Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 15th 2020
No theme songs allowed
I recently did a column about songs about birds. One of the songs I first thought of for that column was by Iron Maiden, but on listening to it more carefully and then finding the lyrics I had the feeling it was not about what I thought it was about. Sure enough, a little research told me it was actually based on the plot of a movie. That got me thinking, and before long I'd come up with six other songs based on movies or TV shows, and thus this column was born.
Songs based on TVs and Movies!
Now, I knew I would have to have some really strict rules here, and the first rule was that this was NOT going to be a list of theme songs or remade theme songs. That cut my initial list in half. This has to be songs inspired by, based on, or retelling the story of various films, released after the films in question. And that's tough! You know how many songs were written for movies, especially since the mid-90s? Wow! Second, it can't be some vague reference, but the song itself has to be about the film. My regular caveat that I have to like it is a given, but other usual rules about one song per artist and no comedy songs are being ignored for this list.
I was in two minds about songs that use films as a metaphor for something else. But I had so many other songs that I decided against it, so a classic like 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' by Elton John did not make the cut. Sorry.
Anyway, in chronological order, here's 15 songs based on films and TV shows. Enjoy!
'Horror Movie' by Skyhooks (1974) based on television news
Let's start with a song about a generic television show, but one that has been a part of the television landscape since the first broadcasts back in the dim dark days the televised news. The song is interesting it starts off as though it's about a generic horror film, but the punch-line of the "6:30 news" is still as relevant today as it was back in 1974 when this song was released. Skyhooks is another of those bands that was big in Australia and should have made it around the world, but never did. Little factoid: the first Skyhooks album I ever heard (and owned) was Live! Be In It which has a song my mother hated on it. So, Skyhooks were clearly the band for me!
'Psycho Killer' by Talking Heads (1977) based on [I[Psycho[/I] (film, 1960)
Talking Heads were a band that seemed to crop up every few years with a few brilliant songs, and that was about it, especially to most people in Australia. But my friends and I saw the concert film Stop Making Sense and we followed them after that. This song was, I think, the first one just David Byrne, an acoustic guitar and a boom box on the stage. From that moment on, we were hooked. And this song takes its themes and basic story from that classic Hitchcock film, which, really, just makes it even greater. I actually didn't realise that until I saw an interview with Byrne sometime in the 90s, so I didn't pick it up, but there you go.
'Creature From The Black Lagoon' by Dave Edmunds (1979) based on Creature From The Black Lagoon (film, 1954)
This song basically tells the story of the film from the Creature's perspective he just wanted love. That's it, really. It's a fun little song, catchy and just plain, downright weird. Still, it is good to see one of the lesser Universal monsters get some love. I actually quite like the film, and its sequels just depressed me as humanity destroyed the creature in the name of science. But we'll always have this song.
'Games Without Frontiers' by Peter Gabriel (1980)
based on Jeux Sans Frontieres (TV series, 1965-1999)
The TV show became better known in several English-speaking countries as It's A Knockout!, but the French title translates as the title of the song. Gabriel used the show's themes of adults acting like children for supremacy to shine a light on, well, adults acting like children when it came to world diplomacy. At the time, many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics for childish reasons and it seemed like the whole world was just playing a stupid televised game show. Gabriel is an intelligent writer, that's for sure.
'Key Largo' by Bertie Higgins (1981)
based on Key Largo (film, 1948)
A one-hit wonder from the 1980s, Bertie compares his love affair with that experienced by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the titular movie. In the film, Bogie is heroic and Bacall is there for him. This is actually a love story worth comparing a couple to. The song is a little cloying, but I don't mind it. However, I do really like the movie, another wonderful Bogie performance.
'The Number Of The Beast' by Iron Maiden (1982)
based on Damien: Omen II (film, 1978)
The original Omen film was not that good. Many hold it up as a fine example of the "Devil" movies, but it was just silly. The sequel was not much better, but it did have one thing the original didn't: it inspired one of the greatest Iron Maiden songs, and one the songs at the forefront of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. The song sounds like it's being told from the point of view of a dream, but it's the movie. Again, I didn't realise this until many years later when I got to know a few dyed in the wool Maiden fans. And, sure enough, a fact check before writing this told me a bad film gave rise to an awesome song.
'Eyes Without A Face' by Billy Idol (1983)
based on Les Yeux Sans Visage (film, 1960)
The film is about a doctor who cuts up various women to make a human mask for his disfigured daughter until the only thing visible are her eyes the eyes without a face. And Idol's song captures the sense of dread the film has. Now, I saw this film once, many years ago, on video when a friend was introducing me to foreign horror. At that time, the mid-90s, American horror was just blood-splatting gore-fests, more shock value than genuine scares. No, I don't like modern horror. But I like this film and I do like Billy Idol's music. The trailer, like the film, is in French.
'Where Eagles Dare' by Iron Maiden (1983)
based on: Where Eagles Dare (film, 1969)
Hey, another Iron Maiden song! This one is based on a Clint Eastwood film and this is the song which started this list in the first place. The film is a decent war action thriller with spy undertones. The plot is quite convoluted, but it is fun and is probably one of the best WW2 movies I've seen. And then there is the song. It tells the story of the film. In fact, nearly the entire album it comes from (Piece Of Mind) is made up of songs based on books, films, life stories and other not-really-music topics. There's a reason Iron Maiden are looked upon so fondly.
'I Lost On Jeopardy' by 'Weird Al' Yankovic (1984)
based on Jeopardy (TV series, 1964-present)
Yes, you knew there had to be a 'Weird Al' song here. And, yes, it's not the only one. The story of a man who went on the TV game show Jeopardy only to embarrass himself, based on the song 'Jeopardy' by The Greg Kihn Band (with Greg Kihn himself making a cameo appearance in the video clip) is something that most of us would probably relate to. Because if we went on that show, we'd be in the same boat. Fun song!
'Yoda' by 'Weird Al' Yankovic (1985)
based on: The Empire Strikes Back (film, 1980)
More Weird Al. Taking the Kinks' classic 'Lola' and turning it into a song about the titular muppet Jedi master was a master-stroke of parody song-writing and it serves its source material movie and song so well. This is rightly considered one of Weird Al's classic tracks and when I've seen him live (a few times now), the audience always sings along. It is that sort of song. There's not much more I can say.
'Star Trekkin' by The Firm (1987)
based on Star Trek (TV series, 1966-1969)
I think I might be the only person I know who likes this song, and sings it way too loudly in the car when it comes up on my playlist. I do not care. Using the old 'London Bridge Is Falling Down' music, it basically gives a character run-down of some of the major players from the original TV series of Star Trek', the music video animated using potatoes because of copyright. Online, some very clever artists have put together videos where it looks like the characters themselves are singing it, but, again copyright. Just a silly, fun song.
'Doctorin' The Tardis' by The Timelords (1988)
based on Dr Who (TV series, 1963-present)
Take Gary Glitter's sports anthem 'Rock And Roll', add the band that would later become KLF, throw in some nonsense lyrics based vaguely on the TV show Dr Who and have yourself a chart-busting hit song. Simple, really. It's not much of a song, but it was everywhere for a little while before people got sick of it and went to the next soapie star Stock, Aitken and Waterman tried to shove down our throats. I can understand why some people look upon the late eights as a bad time for pop music. At least this track was something different. And, really, Dr Who probably deserves better.
Oh, and I picked this video because it features my own favourite Dr Who.
'Breakfast At Tiffany's' by Deep Blue Something (1995)
based on Breakfast At Tiffany's (film, (1961)
This song is about a couple who the guy thinks should stay together because they like the same film. Hardly the most promising way to maintain a relationship, if you ask me, but that's pop music for you. The film is integral to the song's plot point, even if the inspiration is possibly nebulous. And this is probably another song that I am one of the few people left in the people who likes it. The film, for what it's worth, is fine, but does feature a racial caricature that would have it protested at every showing today. My, how times change!
'The Saga Continues' by 'Weird Al' Yankovic (1999)
based on: Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (film, 1999)
And we have yet another Weird Al song! Mind you, there are a few others he recorded, but the three on this list are, to my mind, the best three of this ilk. This song takes the classic 'American Pie' by Don McLean and turns it into a complete plot synopsis for the film. That's it. And it is stunningly well done and amazingly well written. This is probably the pinnacle of Weird Al's movie songs this far. And it is more entertaining than the film itself, which I find mediocre with the single worst character ever developed for a Star Wars film. No, not Jar Jar Binks (though he is awful) it's that two-headed sports commentator. Just stupid and the reality that grounded a lot of other aliens was thrown right out the window. Sorry. I'm ranting. Great song. And great trailer. Pity about the movie.
(By the way, there is a song called 'Star Wars Cantina' based on 'Copacabana' which is often attributed to Weird Al, but it is NOT by him; my research indicates that it is probably by Richard Cheese, but I can't be 100% sure. Still, another not bad Star Wars song.)
'Heroes (We Could Be )' by Alesso with Tove-Lo (2014)
based on Heroes (TV series, 2006-2010)
And we'll finish with a relatively recent song, based on the TV show Heroes, a story about ordinary people who find that they are superheroes. The premise was awesome, the first season was great and then it lost its way. I wasn't sure what it was trying to do. I never saw out the end of season 2. The song, though, is about that desire we have for being heroes like in the TV series, even if we're just normal people now. The song's writers made it very clear the TV show led to the song, so even if that sentiment sounds generic, it was still influenced heavily by the show. For what it's worth, I really enjoy the song.
The more of these song lists I write, the more amazed I am at the ability of song-writers to take literally anything and create amazing music out of it. Taking a property that is well-known and turning it into another medium whether as a comedy or a serious homage is frankly stunning. We've seen it go the other way, but the more I do of these lists, the more I can see why my own song-writing is treated as nothing more than "meh". Creative writers who come up with works like this should be celebrated and applauded.
And there you have it, fifteen songs that had their genesis in movies and TV shows. What did I miss? Sound off in the comments below and happy listening!