A great soundtrack makes a great show—or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, all I know is when a show or movie has one great song after another, my memories of the production overall are much fonder. Some of the following picks are predictable, as they were used to convey a certain time period or mood onscreen. Others are somewhat random background songs of movies that I just happened to find on Netflix. Regardless, they’ve all made the cut to my top 10 songs that I have discovered this way!
- “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” - Neil Diamond
Any self-proclaimed film junkie is probably familiar with Uma Thurman’s dancing scene to this song in Pulp Fiction. In the 1994 film, she sings along to the Urge Overkill version of this Neil Diamond song. When I googled the song (as I didn’t know what it was), I listened to the original version, which is more soulful as opposed to the alternative rock band’s cover, but both have the same dance-around-your-room potential.
- “Sway” - Dean Martin
This one was a hidden gem. In the Silver Linings Playbook scene where Pat and Tiffany are getting ready to go onstage to compete their dance routine, we can hear their competitors dancing to Michael Bublé’s version of “Sway” in the background, and it was too catchy not to look up. In general, I am a big fan of Dean Martin’s suave voice (see: “Everybody Loves Somebody” and “Volare”) and naturally loved his version of the song. Now both his and Bublé’s versions are actively on my song rotations.
- “Blue Bayou” - Roy Orbison
The critically acclaimed TV show Stranger Things has been praised for many reasons, among them, its absolutely killer ‘80s soundtrack. This song, from the late ‘70s, is slightly different in that it is blues-y with its country-rock influence than many of the other songs on the soundtrack. Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” plays in the background of Nancy and Johnathan’s awkward breakfast at Murray’s house.
- “The Gypsy” - The Ink Spots
I found the movie Revolutionary Road rather depressing (I don’t know what I was expecting), but I did glean this excellent song from it. While still fitting the heavy tone of the movie, this 1946 song is an interesting listen with its whimsical vocals and playful piano.
- “Love My Way” - The Psychedelic Furs
Ah, what I would give to be a carefree Timotheé Chalamet dancing the summer night away in Italy to this song. It appears twice in the film Call Me By Your Name, so it’s probably important to the character arcs in some way, but I am not a film analyst and honestly only really care about the song itself. 10/10 for danceability, and that’s all I have to say.
- “Asleep” - The Smiths
A raw, emotional moment in Season 1 of Sex Education, this song plays during Maeve’s abortion scene. Be warned: there’s something about the piano coupled with Morrissey’s voice that induces crying very easily. And choosing to pair it with this particular scene, the producers truly did not hold back for us. It’s okay. I forgive them.
- “Cry Me a River” - Julie London
We’ve all heard this song before (or at least cultural references to it, including the Justin Timberlake song). While watching V for Vendetta, I loved the eerie tone of London’s fluid voice—it was very fitting for the overall mood of the movie.
- “Girls on Film” - Duran Duran
As I mentioned before, the ‘80s setting of Stranger Things is one of the cornerstones of the show, from costumes to hair to music... but we’re here to talk about the music. This song plays during a party scene in Season 1 and is much more typical of a teen movie in the time period than the Roy Orbison song noted earlier.
- “Boys Don’t Cry” - The Cure
Sex Education is a puzzling show in that no one can really put an exact label on the setting. With trademark hits from all over the last few decades, though, the soundtrack is arguably one of the best parts of the show. The song “Boys Don’t Cry” is a fitting choice to convey Otis’s teenage angst, especially as he blasts it in his room to avoid speaking to his mother.
- “Love Really Hurts Without You” - Billy Ocean
We’re closing off with yet another one from Sex Education, and that’s because I just love this soundtrack so much. This is the song that Jackson uncomfortably (yet successfully?) serenades Maeve with in the cafeteria… classic. From the mid-’70s, this song definitely fits more into the soul/blues genre and is a fun listen that’s bound to make you smile whenever you hear it… even if it’s in a somewhat cringe-worthy high school TV show scene.