10 Songs That Did Better Than the Movie

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Good movies are almost always accompanied by equally memorable soundtracks. After 21 years, “I Will Always Love You” – still Whitney Houston’s finest moment – will continue to invoke memories of The Bodyguard for some, while Celine Dion‘s “My Heart Will Go On” will forever suffer guilt by association because of the once-highest-grossing film in history, Titanic. Adele just nabbed an Oscar earlier this year for the title track to Skyfall, the most successful James Bond adventure and the all-time top grosser, period, in the UK. Saturday Night Fever, Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate…I could go on.

But on the other side of the tracks linger numerous songs that were buried under mediocre or just outright lousy flicks but rose from the ashes en route to long-term commercial success and, in some instances, ongoing radio airplay. Here I present but a mere microcosm of what’s out there, in no particular order. And yes, there’s a bit of a nagging trend running amok through my selections, but I claim immunity as they were the ones that prominently came to mind as I wracked my tiny brain while conjuring up this piece.

1. UB40 – “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
Movie: Sliver (1993)

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In 1993, Sharon Stone starred in the thriller Sliver alongside Tom Berenger and Alec Baldwin, and it grossed over $100 million at the box office, impressive by early-‘90s standards. But let’s not kid ourselves; its success owed far more to the ongoing buzz from Stone’s, well, memorable appearance in Basic Instinct just the year before, rather than Sliver’s convoluted plot (penned by Showgirls’ Joe Eszterhas). The soundtrack, featuring UB40’s superior cover of Elvis Presley’s 1961 smash “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” certainly didn’t hurt either in terms of exposure, as the single shot to #1 – even surpassing the original, which topped out at #3 – and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for a whopping 29 weeks. Ask any Joe Moviegoer about Sliver nowadays and you’ll likely be met with blank faces, while “Can’t Help Falling” sounds ever as vibrant two decades later and pops up on the radio from time to time. Must be the horn section.

Fun fact: The Elvis original was also off a soundtrack – that of Blue Hawaii, which ruled the roost on the Top 200 for five months and came in second only to yet another soundtrack – West Side Story – as the most successful album of the 1960s.

2. Billy Idol – “Cradle of Love”
Movie: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)

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It’s an Andrew Dice Clay movie. His lame detective character was named after a car. It co-starred acting powerhouses Wayne Newton, Priscilla Presley and Gilbert Gottfried. Unsurprisingly, it tanked. That’s it. At least the tie-in single, Billy Idol’s rockin’ “Cradle of Love” (and the racy video that accompanied it), came out unscathed. “Cradle” peaked at #2 while giving Idol his last major chart success in the 1990 LP Charmed Life, which reached #11 on the Top 200, showing that the Rebel Yeller wasn’t about to be relegated to an ‘80s relic. In fact, he even performed the (non-charting) title track to Speed four years later.

3. Seal – “Kiss From a Rose”
Movie: Batman Forever (1995)

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Ah, yes, the Batmovie that kicked off – and made viewers want to kick out the window – the notorious Joel Schumacher era. I speak from experience; I sat through this and Batman & Robin (1997) and despised them both. From the incredibly dumb villains (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze easily the worst of the lot) to Chris O’Donnell’s petulant Robin to Val Kilmer handing off the Batnippled baton to that other miscast Bruce Wayne, George Clooney…ugh, just a wreck all around. The soundtracks, on the other hand, were far better received by fans (if not so much by critics), as both went platinum and amassed multiple top-ten hits from the likes of U2, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Jewel, and R. Kelly (talk about a diverse lineup). But nearly twenty years after its release, the undisputed Batmusic heavyweight champion remains Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose,” from Batman Forever. It was originally supposed to play during a love scene between Kilmer and Nicole Kidman but was moved to the closing credits. “Kiss” went number one for only a week, but that didn’t stop it from becoming the #4 song of 1995 and cleaning house at the Grammys (Best Male Pop Vocal, Song of the Year and Record of the Year). The irony is that it stalled at #20 when it was first released as a single off his sophomore album, Seal II, a year earlier, which, combined with the sustained anti-Schumacher vitriol, makes its insane big-screen success somewhat puzzling. Then again, it took The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” five years to make an impact (#3 in ’93) only after it was added to Benny & Joon, so who am I to argue? No matter, as “Kiss” will remain a radio mainstay till the day we die, plus it made Seal into a bigger household name than Heidi Klum ever did.

Fun fact, part 2: The #1 single of 1995 was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” off, you guessed it, a soundtrack – that of the quickly-forgotten Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Dangerous Minds. His recordings also appeared on compilations for Clueless, New Jersey Drive, and the ‘96 Whoopi Goldberg flop Eddie.

4. Gloria Estefan – “Turn the Beat Around”
Movie: The Specialist (1994)

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I tell you, I could listen to Gloria Estefan’s kinetic 1994 cover of Vicki Sue Robinson’s bicentennial disco chart-topper “Turn the Beat Around” for hours on end. Her reasoning for recording it was that she believed the original’s percussion possessed a distinct Latin sound. The decision certainly paid off, as the track was certified gold and peaked at #13 in late ‘94 (#87 for the year in ‘95). The second single released off Estefan’s fifth studio album, Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (which itself peaked at #9 and sold five million copies), “Turn the Beat Around” was also saddled with the unmemorable Sylvester Stallone/Sharon Stone flick The Specialist, which, despite grossing $170 million worldwide, is certainly not regarded as a high point for either star and currently has a lovely 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was early-’90s schlock at its finest about a woman who hires a bomb expert to help exact revenge on the mafia who killed her family. The soundtrack predominantly featured Latin artists for no other reason other than the flick being set in Miami, so I suppose Estefan’s presence was inevitable. Oh well, at least she went on to produce more hits than Stallone and Stone did combined through the rest of the decade.

5. Olivia Newton-John – “Magic”
Movie: Xanadu (1980)

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In just two short years, Olivia Newton-John went from the musical-movie pinnacle of Grease to a cinematic chasm with Xanadu. At least the latter could stand up to the former in one aspect: a killer soundtrack, which featured five top-ten singles, the biggest being the ethereal “Magic.” Along with another 1980 musical dud, the Village People’s Can’t Stop the Music, Xanadu ended up inspiring – if you can call it that – the creation of the Razzies, of which it received six nominations, winning the first-ever award for Worst Director (Robert Greenwald). On the other hand, “Magic” – which was Newton-John’s biggest commercial success at the time until the infamous “Physical” the following year – spent three weeks at #1 and was the #3 single of 1980, trailing only Blondie and Pink Floyd; not bad company. And talk about staying power: three decades later, a faithful cover by L.A. alt-rock band Stimulator was used in a yearlong advertising campaign for Macy’s. As for her Grease co-star…

6. Eric Clapton – “Change the World”
Movie: Phenomenon (1996)

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My first exposure to Eric Clapton was at the tender age of nine, courtesy of his awesome “Heaven is One Step Away” having been included in some little movie called Back to the Future (it plays during the scene of the bum sleeping on the bench [“crazy drunk driver”]). Less memorable, though, was “Change the World.” No, not the song, but the movie attached to it: the 1996 John Travolta supernatural sapfest Phenomenon, which, despite a strong box office, holds a blah 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is dismissed nowadays as another Scientology-propagandic film in Travolta’s repertoire. (And that was four years before Battlefield Earth.) Meanwhile, “Change the World” peaked at #5 and has held up far better than its celluloid counterpart seventeen years later, as it’s part of Clapton’s legendary mellow-’90s trilogy (along with “Tears in Heaven” and his acousticized “Layla”) that has become a permanent fixture on adult-contemporary radio stations.

7. Madonna – “Vogue”
Movie: Dick Tracy (1990)

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This one gets in on a technicality, because the highlighted song actually had nothing to do with the movie itself. In 1990, Madonna released her fifth LP, I’m Breathless, which contained all the numbers her character Breathless Mahoney performed in the big-budget Dick Tracy. The inclusion of the contemporary dance-pop single “Vogue” among Depression-era songs seemed an odd choice, but its success was definitely no laughing matter, as it ended up topping the charts in over thirty countries and sold six million copies, cruising to the title of the year’s number-one song in addition to launching an indelible pop-culture phenomenon in that notorious traffic-cone brassiere. (With far less fanfare, another track off the album, “Sooner or Later,” written by Stephen Sondheim, won a Best Original Song Oscar.) The movie? Er, not so great. It’s been 23 years and I still remember seeing it with my family and leaving utterly disappointed. Ol’ Dick, garish visuals and all, was heavily hyped but failed to deliver while wasting an all-star cast of Warren Beatty, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, and, though predictably making big BO coin ($160 million on a $100 million budget), is rarely spoken of today save for a few lingering defenders on IMDb message boards. It bears mentioning that Madonna’s performance in the movie was nothing special either, but she gets a free pass here for obvious reasons.

Honorable mention to 1987’s Who’s That Girl: title song was the bomb – the Material Girl’s sixth number-one and seventeen weeks on the Hot 100 – and the movie, well, a colossal bomb.

8. Prince, Prince, and more Prince
Movie: Everything from 1984-1990

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Like Madonna, Prince Rogers Nelson is another music legend who could barely transition from the recording studio to the big screen to save his life. (At least he knew when to give up the ghost. Et tu, Swept Away?) He couched not one, not two, but four soundtrack albums into six years from 1984 to 1990. (Madge, in comparison, had three total from ‘87 to ‘96.) We start with, of course, the biggest of them all: the monolithic Purple Rain, which featured four top-ten singles, including two number ones, and to date has sold over 20 million copies. To say the album usurped the movie – which actually grossed $70 million and nabbed an Oscar for Best Score, but also picked up two Razzie nominations – would be the understatement of the millennium. Under the Cherry Moon (1986) crashed and burned, but the accompanying LP, Parade, provided the chart-topping “Kiss.”

Batman (1989) is an anomaly: it was another big seller (six weeks at #1), but sales were fueled mainly by the megaton success of the Tim Burton-helmed blockbuster. The dopey but impossible-to-ignore “Batdance” gave Prince yet another big-screen number one, but the album lacked staying power once the picture – still revered by Batfans and casual moviegoers alike to this day – left theaters.

The final nail in the Purple One’s celluloid coffin was the 1990 disaster Graffiti Bridge, and for the first time the soundtrack followed suit as it sold poorly, which is unfortunate because it gave us the sexy “Thieves in the Temple” and showcased juvenile newcomer Tevin Campbell, who hit #12 with “Round and Round.”

9. Warren G & Nate Dogg – “Regulate”
Movie: Above the Rim (1994)

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West Coast hip hop ruled both the radio and MTV airwaves in the early ‘90s thanks to the runaway success of Death Row Records. First there was Dr. Dre’s 1992 multiplatinum The Chronic, then Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (1993), which became the first-ever debut album to enter the charts at number one. In the spring of ‘92, Snoop had appeared on his very first single, a collaboration with Dre for the soundtrack of the Laurence (then Larry) Fishburne thriller Deep Cover, which, incidentally, was the debut for Dre himself as a solo artist. Fast forward to 1994, when another Dogg – gangsta crooner Nate, Snoop’s cousin – entered the scene in exact same fashion, teaming up with fellow newcomer Warren G for “Regulate,” from the tepid basketball drama Above the Rim, which grossed a meager $16 million before hitting the showers. Boldly sampling Michael McDonald’s 1982 hit “I Keep Forgettin’ (Everytime You’re Near),” the single would become the peak success for the Long Beach duo as it shot up to #2, as did the compilation, thus becoming one of the first hip hop-based soundtracks to enjoy major chart success. Sadly, Nate Dogg died from stroke complications in 2011, but his legacy lives on with “Regulate,” which has long outlived the demise of the gangsta-rap craze.

10. Donna Summer – “Last Dance”
Movie: Thank God it’s Friday (1978)

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You can’t be blamed if you’ve never even heard of this movie (neither had I until seeing it mentioned in an Entertainment Weekly article), but let’s just say that, based on the plot, it could probably be called the distant disco cousin of Glitter. Thank God it’s Friday was billed as a comedy and starred Donna Summer as an aspiring singer who aimed to perform her new song in an L.A. discotheque with the incredibly boring name of The Zoo. The song was “Last Dance,” which only peaked at #3, sold a million copies, cemented Summer as one of the biggest stars of the disco era, and won her an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The soundtrack itself was a triple LP that took three years to put together and was a commercial success. Critical reaction to the movie itself wasn’t as amorous; Leonard Maltin slapped it with his lowest rating (“bomb”), calling it “perhaps the worst film ever to have won some kind of Academy Award,” while Vincent Canby of The New York Times dismissed it as “a record album with live-action liner notes.” Then again, what were they expecting of a movie in which the Commodores’ roadie frequently schemed to steal their instruments?

Before you start to rake me over the coals for any glaring omissions, never fear, dear readers; a Part 2 is certainly not out of the question.

(Sources: Allmusic, Wikipedia, Billboard.com, IMDb, and Box Office Mojo)

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Categories: Best Of Lists, Features

One Comment on “10 Songs That Did Better Than the Movie”

  1. December 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    nonsense!! dick tracy was a terrific movie with al pacino receiving unanimous critical acclaim for his performance.

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