic sense, or was it all just a shallow, money-making, cross-entertainment industry handshake? And what was with Marti Pellow’s terrible goatee? Let’s seek answers to some of these questions by taking a look at a few classics of the genre.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean
From The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
The Nicest Man in Music™, Billy Ocean remains the biggest-selling black British musician of all time with 30 million units shifted, thanks in no small part to this synthy-funky Transatlantic hit, which was synonymous with an Eighties comedy-drama vehicle for Michael Douglas as a kind of Indiana Jones on Viagra. Douglas and co-stars Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito feature in the video as lip-synching backup singers. DeVito mimes a saxophone solo for which he is still awaiting royalties
(Everything I Do) I Do It for You – Bryan Adams
From Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Like angry Moors lopping off the hands of infidels in some hellish medieval Jerusalem dungeon, there was practically no escaping this flaming-arrow bull’s-eye of a hit by grizzled Canadian soft-rocker and good friend of The Big Issue Bryan Adams. It spent a still British chart history record 16 weeks at Number 1, thanks to becoming synonymous with Kevin Costner snogging Tony Montana’s sister from Scarface in a forest (big mistake, Robin).
Streets of Philadelphia – Bruce Springsteen
From Philadelphia (1993)
Easily the best movie tie-in single of them all – and, arguably Bruce Springsteen’s last truly great song – this starkly affecting ballad was written by the Boss on request from Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme in direct response to some of the themes of the groundbreaking film about HIV/Aids, homosexuality and homophobia, starring Tom Hanks. The song won four Grammy Awards and an Oscar.
My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
From Titanic (1997)
It’s literally impossible to engage in precarious upright romantic spooning on a boat prow without whistling to oneself Canadian warbler Celine Dion’s 30,000hp steam-engined power ballad – just try it (willing partner required). Inextricably linked with Kate ’n’ Leo’s doomed high seas tryst, on and on and on this song went, ploughing through chart records like Atlantic waves en route to 18 million sales. Never let it be said that the Titanic sank for nothing.
Happy – Pharrell Williams
From Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Pharrell’s feelgood ode to serotonin is perhaps the last significant example of a major hit on the film/music nexus. The elaborately constructed video – filmed over 24 hours in LA – features street-dancing cameos from Pixar minions plus slebs galore including Tyler, the Creator, Kelly Osbourne, Steve Carell and Jamie Foxx. A 14 million-seller in concert with a film that grossed $970m, Happy is reason to believe that we may not have seen the sad demise of the movie tie-in single just yet.