"Unchained Melody" and More: When Music and Movies Are Married Forever

In honor of 30 years of Ghost and that iconic pottery scene, a look at the songs that have become inextricably linked to the movies that featured them.

By Billy Nilles Jul 19, 2020 7:00 AMTags
Watch: "Ghost" Turns 30: E! News Rewind

There are some moments in cinema history where the right song makes all the difference.

It's been 30 years since the release of Ghost proved our point when director Jerry Zucker decided to use The Righteous Brothers' cover of "Unchained Melody" to suitably set the mood for the scene Patrick Swayze's Sam returns from beyond the grave to help Molly (Demi Moore) sensually spin some pottery. And the confluence of the emotional moment and the romantic ballad helped make one of the most iconic and frequently referenced moments in movie music history.

As such, it's practically impossible to listen to that song and not think about that scene.

Though it may be the most obvious example, "Unchained Melody" is hardly the only song to find itself inextricable linked to movie. As directors turn to popular music to punctuate their films' most powerful moments, we've seen the power such moments have on the songs in question. They can popularize them like never before, while also making sure that no one can ever listen to them in quite the same way ever again.

Secrets About Ghost

In honor of 30 years of Ghost's iconic pottery scene, we're taking a look at some of the other songs who've found themselves forever tied to film.

A caveat: While making this list, we had to rule out songs that were made expressly for the film they're featured in. Otherwise we'd have been here all day.

Zumapress; Shutterstock; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
Ghost: "Unchained Melody"

The use of The Righteous Brothers' 1965 cover of this song, originally written for the little-known 1955 film Unchained (hence the title), in the pivotal pottery scene in the 1990 film Ghost has become one of the most iconic needle drops in movie music history. 

American Psycho: "Hip to Be Square"

It's hard to listen to this Huey Lewis and the News hit from 1986 and not think of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman giving Jared Leto's Paul Allen his honest assessment of the song—followed by several blows from an axe, of course—in the 2000 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 novel.

Pulp Fiction: "You Never Can Tell"

Whenever we hear that opening guitar lick from Chuck Berry's classic 1964 track, we immediately think of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) competing in that Twist contest in Quentin Tarantino's iconic 1994 film. Admit it, you're doing Travolta's hand-ography over your eyes right now just thinking about it.

Wayne's World: "Bohemain Rhapsody"

There's a reason nearly every Millennial knows every single word to Queen's iconic and verbose 1975 prog-rock suite—and it's because of its use in the car scene in the 1992 film adaptation of Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey's legendary Saturday Night Live sketch. The film is widely credited with reviving interest in the outlandish and operatic track, helping it peak at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 shortly after Wayne's World was released.

Almost Famous: "Tiny Dancer"

While Elton John and Bernie Taupin's now-classic, released in 1972, hadn't taken America by storm a year later, when Cameron Crowe's music-centric film is set, it would stand to reason that the (fictional) band Stillwater and everyone else on that bus would've been keyed in to the track. So their knowing every word isn't such a stretch. Ironically, it's the film that helped fully popularize the song Stateside following its release in 2000.

Say Anything...: "In Your Eyes"

It's hard to imagine anything but Peter Gabriel's 1986 hit coming out of Lloyd Dobler's (John Cusack) boombox as he stands beneath Diane's (Ione Skye) open bedroom window in Cameron Crowe's 1989 directorial debut, but Crowe originally wanted Elvis Costello to contribute something for the moment and used a song by alt-rock band Fishbone on the day of filming. The more you know!

10 Things I Hate About You: "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"

As co-writer Karen McCullah revealed to The New York Times in 2019, the moment the world fell in love with Heath Ledger as his Patrick Verona serenaded Julia Stiles' Kat Stratford in the iconic 1999 teen comedy almost included an entirely different song. The script originally called for him to sing The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You," which then became the Divinyls' 1991 ode to masturbation, "I Touch Myself." As McCullah explained, "I think Heath decided that that wasn't romantic enough, so he chose the Frankie Valli song, which was a much better call." Indeed.

Cruel Intentions: "Bitter Sweet Symphony"

One can't think of Sarah Michelle Gellar's villainous Kathryn Merteuil getting her just desserts at the end of this 1999 teen classic without hearing the orchestral strings from The Verve's 1997 hit. Coincidentally, those strings were a sample from a cover of The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time," and, after some legal controversy, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were added to the songwriting credits on the track.

Beetlejuice: "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)"

Composer Danny Elfman's use of Harry Belafonte's 1956 recording of this traditional Jamaican folk song in the 1988 Tim Burton classic made for one of the most magically musical possessions ever.

The Sandlot: "Tequila"

Have other films made expert use of The Champs' 1958 instrumental classic? No doubt about it. (We're looking at you, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.) But whenever we hear that dirty sax solo, all we think about is the iconic scene in the 1993 classic when the kids decide to experiment with chewing tobacco while at the fair to disastrously disgusting result.

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