A Score of Scores: 20 Pivotal Songs from Film

11. The Film: Before Sunset (2004)

The Song: A Waltz for a Night

– Performed and composed by Julie Delpy

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) have spent the entire movie, in this the second installment of Richard Linklater’s Before series, skirting the true depths of their feelings for one another. They haven’t seen or been in contact with one another since that beautiful night in Vienna 9 years prior (Before Sunrise). Jesse’s married and has a child and is in Paris to promote his book, which is a story about a one-night connection.

And here they are connecting again, but wary of saying too much, of being too much, of wanting too much, because there are still many challenges here. Céline then brings out her guitar and lays it all on the line, vulnerably revealing through song just how much this man means to her. And Jesse looks at her with such longing, such love, and decides that he’s going to miss his plane…

Be still my heart.


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12. The Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The Song: Edge of Night (Pippin’s Song)

– Performed by Billy Boyd, lyrics by J.R.R. Tolkien, music by Billy Boyd

Boromir (Sean Bean) is dead. Denethor (John Noble), his father and Steward of Gondor, grossly gorges himself as he sends his only remaining son Faramir (David Wenham) and his loyal men to their inevitable deaths against the overwhelming orcs of Mordor. It is a hugely distressing scene in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings saga. Denethor eats as men – men he has ordered into a futile battle – are slaughtered.

And Denethor orders the little hobbit Pippin (Billy Boyd) to sing. Pippin’s song is a powerful little piece, a simple, unaccompanied ballad of such loss and despair. It sends shivers down the spine. It is such a telling and haunting contrast to the battle and the death taking place outside the castle walls.

Billy Boyd is a musician, as well as an actor, and it is fitting that he should later sing “The Last Goodbye” – the final song for the final installment of The Hobbit. Thus ends the tale of Middle Earth…


RELATED: Film Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

13. The Film: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

The Song: Moon River

– Performed by Audrey Hepburn, music by Henry Mancini, and lyrics by Johnny Mercer

“There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat.” So types Paul (George Peppard) as the first strumming notes of “Moon River” begin drifting into his apartment. His downstairs neighbor – that very lovely, very frightened girl with her nameless cat – Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) sits in the window airily singing a ballad of such longing and wanderlust and drifting dreams of faraway.

“Moon River” captured so evocatively the spirit of this movie’s heroine, just as it captured the hearts of moviegoers. The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and two Grammies for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. And who can forget the choral rendition at the end of the film, as Paul and Holly share that iconic kiss in the rain – “Two drifters off to see the world; there’s such a lot of world to see…”


RELATED: Romantic Rain Scenes – 12 Moments That Will Make You Swoon

14. The Film: Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991)

The Song: (Everything I Do) I Do It for You

– Performed by Bryan Adams, music and lyrics by Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen and Robert John “Mutt” Lange

An instrumental rendition of what was to become the mega-hit “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” drifts in the mist, as Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) stand on the shores by the boat that will bear her away. He asks her for king and country to write a letter to the absent King Richard, informing him of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s (Alan Rickman) evil doings. She says, “No” – a pregnant pause – “I’ll do it for you.” Sigh. And then she plants a kiss on him and is away into the mists of the lake.

That line – “I’ll do it for you” – is the kernel of this romance between our fair maiden and our dear Robin. The line blossomed into the international sensation that was and is Bryan Adams’ chart-topping, award-winning song. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” is one of the best selling singles to date – EVER – and has been the first dance song at many a wedding, of that I am sure.



RELATED: Robin Hood: A Tale Told (at least) 3 Ways!

15. The Film: Ghost (1990)

The Song: Unchained Melody

– Performed by The Righteous Brothers, music by Alex North, and lyrics by Hy Zaret

The oft-parodied, steamy pottery scene from Ghost – all set to the jukebox tunes of the Righteous Brothers’ rendition of “Unchained Melody” – vaulted “Unchained Melody” into its own orbit and etched that lovemaking scene between Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) into iconic cultural status.

“Unchained Melody” debuted in 1955 as the theme song for the forgettable film Unchained, a story of a prisoner and his waiting love outside the walls. The Righteous Brothers covered it in 1965 making it a jukebox standard. And then Ghost happened to it.

“Unchained Melody” was the most performed song in 1992 and is one of the 25 most-performed songs of the entire 20th century. It has been sung by hundreds and hundreds of artists through the years – Elvis, Harry Belafonte, Leanne Rimes, Lena Horne, U2 and on it goes. But for many, it is forever linked to wet clay and Swayze’s abs.


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Summer Flicks

16. The Film: A Room with a View (1985)

The Song: Chi il Bel Sogno di Doretta

– Performed by Kiri Te Kanawa and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, composed by Giacomo Puccini from the opera La Rondine

This is one of the finest climatic kisses ever captured on film. It is gleefully swoon-inducing every single time (and believe me, I have seen it many, many times). As the clear operatic soprano of the superlative Kiri Te Kanawa leads our heroine Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) to her fateful meeting with George (Julian Sands) in that hilly Italian field, well, the operatic build up crescendoes with that stolen kiss in that lustrous ripening barley field with that lovely, lovely George. And the proper Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith), as Lucy’s chaperone, stumbles upon the sensual scene, adroitly setting a stopper for it.

But this ignites a spark in George, in Lucy, indeed even in Charlotte – an immutable love, which they eventually and thankfully acknowledge by the movie’s end. Italy, Puccini, Julian Sands – sigh.


RELATED: A Room with a View (1985) – An Artistic and Stunning Romantic Period Drama

17. The Film: Ella Enchanted (2004)

The Song: Somebody to Love

– Performed by Anne Hathaway, lyrics and music by Freddie Mercury

On her quest to finally banish her fairy “blessing” of compelled obedience, Ella (Anne Hathaway) ends up in the land of giants at a wedding party. During the festivities, someone looks at her and yells, “Sing!”, and because of her blessing/curse, she is compelled to comply. Suddenly, Ella is singing – tentatively at first, unsure, a bit too high-pitched. But then she warms up, and with a few more commanding words, which she must obey, she ends up belting out the Queen classic, “Somebody to Love.”

Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy) looks on in awe and admiration and is completely smitten with this engaging woman. And it’s dawning on Ella – through the course of this song and the passion with which she is singing it – that she too has feelings for this charming, coddled, good, princely man. She has found somebody to love.

It’s such a fun scene. And Anne Hathaway can really sing!


RELATED: My 10 Favorite Prince Charming Characters – Film Edition

18. The Film: A Knight’s Tale (2001)

The Song: Golden Years

– Composed and performed by David Bowie

The deliciously and dashingly dastardly Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell) – suspicious of the young upstart knight, the so-called Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger) – seeks to prove his suspicions that Sir Ulrich is an imposter and to embarrass Sir Ulrich in front of the lady they both desire, namely Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon). He invites Sir Ulrich to lead the ball’s revelers in a dance from his declared homeland, Gelderland. At a loss, Sir Ulrich unconvincingly begins to bluff his way through some dance moves until Jocelyn swoops in and saves him, revealing the depth of her own interests in this awkward knight.

Suddenly, the whole dance floor is whirling and turning and clapping and hopping and swinging to a dance from Gelderland. The melodic medieval pipes and lyres begin to segue into the electric rock of David Bowie’s “Golden Years.” It is a fabulous scene, so fun. Adhemar is temporarily thwarted. Our hero Sir Ulrich/William is dancing with the girl. It’s all golden.


RELATED: Dancing is Good for the Soul, the Body, and the Spirit – 15 Spontaneous Dance Scenes from Film and TV

19. The Film: ShakespeaRe-Told: The Taming of the Shrew (2005)

The Song: Gopher Mambo

– Performed by Yma Sumac, composed by Moisés Vivanco

The incomparable Yma Sumac’s melodic, soprano shrieks and the frenetic pacings of “Gopher Mambo” ooze dancing tension, going back and forth, back and forth, at an increasingly clipped and cacophonous rate. This pretty much sums up the relationship between Katherine (Shirley Henderson) and Petruchio (Rufus Sewell) in Sally Wainwright’s adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Kate is a shrieking harridan, and she and Petruchio go back and forth, back and forth, thrusting and parrying at a fabulously frenetic pace.

One would think that “Gopher Mambo” was composed for this film, for exactly this story of two opposing forces eventually finding and forging a shared rhythm. But no, “Gopher Mambo” has been around since 1954; it’s just utilized to great effect in this fantastically fun film.


RELATED: The Taming of the Shrew – An Uproariously Funny Modern Adaptation

20. The Film: Twilight

The Song: Bella’s Lullaby

– Composed by Carter Burwell

The composer Carter Burwell considers it more of a love theme than a lullaby, but in adapting Stephenie Meyer’s hugely popular Twilight series for the big screen, there had to be a lullaby for Bella. Edward (Robert Pattinson), so inspired by the love blossoming in his dead vampiric heart, finds himself creating and composes a song for Bella (Kristen Stewart), his one and only true love. It’s a big deal in the book, so there was much pressure to have the film do it justice.

I think they did. They had to reshoot the scene with Edward playing, since – at the initial shoot – Robert Pattinson (who is a gifted musician and can and does actually play the piano) played another song. In order for Pattinson’s piano work to fit with the actual score, they had to reshoot, with Pattinson now hitting the right notes. And it does hit the right notes. The song is simple, it’s aching, there’s tension, conveying the love that binds Edward and Bella, the immortal and the mortal, the predator and its prey.

You can read the interesting tale about the making of this piece – the pressures and the politics and the back story – here.



RELATED: The Top 20 Romantic Vampire Movie Couples

And that was the veritable tip of the iceberg when it comes to music in movies. What are some of your favorite scores in film?

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By on July 12th, 2017

About Jessica Jørgensen

A lover of words, stories and storytellers since her youth and just plain curious by nature, Jessica embarked on a very long academic journey that took her across a continent (from Canada's west coast to its east) and even to the other side of the globe, where she currently lives an expat existence in Denmark. She now trails many fancy initials behind her name, if she ever cares to use them, and continues to be ever so curious. She's a folklorist, a mother, a wife, a middle child, a small town girl, a beekeeper, an occasional quilter, a jam-maker. She curates museum exhibits, gets involved in many cultural projects for this and that, collects oral histories when she can find the time and continues to love stories in all their many and varied forms. The local librarians all know her by name.

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4 thoughts on “A Score of Scores: 20 Pivotal Songs from Film”

  1. I love the idea behind this list and what a great list it is! You picked some memorable songs. I’m a big fan of soundtracks and scores. Two which immediately come to mind for me are Song of the Exile from 2004’s King Arthur and Arthur’s Song in The Holiday. Also, Somewhere Over the Rainbow from You’ve Got Mail, although I love all the songs on that soundtrack!

    • Thanks, Brittaney! And thanks for sharing your own favourite scores — there are definitely enough scores out there to make yet another list or two (-:

  2. This list is chock-full of such brilliant choices! Chariots of Fire, Moon River, and Strictly Ballroom are particular favorites, and in fact, if I had to choose between Ballroom and Dirty Dancing which dance film was better, I would say Ballroom hands down. Thanks for giving a shout-out to The Last Goodbye as well; the music video for that song just had me in goose-bumps and tears right from the first note.

    • Thanks — glad you enjoyed the list. And I am so with you on The Last Goodbye — I’m blinking back a few tears just thinking about it (-:


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