/Answers: The Best Movie Needle Drops

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week’s edition asks “What is your favorite “needle drop” in the movies?” What use of a pre-existing song in a film stands out to you the most? As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team. This week, we are also joined by director Edgar Wright, whose music-powered action film Baby Driver inspired this week’s topic.

If you’d like to share your pick for your favorite movie needle drop, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our choices below!

Edgar Wright: “Blue Moon” in An American Werewolf in London

Off the top of my head, my favorite needle drop, and I think it’s magical, is the cut to the end credits of An American Werewolf in London. Every time I watch that movie, I just think it’s the perfect, perfect ending. I don’t know how to talk about it without ruining it for someone who has never seen it. It’s such a tragic, heartbreaking ending and then a cut to black and the most upbeat, doo-wop version of “Blue Moon” by The Marcels. I remember the first time I saw it, it gave me such a rush and goosebumps. And it still does. I think it’s the greatest cut-to-black credits song ever. It sort of sums up the mischief of the movie. There’s real alchemy in that movie. It somehow manages to do everything. It’s funny and scary and heart-wrenching at the same time. In terms of the first time, a film where I really connected the idea of using pop music as counter-scoring, it’s An American Werewolf in London. By far.

There was no soundtrack for An American Werewolf in London. There is no soundtrack album for that movie, bizarrely. There was some weird disco EP by Meco, Meco’s interpretations of An American Werewolf in London. Amazingly, for one of the best soundtrack films, there is no soundtrack for An American Werewolf in London. I used to tape off a VCR onto audio cassettes. Somewhere, I still have a tape where I recorded songs off An American Werewolf in London, so it has the hiss of the VHS, but also at the start of that Marcels’ needle drop of “Blue Moon” coming in on the credits…I can tell you what Jenny Agutter’s little whimpers are leading up to that, because she’s crying just before the song. It’s literally her going… [imitates Jenny Agutter crying]. And then cut to the song! When I taped it off the VCR, it had Jenny Agutter’s little whimpers in front!

Jacob Hall: “Layla” in Goodfellas

With Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese helped create the modern movie soundtrack. Few directors have showcased such an ear for melding cinematic imagery with pre-existing songs and Scorsese’s rock ‘n roll filmmaking feels built to feed off the energy of a great song. His best movies fill you with an exhilaration comparable to a live performance from your favorite band. And while nearly every Scorsese movie showcases a powerful pop energy (even The Last Temptation of Christ features a score by Peter Gabriel), I keep on coming back to the use of Derek and the Dominoes’ “Layla” in 1990’s Goodfellas.

The music of Eric Clapton makes frequent appearances throughout Scorsese’s filmography and here, he uses one of the musician’s most famous and upbeat songs to underscore a sequence of horror. The soaring instrumental back half of “Layla” blasts on the soundtrack as a series of bodies, brutally murdered for their connection to a crime organized by Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway, are discovered via a montage. The song, triumphant and soulful and in love, feels like it belongs in the film’s first half, when being a gangster was all fun and games and easy money and great seats at the nightclub. The soundtrack is the reminder of the fantasy, even as the actual images on screen reveal that the fantasy is dying. This is a key pivot point for the movie. After this point, the pace slows, the dynamic editing takes on a more staid quality, and years stop passing between cuts. The easy ride is over and the nightmare, including that stomach-churning third act, are about to arrive.

Plenty of movies use great pop songs to provide counterbalance to a moment of violence, to offer an ironic touch to a dark scene, but the use of “Layla” in Goodfellas is the pinnacle. Every other twisted needle drop will chase this one.

Ben Pearson: “Twist and Shout” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

I’m sure everyone will approach their selections for this piece with a slightly different set of criteria, but for me, one of the key factors in my decision was how much a song is inextricably linked to the movie in which it appears. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout” without instantly thinking about the parade scene in John Hughes’ 1986 comedy classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Following Ferris’ (Matthew Broderick) lip-synced performance of Wayne Newton’s cover of “Danke Schoen” (which itself could be an equally valid candidate for this list), Ferris bursts into a rousing lip synced version of “Twist and Shout” that seems to overtake the entire city of Chicago and serves as a metaphorical bubble of pure joy for everyone who hears it. Ferris dances atop a float, citizens perform choreographed dances on a set of stairs, construction workers dance as they hang above the streets, and, crucially, Ferris’ uptight best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) finally lets loose after spending almost the entire day being worried about getting caught.

The song marks a cathartic “eff you” to the establishment from Ferris (“Who’d believe that I was in a parade?”) and serves as an ebullient, transcendent blast of fun that manages to stand out in a movie full of memorable sequences.

Hoai-Tran Bui: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in 10 Things I Hate About You

When Heath Ledger tragically passed away, I remember some snotty classmate rudely saying, “What was he known for other than the Joker?” Immediately everyone else jumped into a chorus of praises about his Brokeback Mountain performance, how it was subtle, intimate, and award-winning. But in the back of my mind, my most beloved Heath role wasn’t the Joker — though I obsessively touted that performance when it first came out — it was as a twinkly-eyed Australian heartthrob in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, crooning along to Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

10 Things I Hate About You and many other ‘90s teen movie have great “needle drop” moments — I unironically jammed to the Clueless soundtrack at some point. 10 Things I Hate About You is loaded with musically driven moments, from Julia Stiles’ angry introduction to Spiderbait’s “Sunshine On My Window” to that ear worm of a theme song, “I Want You to Want Me.” But let’s face it, the moment that made 10 Things I Hate About You stand out among the masses of teen comedies and modern Shakespeare adaptations was Heath Ledger shedding his bad boy persona to woo Julia Stiles with a rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” accompanied by a school marching band. It was so freaking charming, and became even more so when he beamed at Julia while evading and toying with the security guards trying to stop him. I love this moment and it was what cements Ledger as an icon to me, beyond his Oscar-winning roles and tragically early death.

Continue Reading The Best Movie Needle Drops >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: