Music can make or break a scene. A scene can shift from comedy to satire to tragedy depending entirely on the music used. As films grew more ambitious and the entertainment world constricted to being branches of the same companies, popular musicians began to intermingle with popular movies. In some cases, musicians would be commissioned for original songs for a soundtrack. In some cases, the artist will go all in and write a song from scratch for the movie; Tom Petty wound up writing a full album of music for the 1997 drama She’s The One. Other times, they’ll simply take an outtake from previous recording sessions and re-purpose it for a film. While this can often have great results, it can also have terrible ones. My favourite results, however, are when the pairings just makes no sense at all.
The Song: Goo Goo Dolls – Before It’s Too Late
The Movie: Transformers – 2007, dir. Michael Bay
I secretly like the Goo Goo Dolls. They’re not my favourite band by any stretch, but they write solid pop songs with huge hooks and seem to actually know how to use epic strings for epic effect. They’re also no strangers to soundtracks; “Iris” from the City of Angels soundtrack is actually an example of a song that surpasses the movie in terms of popularity (I don’t know anyone who’s seen City of Angels, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know “Iris”). Their power ballads are their bread and butter, so they’re a bankable band to call up for a love song for your epic romance flick, right? Right.
So why are they writing songs for Transformers? The film’s romantic subplot is pretty thin, but he still ponied up for the Goo Goo Dolls for their love song. It’s a fine song to be sure, and it would have had great effect as the love song for any full-fledged romantic drama. But instead, the song bears the distinction of being the love song from a movie about giant fighting robots. At least it has company; The Fray contributed a weepy piano ballad to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The Song: R. Kelly – Gotham City
The Movie: Batman and Robin – 1997, dir. Joel Schumacher
Batman and Robin did an awful lot wrong. When I was 12 years old, I loved it. But I was 12, and that’s a valid excuse. No writer, director, or producer on that movie was 12. So much has been written about what they did wrong, so I won’t go into that, but upon further reflection, the strongest nail in the coffin is a slow hip-hop/R&B tune about staring down poverty from R. Kelly. Maybe because Kelly paired images and lyrics of urban decay with scantily clad dancers, lots of glossy shiny things, and glamour shots of the Batmobile in the music video, or maybe it’s because it appears that Kelly just tacked really vague Batman references (and wildly inaccurate ones at that; Gotham City is neither particularly loving nor peaceful) onto an existing song to get it on the soundtrack, but the track comes across as pretty insincere. The closest the movie comes to commenting on poverty is a biker gang who were only can only afford to decorate their lair with blacklight paint. What’s curious here is that the Batman and Robin soundtrack contains about the only original element of the entire production that seemed to understand the Batman mythology at all; leave it to a tortured soul with a flair for the theatrical like Billy Corgan to understand the caped crusader, but the Smashing Pumpkins two songs written for the soundtrack could have just as easily been written for Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and been a better fit.
The Song: A320 by the Foo Fighters
The Movie: Godzilla – 1998, dir. Roland Emmerich
“A320” is one of the stronger Foo Fighters songs that didn’t get properly released as a single (“MIA” being another). At first blush, it’s about flying in an airplane. Upon closer inspection, it’s more likely about either leaving a loved one or being scared of flying. I assure you that it’s not at all about a giant mutant lizard, no matter how far-fetched your interpretation of the lyrics are. And it’s not the only entry on the soundtrack that’ll raise an eyebrow. The Godzilla soundtrack would, on it’s own, be a nice time capsule of alternative rock from the late 1990’s, but as a companion piece to the movie, it’s superfluous at best. The soundtrack’s only notable mention of the monster comes from Rage Against The Machine, who refer to the beast as “pure motherfucking filler”. Draw your own conclusions on that one, folks.
The Song: How Do I Live? by Trisha Yearwood
The Movie: Con Air – 1997, Dir. Simon West
Con Air is just a fun movie. There’s a lot of scenery chewing from John Malkovich and Ving Rhames, over-the-top stunts, a complete disregard for the laws of physics, and a particularly spectacular combination of bizarre wig/bizarre accent for Nicolas Cage to play with. The action scenes are abundant and exciting, and while it’s not a great movie, it never really aspires to be; criticizing it for that would be like criticizing a skateboard for not being a BMW. It’s escapist entertainment.
So why is there a pop-country ballad about loss and longing attached to it? The film’s romantic subplot is a particularly token one, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer thought it important enough to call on a major recording star to sing. And I suppose this serves as a case where being wrong and strong pays off for everyone involved; the song received an Oscar nomination for Best Original song despite having nothing to do with prisoners, airplanes, or explosions.
The Song: I Need to Wake Up by Melissa Etheridge
The Movie: An Inconvenient Truth – 2005, dir. Davis Guggenheim
Not because it’s a particularly bad song (it’s not) or because it’s a particularly bad movie (it’s not), or because they don’t match well (they do), but because of the unfortunate wording required when the song won the Oscar for best song: Repeat after me:
“I need to wake up from An Inconvenient Truth“.
Neither title is bad or even misleading, but paired together, it’s statement about the movie is one that nobody involved really wanted to be making. And one that the documentary industry as a whole was probably content to do without.