Add This To Your Playlist: Week Twenty-Four- This Is Our Song

Sometimes the thing that makes a book or a movie so enchanting is the songs you associate with them. Would The Breakfast Club really be as iconic as it is if they hadn’t ended the film with Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”? Or what about the chilling soundtrack from Jaws that slowly became more intense as the shark got closer to its next victim? The truth is that music affects how we perceive and experience media. It sets the tone of the entire scene and tells us how we should feel about the characters and the situation. Learning a character’s favorite song can also provide the viewer with an insight into what kind of a person the character is and what they value most. Here are some songs represented in media that left a lasting impact.

 

  1. 1. “Waltz #2 (XO)” by Elliott Smith

    I found this gem through the book Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. You may be more familiar with the 2018 movie adaptation Love, Simon that became renowned as one of the first movies to be shown in theaters centered on the coming-of-age experience of a gay teenager. Although the movie certainly made history (and is definitely worth the watch), it completely omitted this track that was central to the email conversations between Simon and his love interest Blue in the book. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is about Simon Spier, a sixteen-year-old high school student from Atlanta, Georgia who sees an online posting about another closeted gay kid at his high school. The two begin anonymously emailing each other until one day when someone else finds their emails and begins blackmailing Simon. While Simon makes it no secret that he adores Elliott Smith in the novel, all we see in the movie is one shot in which an Elliott Smith poster is visible.

     

    While the song at first seems mellow, the true meaning behind the lyrics of “Waltz #2 (XO)” is more than a little macabre. The song focuses on Elliott Smith’s mother, Cathy who is stuck in an abusive relationship with her husband. Smith compares his mom to a “dead china doll” as she stares blankly into space, contemplating the consequences of her decision to stay in the relationship. The abuse has made her distant from the other people in her life, but Elliott still resolves to “love [her] anyhow.” More than this, Elliott believes that he has let his mother down. He thinks that he hasn’t done enough in his life to really have made something of himself and repeats the phrase “you’re no good” as a way to chastise himself for failing her and their relationship. This song is one about childhood traumas and a lack of self-worth.

     

  2. 2. “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” by Counting Crows

    This song is featured in the television series Roswell, New Mexico as a look into Rosa Ortecho’s life. The show focuses on main lead Liz Ortecho and her time grappling with her sister Rosa’s death, trying to find out more about the mystery behind it and dealing with the people from her past. What viewers come to know about Rosa throughout the show is that her head was constantly caught up in a 90s song, scribbling lyrics on her hand or writing broody notes to herself, but “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” was always her favorite. It was the song she would play when everything else felt like it was falling apart and she just needed a reminder of the good side of life.

     

    “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” is a song written in reference to Hollywood actress Monica Potter, but it more clearly states the values of people living with silver spoons and how lackluster life for those in the spotlight of fame can really be. Duritz was inspired to write this song after having a dream about Potter and incorporated that disoriented feeling into the lyrics. In the first stanza, he relates his feeling to a dream in which he “nevers [knows] anyone at the party, but [he’s] always the host.” He feels as though he’s lost in his life without any real support system, but he’d still made responsible to clean up after everyone else. Through his life, he’s “walking a tightrope of fortune and fame,” unable to balance his life as a star with his own personal needs. In the chorus, he begs Mrs. Potter not to cry because he knows that while life on the outside of fame looks glamorous and full of prosperity, he knows that the inside is bleak and isolating. This song is a promise for things to get better and a way to remember what it feels like to be alive.

     

  3. 3. “Asleep” by The Smiths

    “Asleep” is an important track to both the book and the movie versions of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The book version of this story is written in letters to the main character Charlie’s friend. He writes these letters as a sort of diary, cataloging day-to-day events he experiences as he navigates his time in high school. “Asleep” comes into play when Charlie first hears the song and falls in love with it, then featuring it on a mixtape he later gives to one of his friends. The song gradually becomes the anthem for Charlie’s life as it describes the kinds of struggles he deals with through mental health and trauma.

     

    While “Asleep” may seem like a relatively innocent song from its title, the underlying message is a lot darker. The speaker of the song opens by asking another person to “sing [them] to sleep” so that they can go peacefully into this more sedated state of consciousness. The speaker is on their last legs here, in a state of despair where the only thing they believe will make it more manageable is if they stopped feeling anything and just went to sleep. The message is more clearly understood as the speaker then sings, “Don’t try to wake me in the morning ‘cause I will be gone.” He intends for this to be his final resting place. He spends the song trying to reassure his loved ones that it’s okay that he’ll be gone and that it is, in fact, better off if he goes. The speaker of the song may think they are doing the world favors by not being around anymore, but the sentiment is clearly not shared by anyone else.

  4. 4. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

    If you’re a fan of romantic comedies at all, then you know exactly why this song made the list. In the 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger co-star to form the most unexpected yet irresistible couple in 10 Things I Hate About You. While Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) has seemed to have sworn off all men, her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is a magnet for male attention. When new kid Cameron Jones (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds himself smitten with Bianca, he must convince Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), the resident bad-boy, to date Kat because of the girls’ father’s rule that Bianca can’t start dating until her older sister does. But when Patrick realizes that his feelings are no longer contingent on a bribe, he has to pull out all the stops (including using Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to his advantage) in order to gain Kat’s trust and affection.

     

    As the song title might suggest, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is a power ballad of infatuation. Valli sings about his star-struck awe as a girl walks into the room and takes his breath away. He says, “At long last love has arrived” because he believes this girl is an angel on Earth who has come to bless him with her beauty. Even though she’s just come into his life, he feels the overwhelming impulse to be with her. In fact, he sings, “I love you baby and if it’s quite alright I need you, baby.” Not only is she beautiful, but she’s clearly put him under some sort of spell that’s made him believe he’s in love with her. I guess only time will tell how long this one lasts.

     

  5. 5. “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

    Something new that has become increasingly popular with modern authors is to include playlists that inspired their stories or characters in the backs of their books or attached to their social media. It’s no secret that music can be a big inspiration, but it also adds a lot of depth to the story when you can listen to a soundtrack in tandem with it. “Into My Arms” was featured in Rainbow Rowell’s novel Carry On, an enemies-to-lovers romance story loosely based on J.K. Rowling’s famous series Harry Potter. The novel follows Simon Snow, an 18-year-old magician from the Watford School of Magicks who seems to be the worst chosen one in existence. He can barely get his powers to work, but he’s the realm’s only hope against the Insidious Humdrum. His long-time rival, Baz Grimm-Pitch, just so happens to be his roommate and is constantly trying to thwart his plans.

     

    This slow love ballad takes listeners on the journey of Nick Cave’s most intimate wishes as he pulls his love closer “Into [his] arms.” The speaker of the song is clearly in love and wants to show the person that he loves that he’s really in it. He begins by saying, “I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but I know, darling that you do.” Even though he has no affiliation with any organized religion and isn’t taken with God’s persuasions, he feels so close to this other person that he’s willing to pray to that God so that he doesn’t lose the love of his life. Staying with the theme of religion, he then says, “I don’t believe in the existence of angels, but looking at you I wonder if that’s true.” He knows that there is something truly divine about this other person, even if he can’t prove it through science or religion. Whether there are angels or not, Cave is sure that he does believe in love and he believes in the possibility of the two of them together.

  6. 6. “Bennie & the Jets” by Elton John

    This song has been wildly popular for years and is referenced in a great number of things, but perhaps my favorite use of this song comes from the movie 27 Dresses in which Jane and her rival/love interest Kevin drunkenly spew out all of the wrong lyrics to “Bennie and the Jets” whilst dancing on a table top. The rom-com follows Jane Nichols, the greatest friend, and the best bridesmaid a girl could ask for. But after having been a part of 27 weddings, she keeps wondering when it will be her turn. For years, she has lusted after her brilliant and caring boss, Greg, but when she meets magazine columnist Kevin Doyle who’s anything but supportive of her idealism of weddings, she just might be second-guessing the picture-perfect life she had envisioned for herself.

     

    Though this song has topped the charts, few stop to listen to what the lyrics are really saying. The songwriter of “Bennie & The Jets,” Bernie Taupin, has said that the song is a commentary on the music industry in the 1970s. The lyrics take us through the perspective of a casual listener who is more intrigued by the lights and the effects than they are by the sound. The song peppers in references to the era by using terms such as “electric music” as the 70s marked the beginning of creating music with electronics and “solid walls” that were created by the layering of several instruments over each other whilst playing in unison. In the chorus, John sings about the “electric boots and mohair suits” worn by the performers, their style a product of the industry at the time. While it’s a smash hit, this song is also a time capsule into John’s experience working within the music industry of the 1970s.

     

  7. 7. “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes

    Now you may have heard this song because of the He-man video that went viral eight years ago, but the song has been notable for several other reasons. More recently, this track was featured in the hit Netflix series Sense8. The story followed eight individuals from all over the globe who were inexplicably connected to one another through their minds and senses. As they try to discover more about themselves and where they came from, the group is forced into many trials in which they must rely on each other’s help. “What’s Up?” becomes a sort of anthem for the group as they make their way through drug abuse, forced lobotomization and imprisonment.

     

    “What’s Up” is all about existentialism and the futility of life as we know it. The themes in this song are driven by a woman’s journey to truth as she questions everything she has ever come to know. She has a revelation when she realizes that “the world is made up of this brotherhood of man,” because ultimately, we implement the borders that divide us. She’s trying to say that we’re all the same, but because of our minute disagreements, we’ve chosen to polarize and isolate ourselves from other people. She feels like she’s fed up being trapped in a world that she can’t control, and so she finally asks “What’s going on?” because she’s afraid of the future we’ve created for ourselves. Instead, she keeps climbing the “great big hill of hope” until she finds a silver lining.

     

Music makes us feel things that words and pictures alone cannot. If we allowed ourselves to experience all of the media we consume without their carefully curated soundtracks, would we even be experiencing the same film, television show, or novel? Next time you watch your favorite movie on Netflix, stop and think about what draws you into those emotional moments.