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10 Songs From Non-Musicals

The musical is a funny beast. It’s one of those genres that some people just don’t like. So how about a ‘non-musical’ that features a song? Somehow, the same rules don’t apply. Perhaps it’s because there is an established realism, that isn’t broken by people bursting out into song; that the song is featured in the movie as a song features in life. Perhaps it’s because there’s generally less incomprehensible dancing going on. Or perhaps it’s because being camp has never really been in fashion. Ever. Any which way, here are ten of the best.

Only two of them are camp.


Almost Famous

Everyone sings Tiny Dancer


This scene isn’t just a top flight category entry, it’s actually the definitive moment of the entire film. Almost Famous is unashamedly rose tinted and no more so is this aesthetic choice validated than in this scene, which captures the nostalgic, communal harmony of a band on the road. Scattered around the tour bus in their favourite seats, the band and their groupies idly listen to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. First, one person sings along and aloud and this initiative quickly infects everyone else, one by one, line by line. By the time the barnstorming chorus kicks in, everyone is full-bloodedly singing along with Elton John. It’s the one scene in which all conflicts, secrets and tensions are cast aside as they are unified in glorious, nostalgic song as the afternoon sunshine strobes across their faces.

Wayne’s World

Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Michael DeLuise and Lee Tergesen sing Bohemian Rhapsody


Some things shouldn’t work. Take chocolate served with ham – daft. Or turning a throwaway sketch on a TV show into a full length feature film – stupid. Or blending opera with a dash of ballad, lashings of guitar, incomprehensible lyrics, whip out the chorus and smother in ROCK turned up to 11 – ridiculous. But hang on. A nice slice of processed ham wrapped around a mini aero – dear lord taste bud heaven. And didn’t The Blues Brothers start out on Saturday Night Live? And come to think of it Bohemian Rhapsody spend 14 weeks at number 1. Yes – some things shouldn’t work, but they do.

That’s the genius of using Bohemian Rhapsody in Wayne’s World. It’s 5 pages of character description in just a few chords; daft, stupid and ridiculous, but they work. And admit it – who hasn’t headbanged in the car when that solo kicks in?



Elias Koteas sings Time Is On My Side


Ed Sullivan would have approved of using the Rolling Stones as a signifier of evil as it is in Gregory Hoblit’s underrated film (he would prove a dab hand at underrated following Fallen with the equally underrated Frequency). Even though the song is sung by dozens of people throughout the film it’s Elias Koteas death sentence rendition that really does it justice (underrated actor in underrated film to keep the theme running)

Proof that the devil has all the best tunes.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner sing Afternoon Delight


The secret behind Anchorman’s longevity (when compared with most of Will Ferrell’s other vehicles) is a much more well crafted balance than it is often given credit for. It’s an incredibly well judged film, and the best showcase for Ferrell’s signature move: sheer gleeful silliness. Afternoon Delight is one such example.

Yes it’s funny, breaking out into rehearsed song in the middle of conversation, but it’s more than that. It’s what it says about people in love; smug, self important fools imparting sudden wisdom about indescribable sensations. It also somehow works as a strangely touching demonstration of four friends and their ludicrously close bond; it’s here we realise just how much time these guys really must spend together, and how good a thing that is. And, you know what, as well as all that, it’s actually quite good. Those harmonies go down as smooth as the first scotch of the day.

Oh and Paul Rudd’s part of it. Always worth mentioning.


Rita Hayworth sings Put the Blame on Mame


There are a number of scenes that could be chosen from Vidor’s 1946 sexual noir, Hayworth peeling off her black gloves to the full band version of Put the Blame on Mame, Hayworth in classy mode singing Amado Mio, Hayworth….you see the pattern here? But it’s this scene later on in the movie where sat on the craps tables she plays a solo version of Blame. Whole books could be filled about the psycho-sexual, masochistic nature of the films ménage a trois, but the look on Steven Geray’s face as he watches Hayworth play the song tells us all we need to know about Glenn Fords obsession with her….and by Glenn Ford I obviously mean all men.


The subconscious sings Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien


Surely one of the most inventive uses of a song in recent years. On first glance, the use of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien appears to be a simple use of appropriate music. Never actually discussed, the song is used as a marker to time the kick that wakes everyone up, and is something characters on every level of the dream can hear. So far, so average, but scratch the surface.

It’s apparently diagetic usage is also the key to understanding Inception at a greater level. Every time we go a layer deeper, and experience time differently, the music is slower and lower and further warped. In it’s final iteration, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’s opening jaunt sounds more like a deep, menacing swell of bass. Slow the song way down yourself if you want to approximate it in full. Now re-examine Hans Zimmer’s original score, in particular the opening recurring throb before the first frame of the film plays. Sound familiar? It’s not only the kind of clever flourish that makes Inception so re-watchable, but it could speak of how the filmmakers are interacting with the audience at this stage, or perhaps suggest an entirely new reading of the plot. Subtle, elegant, intelligent.


Everyone sings Wise Up


Brave films are often divisive ones. They make brave decisions which often throw away with convention and thus lead the viewer to either love it for its balls or hate it for its self-importance. Of course the trick with brave decisions is you have to have the talent to pull it off, and i doubt there are many cinema goers around the world that doubt Paul Thomas Andersons ability. Getting the entire cast to break into song no matter where they are….the bravest choice in a very brave film.

Blue Velvet

Dean Stockwell sings ‘In Dreams’


The abstract nature of terror within a David Lynch film is brought to a crescendo in this scene from 1986’s Blue Velvet. Any former intentions this song held as a love note are dashed as seething villains swoon to the eerie tones of Roy Orbison. Dean Stockwell’s character mimes along, twisting the scene into a nightmarish reflection of Frank Booth’s state of mind. Murmurs of violence resonate and all we can do is look on as the madness unfolds around Jeffrey.

God damn, I miss Dennis Hopper.


Everyone sings Banana Boat Song (Day-O)


It takes a certain type of mischievous mind to manifest the absurdities of some music. So when Tim Burton hijacks a dinner scene with Harry Belfonte’s Banana Boat Song, he created one if the best physical comedy sequences of contemporary cinema. Take Catherine O’Hara’s bewildered expressions as she mimes with gusto and gyrates her hips or the bit where they all shake their asses side to side in unison. Add to the fact that these characters are all total pantomime bastards performed expertly by a great comedic cast only serves to make this scene more satisfying. It’s oddly dangerous too given Beetlejuice’s wicked, murderous streak but once you realise no one dies here, it endures not only as a great use of a song but as one of the great humiliations in film.

Back to the Future

Michael J Fox sings (and plays) Johnny B. Goode

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.”


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