Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memory soundtracking

Some songs are permanently linked to a film they appeared in, whether written for the soundtrack or not. Sometimes this builds upon the meaning to the song, other times it changes the original meaning completely, creating a new statement. Either way, all these tracks immediately conjure characters and dialogue in my head, at least.

Song: Roy Orbison - In Dreams
Blue Velvet
In David Lynch's unsettling '80s masterpiece, villain Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) demands the song be played during two awesome scenes. The first is at the homestead of a pimp named Ben. His ghoulish, white-painted face glows eerily over a worklight held like a mic as he lip-syncs, starting with the opening line about a "candy-colored clown." Frank takes a break from slamming a PBR while holding terrified college-age Jeffry hostage to enjoy the nocturnal ballad. Later, after a terrifying joy ride, Frank demands one of his goons play "the candy-colored clown" before beating the living snot out of Jeffry as one of Ben's overweight hookers dances on the roof of the car.

Lynch's films always play like disorientating nightmares, and Bue Velvet removes any comfort from Orbison's tune, making it as frightening as the deranged characters lurking beneath Blue Velvet's idyllic small town setting.

Song: Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street
Film: Jackie Brown
Though the characters in Tarantino's most underrated film bond over the Delfonics, no other track encapsulates Quintin's reverent throwback to blacksploitation cinema like this smooth-operating ode to hustling and the wah-wah peddle. The song not only gets stuck in your head, it packs it's bags full of scenes from the film for deposit in your frontal lobe.

Song: Geto Boys - Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster
Film: Office Space

I'm pretty sure Bushwick Bill, Scarface and Willie D never intended their jam to be synonymous with white-coller rebellion against the soul-sucking strife of cubicle culture, but its use in the film is effective either way. The track's inclusion is perfectly framed by scenes like the opening credit sequence, when a harmless Micheal Bolton is seen rapping to Scarface's "No Tears" like a real hardass, before nervously rolling up the window at the first glance of a black man. I'm not ashamed to admit that Office Space introduced me to the Geto Boys, easily one of the best rap groups of any decade whose influence goes way beyond posturing computer programmers.

Song: Bob Dylan - The Man in Me
Film: The Big Lebowski
The Coen brothers took this song, from one of Zimmy's unloved '70s albums, and made it the Dude's complete and utter bitch. You can't hear the "na na nana, na nana na" chorus and not think of Jeff Bridges floating through the LA sky with a bowling ball, pajama pants, jellies and all.
Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In" is also forever altered by the Dude.

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