Do you ever feel like you know certain songs, but can’t remember from where? There’s a high probability you’ve been subconsciously consuming music whenever it’s played in the background of a movie. This is true for a handful of songs — also known as needle drops — given the fact that some are used more commonly than others. Maybe it’s the catchy melodies or the theme that runs through the songs and can be used almost anywhere, one thing is for sure: they are used pretty often throughout the history of cinema.
Indeed, music and film have gone hand-in-hand ever since cinema’s early days. The partnership between the two has even brought together major industry players within both media. Famous musical artists have composed soundtracks for movies, while others have either written a song specifically for a film or lent their tracks to one. The songs in the list below are some of the most commonly used in movies.
8 “Under Pressure” — Queen and David Bowie
British rock band Queen and singer David Bowie sure knew how to make complete bangers that would be used almost everywhere for the future to come. The song “Under Pressure” talks about the pressures of conformity that is put on us by the society, so it has some pessimistic undertones. “Under Pressure” nevertheless acts as a relevant needle drop in many popular movies. Grosse Pointe Blank plays the song when the main character Martin deals with his internal struggles concerning his family. We can also hear it in the rom-com The Girl Next Doorin the superhero movie Zoomas well as in the buddy comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. What probably stays as the greatest use of the song is its inclusion in The World’s Greatest Dad starring Robin Williams.
7 “You Can’t Touch This” — MC Hammer
Considered his signature song, “U Can’t Touch This” is a single produced and performed by American rapper MC Hammer. The song has become so popular that it has constantly been included in not only movies, but also TV shows and commercials. The hit has been used in movies such as the action comedy Tropic Thunder with Ben Stiller, the drama adventure into the wild, and the K-Mart shopping scenes in Grown Ups 2. The most memorable use of “U Can’t Touch This” may for many of you be in the dance-off scene in the cult classic cop comedy White Chicks.
6 “Sweet Home Alabama” — Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama” was released back in 1974, but surely hasn’t been forgotten, as it’s been used in movies and TV series left and right. Although a different version, the song was recreated by Eminem himself in a movie about his life 8 Mile. Joe Dirt — a movie about a man looking for his long-lost parents — has also seen the song becoming part of its official soundtrack. We cannot forget the movie that borrowed the song’s title in all its glory: Sweet Home Alabama. Do you remember the dance scene in Con Air with Nicolas Cage? Yes, that was “Sweet Home Alabama” as well. Last, but definitely not least, the most iconic use when Forrest dances with his beloved Jenny in Forrest Gump.
5 “What A Wonderful World” — Louis Armstrong
Originally recorded by Louis Armstrong, “What A Wonderful World” is also included in the Grammy Hall of Fame. The list of movies that feature this song is probably endless, but we’ve picked some of the best. It’s been used in the radio scene in good morning, vietnam, when Alex is left all alone in Madagascar, in 12 Monkeys when James Cole wants a different song, in the elevator scene in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, and in the American terrorism montage in Bowling for Columbine. The list goes on and on.
4 “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
You may not know this, but “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” was originally written for the 1939 controversial film The Wizard of Oz. Thanks to its popularity, it became Judy Garland’s signature song. The song talks about finding a place where no one would get into any trouble, almost like a safety zone to escape to. The iconic song has also been used in the romantic comedy 50 First Dates, in the drama Finding Forresterthe romantic fantasy movie Meet Joe Black starring Brad Pitt, and the action movie Snakes on a Plane.
3 “London Calling” — The Clash
English rock band The Clash released the song “London Calling” with their third studio album, talking about themes such as social displacement, racial conflicts, and drug use. The lyrics serve as the perfect song for establishing London as a new location in any movie. Scenes like these that you may recognize is James Bond’s flight to London in Die Another Day. “London Calling” is also played during the opening sequence in the second Conjuring movie. The song has also been used for a typical montage of the iconic landmarks of the city, such as in the Billy Elliot movie and Night at the Museum.
2 “Fortunate Son” — Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Fortunate Son” is a song by rock band American Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song became a symbol for the anti-war movement, hence why it’s used so much in movies concerning the Vietnam War or Americans’ involvement in overseas wars. The best examples include Forrest and Bubba arriving into the Vietnam combat zone in Forrest Gumpthe end credits for the movie Die Hard 4.0and the end credits for the movie battleship. “Fortunate Son” is also in the official soundtrack for the DC superhero movie Suicide Squad and is also used for a war rescue scene in the movie war dogs.
1 “Spirit in the Sky” — Norman Greenbaum
Known for being one of the best-selling one-hit wonders of all time, “Spirit in The Sky” is a song by American singer-songwriter Norman Greenbaum. It appears that Forrest Gump has a magnificent soundtrack list full of iconic hits, because “Spirit in the Sky” is yet again one of the songs on the list. It’s also been used in scenes such as Evan speaking to God in Evan Almighty, in the space docudrama Apollo 13, and in the sports drama Remember The Titans. Although not used in the movie directly, “Spirit in The Sky” is also included in the official soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy and was used for one of the trailers.