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The 20 Greatest Musical Moments In The Films Of Cameron Crowe

The 20 Greatest Musical Moments In The Films Of Cameron Crowe

You might have overlooked it in the barrage of advertising for summer blockbusters, but this week sees the release of “Aloha,” the new Hawaii-set romantic-comedy with a glittering cast including Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, and Bill Murray

It’s notable for cinephiles because it’s the first film in nearly four years, and the seventh in total, from Cameron Crowe, the man behind “Say Anything,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “Almost Famous.” Crowe, who began his career as a prodigiously young rock journalist for Rolling Stone (as documented in “Almost Famous”), has always made music a hugely important part of his pictures, with even his weaker efforts having great musical moments and soundtracks. So we decided, as with Martin Scorsese a few weeks back, to run down twenty of the finest on-screen music moments from Crowe’s movies. We’ve included clips from the films where available, and the original song where we couldn’t track it down. Take a look below, and let us know your own favorites in the comments. 

READ MORE: Watch Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, And Rachel McAdams Say ‘Aloha’ In Two New Clips From Cameron Crowe’s Latest

“All For Love” by Nancy Wilson from “Say Anything” 
Crowe was married to Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson for nearly thirty years, and so it’s somehow fitting that the first great music moment from one of his films comes from her. A power ballad from the singer-songwriter, it plays on the car radio after Lloyd and Diane drive home from prom and she starts to open up to him. It’s not a great song in and of itself, but it nicely represents the awkwardness of a romantic song coming on at a moment like this, and is the kind of track that burns onto your brain when it’s connected to a key moment with someone you like (the song also features over the closing credits). 

“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel from “Say Anything” 
Well, obviously we were going to include this one. John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler turning up outside the window of Diane (Ione Skye), holding up a boombox blasting out Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” is one of cinema’s most enduring romantic icons, referenced endlessly, and adorning t-shirts and the like (though many forget that Lloyd’s tactic doesn’t work, at least at first). It could have been very different, though: the scene was shot with Fishbone’s “Bonin’ In The Boneyard,” until, sensibly, Crowe decided to go with Gabriel. That it’s the kind of thing that Lloyd would never normally play makes it all the better.  

“Within Your Reach” by The Replacements from “Say Anything” 
“Say Anything” doesn’t end with a closing credits montage over music in the way that it might if it were made today. Instead, the last song of the movie is heard, initially, as Diane gives a symbolic pen to her white-collar criminal father, then, after the cut, as Lloyd packs his bags before being turned up, semi-non-diegetically, to join Diane at the airport, with the out-of-sync drum fill matching as he leaves his current life. The song is The Replacements excellent “Within Your Reach,” and it’s a subtle, but beautifully appropriate pick that nicely sets up the film’s “Graduate”-ish conclusion.

“State Of Love & Trust” by Pearl Jam from “Singles” 
Almost accidentally, “Singles” caught the zeitgeist. Crowe’s second movie, about the loves and lives of Seattle twentysomethings, was finished at the beginning of 1991, but sat on a shelf for 18 months, until the grunge scene that the film revolved around suddenly went supernova thanks to “Nevermind” et al. The first of the grunge cuts you hear in the movie, and arguably the most effective, is Pearl Jam’s “State Of Love & Trust,” which cunningly accompanies a scene where Kyra Sedgwick’s Linda sees a guy who told her he’d left for Spain. Most of the band also have small acting roles, playing the rest of the band Citizen Dick, fronted by Matt Dillon’s character. 

“Jinx” by Tad from “Singles” 
Crowe tends to use music to accompany swooningly romantic moments, but he knows how to deploy a track for comedic effect. One of the best examples of this is in “Singles,” when Matt Dillon’s Cliff, aiming to win over Bridget Fonda’s Janet, shows off the sound system he’s just put in her car, playing Seattle stalwarts Tad’s bassy track “Jinx.” So bassy, in fact, that it borderline wrecks her car, smashing the window and not quite having the desired effect of wooing her. It’s funny stuff, but the scene is made by a cameo from Chris Cornell, whose reactions shots are right on the borderline of being accidentally and deliberately hilarious. 

“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty from “Jerry Maguire” 
Unquestionable fact: Tom Cruise has never been as charming as he is in “Jerry Maguire,” and one scene towards the end of the first act proves that fact. Delighting at having seemingly won over star client Cush (Jerry O’Connell) and his father (Beau Bridges), Cruise’s Jerry cycles through the car radio trying to find the perfect song to sing along to. He rejects the Rolling Stones and Gram Parsons and charmingly attempts a falsetto to “Angel In The Morning,” before belting out to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” lost in gleeful abandon. 

“Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen from “Jerry Maguire” 
One of cinema’s great uses for the pop song is for the moment-I-fell-in-love scene, and boy, does “Jerry Maguire” have a doozy. After almost an hour of build up, Jerry and his assistant Dorothy are finally about to go on a date. Jerry says goodbye to Dorothy’s young son (Jonathan Lipnicki), and as she’s moved to tears by the obvious bond between them, the winding synths of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” (a new single off his Greatest Hits record from the year before the movie opened) kick in, and you melt a little bit. The film became indelibly associated with the song and vice versa, in part thanks to a bootleg remix including dialogue from the film that became an unexpected radio hit. 

“Shelter From The Storm” by Bob Dylan from “Jerry Maguire” 
When you think of rom-coms, you don’t necessarily think of Bob Dylan. His vast discography touches on so many different subjects that love sometimes feels like the least of them. But along with the use of obscurer cut, “Most Of The Time,” from “High Fidelity” (the best Cameron Crowe movie that Cameron Crowe had nothing to do with), closing off “Jerry Maguire” with “Shelter From The Storm” from Blood On The Tracks suggests that filmmakers would do well to draw on Bob for their happy romantic conclusions more often. As Jerry and Diane walk off into the proverbial sunset, we get a final nugget of wisdom from Maguire’s mentor Dicky Fox (played by real-life Sony attorney Jared Jussim, after Crowe’s own mentor, Billy Wilder, turned the role down), and the song is the perfect warm blanket of comfort to wrap up the film on. 

“America” by Simon & Garfunkel from “Almost Famous” 
Given that it’s Crowe’s semi-autobiographical love letter to music, features an all-time great soundtrack, and is also his masterpiece, it’s no surprise that “Almost Famous” dominates this list. The film’s first great cue (excluding the use of the Chipmunks’ Christmas song over scenes of sunny California) is Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” which Zooey Deschanel’s big sister Anita plays to her overprotective mother (Frances McDormand) and little brother (Michael Angarano) to explain, “Why I’m leaving home to become a stewardess.”  The duo’s harmonies act as a nifty counterpoint to McDormand’s objection that “we have to listen to rock music,” and the song hints at the freedom that Deschanel’s character is about to find, and that William will eventually find, as he pores over the vinyl she’s left for him. 

“Sparks” by The Who from “Almost Famous” 
William finds a copy of The Who’s Tommy, with a message from Anita inside: “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future.” The young boy follows his sister’s instructions, with instrumental track “Sparks” kicking in, and Crowe brilliantly fades from the spinning vinyl to the older William (Patrick Fugit), now a teenaged, Creem Magazine-reading, rock and roll obsessive. It’s a brilliant evocation of both The Song That Changed Your Life, and the effect that an older sibling’s music collection can have, with the track playing nicely for several minutes onwards, over the introduction of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs

“Tiny Dancer” by Elton John from “Almost Famous” 
Perhaps even more than Lloyd Dobler and his boombox, this Elton John cut is probably Crowe’s most celebrated and enduring meld of music and film to date, one that redefined the song itself and marks one of the great cinematic singalongs. With the band fractured, and guitar player Russell (Billy Crudup) recovering from his “golden god” LSD trip, a bus ride heads off in stony silence, until John’s song comes on the radio, and bassist Larry (Mark Kozelek) starts singing along. One by one, the various Stillwater members, groupies, and crew join in, rifts and tiffs forgotten in the happiness of sharing great music. 

“The Wind” by Cat Stevens from “Almost Famous” 
Crowe is somewhat underrated as a visual director. We remember the human moments and the dialogue, but there are elements of real lyricism in his films too. One of our faves is a gorgeous shot (“Almost Famous” was lensed by “The Thin Red Line” DP John Toll, and boy it shows) of Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) dancing in an empty venue, floor strewn with confetti, to the sound of Cat Stevens’ ballad “The Wind.” It’s a lovely moment in and of itself, but also serves as a sort of elegy to rock and roll, coming just after a slick new record company manager (an unrecognizable Jimmy Fallon, in his best acting performance) comes on to the band, convincing them to abandon their bus (it’s “the soul of the band,” objects Jason Lee’s Jeff) and travel by plane. 

“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder from “Almost Famous” 
Crowe’s biggest influence is undoubtedly sweet-and-sour specialist Billy Wilder — he literally wrote the book on the great “Some Like It Hot” helmer, the terrific “Conversations With Wilder,” which is a must-read — and that’s perhaps most felt in a late scene in “Almost Famous,” as William finds his beloved Penny overdosed on Quaaludes after being rejected by Russell. The adoring way he looks at her as he tries to keep her conscious, as she has her stomach pumped, is a direct nod to a similar moment in “The Apartment,” but Crowe has a secret weapon: Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” now a borderline-cheesy standard, but given a new power by being juxtaposed against some heavy-duty vomiting.  

“Tangerine” by Led Zeppelin from “Almost Famous” 
Before “Almost Famous,” Led Zeppelin, maybe the biggest and most seminal rock band of the 1970s, had never licensed their music for a soundtrack, but if they were ever going to break the habit, “Almost Famous” seemed like the perfect film to do it with (given that it’s partly based on Crowe’s time on the road with the group). After seeing an early cut of the film, the band ultimately gave the director four songs, by far the most effective of which is “Tangerine,” from Led Zeppelin III. One of their folkier numbers, it scores the ending of the film, as William finally gets his interview with Russell, asking him “What do you love about music?” to which the answer comes, “To begin with: everything.” Crowe then cuts to a montage of the band, of William with his reunited family, and of Penny Lane heading to Morocco, sending you out on the perfect high. It’s just a shame that Zeppelin drew the line at giving Crowe “Stairway To Heaven,” though from the eight-minute scene on the “Untitled” DVD, in which William plays his mother the track in its entirety, it might have stopped the film dead in its tracks. 

“Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead from “Vanilla Sky” 
In most ways, “Vanilla Sky,” Crowe’s sci-fi fever-dream romance remake of Alejandro Amenabar’s “Open Your Eyes,” is his most atypical film: freaky and twisty where his other films are warm and comedic. It does, however, retain a typically Crowe-ish soundtrack (and actually, one of his best), and it’s at its most effective in the opening scene, where the morning routine of spoiled, vain millionaire David (Tom Cruise) is interrupted when he discovers that New York is entirely empty, all scored to Radiohead’s eerie electronic number. It’s a bold and sinister statement of intent, and you’re kept further on your toes when Crowe goes into Mint Royale’s bhangra-ish dance beats of “From Rushholme With Love” as Cruise finds Times Square deserted. 

“Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys from “Vanilla Sky” 
Crowe turns out to be surprisingly effective at using pop music not just to heighten emotion in “Vanilla Sky,” but to freak you out, and the best, somewhat incongruous use, comes with The Beach Boys’ anthem “Good Vibrations.” As David discovers the reality of his “lucid dream,” and removes his mask to reveal his scarred face, Crowe cranks up the dreamy pop classic so that it virtually obscures the dialogue, taking on a menacing, mind-fucking quality that’s more Charles Manson than Brian Wilson, becoming more and more overwhelming as the camera spins around Cruise. You may never quite think of the song in the same way again. 

“Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space” by Spiritualized from “Vanilla Sky” 
Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space was one of the best albums of the 1990s, but the record, and Jason Pierce’s band in general, have been somewhat underused by the world’s music supervisors. Then again, it’s hard to use them being used more effectively than the way the album’s title track underscores the film’s bittersweet conclusion, as Tech Support (Noah Taylor) relates how Sophia (Penelope Cruz) found out about David’s “death,” and with a tearful smile, remembered their romance. The song provides the perfect underscore as Cruise (in one of his best performances) laments what could have been: “The little things. There’s nothing bigger, is there?”

“Freebird” by Ruckus/My Morning Jacket from “Elizabethtown” 
It took five years for Crowe to follow up “Almost Famous,” and sadly, “Elizabethtown” landed with a thud. A look at family, failure, and grief, the film was clearly a personal one for the writer-director, but due to the miscasting of Orlando Bloom, an unusually clunky script, an unusually uneven blend of sentiment and humor, it didn’t remotely work. Still, the musical moments are mostly strong, among them a live performance of “Freebird” by cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider) and his band, made up mostly of members of My Morning Jacket, at a memorial service. It’s a deliberately hokey choice, plays more Spinal Tap than Stillwater, and marks one of the few comic highlights of the movie. 

The Road Trip Mixtape from “Elizabethtown” 
It sometimes feels during “Elizabethtown” that Crowe would have rather just made a soundtrack than a movie, and nowhere more so than the final sequence, in which Bloom’s Drew takes a road trip, guided by a map from his father and mixtape left by Kirsten Dunst’s stewardess. An extended fifteen-minute travelogue of Americana, gorgeously shot by John Toll, it’s indulgent, but one of the few moments that comes alive, in no small part thanks to the burst of music that accompanies it, featuring James Brown, Wheat, U2, Tom Petty, Elton John, and two cuts by Ryan Adams (peaking with the gorgeous “English Girls Approximately” — the prolific artist was reportedly one of Crowe’s major inspirations for the film). 

“Hoppípolla” by Sigur Rós from “We Bought A Zoo” 
Perhaps because it’s the first time that he was working from a script by someone else (“The Devil Wars Prada” writer Aline Brosh McKenna), and perhaps because of the bulk of tunes are provided by Sigur Ros frontman Jónsi, but music somehow plays less of a role in “We Bought A Zoo” than in most of Crowe’s works, despite a soundtrack including favorites like Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Eddie Vedder. We always applaud any use of Echo & The Bunnymen in a movie, but the most effective music moment actually comes from Jónsi’s band Sigur Rós, whose song “Hoppípola” accompanies the film’s emotional climax, as Matt Damon’s zoo opens to no guests, only to find a queue of customers stuck behind a fallen tree. It’s more effective than it sounds on paper, we promise: the track had been overplayed in commercials, but it’s truly stirring stuff in Crowe’s hands here. 

Honorable Mentions: In terms of other potentials, we also considered most of the live performances in “Singles,” along with the Who-accompanied opening of “Jerry Maguire,” and the latter film’s use of Paul McCartney’s “Singalong Junk” and, more subtly, L.V’s “The Wrong Come Up” in the famous “Show Me The Money” scene. 

Almost Famous” also has some great live performances by the band-in-the-film, Stillwater, and the uses of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story” also stand out there, while “Vanilla Sky” makes effective use of The Monkees’ trippy “Porpoise Song,” Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends,” and Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” 

Finally, in “Elizabethtown,” there’s the notable use of Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun,” The Concretes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Ryan Adams’ “Come Pick Me Up,” The Hollies’ “Jesus Was A Cross Maker,” and Ulrich Schnauss’ “Passing By,” while “We Bought A Zoo” showcases Bon Iver’s “Holocene” (Crowe slightly ahead of the curve on the now-overused track), along with Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Any others we missed? Let us know your favorites in the comments. 

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