There are a surprising number of songs that reference movies. There are songs inspired by a particular movie, actor, or even director. There are songs about the joys and sorrows of going to a move (or going to a movie alone.) And there are a lot of songs that feature a quick lyrical reference to a movie. Hell, Madonna’s “Vogue” includes a seriously long list of Hollywood stars. Not all of these songs are great of course (this is the second time I’ve been compelled to mention the horrible Sheryl Crow song “Steve McQueen,” and then of course there’s that irritatingly memorable song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Shudder.) The list is long, and these songs (and the movies they reference) range from obscure to mainstream. Did you know there’s a song that references Un chien andalou? Because I sure didn’t until I was compiling this list. So without further ado, I bid you farewell with my favorite songs about movies and movie stars.
10. ”Bette Davis Eyes,” Kim Carnes
“She’s got Greta Garbo stand-off sighs/she’s got Bette Davis eyes.”
Do I even need to explain why this is on here? This song came out a couple years before I was born, but it played for the ENTIRETY of the 80s. There’s something about Kim Carnes’ raspy voice that makes you stop and really listen to this song when it comes on the radio. (You can also hear Gwyneth Paltrow’s interpretation in the movie Duets.)
9. “Candle in the Wind,” Sir Elton John
“Goodbye Norma Jean/from the young man in the twenty second row/who sees you as something as more than sexual/more than just our Marilyn Monroe.”
The ultimate Elton John song about the ultimate film star, “Candle in the Wind” is one of the highest selling singles of all time. This song was later performed by Sir Elton John at the funeral service of Princess Diana, with Sir Elton changing the lyrics to “goodbye, England’s rose.” The only reason this song isn’t higher on the list is because it’s associated with Diana more than Marilyn at this point. It’s a tragic comparison made by Sir Elton, but an apt one nonetheless.
8. “Missing You,” John Cruz
“All dressed up and nowhere to go/I go to the movies/but the theater is so cold/sit there by myself, sipping on my Coke/movie stars are making love/and my heart is broken.”
Most people won’t know this song by Hawaii-born musician John Cruz, but it’s one of those songs that I had to own the minute I heard it. Ever gone to a movie because you just don’t know what to do with yourself? This is what it feels like.
7. “Clark Gable,” The Postal Service
“I was waiting for a cross-town train/in the London underground/when it struck me/that I’ve been waiting since birth to find/a love that would look and sound/like a movie.”
Ever feel a moment so perfect or so absurd that you think it belongs in a movie? Or ever wish that life was more like a movie? I often wish things would wrap up nicely like a rom-com–that real life was as linear and satisfyingly tied up in bows at the end. But this song reminds us that for better or worse, it can’t be like the movies.
6. “Tom Cruise Crazy,”Jonathan Coulton
“Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise crazy/Just be glad it’s him, not you/If you had Tom Cruise’s troubles/You might be Tom Cruise crazy, too.”
Okay, this is a really mean song. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t really, really true. I mean, it does have to be simultaneously awesome and horrible being Tom Cruise. Coulton’s lyrics hit on the absurdity of celebrity and how big stars become bigger than life. Bonus points for ukelele usage!
5. “Sell Sell Sell,” Barenaked Ladies
“The credits roll, the camera pans/And in the mist our hero stands/He starts to speak then folds his hands in prayer/An awkward pause, then “What’s my line?”
This song doesn’t have the highest opinion of movies, as it criticizes their blatant misappropriation of other cultures (“We really know nothing about them/and no one cares”) and focus on production for the sake of revenue (“buy buy buy/sell sell sell.”) Ouch. But let’s face it, Hollywood can be like this. At least the Barenaked Ladies tell it like it is, and with clever lyrics! Bonus points for a Roman Polanski reference.
4. “Barrel of a Gun,” Guster
“I know a movie star/I’ve got her plastered to my wall/Just like we’re dear old friends/Like she already knows me/She’s as perfect as she seems/Lifts me right out the mezzanine.”
Clearly a LOT of songs about movies are seriously morbid or creepy. Nothing like a song about masturbating to a poster of a movie star, amirite? No? Bueller? Bueller? …Okay, this song is creepy as hell. Still love it, though.
3. “Matinee Idol,” Rufus Wainwright
“So young was the matinee idol/Lips of crimson slightly open/As the flash and all fame put to rest.”
Another song inspired by the tragic death of a young Hollywood star, “Matinee Idol” is about the drug overdose of River Phoenix. The almost frenzied piano contrasted with Wainwright’s soaring voice really expresses a sense of sorrow at the destructive nature of fame. “Matinee Idol” suggests that fame marks you for early death. It gives me shivers.
2. “Saturday Night at the Movies,” The Drifters
“Saturday night at the movies/who cares what picture you see?/when you’re huggin’ with your baby/last row in the balcony.”
And lo, a song about the fun of the movies, and not how they make you wanna touch yourself or die an early death! Seriously, I’m a big fan of classic R&B/soul, so this song is an obvious pick. One of my first dates was a trip to the movies to see Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all kissed someone during a movie. And c’mon, how catchy is this tune?? (Also, this Sha Na Na cover is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, and it’s got a fun little racist bit in the middle!)
1. “Inaudible Melodies,” Jack Johnson
“Slow down everyone /you’re moving too fast/Frames can’t catch you when/you’re moving like that.”
Hells bells, I love this song! Seriously, this song is a cinephile’s dream. It’s got everything: references to Plato’s Cave, the theories of Sergei Eisenstein, silent movies, and frame rates. And it uses film as a metaphor for the speed of life. Bet you didn’t know Johnson actually has a background in film, having directed multiple movies about surfing. His obvious knowledge of film theory gives this simple melody some complexity–it’s a beautiful metaphor, eloquently laid out.
Remember, we here at Man, I Love Films don’t do definitive lists. We do our favorites and we want to hear yours. So, make sure and tell us about them in the comments section below.