Norma Rae

9 Favorite Movie Songs

This month’s “9 on the 9th” post deviates a bit from the expected subject matter to focus on the combination of film music and lyrics. Over the years, movie songs have had their ups and downs. The best songs work within the film and/or encapsulate the story or an emotion. And there’s arguably no bigger marketing tool for a film than a hit song.

With 85 years of movie songs to choose from, narrowing the list down to nine was, as usual, ridiculously difficult. There are arguably better crafted songs out there than some on this list. Others are bona fide classics. Either way, these nine songs continue to provide me with tuneful joy through sheer songwriting craft and/or nostalgia. Whatever the reason(s), these nine songs encapsulate some memorable movie moments.

9. “The Way That I Live”

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A bra manufacturer, his discontented wife and her secret paramour. Richard Attenborough, Shirley MacLaine and Riz Ortolani’s music. Such is the world of THE BLISS OF MRS. BLOSSOM. MacLaine la-la’s the song over the opening credits and Jack Jones provides a typically smooth, swinging Vegas rendition, complete with a kickass Nelson Riddle-like arrangement. “And the way that I live is the way for me,” indeed.

8. “Nobody Does It Better”

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Marvin Hamlisch’s memorable tune, then-wife Carole Bayer Sager’s unobtrusive lyrics and Carly Simon’s vocals gave this deservedly Oscar-nominated ballad instant classic status. While THE SPY WHO LOVED ME may not be the strongest in the James Bond franchise, and Hamlisch’s surprising Oscar nomination for his score—the only Bond score to be so honored, no doubt helped by the popularity of the song—sets Bond fans’ teeth on edge, there’s no denying the craft behind this great song. There may arguably be better Bond songs out there, but for me nobody does it better.

7. “The Man That Got Away”

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The combination of Judy Garland and Harold Arlen once again creates movie magic. Ira Gershwin’s lyrics, Arlen’s typically unexpected harmonies and Garland’s rendition make this one of the most memorable movie musical moments, even if A STAR IS BORN is not quite the classic it tries to be. Judy’s pain is evident in every note and director George Cukor wisely keeps the camera trained on her every body tic and facial expression. No matter how many artists have covered this song, nobody comes close to Garland’s original. Nobody.

6. “Life Is What You Make It”

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Walter Matthau’s delightful Oscar-nominated performance is at the heart of KOTCH, but so is Marvin Hamlisch’s sweet song. Sung over the opening credits by the chorus, even better is Johnny Mathis’s rendition. With his trademark vibrato, Mathis’s tender version perfectly captures the optimism of Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyrics without overdoing it.

5. “The Best of Everything”

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My introduction to the genius of Alfred Newman, albeit in instrumental form. This 1959 sudsy soaper of Madison Avenue may be missing the bite and wit of MAD MEN, but it has its own charm, thanks in no small part to Newman’s position on the podium. Newman’s heartbreaking melody for the title song weaves its way throughout the score, but once again it is Johnny Mathis who brings the song to life, proving that romance is still the best of everything.

4. “Can You Read My Mind”

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Is it cheating to list a song that’s not even sung in the film? Who cares? John Williams’s memorable love theme for Superman and Lois Lane coupled with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder’s flying sequence is pure movie magic. Kidder’s skeptical, spoken reading of Leslie Bricusse’s lyrics works well in the film. But it is Maureen McGovern’s classic vocal rendition that makes the song soar.

3. “Moon River”

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Whether sung by Audrey Hepburn and a simple guitar or by a chorus and lush orchestral accompaniment, Henry Mancini’s classic tune and Johnny Mercer’s equally classic, yet still enigmatic, lyrics have not aged one bit. There’s not a woman or gay man alive who wouldn’t kill to be Hepburn decked out in jewels and Givenchy eating breakfast at dawn in front of Tiffany’s with Mancini’s classic tune as their walk of shame music.

2. “Over the Rainbow”

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Garland and Arlen again. One of the few movie songs that it’s hard to screw up. No matter the artist or the arrangement, Yip Harburg’s yearning lyrics and Arlen’s opening octave melodic leap embody the dream that lurks within us all. Couple that with Dorothy’s innocence and you have a song that will forever resonate with old and young alike.

1. “It Goes Like It Goes”

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I saw NORMA RAE on a drive-in double bill with THE ROSE. Forget Bette Midler’s Janis Joplin impersonation. It was Sally Field’s feisty factory work that proved that SYBIL was no fluke; she had more inside her than Gidget or Sister Bertrille. Equally astonishing was the opening credits—the cotton puffs and David Shire’s lovely piano melody wafting through the air. Jennifer Warnes took over for Maureen McGovern as the queen of movie songs starting with this deserved Oscar-winner, singing Norman Gimbel’s simple, heartfelt lyrics. “Maybe what’s good gets a little bit better, and maybe what’s bad gets gone.”

What are you favorite movie songs?

About Jim Lochner

Jim has been writing about film music for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Music from The University of Texas (Austin), both in Clarinet Performance. He has written soundtrack CD liner notes for Intrada, Varèse Sarabande Records, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records and Disques Cinemusique. Jim has been a bimonthly guest on BBC-Kent’s Drive Home at the Movies radio program and has been interviewed by a number of online and print outlets, including The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Los Angeles Times. Jim served as the managing editor of Film Score Monthly Online (FSMOnlineMag.com) and is currently writing a book on Charlie Chaplin's film music. For more information, visit JimLochner.com.

7 comments

  1. i agree with the Norma Rae song! love it!
    I would add Bachelor in Paradise, The Windmills of Your Mind, and the Bjork song from Dancer in the Dark

  2. Pleasantly surprised to see THE WAY THAT I LIVE on your list. Is there a CD of this out there? I used to have the vinyl soundtrack. Riz Ortolani really did some great songs besides the super-hit MORE.

    Here are 9 of my favorites the instantly come to mind – in no particular order:

    1. THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE from THE SANDPIPER (Mandel and Webster)

    2. THE LOOK OF LOVE from CASINO ROYALE (Bacharach and David)

    3. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? from THE HAPPY ENDING (LeGrand and Bergman)

    4. GIRL TALK from HARLOW (Hefti and Troup)

    5. GOODBYE CHARLIE (Previn)

    6. THE LONG HOT SUMMER (North and Cahn)

    7. THE EYES OF LOVE from BANNING (Jones and Russell)

    8. A TIME FOR LOVE from AN AMERICAN DREAM (Mandel and Webster)

    9. THE LONG GOODBYE (Williams and Mercer)

  3. Other favourites:

    Evergreen (Streisand and Williams) – A Star Is Born
    Wise Up (Mann) – Magnolia
    Streets Of Philadelphia (Springsteen) – Philadelphia
    Rainbow Connection (Williams and Ascher) – The Muppet Movie
    Shaft (Hayes) – Shaft
    9 to 5 (Parton) – 9 to 5
    Moonraker (Barry and Bassey) – Moonraker

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