The Quietus’ Top 50 Needle Drop Moments In Film

Crystallising the euphoric moments where sound and vision collide, the Quietus contributors sift through the archives to celebrate their 50 favourite music cues on the big screen

The world keeps growing darker and the words make less and less sense. This is always why we’ve turned to the movies – to find comfort, escape, catharsis, or a heady combination of all three. But there are fewer pleasures greater, at the movies, than the moment a perfect track starts at a perfect moment, and the marriage of music and film creates an entirely new beast, a work of art in that new connection alone.

And so in these times, this year, when everything keeps spinning faster, I wanted to reconnect with these moments we know lit the fire for something special, something that, for a short few minutes, made things seem bright and hopeful again.

From the most elegant and timeless moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the unnerving mystery of Zodiac, please enjoy discovering, rediscovering, listening and cherishing 50 of our most favourite needle drop moments in film, sorted in alphabetical order.

As ever with these magnanimous lists – this is where the conversation begins, not where it ends. Of course there are always more. Lucky us, then, that we don’t really have to choose, and can hold onto them all forever.

Ella Kemp, Film Editor

Atmosphères – György Ligeti ( 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

If you ever want to catch a glimpse of the grievous damage that a composer can do to a great film, try watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with the original score by Alex North. Better still: don’t torture yourself. It’s a grim viewing experience. Kubrick’s "proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie" was always far more about its atmosphere than its new age-y story, its studiedly blank characters or its gee whiz gadgetry. And that atmosphere, to a significant extent, is a product of the classical music cues that the director dropped into the picture at opportune moments.

I’m not so much talking about the star turns here – your Strauss tone poems and your Blue Danubes. The real hero of 2001 didn’t even know he was in it until after it came about. Famously, composer György Ligeti first discovered his shimmering, high tensile works for massed choirs and strings were in the film at his local picturehouse. Kubrick didn’t just dump the music onto the screen, he layered the works, collaged them, treating them more like sound design, textures to be woven and warped, than music in any traditional sense. This is what makes the use of works like Lux Aeterna and Atmosphères so magical. And this is how an oblique black oblong managed to become one of the most ominous and eerie things in cinema history. – Bobby Barry

AM 180 – Grandaddy (28 Days Later, 2002)

Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is a bleak zombie horror film known for its intensity and unrelenting action. Its running zombies are a more horrific version of shambling corpses, angry bodies fuelled by rage and a desire for blood. However, there is a brief oasis of peace, set to the tune of Grandaddy’s 1997 song, ‘AM 180’, as the characters frolic down empty aisles at the grocery store.

Once the first upbeat notes of ‘AM 180’ start to play, fear melts away. These characters have been on the run until this point, and this song marks a moment where these characters can experience joy without nervously looking over their shoulders. The lyrics are about the joy felt when being with the one you love, set to simple, yet sweet, keyboard riffs reminiscent of childhood TV shows. That joy amplifies their grocery cart races and piles of snacks; for once they do not have to hide and are able to smile. For them, and us, while it is a brief respite, it is treasured nonetheless. – Mary Beth McAndrews

Unsatisfied – The Replacements (Adventureland, 2009)

Twenty minutes into Adventureland, the 2009 coming-of-age flick directed by Greg Mottola and starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, the film’s central relationship starts to seriously unfold. After meeting at a shitty amusement park job, Emily (Stewart) and James (Eisenberg) end up at a house party, where James comments “I like your records. Eno, Replacements, Big Star,” to Emily. In many ways, The Replacements are the band of Adventureland, from ‘Bastard of Young’ playing in the opening scene to the namecheck at the house party, but the Mats’ best appearance happens at the film’s end.

After Emily angrily leaves for New York at the end of the summer, James makes an impulsive decision to take a bus there and apologize. As James rolls into Manhattan, The Replacements’ jangly classic ‘Unsatisfied’ plays. Eisenberg acts through this scene with excitement, but as vocalist Paul Westerberg wails, “Tell me that I’m satisfied” in the background, it seems his romantic gesture might not work. The plan could easily backfire. As the song fades out, he stands in front of Emily’s apartment, looking genuinely uncertain – unsatisfied, even – with his choice to risk it all. The Replacements articulate that brief precariousness perfectly. – Ethan Gordon

We Found Love – Rihanna ft Calvin Harris (American Honey, 2016)

There are almost too many outstanding elements in Andrea Arnold’s gut-punch of a film – among this century’s finest cinematic achievements – but her deft, pitch-perfect music choices are a constant, dizzying highlight. The characters and their situations – 20-somethings drifting through a decaying middle America, searching for purpose while selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door – often shine new light on songs that work as both Greek chorus and as catalysts to an often lazily unspooling Homeric narrative. One of the few tracks Arnold went in to the project determined to include was Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s 2011 hit, which appears twice in the film, to different but equally devastating effects.

It sets the tone right at the start, as it plays over the tannoy in an Oklahoma Kmart as Star (the luminous, brilliant Sasha Lane) first claps eyes on Jake (Shia Labeouf, in a performance for the ages); then later, as Star and a handful of her new friends are dumped in front of a crowd of grizzled oil-field workers in the middle of nowhere by their poisonous crew boss, Krystal (Riley Keough, unsettling and malevolent). Each scene, in contrasting ways, brings out both the euphoria and desolation of a song that hitherto seemed to exist in the realm of the hedonic, vindicating Rihanna’s decision – criticised by some reviewers upon release – to deliver the lyric in a restrained manner.

All great art has to be able to bear the weight of experience and context that its audience brings to it: Arnold and her cast pay Harris and Rihanna the ultimate respect, of showing how resilient their music is, and how much more it can mean than they could ever have intended. – Angus Batey

Honey – Robyn (And Then We Danced, 2019)

I have just finished reading James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, and in the same way the classic novel perfectly encapsulates both the pleasure, pain and constant inner conflict of being a non-heterosexual man, so too is this sentiment captured in Georgian drama And Then We Danced as Merab dances for Irakli to Robyn’s ‘Honey’.

Everyone else is asleep and the couple are bathed in a golden light, as if they are being showered in honey, in an intensely sensual scene in which the two men are lost in their desire for each other. Yet as one of their fellow dancers sleeps in the very room in which they measure each other up, there is a reminder of the constant threat to these two gay men in Georgia – being outed could get them killed – as well as the inner turmoil they, and many LGBT folk, will face in their lives.

Georgian dance is a highly masculine tradition, so watching Merab put his traditionally-trained skills to use against a modern queer pop icon’s hit visualises the desire to break from societal heteronormative values, and embrace one’s true identity. – Daniel Broadley

All Out of Love – Air Supply (Animal Kingdom, 2010)

There’s one scene in Animal Kingdom that encapsulates why, in the last decade, Ben Mendelsohn suddenly became the obvious choice whenever Hollywood was in need of a more complicated kind of antagonist. As petty Melbourne crime lord Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody, Mendelsohn largely maintains a blankly psychopathic menace throughout David Michod’s stately 2010 crime thriller, but the moment in which Pope silently watches nephew J’s (James Frecheville) high schooler girlfriend, Nicole (Laura Wheelwright), as she sleeps on the couch and Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love’ plays from the TV, he seems at once dangerous and pathetic.

Pope just stares, needy and glowering, while the soft rock ballad plays, its solipsistically heartbroken chorus, “I’m all outta love, I’m so lost without you”, underlining how distant romantic love is to this career criminal, how foreign human feeling, and how vindictively jealous he is of others’ happiness that he’ll kill Nicole later in the film. Ten years on, with Mendelsohn having since aced villains for the likes of Lucasfilm and Marvel, Air Supply’s sentimental hit now sounds inescapably like the haunting entrance theme for modern cinema’s ultimate bad guy actor. – Brogan Morris

The End – The Doors (Apocalypse Now, 1979)

More than 40 years on from the release of Apocalypse Now, the opening sequence still leaves an unshakeable sense of dread. The film casts an immediate spell, and ‘The End’ is its incantation. The song’s delirious vocals and shadowy, brooding psychedelic instrumentals are eerily apt accompaniments to the visions of warfare that unfold onscreen. As Captain Willard’s head swims with napalm and choppers, The Doors invite you to join him in the darkness.

Although inspired by Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, director Francis Ford Coppola had quite a different world to work with. Instead of European empires and the Congo, Apocalypse Now deals in America and the Vietnam War. ‘The End’ also nods to the wider tumult back in the States at the time — to a counterculture learning to question its government’s virtue at home and abroad. The song’s gothic despair sets the scene for the horrors to come. It’s the perfect overture for an all-American nightmare. – Frederick O’Brien

In This World – Moby (Bad Education, 2019)

Perfection is an expensive pursuit – so much so that the charismatic superintendent Frank Tarrone embezzled millions of dollars from his public school district to achieve it. In the final third of Cory Finley’s Bad Education the scandal breaks and, to escape circling law enforcement, Frank runs to Nevada and his much younger boyfriend. They enjoy cocktails in a smoky gay bar and, to the cue of Moby’s ‘In This World’, the façade breaks. Gone is Frank’s statesman-like pomp, with all of its artifice. In is rigid dad-dancing.

Solitude is Frank’s biggest fear, and to him, it is inevitable. ‘In This World’ puts this very explicitly: He’s terrified of being left “all by [himself],” even as he dad-dances across the floor from his endearing boyfriend, or rests his head atop the boy’s shoulder. However, this scene also suggests acceptance: it’s over for Frank, but so is the demand for perfection put upon him by the politics of respectability. Frank faces chains but the song’s strings wail liberty. – Jack King

Rhythm of the Night – Corona (Beau Travail, 1999)

For films so thoroughly attuned to the tactile sensual movements of the body, it comes as no surprise that Claire Denis has shown a proclivity for eclectic soundtracking, the kinds of songs that initially play as random, but physically trigger instinctual reactions nonetheless. Nowhere is this better embodied than in the immortalized final scene of 1999’s Beau Travail, which sets one of the most cathartic moments of dance on film to none other than Corona’s once omnipresent Eurodance-lite hit ‘Rhythm of the Night’.

Denis Lavant – as disgraced Legionnaire captain Galoup – is in the otherwise empty Djibouti club his former unit frequented throughout the film, although his presence feels out-of-time, otherworldly even. Corona’s song creates a soundbridge from Galoup supine and clutching a handgun, potentially contemplating suicide before he’s suddenly transported to the site of the closing dance. As ‘Rhythm of the Night’ echoes throughout the club, Lavant expertly teases the kinds of indulgences that were otherwise absent from his rigorous performance – he pouts, he hungrily drags on a cigarette, he smirks – before his coiled limbs practically explode. As Denis makes thrillingly clear, transcendence can come at the behest of even the most left-field needle drops. – Patrick Preziosi

Blood and Thunder – Mastodon (The Big Short, 2015)

As a 1990s Hollywood convention, needle drops were used pretty cynically in teen movies and romcoms, with replaceable songs wedged into films for overblown emotional returns or soundtrack album sales. But Adam McKay’s stylish 2015 dramatization of the 2008 financial crash brought the practice back on course. When ‘Blood And Thunder’ by Mastodon leaps into The Big Short, it both characterizes and propels Christian Bale’s outsider economist Michael Burry.

The real-life Burry, a medical doctor turned fund manager, is a known metalhead who listens to Metallica while finding value in dense spreadsheets and drums along to Pantera, when wrestling with frustration. Bale took lessons with drummer Scott Wittenberg, intensifying the embattled character with further true-to-life details like the poster of poet William Ernest Henley’s lines "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul". The Big Short was nominated for five Academy Awards, Leviathan brought Mastodon into the metal elite, and today Burry says that smart investors should look into the water market. – Kiran Acharya

In Dreams – Roy Orbison (Blue Velvet, 1986)

The first time Roy Orbison saw Blue Velvet, he hated it. Who could blame him? His classic love song had been turned into nightmare fuel. But he came to appreciate Lynch’s somnambulistic, sensual vision, and the two became friends. For both Orbison and Lynch, dreams are the instruments of desires – even of those desires the dreamer may not want to have: unobtainable love in Orbison’s case, and sadism in the case of Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), who falls into a dreamworld of disturbing sex and violence.

Blue Velvet is a trip down a dark, alluring rabbit hole, and it’s fitting that the moment the film truly starts tumbling down is when Dean Stockwell lip-syncs ‘In Dreams’. His microphone is a lamp illuminating his ghostly powdered face – if the demon from The Exorcist became a Vegas lounge singer, it might look something like this. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper’s most unhinged performance, in a career full of them) watches in both anguish and ecstasy. What does it mean? Why is Booth obsessed with the “candy-coloured clown?” Is it all a dream, or is that just wishful thinking? Like all the most potent nightmares, it’s never clear. – Thomas H. Sheriff

Dream Lover – Faye Wong (Chungking Express, 1994)

Every night, Cop 663 (Tony Leung, young and perfect in his bashful hangdog charm) walks the same beat and stops at the Midnight Express, where Faye (Faye Wong), in her manic pixie haircut, dances to ‘California Dreamin’’ on the boombox and dreams of being anywhere else but in this greasy snack shack. Cop 663 used to order a chef’s salad every night for his flight-attendant girlfriend, but she was hungry for new tastes, so she’s jetted off, leaving him moping in his apartment, playing around with a little toy airplane.

Faye, in voiceover, says she has this daydream that she’s in that apartment, too, and then, in one of filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s greatest flourishes of everyday romantic dream logic, she is. Faye begins to let herself into Cop 663’s apartment during his day shifts; she becomes a subliminal presence in his life, slowly transforming it as she redecorates his home. And one day, as she’s in there, the soundtrack kicks in.

It’s the instantly Pavlovian reverberating guitar chords of ‘Dreams’ by the Cranberries, but instead of Dolores O’Riordan’s, the vocal is Faye Wong’s own. (‘Dream Lover’, her Canto-pop cover, featured on her 1992 album Random Thoughts.) The lyrics are spot-on (“I’ve been in love with you before/But never felt so close to you as now”), but even if you’re not watching a version that provides subtitles, they still come through in the song, in the woozy specificity of childhood memories and the twist of something unfamiliar, and it gives you a lightheaded deja vu to match the lurid jet-lagged fluorescents of Chris Doyle’s cinematography.

Chungking Express is made of transcendent moments like this, like music videos you half-glimpsed on a restaurant flatscreen one night on vacation, and are never quite sure you’re remember right – like Wong’s cinema as a whole, it suggests globalism’s transubstantiation of Western pop into something alien in its particulars but cosmic in its resonance, space and time collapsed into a sentimental shimmer of longing and contentment. To paraphrase the film’s final dialogue exchange, and the cue for a ‘Dream Lover’ reprise: Where do you want to go? Wherever the music takes me. – Mark Asch

Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley and the Comets (Cold War, 2018)

It’s a moment we all know: in some crowded bar, a song plays that compels you to dance with wild abandon – a rare bit of freedom that affirms the power of music. In Paweł Pawlikowski’s 2018 drama Cold War, this very moment is the beating heart of the entire film, injecting the otherwise somber tale of two ill-fated lovers, Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Thomasz Kot), in communist Poland’s highly politicized music industry with passion and energy. Now exiled in Paris and performing at local bars, the bickering couple visit a ballroom where Bill Haley and the Comets’ jukebox hit ‘Rock Around the Clock’ starts to play.

The tempestuous Zula starts to dance, seemingly oblivious to everything else but the music as she floats from man to man, twirls across the floor, and dances on the bar with the world-weary Wiktor watching. While Cold War is full of musical numbers, none of them are more arresting than this ecstatic moment between Zula and the beat of Bill Haley’s song. The scene establishes that Pawlikowski’s film is not just about a single affair, but the love we all have for music and its transformative power in the bleakest of moments. – Madeleine Seidel

Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve (Cruel Intentions, 1999)

Cruel Intentions came out two years after The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ had reached number two in the UK Top 40. A song that was burned into my brain, it was hard to imagine how anything could replace the music video image of lead singer Richard Ashcroft walking down the street. Cut to the final montage of Cruel Intentions, a Dangerous Liaisons adaptation that transformed television’s Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) into a coke-snorting bad girl as Kathryn.

Each song on this soundtrack is a banger, but nothing quite beats the effect of the violins kicking in as Kathryn’s sweet facade crumbles. Instead of walking down the street with swagger, she runs out of her step-brother’s memorial to the slack-jawed looks of her peers reading her most intimate secrets and manipulative acts. It felt like this song was being played for the first time, underscoring just how transformative a killer soundtrack can be. Over 20 years later, it is still a delicious final act song choice from one the ‘90s best teen movies. – Emma Fraser

Strangers – The Kinks (The Darjeeling Limited, 2007)

In Wes Anderson’s epic saga of the pitfalls of brotherly love, siblings Jack, Francis, and Peter Whitman have spent the majority of the film knotted at an emotional crossroads thousands of miles from home. In an attempt to reconnect in the wake of their father’s death and the long-endured absence of their mother, Francis Whitman had arranged for the three brothers to embark on a journey of “spiritual self-discovery” through India. This excursion ends up revealing well-worn resentments between one another, further fermented by the personal wars they are each waging.

The film comes to a head when the brothers attempt to save three young native boys who fall into a river and are swept up in the current, Peter being unable to save the third. They travel back to the village to deliver the body to the boy’s family, where they connect warmly with the locals and are invited to join the funeral with the villagers the next day. Donning traditional cultural garments, the brothers emerge from a hut to the tune of ‘Strangers’ by The Kinks, walking in succession through the village to a vehicle set to transport them to the funeral proceedings.

It’s a particularly poignant moment, in which both the barriers between the three brothers, and the one between the brothers and the native people of the country, finally fall. Having spent the film up until this point viewing Indian people as patrons in support of their frivolous vacation, they find themselves finally together as human beings. The needle drop also precedes a flashback to the day of their father’s funeral, in which the harried brothers can’t agree over what to do about their father’s old car. Ultimately, the sequence is symbolic of both the crossing of cultural bridges and the need for the brothers to share their grief; how togetherness and compassion are still essential in our separate existences. “Strangers on this road we are on. We are not two, we are one.” – Brianna Zigler

Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd (The Devil’s Rejects, 2005)

After 100 minutes of grindhouse grotesquery as Otis, Baby and their monstrous clown daddy Captain Spaulding shoot, stab and skin their way across rural Texas, Rob Zombie’s splat-happy exploitation throwback The Devil’s Rejects ends in style. The director gives his Southern-fried folk anti-heroes a romantic send-off soundtracked by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sumptuous 1973 power ballad. With the bloodied family on the road to freedom, they come up against a police firing squad. Spurred on by loving vignettes and ‘Free Bird’’s tender verses, it’s difficult not to feel for these carnivalesque villains.

They deserve everything they’re about to get but it’s still sad to say goodbye, which is what makes Skynyrd’s Americana classic such a sweet choice. The song’s sentimental break-up lyrics suggest that Zombie knows he has to bid the Firefly family farewell. But he’ll be damned if they don’t go out fighting. The bullets fly as Allen Collins’ righteous guitar solo takes off, only for ‘Free Bird’ to be cut short. We’re left with nothing but the sound of gunshots. They died as they lived. “And this bird you cannot change.” There couldn’t possibly be a sequel, right? — Sean McGeady

Fight the Power – Public Enemy (Do The Right Thing, 1989)

Spike Lee’s magnum opus Do The Right Thing is an explosion of energy and righteous fury from beginning to end, fully embodied by Public Enemy’s iconic anthem ‘Fight The Power’, perhaps the group’s best known track (originally from the film’s soundtrack and later placed on their album ‘Fear of a Black Planet’), which plays in the film’s opening and throughout its running time via the character Radio Raheem’s boombox.

The opening is among the most striking images of that entire decade, with Rosie Perez making an awesome first impression as she furiously dances and shadowboxes to the beat of the track. Like the film, the lyrics tell of Black heroes while putting others in their place – the group’s MC Chuck D reminding of Elvis’s racism before yelling “motherfuck him and John Wayne”.

The song’s power is not lost on Lee, who lets it play from beginning to its very end, before it’s replaced by the sound of an alarm clock and Samuel L Jackson as radio jockey Mr Senor Lovedaddy calling for the neighbourhood of Bed-Stuy (and in turn, us) to “wake up!” That call for people to come to their senses and resist American white supremacy continues to this day, even 31 years later – to that effect, the group just released a new music video for the song. – Kambole Campbell

Mad World – Gary Jules (Donnie Darko, 2001)

I was one of those internally bleak teenagers who listened to ‘Mad World’ on the bus to school most mornings. It was the only version I was aware of. (And, if I’m honest, I probably first heard the song when watching the trailer for the original Gears of War game.) So, Michael Andrews’ soft piano and Gary Jules’ whispery tones were familiar and impactful when watching Donnie Darko for the first time. After Richard Kelly’s bizarre sci-fi drama endured a disastrous opening in cinemas and then a resurgence in DVD sales, this soundtrack version of ‘Mad World’ reached the UK No. 1 in 2003… at Christmas.

It creeps over a haunting montage of characters waking from nightmares: out of breath, shaking, crying. Their fears, guilts, and secrets are laid bare under Jules’ hypnotically ponderous voice – enigmatic shadows cast over each face – before leading into the grieving Darkos. The song’s beautiful melancholia captures Kelly’s world of chaotic weirdness and Donnie’s alienation from it: the falling jet engine, the self-help cult led by Patrick Swayze, and (of course) the apocalyptic bunny rabbit called Frank. In a time when the world feels madder than ever, it’s a reassuring (if obvious) fact to sing. – Euan Franklin

Nightcall – Kavinsky (Drive, 2011)

As the film begins, the dominant sound is the insistent ticking of the driver’s watch. The gentle metronome by which he will conduct this journey into night. Even the police sirens can’t shatter this stillness. Wordless at the wheel, he slips the car in and out of the shadows, dancing with the cops in an elegant routine that leaves them wrong-footed, tumbling off in the opposite direction.

The job done, he takes his leave, steps into a different car and sets back out into the night, alone. It’s now that the giant, burning pink letters scorch the screen and the clanging, otherworldly opening bars of Nightcall blast away the silence. This transition from eerie calm to pounding electronic beats reveals everything the movie will be – sinister, melodramatic, alienated, absurd and just dripping with style.

By the time the track had ended, I knew that this was cinema like I’d never seen it before. Hard and masculine in in all its violent fatalism but draped in satin and synths, lead by a soft-eyed hero. It was a crime thriller but also a fairy-tale. Gritty and real but also operatic and even camp. Some might even call it “European”. – Ross McIndoe

Da Funk – Daft Punk (Eden, 2014)

Paul, the House DJ at the centre of Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden says he likes his music somewhere "between euphoria and melancholia" and the film drifts endlessly between those two states, evoking the shape of a night out, a great DJ set and, for me, the period of life in my late teens and early twenties when house parties, sets by Danny Rampling at Turnmills and seeing Daft Punk at Tribal Gathering, in 1997, in my hometown of Luton before walking home at dawn, were everything.

One of the most euphoric moments of Eden is when, at their own house party, two DJs called Thomas and Guy-Manuel play their first completed track and everybody in the place instantly knows they have heard something special; the future, the past and the present in one absolute banger called ‘Da Funk’. The duo are not around for long in the film or the scene, that song propelling them into the stratosphere. The moment is spine-tingling, brimming with the unique energy of being retold by someone not only present, but aware of what that moment meant. – Neil Fox

Where Is My Mind – Pixies (Fight Club, 1999)

The world is ending, a ticking bomb is about to go off, and all you can do is watch. David Fincher’s Fight Club relishes the apocalyptic obsession of its insecure male protagonists, desperately seeking oblivion to make sense of their own lack of purpose. Pixies’ haunting acoustic track, then, is uncomfortably fitting – if this cue had been chosen today, some might squirm at how obvious it might seem.

Still, watching this scene, as an unnamed man with a hole in his cheek still tries to convince the woman he thinks he loves that, actually, everything – whatever is left of it – will be fine, the moment the unmistakable riff kicks in as skyscrapers fall down feels like magic. There’s something at once satisfying and devastating in such symbiosis, a triumphant ending clearly messing everything up irreparably, but still gracing you with the fleeting warmth of a song for the ages, the fireworks of destruction, the goosebumps of another person squeezing your hand tighter than ever before. – Ella Kemp

With A Girl Like You – The Troggs (Flirting, 1991)

Ever since watching Flirting by Australian filmmaker John Duigan back in 1991, a scene with a literal needle drop has stayed with me. Students at male and female boarding schools experience a rare chance to mingle at a dance, and when the Troggs classic ‘With A Girl Like You’ begins with a crackle, the female students, led by a young Nicole Kidman and trailed by a reticent Thandie Newton, strut stealthily into a room, where the uniformed boys are already lined up in anticipation. As they check each other from across the room the inherent yearning in the air is masterfully heightened by the a song that promises romance while signalling pure lust. – Peter Margasak

Jump into the Fire – Harry Nilsson (Goodfellas, 1990)

Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas charts the real-life rise, fall and eventual arrest of mob ‘good fella’ Henry Hill. The final act begins as the police close in on Ray Liotta’s Hill, high on cocaine and under pressure. The intertitle of the date and time of Hill’s arrest appears on screen as a heart-pound beats before the unmistakable bass line intro of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Jump into the Fire’ revs into life. The song is split up and used alongside a number of other iconic ’70s rock tracks throughout the 10-minute drug-bust tableau.

Designed to mimic the frantic paranoia of a cocaine high, the heavy bass drives the momentum like a sledgehammer, Nilsson’s high-pitched, reverberating vocal adding manic tension with the scene finally spiralling to a chaotic climax. The frenetic drum solo and detuning bass line winds down as Henry Hill, gun to his head, realises the jig is up. – Lara C Cory

(I Believe It’s) Magic – Mick Smiley (Ghostbusters, 1984)

The fusion of sound and image can have unpredictable outcomes. Ray Parker Jr’s foots-tomping theme aside, the Ghostbusters soundtrack LP is a lacklustre affair, a ragbag of mediocre new wave from acts like Air Supply and The Thompson Twins, most of which barely register in the movie. And ‘Magic’ might be the worst of the lot, a lumbering romantic ballad that appears to lift its synthesised drumbeat wholesale from ‘In The Air Tonight’ bolted to a weird, orgiastic coda in which LA session man Mick Smiley groans like a gender-swapped Jane Birkin and raps about his penis.

But incredibly, when combined with just the right set of images, this stinker comes out smelling of roses. Utilising only the coda, mercifully fading out the willy-rap section and placing what’s left over moody SFX shots of spectral lights swooping through Manhattan, director Ivan Reitman crafts a montage sequence that feels genuinely unearthly, a ghostly dream-invasion that’s more memorably far-out than almost anything else in the film. Maybe it really is magic. – Tom Huddleston

Dry the Rain – The Beta Band (High Fidelity, 2000)

While I was enchanted by it as a teenager upon its release, High Fidelity has not aged well in some ways: its dubious treatment and depiction of women being one, the somewhat passé nature of list-making being a less serious other. But the scene in which Rob Gordon announces that he will “now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band” by playing its opener ‘Dry the Rain’, remains one of the most endearing points of the film, and one that encapsulates the highly relatable moment when incidental listening, often in a public place, leads to revelation. Thanks to this film, I got over the awkwardness and shyness inherent in asking a shopkeeper, barista, or whoever, what is playing.

What was also important about ‘Dry the Rain’ here was the particular section of the six-minute song that was used. Instead of playing it from the beginning, Rob plays the anthemic, bass- and horns-driven coda, a part of the track reportedly composed by Gordon Anderson – The Beta Band’s great, mysterious, errant genius – rather than Steve Mason, Anderson’s co-writer. These few seconds led to two decades of devotion to everything Anderson has touched, from The Beta Band to Lone Pigeon to The Aliens to his exquisite contributions to another film’s soundtrack: Slow West, directed by Beta Band keyboardist John Maclean. – Barnaby Smith

Cat People – David Bowie (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)

In a room overlooking the streets of Paris, Shoshanna Dreyfus prepares for battle. In place of armour, she wears rouge and mascara with a small pistol concealed in her clutch purse. It’s the final chapter of Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist take on WWII, and in this imagining, Hitler and the members of his inner circle are hours away from being engulfed in a fiery blaze. Over the soundtrack, David Bowie’s ‘Cat People’ blasts while Shoshanna readies herself.

The song is a battle anthem for her journey from a muddy French field to Le Gamaar cinema. The lyrics fittingly invoke the image of a fighter filled with rage, one who has bided her time is about to unleash vengeance on those who have wronged her. There are many things about Inglourious Basterds that I consider perfect, and near the top of that list is this song. It’s the perfect anthem for a woman who is, indeed, about to face the fire and who has come prepared with the fuel of pain, anger, and nitrate film. The latter might as well be gasoline. – Anna Swanson

Vitamin C – Can (Inherent Vice, 2014)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s inscrutable novel may be set in 1970 Los Angeles, but that doesn’t prevent the soundtrack from including a joyful burst of pre-emptive mood- and time-shifting via Can’s ‘Vitamin C’. The song simultaneously unveils the title sequence and takes the viewer into the street life of the city and its bohemian private eye protagonist’s counter-cultural milieu, as Doc Sportello and friends move around sloping beachside alleyways and bars.

Damo Suzuki’s impassioned vocals help segue from the bafflingly dense 10-minute conversational pre-title exposition and the following ever-more convoluted plot, of one of the more bizarre film noirs yet to delve into weirder side of an over-familiar Californian setting. The soundtrack shoehorns the European underground into a scene that could, in another film, as easily have gone with the more obvious choice of Country Joe and The Fish to reference the dialogue which preceded it.

Never mind that electric frisson of hearing Can as the opening song on a big-budget Hollywood film, destined for cult status or otherwise – the music propels the story and sets the scene both perfectly and elliptically. – Richard Fontenoy

Helden – David Bowie (Jojo Rabbit, 2019)

Jojo Rabbit was extremely divisive, but, as someone who spent most of its final 40 minutes drowning in tears, the deployment of David Bowie’s German version of ‘Heroes’ was the final nail in a very emotional coffin. The movie is about reclaiming childhood innocence, and this is the moment where that finally happens. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is released from the clutch of Nazi indoctrination and Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) no longer has to live in a stranger’s secret attic to avoid state murder. The teasing, barely audible 20-second intro allows the climax to build beautifully. And then you recognise the song.

There’s something about the unmistakable sound of ‘Heroes’, maybe it’s the feeling of optimism and inspiration which we already associate with the song and its singer, or maybe it’s the inherently spine-tingling melody of the track itself, but something just clicks in that moment. And as two innocent kids dance awkwardly to seal their friendship and their futures, there’s no other needle drop to better accentuate the feeling of relief, release and elation as the curtain falls on a tale of love and purity. – Gethin Morgan

Burnin’ and Lootin’ – Bob Marley and the Wailers (La Haine, 1995)

Mathieu Kassovitz’s rebellious La Haine offers a stark introspection into police brutality. My innocent self, back in 2014 studying the film at A-Level, was not aware of the genuine cultural force and explosive nature films could wield. Opening the film’s stark depiction of life in France’s Parisian banlieue, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Burnin’ and Lootin’’ plays over the film’s credits. However, these credits are not simply standard title cards, but they come to visually embody the slow reggae beats and words of Marley’s effortlessly timeless song.

Merging sight and sound together helps to bring the viewer into the chaos and anger of rebellion against the French police. Marley’s song becomes much more than just a rhythmic beat, mesmerically mimicking the footsteps of the protestors in their search for justice. Such a subtle technique proves stirring, in the knowledge that the history of police brutality sadly repeats itself time and time again. – Alasdair Bayman

Just Like Honey – Jesus and Mary Chain (Lost in Translation, 2003)

I was 18 when Lost in Translation came out, and was, like central character Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), studiedly dowdy, impatient with ignorant silliness, and prone to intense crushes. In Charlotte herself, and in her almost-romance with droll middle-aged actor, Bob (Bill Murray) as they both float, adrift in the unfamiliar culture of Tokyo, I felt a bittersweet tug of recognition. But rewatching Lost in Translation recently with a little distance from Charlotte’s new-graduate energy, her flaws were clearer.

The film famously finishes with Bob whispering indecipherably to Charlotte as they part and he leaves Tokyo. Declaration of love? Vote of confidence? Simple farewell? Despite much analysis since, the content of Bob’s message remains unknowable – but somehow not unsatisfying: and that has a lot to do with the perfectly judged needle-drop at this moment.

As Bob backs reluctantly away from Charlotte’s embrace, leaving her trying to smile through her tears, and the inconclusivity hanging in the air, a drumbeat begins. Then in perfect synchronisation with the breakout of Bob’s wide, joyful smile, the first guitar chords of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’. And in this moment, everything comes together; the joy of connection however ephemeral, the self-examination that results from loneliness, the making-do of a lifetime marriage and the memories that soothe and challenge, all that Bob and Charlotte are – and are not – seems summed up in those chords. While the song perfectly fits the dreamy blurriness of the rest of the soundtrack, it also somehow breaks the spell.

Listen harder and the lyrics seem to cast a more cynical eye over the central relationship. The first line, “Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world” could even have been Bob’s infamous indecipherable farewell. However the implication that Charlotte is a Queen Bee in her “honey-dripping beehive” lays bare the pleasure she has taken in using her seductive youth to commandeer and bask in Bob’s gaze – as he says to Charlotte as they argue earlier in the film, “Wasn’t there anyone else there to lavish you with attention?”.

‘Just Like Honey’ also forms a neat bookend with Death in Vegas’s ‘Girls’ at the start of the film which, even if the connection between the songs is subconscious on a first watch, makes the film feel a cohesive whole. The two songs are so similar that ‘Just Like Honey’ could almost be ‘Girls’ in a tougher, more grown-up remix. Has that Girl gained a bit more life experience? This one certainly has. – Helen Murray

I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys (Magic Mike XXL, 2015)

The scene in which Richie, wonderfully portrayed by Joe Manganiello, aims to reclaim his mojo by performing for a bored gas station clerk optimises Magic Mike XXL’s surprisingly progressive feminist stance. In the scene, Richie seeks to reclaim his confidence through the only way he knows how: offering himself as a visual platter to eaten up by feminine desire. He cautiously approaches the station and upon entry is greeted on the tannoy by Backstreet Boys’ ’90s hit ‘I Want It That Way’.

The song which, like the film, is an equally extravagant mainstream hit about desire, gives Richie the edge he needs. As he begins to gyrate on the floor, he is cheered on by the rest of his male companions who champion his offering to the clerk, showcasing support in their friend’s quest for confidence. The entire scene is hilarious, sexy and incredibly entertaining – proving how feminist filmmaking can thrive on a mainstream level, one which places female desire and male friendship on centre stage. – James Maitre

Wonderwall – Oasis (Mommy, 2014)

Love him or hate him, Xavier Dolan brings nothing but complete sincerity to every film he creates. That earnestness reaches its peak in his masterpiece, Mommy, when a firecracker teen skates along a road to the voice of Liam Gallagher. Having spent the entire film boxed within the claustrophobic 1:1 aspect ratio, he brings his hands up and pushes the edges of the frame, widening it to a sprawling 1:85:1. All this happens in those few seconds between the chorus and verse, and the moment feels like pure respite: a chance to finally take a deep breath. In other hands, the scene would ring false and radiate big “anyway, here’s ‘Wonderwall’” energy, but Dolan is well-versed in those needle drops nestled deep in the heart. The result is euphoric, miraculously breathing new life into a song you’ve heard a million times before. – Iana Murray

Hello Stranger – Barbara Lewis (Moonlight, 2016)

So much of Moonlight is characterised by what is left unsaid. Its protagonist, Chiron, is painfully quiet, inured to his own loneliness, a deep-seated yearning buried beneath his brusque, tough-guy exterior. But some things open him up – a touch, a gesture of kindness, and music. In the film’s pivotal diner scene, he reunites with Kevin, an old classmate with whom he shared a brief, intense romantic encounter. When Kevin goes up to the jukebox and plays Barbara Lewis’s ‘Hello Stranger’, its words are hauntingly poignant.

Lewis croons, “It seems so good to see you back again, how long has it been?” Her backing vocalists reply, in eerie, elongated syllables, “It seems like a mighty long time.” Neither character speaks, but the air between them is charged, each gaze purposeful. The music draws a wordless connection between the two which cuts through silence, through Chiron’s shy reticence, his impulse to guard himself from pain. It provides both men a language to reckon with, for perhaps the first time, the incommunicable, bruised tenderness they still feel for each other, the gravity of so many years of loss and longing. – Ian Wang

Some Velvet Morning – Nancy Sinatra (Morvern Callar, 2002)

Cast your mind back to Lynne Ramsay’s haptic masterpiece, Morvern Callar, in which music plays a huge role in the titular character’s solitary realisations and sense of identity. The supermarket sequence, where Morvern is arriving into work listening to ‘Some Velvet Morning’ by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood on her Walkman, reaches a kind of banal euphoria as she glides through the shopping isles, the camera smoothly moving around until it faces Morvern in a slightly low angle shot, her face serious and absorbed.

We aren’t just hearing the tinny echo of the music from her earphones, this song is booming, just as it is in Morvern’s ears. It’s a sequence which is almost transcendental, where all of Morvern’s problems suddenly become non-existent and her life slots back into place. It perfectly captures that moment where music, and specifically listening to music in your headphones, lifts you up and separates you from the mundane until everything just feels right and good in your life again. – Olivia Neilson

Clair de Lune – Claude Debussy (Ocean’s Eleven, 2001)

Sometime in the early 2000s, coming down from the rush of the thrilling, effortlessly cool antics of the heist just pulled off by Danny Ocean and his associates, Claude Debussy’s eternal Clair de Lune began to play, and I fell in love with cinema. In the moment of quiet contemplation, so appreciated after the last half hour’s parade of ringing slot machines, gunfire, explosions, and shouting, the crew minus Clooney’s Ocean gets to breathe and reflect on their incredible feats while saying their goodbyes, all wordlessly for nothing but Clair de Lune could convey the gravity.

It’s a magical track that captures the splendor of seeing history’s biggest heist being successfully completed, but slow and almost melancholic as well, perfectly accentuating each departure as the notes somehow each match the minds and faces of the ten as they leave the others behind. All of it building to Carl Reiner’s final moments alone, always a touching nod to his status as the old pro that now feels particularly affecting, and finally the grand geysers of the Bellagio fountains, a spectacle they all miss, inviting us, the viewers, to be the final members of the crew. – Henry Baime

Summer from Four Seasons – Antonio Vivaldi (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, 2019)

“It’s about a coming storm,” Marianne explains to Héloïse. “The insects sense it, they become agitated,” she continues, as her intimate harpsichord recital becomes more wonky. “Then the storm breaks”. She’s talking of the third movement in Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’, but she could be talking of their fated relationship.

It’s one of only two pieces of music used in the entirety of Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire. A film where intimacy is laid out in the crackling of fires and swipes of brushes. Because Portrait is more concerned with looking. But what happens when the act of looking, or an inability to see, becomes unbearable?

Marianne spots Héloïse in a concert hall after years apart, both there separately for a performance of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. The camera holds on Héloïse as she stares out at the orchestra, unaware of Marianne’s presence. The feverish rush of strings that mark ‘Summer’’s third movement creates an overwhelming rush of emotion and memory. Marianne’s intense gaze continues to go unanswered while, in that moment, Héloïse would give anything to see her again. Breathing new life into one of cinema’s most overused classical pieces, it’s a spectacular, heartbreaking bravura finale. – Chris Taylor

Let’s Stay Together – Al Green (Pulp Fiction, 1994)

I’m not here just to prompt mid-90s nostalgia while staring at THAT poster you had on your bedroom/dorm/apartment wall, if you did. But something which Once Upon a Time in Hollywood brought back to the fore after a couple of decades away is that Quentin Tarantino gets filming in the LA basin like few filmmakers before or since. Think about how a bit later in this film, where Bruce Willis’s character walks a few blocks, enters an apartment complex – that’s real-life LA, a bit hot, concrete, echoey, welcome shade here and there.

But as for this scene in particular, Willis sitting in a bar looking and listening to Ving Rhames tell him off-camera what the deal is – it’s not the dialogue or the actor for me here, it’s the fact it IS an indoor bar on a hot LA day, Green’s masterpiece clearly heard. Right now in COVID life, the idea of just being able to go into such a place, sit down, order a drink, talk to someone or talk to nobody, nod approvingly at that song and just chill? My god, that’s almost tactile, and I want to be in that scene so badly. – Ned Raggett

Needle in the Hay – Elliott Smith (The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001)

Wes Anderson loves an on-the-nose needle drop, and nowhere is that clearer than with his use of Elliott Smith’s ‘Needle in the Hay’ in The Royal Tenenbaums. Infidelity and false promises are in the air, but the sequence starts quietly, the light hum of a mournful guitar inching in as Gene Hackman’s titular Tenenbaum blags a job as an elevator jockey. But he’s not the focus. Neither is Raleigh St. Clair, lying on the sofa, a pastiche of a cuckold in mourning. Instead, our attention is with Richie.

Richie first appears unobtrusively in the back of the frame, but as he closes the bathroom door Smith’s vocal cuts in, a clear sign that our perspective is locked to his. It’s not what Smith is singing that’s important, it’s how he’s singing it: the apathetic defeatism of each refrain, the clawing desperation of every repeated “needle in the hay”. Richie’s sole interjection, “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow” carries a similar flat affect. Both men sound exhausted.

As Smith’s strumming reaches its frenetic climax, the music cuts; we see Richie’s slumped blood-soaked body; a scream held in the void. The ensuing severity of Smith’s playing doesn’t just communicate Richie’s torment — it’s expressive of the potency of each disparate Tenenbaum’s reaction, Smith’s soft intensity paralleling the rapid fallout of Richie’s attempted suicide. It’s the rare cinematic passage that never fails to spark the same emotional impact. – Blaise Radley

Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin (School of Rock, 2003)

From the climactic battle sequence in Thor: Ragnarok to Karen O’s cover in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, ‘Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin has become a quintessential needle drop in in cinema. It makes your heart pound and moves your soul into action as though you were preparing for battle. Yet no other movie has used it as greatly as Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, arguably the director’s best work.

The comedy film sees Jack Black as Dewey Finn who impersonates a school teacher for money but winds up creating a band out of the young students he is teaching. ‘Immigrant Song’ drops when the band con their way into a competition. Excited at the prospects, Dewey starts jamming along to the song his beaten-up van. It marks a turning point in the movie, where the students and Dewey are finally on the same page, especially with class prefect Summer. After the success plan works, Dewey celebrates in true Jack Black fashion with this highly entertaining, rocking sing-along. – Sarah Cook

Runaway – Del Shannon (Siberia, 2020)

“You are not a saint, so be human. Enjoy. Fuck up. Shake your ass. Dance."

Perhaps, some context: these words arrive amid a moment of acute psychic anguish, wrought within a cavernous and subterranean hellscape. An unknown hooded figure has delivered an anti-sermon to Clint (Willem Dafoe), urging the traumatised nomad to discard his mental self-flagellations and embrace the prelapsarian bliss of childhood. Upon the mystery man’s utterance and the intuited appearance of a record player, Clint spins a 45” of 1961 pop classic Runaway and abides by Del Shannon’s terse falsetto. His body shudders, his hips rotate, and he lets his mind a run run run run runaway.

And to where does it run? A field. Heat. Shadows lengthening on the grass. A group of children whirling around a maypole. As the song hits its squealing electronic bridge solo, famously performed on Max Crook’s DIY musitron, Clint emerges as a picture of mineral ecstasy, caught in a memory of innocence before the fall, in a private return to his very own Edenic pastoral. Abel Ferrara’s justifiably preposterous film travels across the icy tundra of human experience, only to find that corporeal rhythms inspire the most delirious form of introspection. – Joseph Owen

Kool Thing – Sonic Youth (Simple Men, 1992)

I was always as baffled as I was beguiled by Hal Hartley’s movies, never more than by Simple Men, which typifies the theatrically deadpan delivery, impassive expressions and rapid-fire dialogue the director favoured. “There’s no such thing as romance,” Bill McCabe announces stiffly at one stage, “there’s only trouble and desire,” and, aged 21, I knew this was true, and that it was one of the coolest speeches I’d ever heard. I’d no idea, however, that Hartley borrowed it from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse The Gambler, nor that his third feature’s most memorable scene is another homage, this time to his hero Jean Luc Godard’s Band Of Outsiders.

On a dusty road outside, jealous Martin yells “I can’t stand the quiet!”, the dirty guitar chords opening Sonic Youth’s ‘Kool Thing’ ring out, and suddenly, as Steve Shelley’s drums kick in, the cast inexplicably begins dancing in loose formation in a Long Island bar, illuminated by Pabst neons and led by cool-as-fuck Romanian Elina. Two minutes later, the music abruptly stops, and we cut to a discussion about cultural representations of female sexuality. It’s jarring, gripping and puzzling, hilarious, audacious and impetuous. It’s also cinema at its most rock ‘n’ roll. – Wyndham Wallace

Under Pressure – Queen + David Bowie (Sing, 2016)

Garth Jennings wasn’t the first to pair this karaoke belter with animated animals, but he did it best. Koala impressario Buster Moon has hit rock bottom. He is back to washing cars in a borrowed pair of Speedos. He hears someone singing across the street and picks his sorry way through the ruins of his collapsed theatre only to find Meena – the best bashful elephant since Dumbo – singing her heart out. “Do you think you could sing like that in front of a real audience?” he asks, breathless. “I don’t know, but I wanna try,” she replies. “Good, cos I wanna see it.” He smiles. She blinks – in time with the track’s opening finger clicks – and we’re off to the races.

The whole intro – the hand claps, that cymbal choke, Deacy’s ding-ding-ding diddle ing-ding (as Brian May once described it) alternating with the clarion-like piano fifths – is the sound of something happening. And it is. Moon’s motley crew is painting props and hanging curtains, tuning guitars and brushing up on moves. It’s all fairly obvious: Freddie Mercury’s introductory “Pressure!” sees them unroll the new theatre’s blueprints; “Pray tomorrow gets me higher” has Meena in a hard hat, gurning at her own reflection in a dressing-room mirror. And it’s true that, as post-Frozen singalongs go, Jennings didn’t quite get the kind of critical plaudits he was no doubt hoping for. But five-year-olds loved this movie. And if Mercury and Bowie de-de-de-daying it to a banging bassline is their first taste of both showbiz magic and overcoming hard odds, well, what more can you ask for? – Dale Sawa

Everytime – Britney Spears (Spring Breakers, 2012)

Wretched roller-coaster rides through the smoking debris of the American dream, Harmony Korine’s films exude a mythic quality. Sun-soaked, candy-coated, and inexorably grim, his beach-noir odyssey Spring Breakers is particularly vivid, a fetish-object fantasia of half-naked bodies and gleaming gun-metal. Its actresses are former Disney starlets behaving badly, and eventually three twirl around a seaside piano, wearing pink-unicorn ski-masks, embracing shotguns against the sunset. Play "something fucking inspiring," they tell drug-dealer Alien (James Franco), their shit-grinning gateway.

Who better than Disney’s premier pop princess, sexualized in the limelight then shattered by our prying eyes, to bring the beat? As Ms. Spears’ plaintive 2003 ballad – written at the height of her fame, with an unusually disturbing music video that prophesied her mental health struggles and Christ-like persecution by paparazzi – begins as an intimate serenade then soundtracks a montage of affectless violence, Spring Breakers makes stated metafiction of its consumer-capitalist confection, using the moment Spears’ innocence began to publicly fracture to stir sympathy, even horror for its characters – amid their trancelike reveries of corruption and excess, the very ones we paid to see. – Isaac Feldberg

Perfect Day – Lou Reed (Trainspotting, 1999)

Frantic scenes of rolling, lighting, smoking, lying, twirling fade into one another as Lou Reed underscores Mark Renton’s trip into himself, as the drugs enters his bloodstream and he leaves his own mind. Reed’s devastating tone, his yearning, mournful words, both feel apt for Renton’s desired sense of calm, but also achieve something more troubling as he slowly loses his grip on reality – and the idea of "perfect" grows more and more distant.

Still – however brief it might be, even if the threat of sinking into the ground, of jumping off the edge and never coming back, even if that threat is always there, it doesn’t change the feeling in that moment. It was wrong, it was stupid. He was always going to reap what he sowed. But it was still perfect. – Ella Kemp

Les Fleurs – Minnie Riperton (Us, 2019)

I hate being emotionally bullied by songs when I watch a film. But there’s an art to seeding that fertile space before it ends. With the right song, a well-told story becomes food for thought. Minnie Riperton’s ‘Les Fleurs’, an intoxicating soul anthem from 1970, has been widely shared during this pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.

The closing scene of Us, Jordan Peele’s 2019 horror, subverts Riperton’s five-octave clarion call for political change. At first, the song’s heart-plucked guitar is a welcome balm, as a Black woman drives her family away from a blood-soaked battle for their lives. But then, the nectar of Riperton’s voice injects a trickling twist: all is not as it seems. The horror, it transpires, is within the car – and without. The song’s cyclone of brass is upturned as the camera flies over roads and forests. Ranks of red-suited, impoverished ghouls are revealed, flourishing like vengeful roses across the mountains of America.

"Inside every man is the seed of a flower/If we look within, we find beauty and power.” Peele’s film – and recent events – have shown us that the flower of love is a lie. – Soma Ghosh

Nowhere To Run – Arnold McCuller (The Warriors, 1979)

Back at Reading University in the early 2000s, Walter Hill’s The Warriorsbecame my instant benchmark of a person’s character. If they liked it, they were ok by me. And arbitrary though it may seem, the test never steered me wrong. It led to some of the best friendships of my life. And nothing sums up the outsider cool of The Warriors, "that real live bunch from Coney [Island]", the out-of-town gang who’ve got to fight their way home while falsely accused of the murder of big-time gang boss Cyrus, than this scene.

Every gang in NYC is after them, as we see from the young hoods donning their garish gang colours for a night’s patrol. The swagger of young men intent on doing as they damn well please, law & order be damned, is almost playfully exaggerated here. And Arnold McCuller’s disco version of ‘Nowhere To Run’ – the track made famous by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas – perfectly adds to the impending sense of threat to The Warriors, who at this point don’t even know they’re being accused of murder. The revitalised soundtrack’s much faster tempo and McCuller’s tougher vocal only add to scene’s moody magnificence. — Manu Ekanayake

All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix (Withnail & I, 1987)

The wrecking ball swings against a watery English sky, crashing into an old Victorian terrace, as Jimi Hendrix’ opening chords chang above the rattle of falling brick. Paul McGann, wearing a long black leather trenchcoat, gives a nonchalant glance at the destruction as he gets into a knackered Mk II Jaguar. He looks to the right, cig in mouth, and flips down sunglasses as he takes a left turn. He looks utterly smoking hot and it’s a moment that perfectly captures the spirit of Withnail & I, that genius black comedic satire on the failings of the 60s dream and a failing, seedy England.

The pair have spent the previous evening in Monty’s salubrious Edwardian flat, but this, Bruce Robinson seems to be saying as he cuts from the fruity Uncle’s hallway bust to the swinging iron, is the real England, a country of slum clearance and decay, even in its much-vaunted high-end Jaguar motor technology. McGann wears Lennon glasses but, no hippy, there’s a tough homoeroticism in how he does it. The original Dylan version of the song just wouldn’t have worked here. Hendrix’ heavy appropriation is what carries the scene, pugnacious, determined, ready to unravel into shouts of “scrubbers” through accident blackspots and appalling weather on the long drive north to Crow Crag, and and even older, backward England. – Luke Turner

What A Wonderful World – Sam Cooke (Witness, 1985)

Peter Weir’s mature, and often menacing, reflection on violence, crooked moralism and community follows Detective John Book (Harrison Ford, predictably charming but disarmingly sensitive), compelled to protect young widower Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) and her eight-year-old son when he witnesses the murder of a police officer. The trio retreat to the boy’s quiet Amish community in Pennsylvania to hide from the corruptive forces that wish for their silence to be permanent.

The impending threat that pervades the film momentarily dissipates when John introduces Rachel to the charms of Sam Cooke’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ through the rustic speakers of an old car radio. The brewing attraction between the pair has already been made apparent, but Cooke’s dulcet tones take their attraction to the next level. John takes Rachel’s hand and leads her around an old barn with the goofy abandon of someone who hasn’t danced in months.

Rachel, of course, potentially hasn’t danced her entire life. The scene is such a triumph in charming naturalism that never feels overly slick or rehearsed. The pair stumble over each other, acknowledging their lack of grace. There is a captivating display of awkward romance as John and Rachel flip flop between electrifying stares into each other’s eyes, and playful dancing attempts that might alleviate some of the sexual tension. The song cultivates a perfect atmosphere that lets the characters lean into their primal instincts, distracting them from the threats and responsibilities that consume their lives. For the duration of the song, it is just the two of them. They still know so little about one another, but they are desperate to learn. – Joe Kelly

The Concept – Teenage Fanclub (Young Adult, 2011)

It’s early in the morning, the light pale and thin. A woman gets into her car, sunglasses on, and slots a cassette into the deck. She waits for the opening squall of feedback to end – that perfect moment of scratchy ignition – then Norman Blake starts to sing about a girl wearing denim wherever she goes. Charlize Theron lets off the handbrake, and the song rolls her the drive, down the road, away from life, away from everything.

It felt wrong when I first saw it: an Oscar-winning actor having a moment with a lighter-in-the-air, ‘90s indie epic. But the opening scene of Young Adult says a lot very simply. A film about a failing teenage fiction writer still stuck in the past, its opening scene sees the camera also obsess over details. The primary-coloured shapes on the plastic. The brown spool being rewound. The repeated slam of the play button. The words “Mad Love, Buddy” still speaking from the past, in permanent ink.

Before the internet, a song often felt like a more solid thing, something we pressed and spun into existence ourselves. In Theron’s car, we’re masters of the past alongside her, transported. – Jude Rogers

Easy to Be Hard – Three Dog Night (Zodiac, 2007)

David Fincher’s Zodiac opens hovering sedately over the city of Vallejo, the night of July 4th, 1969 to the sound of Three Dog Night’s ‘Easy to be Hard’. The song is uneasily serene, at once at odds with the liveliness of the fireworks that scatter across the cityscape. It is the sound of resignation. Despondency. Already detached from the moment, you have been positioned as voyeur.

As the car then cuts through the frivolity of the suburb, and you watch, jaded-eyed, from the still-framing of the driver-side window, listening to song’s haunting melody, knowing a young woman is about to be murdered, you feel the fog begin to slide over you. You will live inside this fog for the duration of the film, as the cycle of knowing repeats itself, the killings you know will come, and the search for the killer you know will never be found. – Reece McCormack

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