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‘Do the Right Thing’ Tops The Dissolve’s 50 Greatest Movie Pop Music Moments with Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’

'Do the Right Thing' Tops The Dissolve's 50 Greatest Movie Pop Music Moments with Public Enemy's 'Fight the Power'

Since Simon & Garfunkel showed up in “The Graduate” and Steppenwolf played in “Easy Rider,” popular music has become a regular feature on the big screen. A well-placed song by Quentin Tarantino or Jonathan Demme can be as effective as any John Williams score in a Spielberg movie. We all have our favorites (“Loveless Love” in Demme’s “Something Wild” is one of mine), but the folks over at The Dissolve compiled a list of the 50 greatest pop music moments in movies, and nit-picking aside it’s hard to argue with them. The full list is here, but here’s the top ten:

1. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (“Do the Right Thing”)
2. “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles (“A Hard Day’s Night”)
3. “I’ve Seen It All” by Bjork (“Dancer in the Dark”)
4. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In” by The First Edition (“The Big Lebowski”)
5. “Theme from ‘Shaft'” by Isaac Hayes (“Shaft”)
6. Various songs by Iggy Pop, Public Enemy, Johann Strauss (“The Lovers on the Bridge”)
7. “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison (“Blue Velvet”)
8. “I Put a Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (“Stranger Than Paradise”)
9. “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger, “Jesse’s Girl” by Rick Springfield and “99 Luftballoons” by Nena (“Boogie Nights”)
10. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (“Wayne’s World”)

“Fight the Power” is as good a number 1 pick as one could have, given that it immediately sets the tone of blistering anger and energy that director Spike Lee maintains throughout the film. Here’s Nathan Rabin on that choice:

Cinematic introductions don’t get more dramatic or inspired than Rosie Perez’s first scene in “Do The Right Thing” (which was also her film debut). The film opens with Perez, then best known as a choreographer and dancer, dancing by herself on an empty stage, while images of the Brooklyn neighborhood where the film takes place are projected in the background. And it all plays against the incendiary backdrop of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power.” Perez’s dancing is aggressive and pugilistic; she alternates between skin-tight outfits and boxing attire in a sequence that establishes a tone of feverish intensity before its characters speak a single word. This is what throwing down the gauntlet looks and sounds like.

Personally, I’m a bit surprised that nothing in a Martin Scorsese movie cracked the top ten (though I also think Scorsese cues could fill a whole top 50 list). The highest Scorsese moment went to the use of “Layla” in the “bodies all over” montage in “Goodfellas.” Scott Tobias writes:

The second movement of Derek And The Dominos’ “Layla” marks a dramatic shift from the virtuosic guitar rock of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman to a piano coda that affects a more melancholy tone. The sense of finality in the coda, of something great coming to a end, makes it the perfect cue to signify the bitter, bloody conclusion to Henry Hill’s mafia adventures in Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas.” After pulling off the dramatic Lufthansa heist of 1978, many of Henry’s cronies ignore a directive to keep from conspicuous spending, and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) makes them pay the ultimate price for it, starting with a couple found in a pink Cadillac with the blood-spattered sticker still on it. As Scorsese’s camera glides over a montage of bodies, Henry wistfully recalls a good job gone bad and looks ahead to their psychotic partner Tommy (Joe Pesci) becoming a made man. “Layla” signals ill portents on that front, too.

As always, The Dissolve included some off-the-radar picks, choices that might not be as intuitive as, say, “Stuck in the Middle” in “Reservoir Dogs” or “Stayin’ Alive” in “Saturday Night Fever” but are no less powerful in context. For one of those, Mike D’Angelo contributed a characteristically idiosyncratic pick: Yes’s “Heart of the Sunrise” in Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo ’66.”

To the minor extent that Vincent Gallo’s directorial debut has a plot, it involves his character, Billy, seeking revenge on the Buffalo Bills placekicker whose missed field-goal attempt ostensibly ruined Billy’s life. Near the end of the film, Billy finally shows up at the strip club owned by the retired player, gun in hand. Rather than accompany this surreally staged, grotesquely violent scene with music that might actually be heard in a strip club, or even music that would conventionally heighten the intensity of a shootout, Gallo chooses—yes!—Yes. Not only does the track’s sinuous groove provide plenty of offbeat tension as Billy walks in, it thrillingly shifts into high gear at the precise moment that he spots his victim. Prog kill!

Still, the obvious picks are no-brainers for a reason: they’ve become instantly-recognizable pop culture moments. Criticwire’s own Sam Adams writes about Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in “Say Anything…”:

No one who’s seen Cameron Crowe’s generation-defining romance “Say Anything…” can forget the iconic moment when Lloyd Dobler stands under Diane Court’s bedroom window, a boombox hoisted above his head, his teenage heart on his overcoat sleeve, and declares his undying love by blasting Fishbone’s “Bonin’ In The Boneyard.” At least, that’s what was playing when John Cusack filmed the scene that wound up defining the movie (and Cusack’s career), the moment when Lloyd swallows his pride and heeds the advice offered by Lili Taylor’s confidante: “The world is full of guys. Be a man.” Fortunately, Crowe decided that the best way to show Lloyd’s encroaching manhood was not to have him blaring funk-metal in the wee hours, and after some protracted negotiations, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” took Fishbone’s place, a tender reminder of the unlikely couple’s first night together and a promise of possibilities to come. 

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