It Goes Like It Goes by David Shire and Norman Gimbel; performed by Jennifer Warnes
in Norma Rae (1979)
Martin Ritt's terrific film won two Academy Awards, one for Sally Field (Best Actress) and one for this spectacular theme song that plays over the opening credits. In a way, it's the 20th Century spiritual heir to Dickens' Oliver Twist with a cotton mill standing in for the workhouse. Ron Leibman plays the city boy union organizer who inspires Field's titular heroine to take a stand. He respects that she is married to another man and leaves when his work is done, but it's their unconsummated love affair and friendship that stick with us long after the final shot. "So it goes like it goes like the river flows..."
In Too Deep by Phil Collins; performed by Genesis
in Mona Lisa (1986)
The song is set to Bob Hoskins walking through the seedy clubs of London's underworld on a mission to help a call girl he's recklessly fallen for. Of course, it's all going to end in tears, but director Neil Jordan somehow manages to defy our expectations and leave us with a breath of hope for these indelible characters. Collins wrote the song for the movie, and it's the perfect theme for Hoskins' reluctant hero.
Love Is In the Air by George Young and Harry Vanda; performed by John Paul Young
in Strictly Ballroom (1992)
It was between this track that closes out the movie and the amazing cover of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time that plays throughout the extended rehearsal sequence. Ultimately, they both help to define this deeply wistful film. Strip away all the semi-obnoxious glitz from a Baz Lurhmann film and what you're left with is the longing and the music. Only Lurhmann could turn a disco staple like this into a full-blown love theme for the ages. The Fran Mix of the song on Lurhmann's 1998 Something for Everybody album is spellbinding.
Smile by Charlie Chaplin; lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons (added in 1954)
in Modern Times (1936)
The lyrics may have come later (when it was turned into a hit single), but the tune was as instrumental to Chaplin's film as the Tramp's bowler hat. Chaplin, the great perfectionist (or control freak), did most of the music himself for his sound features. He also chose to direct his first two films of the Talkie Era in the silent mode, which was actually a brilliant maneuver. Somehow he managed to produce two of the greatest films of any era: City Lights (31) and Modern Times. The music itself speaks volumes.
Rainbow Connection by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher; performed by Kermit the Frog
in The Muppet Movie (1979)
It may have lost the Oscar to the first tune on my list, but everyone has heard this one before. Williams wrote so many amazing songs, but none have quite embodied the essence of innocence and possibility like this one here. Just as Vince Guaraldi's inimitable piano was to Peanuts, so will this song be forever aligned with Jim Henson's beloved Muppets. It never fails to bring a tear to my cynical eye.
Waterloo by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson; performed by ABBA
in Muriel's Wedding (1994)
It was down to this one or ABBA's Mamma Mia from The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994). Both songs are perfectly used, but Muriel gets the slight edge because it's a sublime homage to the iconic group who transfix the two main characters and best friends. It's also a self-contained music video within this very lovely, little film.
Be My Baby by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich; performed by The Ronettes
in Mean Streets (1973)
Scorsese chose this familiar Ronettes song to open his film for fairly obvious reasons. One, it's a toe-tapping delight. Two, there's something organically nostalgic about it. It makes you think of the past, even if it's not your own -- which is all Mean Streets is about really. The opening credit sequence features this song over home movies of the main characters. It instantly connects all of them to us before the film has even begun.
Modern Love by David Bowie; performed by David Bowie
in Mauvais Sang (1986)
Leos Carax's film is a puzzle to say the least. It's something of a dystopian, neo-noir, love story. Halfway through something totally unexpected and wonderful occurs. The main character (a brilliant Denis Lavant) suddenly breaks into a kinetic display of body language and gymnastics as he runs down a darkened street to the strains of Bowie. Then, as suddenly as this cacophany erupted, the song and dancer stop and return to the bleak storyline like none of it ever happened.
Day for Night: Grand Chorale by Georges Delerue
in Day for Night (1973); Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach; performed by J. D. Souther
in Always (1989)
Spielberg aptly chose this reflective little melody as the romantic theme for his cross dimensional lovers played beautifully by Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. It was also a major nod to actress Irene Dunne who first performed the song in the 1935 film Roberta starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Dunne played the Holly Hunter role in A Guy named Joe (1943), the original film that Always was based on.
You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To by Cole Porter; performed by Diane Keaton
in Radio Days (1984)
The whole soundtrack to this underrated film could qualify but if I had to choose just two singular song uses, it would be Keaton's welcome cameo near the end and the Nazi submarine scene off the beach set to a haunting instrumental rendition of Kurt Weill's September Song.
Seems Like Old Times by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb; performed by Diane Keaton
in Annie Hall (1977)
Who didn't fall eternally in love with Diane Keaton in this film? Bliss.