Like every kid that was born and raised during the ‘90s, I can hardly remember a time when Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” wasn’t playing on the radio. We’d hear it in the car, in the supermarket; I’m shocked that it never entered my dreams.
Even if we didn’t know it at the time, that was, arguably, the biggest song of the decade, thanks to a little movie called “Titanic.” You might’ve heard of it.
It seems like we have always had those iconic movie songs. You know, the ones where you hear the opening notes, or the first word and it takes you right back to that scene. Those moments where the scene and the song mesh so perfectly that the two can hardly be separated.
I mean, can anyone listen to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” without picturing Judd Nelson throwing his fist in the air as he crosses the football field at the end of “The Breakfast Club”?
Though recently, I’ve noticed that there are less movie themes in films today. There will always be orchestral scores by Hans Zimmer and the like, but where are the big, quintessential chart-topping hits?
These songs were everywhere in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and boy, did they do well. Saying that “My Heart Will Go On” was an immense hit would be a vast understatement. In addition to winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1997 and four Grammys in 1999, it sold 15 million copies and debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1.
Of course, not every song in a movie can be judged by that standard, but that’s what these types of songs were known and created for. They would be everywhere, they’d make tons of money and, of course, they would produce a lot of publicity for their respective film.
The top contender in recent years for a big movie hit in that vein was definitely “Skyfall,” sung by British songstress Adele for the titular James Bond film. It became the first theme song for the franchise to win an Oscar for Best Original Song, and it topped iTunes UK’s bestsellers a mere 10 hours after its release.
But James Bond films are the odd one out. Their opening songs are as expected as 007’s shaken-not-stirred martini. Nowadays, I find that films are going more for the jukebox approach, by taking a bunch of already well-known songs and using them as the soundtrack, rather than opting for one big standout theme.
You’re more likely to find your favorite director utilizing a pre-existing song in an interesting way, rather than having a song made simply for the movie. And even then, the song might not even garner that much attention.
For instance, the 2011 film “Drive” used Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” over the montage in its opening credits. Regardless of where I am when I hear that song, I’m automatically transported to that scene with Ryan Gosling’s brooding character, silently driving the streets of LA.
However, even though the song is deeply associated with the film, it’s not one of those songs that’ll make you want to go out to the theaters. It’s a great song, but it certainly isn’t a track that seeps into the general consciousness. It didn’t even crack the Billboard charts. Despite that, many people saw and enjoyed “Drive,” though not to the extent of “Titanic” or “The Breakfast Club.”
Plenty of big hits from the past few years contained barely any outside music, but they managed to generate their own publicity and large amounts of revenue. “Avatar,” the film that surpassed “Titanic” as the highest-grossing film of all time, managed to fill theaters without the warbling tones of Celine Dion. So, do we even need these kinds of songs anymore?
There’s a positive side to it, even if our iPods suffer for it. It forces Hollywood to be a little more creative. Rather than simply being able to connect to an immense group through a relatable song, the focus is returned more to the scene itself. Instead of drawing in people with an “aw, yeah” type of musical moment, you have to be more compelling on screen, visually and atmospherically.
Music and film can be incredibly personal, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. If huge pop hits can take a backseat in exchange for more thoughtful writing, we all might be the better for it.
Nia Prater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.