My Top 20 Favorite Songs Written for Film and Television
Original songs from movies or TV that are good enough to listen to without watching the story
"Ecstasy of Gold" from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
No song makes me perform mundane daily tasks with such drama and intensity as this one. Ennio Morricone created a flawless soundtrack for Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy. The opening theme for the third installment of the series is usually the more popular one, often referenced in various spoofs. However, "Ecstasy of Gold" is a beautiful track of epic proportions. Even if you haven't seen the film, one can still vividly imagine gunfights, riding horses into the sunset, and the rich Southwestern US landscape.
"Komm Susser Tod" from End of Evangelion
I was torn between this song and the opening theme for Neon Genesis Evangelion, for which the film End of Evangelion serves as a finale to. In the end, I chose "Komm Susser Tod" because its tone fits the overarching sadness of the Evangelion franchise a lot better--and it's just such a beautiful song! "Komm Susser Tod"--translated from German as "Come Sweet Death"--is sung in English, which is an anomaly for anime. Though sweet sounding at first, the lyrics are very macabre. But they express the kind of anger, sadness, and dissociation present in the mind of the series' protagonist as he makes the choice to end the world, killing all of the people who have brought him pain. Made all the sadder by the fact that the lyrics were written by the series' creator Hideki Anno, who has admitted to being a self-insert of Evangelion's protagonist, Shinji Ikari. This scene in the movie is some real nightmare fuel. But...the song is just gorgeous!
"Vertigo Scene D'Amour" from Vertigo
Let's get just this one thing straight: Vertigo is not a romance movie; never was intended to be. If you call it a romantic film, I am going to assume you only watched a few select clips on the internet, and not the full movie. However, with such a beautiful and chilling composition as this, I suppose I can understand why people mistake it for one. It's the perfect blend of mystery, melancholy, and passion.
"Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate
When Paul Simon was approached to write a new song for Mike Nichols now classic film, The Graduate, Paul played Nichols a song he had written but was still in the incubation stage. It was called "Mrs. Roosevelt" and was, as Paul described it briefly, "a song about times past." After listening to the song, Nichols was sold on the catchy tune; and while the lyrics aren't explicitly about the Mrs. Robinson in the film, they still touch on that odd converging of generational differences that is present throughout the movie.
"I'll Make A Man Out Of You" from Mulan
Mulan is probably my favorite film to come out of the "Disney Renaissance" period. And this song is one of my favorites to come out of it. It's a good song for a workout playlist, an energizer, and just a fun sing-along song. As a small girl my friend and I sang this all the time; and now as a 27-year-old, I still sing it pretty regularly. That's how timelessly awesome it is.
"Shiny" from Moana
Moana is full of earwormy songs, and "Shiny" takes the cake as the most catchy and fun one. New Zealand actor Jemaine Clement gives a great vocal performance, his accent adding a unique flamboyance to the song that it may have otherwise lacked. Ziggy Stardust incarnated into a crab? I'll take it.
"Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Who could possibly overlook the gentle, understated beauty of this classic song from a classic movie? There was definitely some nightmare fuel in this movie that scarred a lot of children at a young age. (If you think about it, Willy Wonka is essentially a child murderer carrying out his own version of the hunger games.) But without that dark piece of insight, this song is just sweet, beautiful and will stick with you forever.
"Suicide is Painless" from M*A*S*H
War has always been a harrowing experience. People who come back from the battlefield often come back with gallows humor as a coping mechanism--which is what M*A*S*H was all about. As such, we have this bittersweet theme song. Though the morbid nature of the lyrics was removed for the television adaptation, the movie version from which it originated is much more gut-wrenching. (Impressive to think that they were written by director Robert Altman's then fourteen-year-old son!) But the beautiful, mellow sound will surely stick with you.
"Ev'rybody Wants to Be A Cat" from The Aristocats
Who knew a song about cats being cats could be so cool? Combining vocal talents of jazz legend-turned actor Scatman Crothers, with Phil Harris (voice of Baloo from the Jungle Book), Thurl Ravenscroft (of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" fame), and Eva Gabor--"Ev'rybody Wants to Be A Cat" is a wild, fun song with a freeform versatility making it perhaps Disney's most experimental original song to date.
"Don't Be Shy" from Harold and Maude
Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Stevens) lent his voice and music to the 1971 cult classic dark comedy Harold and Maude; a unique love story about a boy in love with death, falling in love with an old woman in love with life. I love this movie, but I don't think I'm alone in saying it would have taken on a very different, much darker tone without Cat Stevens' uplifting soundtrack. This song, played during the opening credits as we see the titular Harold prepare to fake a suicide to get the attention of his cold, distant mother, gives a comforting sense of warmth and hope to an otherwise pretty edgy scene. Even without the context of the film, the song is a good reminder to be open and honest about your feelings.
"Lux Aeterna" from Requiem for a Dream
I have a confession: I've never seen Requiem for a Dream, but I have heard enough about it to know that it may be a bit too much for my fragile psyche to handle. However, I have heard this piece written for it, and I think it's worth adding to my top favorites. Haunting and eerie, like something you would hear straight out of a nightmare. But still with a compelling, hypnotic beauty.
"Halloween Theme" from Halloween
John Carpenter's Halloween was a low-budget, independent film. So with that being said, nobody could have predicted how much of a classic it would still be years later. Not having the budget for an elaborate soundtrack, the theme song was composed and performed by John Carpenter himself. And honestly, that kind of is what makes it awesome. The sparse, under-produced nature of the song is a hundred times more frightening than any elaborately orchestrated horror soundtrack out there. (No offense, Bernard Hermann!)
"The Heart Asks Pleasure First" from The Piano
My favorite thing is when music evokes passion and longing inside of you that you've forgotten existed. And that's what "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" from The Piano does. A simple, repetitive melody, but with passionate intensity, you can feel every emotion behind every key being played. My descriptions of it don't really do it justice, you need to just listen to it and see!
"Laura Palmer's Theme" from Twin Peaks
David Lynch is a huge cult figure, and it's no wonder with such unique and bizarre films. Though his biggest mainstream success was and is the television show Twin Peaks. And the music by Angelo Badalmenti perfectly captures the eerie, dreamy landscape of a Washington town caught up in a supernatural mystery. The whole soundtrack is like something you hear during a calm, but still slightly unnerving fever dream. And my favorite example of this is "Laura Palmer's Theme"--which starts with the same hazy mental scenery--but then builds into a beautiful piano melody full of romance and melancholy.
"The Plagues" from Prince of Egypt
In the category of criminally underrated animated films, I will always go with Prince of Egypt as one of my favorites. Not only is the animation for this sequence top-notch, but this may actually also be my favorite song from the film. (Also Ralph Fiennes singing voice is just as velvety smooth and attractive as his speaking voice.) Not only does the song highlight sibling rivalry at its finest, but it's also emotionally jolting and the choral and orchestral work sounds like something straight out of an old historical epic.
"A View to a Kill" from A View to a Kill
This was a hard choice because the James Bond franchise has so many great theme songs, that I knew if I chose all of my favorites, they would make up at least 25% of this list. So I chose my most favorite--which may seem like an odd choice to many. Trust me, the decision is REALLY hard when you have a franchise that turns out banger theme songs with nearly every movie. However, I think this one still stands out. Sure the opening montage may be drenched in eighties camp, but the song itself is fairly timeless, epic, and catchy as heck. It definitely makes you feel invincible and energetic.
"Stayin' Alive" from Saturday Night Fever
I don't care what anyone says, I unironically like this song! It's fun, energetic, and puts you in a good mood--which is what disco was about (even if most of it is trash.) What else can I really say? Fun song, cool to strut to, even listening to it ironically is a fun treat.
"Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky
Everybody needs this song on their workout playlist! If not for the mental image of the "level up" montage that arguably started the trope, then for the energetic and infectiously catchy tune. You can't hear this song and not feel pushed to want to run and jump and climb things. It just makes you feel good and empowered no matter what life is throwing at you.
"As The World Falls Down" from Labyrinth
What, not "Magic Dance"?! Yes, I too love "Magic Dance"--however, I think the song from the movie with the most "pop" worthy potential, was certainly this track which plays during the surreal poison peach dream. While Jareth the Goblin King's fixation on the sixteen-year-old Sarah is...questionable; if we ignore all of that, this song is a soft, sweet ballad of love and companionship. And it may just be one of my favorites from the film. What can I say? I'm a sucker for romance--and David Bowie.
"Cymbaline" from More
Even though only like three hippies saw the movie, this Pink Floyd song became a staple of the band's early live sets, and for good reason! It is easily the best song on the soundtrack album, and (in my opinion) one of the first Pink Floyd songs that really showed off Roger Waters' lyric writing abilities. This is one of those rare tracks that always sounds better live than it does in studio. For the purpose of this article, I'm including the version from the film. But if you like what you hear, I would implore you to check out any live performance of it--Because it is a gem!