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Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

on February 22, 2013, 12:00am
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movie covers feat40 e1361507825655 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Of course, Say Anything has “In Your Eyes”, Goodfellas has “Layla”, Apocalypse Now has “The End”, Fight Club has “Where Is My Mind”, but a cover song in a movie is just different. A cover song in a movie elevates the drama — ascribing meaning and sentiment to the music being played. All of a sudden this song that we’re pretty sure we’ve heard before is chewing the scenery and the actors fade into the background. When the director has two characters listen to Sonic Youth cover The Carpenters, or opens his film with a dusty acoustic version of Iron Maiden, or fills his whole movie with Beatles covers — the music comes to the fore.

In many of these cases, the cover song was tailor-made for the movie itself. If you recall the 1990s, many covers were contributed to movies just to fulfill some bureaucratic record contract quota, which is why you saw all kinds of questionable punkska, and nu metal covers padding out these soundtracks and bands’ setlists. Below are songs that (mostly) go beyond contractual obligations and, with the movie, help to carve out a nice little niche for each other in the pop culture canon.

There are, basically, three kinds of cover songs in this list: Songs the movie desperately needed, songs the movie helped make, and songs that transcended the movie altogether. A White Zombie song might be the only redeemable part of a film, an Eagles song made into a rumba might define scene, and a Neil Diamond cover might just become the quintessential version of the song.

Obviously the best cover song from a movie is Bill Murray singing “More Than This” from Lost In Tranlsation, or Sonny from Ghost Dog singing “Cold Lampin’ With Flavor”, or Jim Carrey doing Jefferson Airplane from The Cable Guy. But for this list, we specifically chose not to include versions where actors were doing  the singing (OK, with one exception).

Here we have ranked the Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies, in order. Grab your headphones and some popcorn and enjoy!


40. “Such Great Heights” – Garden State

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Such Great Heights”
Movie: Garden State
Performed By:  Iron & Wine
Originally By: The Postal Service

The already-precious “Such Great Heights” is made rice-paper fragile by Sam Beam for the one soundtrack that had youths everywhere confusing privileged disaffection with clinical depression. Nevertheless, the whisper of Beam on the wind turns a bubbly digi-love song into an intimate ballad. This isn’t the one that will “change your life”, but it’s now the marquee song for visiting your childhood home, staring at the artifacts of your past, and thinking about how it all used to be so goddamn simple. -Jeremy D. Larson


39. “I’m Your Boogie Man” - The Crow 2: City of Angels

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “I’m Your Boogie Man”
Movie: The Crow: City Of Angels
Performed By: White Zombie
Originally By: KC and the Sunshine Band

The sequel to The Crow may have been lukewarm at best, but at least it took a note from its predecessor by boasting a killer soundtrack. “I’m Your Boogie Man” pulses with a carnival disco beat and Rob Zombie’s underwater vocals, and manages to get under the skin with an obscure soundbyte from John Carpenter’s horror classic, Halloween. “He’s gonna get you! He’s gonna get you! The boogieman is coming”, chant a gang of bullies from the film. The clip lends an uneasy terror to the otherwise campy rave-up, showing us that maybe the KC & The Sunshine Band hit was scarier than we originally thought. Everything came full-circle when Zombie directed the Halloween remake over a decade later. -Dan Caffrey 


38. “Did You Ever See A Dream Walking” - Lady in White

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking”
Movie: Lady In White
Performed By: Bing Crosby
Originally By: Art Jarret

Many scary movies associate their ghost or murderer with a popular song. A Stir Of Echoes had “Paint It Black”, Halloween II used “Mr. Sandman”, and you can guess what tune popped up in Jeepers Creepers. But the most unnerving instance of musical terror belongs to Lady In White, a little-seen, coming-of-age/horror tale starring an adolescent Lukas Haas. I won’t spoil exactly how the song comes into play here, but opting for Bing Crosby’s take of “Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?” over Art Jarrett’s initial version was a smart move on the filmmaker’s part. Whereas Jarrett’s rendition seems like the logical choice with its tinny, melancholy tone, Uncle Bing’s fireside baritone is downright cheery, providing eerie juxtaposition to the events onscreen. -Dan Caffrey 


37. “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” – Me, Myself, & Irene

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”
Movie: Me Myself & Irene
Performed By: Wilco
Originally By: Steely Dan

Packed with ’90s radio mainstays – from Third Eye Blind to Hootie & The Blowfish – the soundtrack to Me, Myself & Irene seems no different from any other early Farrelly Brothers movie. But like the film itself, there’s a disarming pathos beneath the surface, mainly in the form of eight–count ‘em, eight–Steely Dan covers. Unsurprisingly, Wilco best pulls off the Dan’s sugar-coated subversiveness with their take on “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”, most likely due to their own experience with burying weird-ass lyrics beneath laid back arrangements. The flirting organs of Leroy Bach and the late Jay Bennett allow lines like “Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears?” to go down like honey. It’s a lawnchair gem that would fit in on any of the band’s last three albums. -Dan Caffrey


36. “Against All Odds” - Wicker Park

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Against All Odds”
Movie: Wicker Park
Performed By:  The Postal Service
Originally By: Phil Collins

Wicker Park was a mind-numbing, self-important blowhard of a romance film, with none of the depth or nuance it thought it was portraying. This sort of over-the-top melodrama doesn’t work in film. Two places it does work? In Phil Collins’ songs and in Ben Gibbard’s vocal delivery. Both of these environments are made better by unabashed melodrama, and it’s why the Postal Service’s fractured cover of the Collins song “Against All Odds” is an All-Time Best Breakup in the Pouring Rain song. Jimmy Tamborello is the perfect choice to reinterpret Collins work for the ’00s, as his sense of arrangement is at once an homage, an update, and a reinterpretation. Wicker Park may have been nigh unwatchable, but the pocket soap opera of “Against All Odds” was and remains listenable.  -Chris Bosman


35. “Please Send Me Someone To Love” - Philadelphia

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Please Send Me Someone To Love”
Movie: Philadelphia
Performed By: Sade
Originally By: Percy Mayfield

By the time Sade released this loping R&B version of “Please Send Me Someone To Love” in ‘93, it had been too long. A great update of Percy Mayfield’s 1950 ballad hadn’t been done since a ’57 take by the Moonglows. Sure, Sade’s cover isn’t necessarily the standout on this soundtrack, considering the Springsteen opener “Streets of Philadelphia”. But god damn if these vocals aren’t worth a press of the repeat button. At her subtlest troughs here, Sade can be buried by the swat of a brush on a snare drum. It almost turns the song’s original yearning sentiment around, making her sound resigned, to the point she’s accepted there’s no one worth her time. -Dale Eisinger


34. “Everybody’s Talkin” - Midnight Cowboy

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Everybody’s Talkin”
Movie: Midnight Cowboy
Performed By: Harry Nilsson
Originally By: Fred Neil

By 1967, Harry Nilsson had written dozens of excellent pop songs that were under-appreciated or totally ignored by commercial audiences. It wasn’t until his cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” was chosen as the theme song to Midnight Cowboy that Nilsson became a household name. His graceful voice suits the song’s melody, and the way he mimes a harmonica during the wordless refrain is signature Nilsson. -Jon Hadusek


33. “Superstar” - Juno

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Superstar”
Movie: Juno
Performed By: Sonic Youth
Originally By: The Carpenters

Sonic Youth contributed a soft cover of The Carpenters’ “Superstar” for Juno, which was a little shift from the textured white noise they’ve been known to produce over the past 30 years. Compare Thurston Moore’s rasp to the clarity of Karen Carpenter’s belt on the original. This is the introduction to Sonic Youth for both Juno and many real-life teenagers who are watching Juno. Juno and the soon-to-be adoptive father of her child, Mark, share a moment while the bass-heady “Superstar” is cranked up to full ear-shattering volume, reminiscent of many of our own first experiences listening to Thurston and Kim. I assume Mark and Juno later went out and bought Goo, as did everyone who saw this movie. -Paula Mejia


 32. “Hotel California” - The Big Lebowski

 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Hotel California”
Movie: The Big Lebowski
Performed By: The Gipsy Kings
Originally By: The Eagles

An unusual thing about The Big Lebowski is that its protagonist, The Dude, (or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) explicitly voices his own unwavering hatred for The Eagles. So it’s fitting that Jesus Quintana, one of the film’s more colorful villains (and known pederast), is introduced with a high-tempo, bilingual, flamenco version of “Hotel California”. The Gipsy Kings’ take on the sometimes lovely, often bizarre trappings of an inescapable Los Angeles lifestyle sets the tone for The Dude’s off-kilter odyssey through La La Land. The movie’s hero may have never located his missing rug, but the Coen Brothers managed to find the perfect tune to enlighten their audience of the strange journey that lies ahead. Then again, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, my opinion, man. -Dan Pfleegor


31. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” - The Time Traveller’s Wife

screen shot 2013 02 19 at 9.12.59 pm e1361330422939 Top 40 Cover Songs from Movies

Song: “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again”
Movie: The Time Traveller’s Wife
Performed By: Broken Social Scene
Originally By: Joy Division

Some may have seen The Time Traveler’s Wife in the theater (hi mom), while others might have needed a 102-degree fever and a suspended Netflix account (cough), but either way, it’s totally not weird to point out the emotion involved when the time traveling guy lands at his own wedding just in time to dance with Rachel McAdams. Combining this with the realization that Broken Social Scene is the wedding band, and it’s all enough to make any guy spill his Campbell’s Chunky. Covering Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” makes partial sense (really, it was time traveling that was tearing love apart and Ween never wrote that song), but BSS deliver it as a heart-on-their-sleeve piano ballad that stands on its own merits, complete with horns, strings, and Kevin Drew’s spot-on Dracula impression. Let’s agree, though, that Broken Social Scene is the only wedding band ever allowed to play “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, at least if you want to receive your full night’s pay. -Philip Cosores

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August 6, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Calexico covers Bob Dylan, not Roxy Music. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written for Nina Simone.

August 6, 2014 at 1:39 am

I thought Emily Brownin’s covers in Suckerpunch were beautiful.

August 6, 2014 at 12:39 am

That’s correct! the Modern Lovers!

Eikel D. Roli
July 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm

where is Harry Potter – Statues or Brave – Noble Maiden Fair or Into The Wild – Guaranteed?

Mitchell Grizzly Barron
June 30, 2013 at 6:35 am

The Sex Pistols are actually covering the Modern Lovers song “Road Runner” not the Bo Diddley one. Otherwise, perfect list.

Mickey Au Grec
February 23, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Awesome. Jacked to see Roxy Music, Joy Division, filmmaker D. Lynch and late great Harry Nilsson so well represented (#34 would be way higher up on list for me). Simon & Garfunkel too: I really liked Lemonheads’ Mrs. Robinson cover, great work capturing essense of original and equally making it their own.

Jeff Wang
February 23, 2013 at 1:31 pm

3 things.

1) I don’t think Kevin Spacey ended up consummating his infatuation with the girl from American Beauty, but I certainly certainly could be mistaken.

2) I think Wes Anderson uses Futura, not Helvetica.

3) Thanks for pointing out the Sparklehorse “Wish You Were Here” cover. Can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. RIP

February 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Crying Game by Boy George should have been included.

February 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I made a playlist on youtube:

February 22, 2013 at 7:14 am

Type o negative’s cover of summer breeze for the opening of I Know What You Did Last Summer always sticks with me, as it flips the song and sets up the (albeit mediocre) movie.

February 22, 2013 at 1:26 am

how did Pearl Jam’s cover of “Love, Reign, O’er me” not make this list?!?!?!?


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