I know I keep harping on it, but I loved the film The Wrestler. I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling ever since I was a child–and for a short stint I also did some announcing work for an independent wrestling circuit–so I can tell you that The Wrestler is as authentic of a wrestling movie as you’re going to get.
Hopefully you also know–if you couldn’t tell by a year’s worth of blog postings–that I also hold music near and dear to my heart. Though there have been many great music films over the years, I’m still waiting for one to be made that’s just as sincerely honest to music as The Wrestler was to wrestling. (If you look back, the best music movies always seem to be comedies.)
While I wait for a start-to-finish movie that perfectly sums up what it feels like to perform, listen, and breathe music, I’ve come up with a list of what I think are the best music movie scenes of all-time. Some are funny, some are over-the-top, some have made the hair on my neck stand up, but all of them, in some unique way, capture the true essence of music.
Because this was a daunting task I decided to lay out some ground rules for myself. First of all, I eliminated all biopics from the running. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great ones made over the years, but not even the most talented actor can outperform the legendary artist they’re portraying. I’d rather watch old footage of a Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, or Johnny Cash performance, before seeing a recreation done by Jamie Foxx, Gary Busey, or Joaquin Phoenix (no offense to these guys).
Musicals have also been eliminated for consideration. Some of the scenes listed below may be a bit unbelievable (especially someone traveling through time), but let’s be honest here, in real life most groups of people don’t break out in song and choreographed-dance routines.
And finally, a movie cannot be repeated. If I didn’t instate this rule, the following list might have been overrun with scenes from Spinal Tap.
As always, if you disagree, that’s why there’s a comment section below. If you feel insulted that I didn’t include a kid in a trench coat holding a boom box over his head or a pants-less Tom Cruise singing into a candle holder, please let me know:
10. 8 Mile, “Freestyle”
Just thinking about that sex scene in the factory still makes me feel awkward. If I ever scroll through the menu guide and see this movie on television, I won’t watch it unless it’s down to its final 10 minutes–that’s when all the good stuff happens. B-Rabbit (Eminem) breezes through a freestyle tournament and rips Papa Doc a new one in the greatest silver-screen freestyle battle of all-time.
9. Rock Star, “Stand Up”
No, Rock Star was not a great movie, but whenever I get into an argument about the film, I always try to point out that the performance scenes feel authentic. Rock Star wonderfully captures the vibe of a live arena show. The crowd shots and reverb-drenched vocals help, but what really puts it over the top is that Steel Dragon is comprised of guys that can actually play their instruments, who have actually rocked arenas before–Jeff Pilson (Foreinger), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), and Jason Bonham (son of John, who has also played drums for a little group called Led Zeppelin).
8. Saturday Night Fever, “You Should be Dancing”
Say what you want about disco, but whether you like it or not, when a circle opens up on a dance floor at a wedding reception, how many of you secretly wish you could command it with as much presence as Tony Manero (John Travolta)?
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Twist and Shout“
Cheesy? Sure. But the film does such a great job of selling us on Ferris Bueller’s one-of-kind, dynamic personality, that by the time he jumps on the float at the Von Steuben Day Parade we have full faith in his ability to work a crowd. Admit it, if you were at that parade you’d be singing and dancing along too.
6. Hustle and Flow, “Whoop That Trick”
Don’t know if there has ever been a better scene in a movie that has captured the organic process of a hip-hop song being made. Behind a thick, juicy beat, with Shelby (DJ Squalls) tapping away on the drum machine pads, Djay (Terrence Howard) delivers some impassioned live rhymes–and by that I mean he’s not lip syncing to a pre-existing vocal track that sounds like it was recorded in a thousand-dollar-an-hour studio.
5. The Wedding Singer, “Somebody Kill Me“
Ever since the first guitar was strung, guys have been singing about love gone wrong. In The Wedding Singer when Julia (Drew Barrymore) asks Robbie (Adam Sandler) to play her a song he’s been working on, does he pull out an acoustic guitar and sing a profoundly poetic ballad? Quite the opposite. While playing electric guitar through his twin-reverb amp, Robbie sings (among other things), “Kill me! I want to die! Put a bullet in my heeeaaaad!” How many of us have been in Robbie’s shoes and penned similar (explicitly laced) lyrics? I have.
4. The Blues Brothers, “Rawhide”
If I can only pick one musical scene from the movie I’ve got to go with The Blues Brothers’ performance of “Rawhide” at Bob’s Country Bunker. I’ve been in bands before where the crowd just wasn’t feeling our original material. In this situation you can do one of three things: 1.) Play what you want anyway and annoy the crowd even more, 2.) Tuck your tail between your legs and get the hell out of there, or 3.) Speak to the crowd’s tastes and win ’em over with a cover song you know they’ll love. Since the first two weren’t options for The Blues Brothers (where are you going to run when you’re trapped on a stage barricaded with chicken wire?), they chose option three, which produced magnificent results.
3. Back To The Future, “Johnny Be Good”
If only a time-traveling Dolorean really existed–imagine all the musical possibilities. Since Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, or Angus Young aren’t able to take their ax through the space-time continuum, we see how it would play out through Marty McFly’s fret board. Not only did he introduce rock and roll to the teens of Hill Valley, he also showed them their first guitar solo–years before it became big-rock protocol. And oh yeah, if it wasn’t for Marty McFly, we’d never know who Chuck Berry was.
2. Spinal Tap, “Rock and Roll Creation”
With so many classic scenes to choose from it’s tough to pick just one, huh? Even more so than the tiny Stonehenge stage prop, the scene with the birthing cocoons brilliantly parodies the pitfalls of a big-rock show. It’s so spit-your-pop-out funny when Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) gets trapped inside of his pod–while a roadie frantically tries to unlock him–because you know this has happened countless times on the road to countless other self-important bands like Spinal Tap.
1. Wayne’s World, “Bohemian Rhapsody“
This is the greatest music scene in movie history, because let’s face it; more people listen to music than make music. Wayne and Garth’s now legendary sing-a-long is a scene that has played out ever since automobile manufacturers installed the first car stereo system. As with most car sing-a-longs, not every passenger knows all the lyrics (isn’t that right Garth?), but everyone knows when the big breakdown happens. I dare you to play Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and not bang your head four-minutes-and-seven-seconds into the song. As far as movie scenes go, this is as real as everyday music gets.