Posted by: ckckred | April 10, 2013

10 Best Uses of Outside Songs in Films

2001 holds the top slot

2001 holds one of the top slots

It’s time for another random top 10 list, and this week I thought I would pick the ten best uses of an outside song in a film (meaning it can’t be part of the score).  Movies that make use of this give some of the most memorable scenes in film history.  Below are my picks (I chose only one scene from each individual movie).

10. Manhattan: “Rhapsody in Blue”

Woody Allen’s use of the song in the beginning of his classic comedy sets up the tone of the entire film.  Using the jazz beat to show the New York skyline is simply stunning.

9. The Big Lebowski: “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”

The Big Lebowski is my favorite Coen brothers’ movie, and in one of the movie’s funniest scenes, the Dude dreams about himself going to a bowling alley dancing to “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).”  The Coens’ use of special effects is amazing, and the scene even takes a satrical bite at Saddam Hussein.  A superb piece of work by the brothers.

8. 8 1/2: “Ride of the Valkyries”

“Ride of the Valkyries” actually makes an appearance twice on the list, and Federico Fellini uses the song expertly in his surrealistic masterpiece 8 1/2.  It is a thrilling scene in one of the many dream sequences where Guido tames all of his lovers.  There’s a reason why 8 1/2 is often touted as one of cinema’s great movies.

7. Reservoir Dogs: “Stuck in the Middle With You”

Only Quentin Tarantino could come up with a sequence where a character would sing and dance to folk song “Stuck in the Middle With You” while torturing a cop.  Disturbing, gory, and darkly humorous, this remains one of the most iconic moments in Tarantino’s universe.

6. Blue Velvet: “In Dreams”

David Lynch offers the film’s best scene where one of Frank Booth’s friends lip-syncs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.”  The result is an intense, memorable sequence that’s haunting, particularly with the use of the lighting, that’s one of Lynch’s finest moments.

5. Magnolia: “Wise Up”

In the emotional climax of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece Magnolia, all the characters start singing Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up.”  Many critics objected to this scene and stated this is where the film falls apart, but for me it adds to movie and creates one of the most powerful sequences on screen.  Magnolia is a flawless film in my book, and it is my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson picture.

4. A Clockwork Orange: “Singing in the Rain”

You know exactly which scene I’m talking about.  One of the most disturbing moments in Kubrick’s classic features some very dark humor in satire.  Horrifying and amazingly done.

3. GoodFellas: “Layla”

Martin Scorsese uses music that only few other directors could do (the others being Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino).  The “Layla” scene in GoodFellas, used to show a group of killed mobsters, has a nostalgic feel to it, matching the movie itself.  GoodFellas is a film I could watch any day and “Layla” is a song I could listen to any time.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey: The Blue Danube

No one mastered music in their films as well as Stanley Kubrick and while 2001 doesn’t retain much of the director’s black humor, there is satire in the film and it isn’t more evident in “The Blue Danube” scene.  Using the classical piece, most commonly used for ballroom dances, while showing floating nuclear missiles is genius on Kubrick’s part.

1. Apocalypse Now: “Ride of the Valkyries”

I can sing the praises of Apocalypse Now all day and I’ve said plenty of times before it was my favorite film.  For a movie with countless great scenes, the best remains the “Flight of the Valkyries” one where Lt. Kilgore sweeps through a Vietnamese village in a helicopter attack, both frightening and thrilling at the same time.  It may as well be my favorite scene of all time.


  1. What a great list. I can find nothing to disagree with! Some of my favourites bits of cinema ever are in there.

  2. Great list, after watching Blue Velvet I’ll never listen to In Dreams the same way.

    • Me too. I was also considering putting the song “Blue Velvet” on the list if I decided not to pick one scene per film. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Great list and I’m glad you got Singin’ In The Rain in there, that was one I was gonna choose if you didn’t include it already. Also love Aimee Mann’s Wise Up, so good choice with that one.

    • Thanks! The Singin’ in the Rain scene in A Clockwork Orange is great, if highly disturbing. I really loved how PTA used Wise Up in Magnolia.

  4. You’ve got many of the songs I think of, though for Apocalypse Now my favorite is The End by The Doors at the beginning of the movie, though I also love the scene with Ride of the Valkyries. The End adds the perfect ambiance to the opening scene with Martin Sheen.

    I have a personal favorite song that was used as exit music for one of my favorite films. Nolan’s The Prestige ends with Thom Yorke’s Analyse. It is the perfect ending song for that movie. I highly recommend watching Yorke’s “Analyse (from the basement)” on YouTube if you are unfamiliar with the song; it is an acoustic version.

    • It was a close pick between The End and Ride of the Valkryies, and if I decided not to pick one scene per film it probably would have made it. Oh, I forgot about Analyze.” That would make my honorable mentions. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Nice, well done. The use of Singing in the Rain was fantastic in A Clockwork Orange.

    • Thanks! It’s a great scene, if highly disturbing.

  6. I’d agree with a lot of these… the top three are especially strong 😉

  7. Nice choices! I love the use of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” in Big Lebowski, the whole soundtrack is just superb.

    • Thanks! The Big Lebowski does have a great soundtrack. I was also considering Hotel California for the list.

      • Oh it’s a great moment in the movie, always makes me laugh!

  8. Cool list! Apocalypse Now has one of the best soundtracks ever, in my opinion. I really like The End in there and there’s some Jimi Hendricks too if I remember correctly.
    Also We’ll Meet Again at the end of Strangelove is one of my favorites.

    • Thanks! Apocalypse Now has a great soundtrack. The End almost made my list as well as Satisfaction (in the scene where Willard’s men are waterskiing). I forgot about We’ll Meet Again, that would be on my honorable mentions.

  9. I actually looked at a list like this the other day. Glad to see Singin in the Rain and Gershwin on your list. Great rest of the list as well

    But I must wonder where are:
    Also sprach Zarathustra – 2001
    Misirlou – Pulp Fiction
    Gimme Shelter – Goodfellas/Casino/The Departed
    You Are My Sunshine – O Brother Where Art Thou?
    Beethoven’s 7th Symphony – The Kings Speech
    Ode to Joy – A Clockwork Orange (please tell me you at least considered it hahah!!)
    Non je ne regrette rien – Inception
    Comfortably Numb – The Departed
    Turn Turn Turn / Hound Dog – Forrest Gump
    Adagio for Strings – The Elephant Man
    Bohemian Rhapsody – Wayne’s World (haven’t seen it but I love the song)
    Hooked on a Feeling – Reservoir Dogs (ditto)
    Pennies from Heaven – The Artist

    • Singin’ in the Rain had to make my list, even if it’s a highly disturbing scene. A couple of these I considered, and I feel bad for excluding “You Can Never Tell” from Pulp Fiction. Thanks for commenting.

      • You Can Never Tell was the dance scene right? lol

  10. Great list buddy!!

  11. WOW this is a great and unusual list, man! I haven’t seen some of the films but I did hear about the use of the songs in those films. Makes me want to check out the songs on youtube in the context of these films, well except Singing in the Rain, I think Gene Kelly was quite upset that the song was used in such a manner.

    • Thanks! All of the films here are great and they all use the songs well. I can understand why Gene Kelly would be upset for the use of Singin’ in the Rain in A Clockwork Orange.

  12. Great list! Being a big fan of the musical Singin’ in the Rain I can appreciate the use of it in Clockwork, but it’s hard to hear!

    • Thanks! No one uses music as well as Kubrick.

  13. I did a similar list, and I also had 2001 and Apoc Now in the top 2 spots. Singin in the Rain is interesting since the song itself is actually important to the plot of Clockwork.

    • Cool! Can you post a link of the post so I can check it out.

      Yeah, the Singing in the Rain scene really plays a pivotal role in A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick really knew how to use music in films. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Hah, you beat me to the chase on this one! I actually have a similar post in my saved drafts folder right now. Might have to scrap it since we share quite a few of these. Awesome picks, and I’m really happy you included “In Dreams.” I’ll never forget that scene. Gotta love Lynch.

    • Thanks! I’d be interested in seeing your post. In Dreams is one I had to include. David Lynch really knows how to use music in his films.

  15. […] From 1983, The Chicago Film Snob listed their Four Movies to Avoid, Cinematic discussed his 10 Best Uses of Outside Songs in Films, Rorschach Reviews gave us his Top 10 Remakes and The Cinematic Katzenjammer lets us know what their […]

  16. Great list of song Choices. The opening for Manhattan is brilliant. For me the one song that really sticks out in a movie was “Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon” in Pulp Fiction.

    • Thanks! I was considering Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon as well as You Can Never Tell from Pulp Fiction.

  17. Music is a part of movies that I enjoy very much! Nice list here. I am working my way through some of these titles that I haven’t seen myself and look forward to the music in them having seen them on your list!

    • Thanks! I recommend all of these films.

  18. Brilliant list, I am still haunted from that scene in A Clockwork Orange and how it has totally killed Singin’ in the Rain for me in that sense. Stuck in the Middle With You is brilliantly used in Reservoir Dogs.

    • Thanks! Both songs are used very well.

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  20. I see we agree on many scenes! Great list; I particularly agree with 2001 and Apocalypse Now. Smashing choices all.

    • Thanks! I could list a whole group of scenes from Apocalypse Now and 2001 for the list (The Door’s The End and Also Sprach Zarathustra).

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