The 30 Best Movie Songs of the Last 40 Years – Part III

17 Aug

5.  Stayin’ Alive, by The Bee Gees, from Saturday Night Fever (1977)

The Bee Gees wrote a number of tracks for the film, Saturday Night Fever, including the hits More Than a Woman and Night Fever. However Stayin’ Alive is probably the most iconic, a high tempo disco hit that physically causes listeners to strut. Recording the song wasn’t without its problems though. The Bee Gees’ normal drummer wasn’t available, and after exhausting other options in the short time they had to record the song, the band simply took the drum track from Night Fever, which was already recorded, looped two bars, and used that on Stayin’ Alive. After that, the jokingly named ‘Bernard Lupe’ became a sought after drummer until people realised he was fake. Awesome. With Barry Gibb belting out falsetto in harmony with his brothers, and a persistent up tempo beat from the esteemed Mr Lupe, the track was a massive success, helping the film become the same.

Stats: Number 1 in the US and Australia, number 4 in the UK.

Penalty Points: I know it was before the days of big music videos, but the clip looks like it took $20 and 20 minutes to make.

Bonus Points: There is not a person on the planet who doesn’t enjoy falsetto-ing along to this song; John Travolta on the dance floor; I’m not making this up: medical associations use the song for CPR training as the beat is perfect to maintain the correct compression rate. Stayin’ Alive indeed.

4.  Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor, from Rocky III (1982)

Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger contains one of the best rock n roll riffs of all time, a riff that punches you in the face with a series of strong chords like a combination of boxer’s punches.  No wonder it was so perfect for Rocky III as well as one of the biggest rock anthems of all time.  Sylvester Stallone had originally sought Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust for his film, but couldn’t obtain permission to do so.  For a while, Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best was set to fill the void, but Sly didn’t think it was quite right.  (You’re the Best was also turned down for the soundtrack of Flashdance in favour of Maniac, but eventually found a place in The Karate Kid during Daniel’s tournament montage.)  Eventually he approached Survivor, and we’re all glad he did, as Eye of the Tiger and The Italian Stallion are inseparable, and both world champions: the song was number one in twelve countries, including spending six weeks atop the US charts, and was the biggest song of the year in Australia as well as the second biggest in the US.  Talk about a knock out.

Stats: Number 1 in the US, UK and Australia; Academy Award nomination; Golden Globe nomination.

Penalty Points: I kind of wish Stallone used You’re the Best for Rocky III, so that we could have seen Daniel LaRusso fight in the All-Valley Karate Tournament to Eye of the Tiger.

Bonus Points: The first 30 seconds of the music video is unintentional comedy gold, particularly the work of keyboarder Jim Peterik; that riff is special.

3.  My Heart Will Go On, by Celine Dion, from Titanic (1997)

Love it or hate it, My Heart Will Go On was a phenomenon, every bit as large and successful as the movie it hailed from, Titanic. Unlike the film’s namesake, the heartstring-tugging ballad did anything but sink, reaching number one all over the world and being 1998’s biggest song globally, selling 15 million copies worldwide. This may or may not have resulted in the Canadian standing on the bow of a ship with $100 bills clutched in her hand declaring, “I’m the queen of the world!” Interestingly, James Cameron, director of Titanic, did not want any songs in the film. My Heart Will Go On was developed anyway using James Horner’s orchestral score, and was taken to Dion. She wasn’t a fan, and initially declined to record it. Eventually she was talked into it, and the demo – which was recorded in one take – was played to Cameron. The director eventually acquiesced, and the song went on to become one of the iconic parts of the movie and a juggernaut in its own right. It remains Dion’s biggest seller, and remains a go to song for anyone with a broken heart, a box of tissues, and a tub of chocolate ice-cream.

Stats: Number 1 in the US, the UK and Australia; Academy Award win; Golden Globe win; Grammy win.

Penalty Points: In 1998, the song was played approximately 70 million times a day to the point where you would rather be on a ship sinking into the Atlantic Ocean than hear it again.

Bonus Points: Ummm… It was really successful?

2.  (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, from Dirty Dancing (1987)

We have another Jennifer Warnes sighting! Five years after Up Where We Belong, Warnes delivered another cracking soundtrack song, this time teaming up with one half of the Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley, for the lead track to Dirty Dancing(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.  The song was written by Franke Previte, who also wrote Eric Carmen’s Hungry Eyes, another song that features on the soundtrack.  The song is most famous for its use in the conclusion of the film, where Baby and Johnny (Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze) put on the dance performance to end all dance performances.  Interestingly, that scene was filmed first due to budget reasons, and at that time the song wasn’t recorded.  Instead, the actors had to perform to Previte’s demo, which Swayze allegedly described as his favourite version of the song.  I don’t care what Swayze says, the Medley/Warnes version is brilliant, as evidenced by it reaching number one all over the world and being Australia’s highest selling single of 1988. Don’t put Medley and Warnes in a corner!

Stats: Number 1 in the US, UK and Australia; Academy Award win; Golden Globe win; Grammy nomination.

Penalty Points: If it wasn’t for Time of My Life, we wouldn’t have had to suffer that awful Black Eyed Peas song that sampled it.

Bonus Points: Killer ‘80s sax solo; inspired countless people to try to catch and hold in the air their leaping dance partners (related: also inspired countless back and neck injuries).

1.  I Will Always Love You, by Whitney Houston, from The Bodyguard (1992)

It doesn’t get any bigger than this.  When it comes to choosing the biggest movie song of all time, let alone the last 40 years, there’s no going past Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, from the soundtrack to The Bodyguard.  Originally written and recorded by Dolly Parton, the country singer’s version was a strong success, reaching number one on the US Country Charts.  But when Houston recorded a version for The Bodyguard soundtrack, she took it to a whole new level. The song was number one virtually everywhere in the world (it managed only number 2 in Finland and 5 in Japan – pathetic), including ten consecutive weeks at number one in the UK and Australia, and a then record fourteen weeks atop the US charts (sorry Boyz II Men at number 8 on this list).  And whilst many songs on this list were among the top of various countries’ yearly best sellers, I Will Always Love You made most countries’ lists in BOTH 1992 and 1993.  For example, it was the highest selling single in the UK in 1992, as well as the 9th highest selling song the following year.  In the US, it was the highest selling song of 1993 even though it was also the 5th highest selling song of 1992.  Incredible. Interestingly, Houston was supposed to cover What Becomes of the Brokenhearted by Jimmy Ruffin as the film’s lead single.  However, when that song was used in 1991’s Fried Green Tomatoes, they decided they needed another song, and they needed it quickly.  Enter real life superhero, Kevin Costner, who played Houston Linda Ronstadt’s 1975 version of I Will Always Love You.  Great call.  She recorded it, her team updating it from a country song to an R’n’B ballad, and took it to the studio.  However, in classic music studio stupidity, they didn’t like the a cappella intro and almost nixed the whole thing.  You can guess what happens next: Costner kicks in the studio’s doors, protectively carrying Houston in his arms, and demands the song remain untouched.  I’m not 100% sure that’s entirely accurate, but Costner and Houston did stand up to the studio, and the rest is history. A prodigious voice belting out an emotional powerhouse track, accompanying a heartstring-tugging film starring the mercurial Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in her acting debut?  We will always love I Will Always Love You, the greatest movie song of the last 40 years.

Stats: Number 1 in the US, UK, Australia, and essentially everywhere else that has radio.

Penalty Points: None.  Next question.

Bonus Points: Whitney Houston at the peak of her powers; yet another killer ‘80s sax solo, but in a ’90s track; it makes every man, woman and child wish to be held in Costner’s strong, safe arms.

Is I Will Always Love You the greatest movie song of the last 40 years?  Should something else have been number one?  Any other songs deserve to be in the list?  Comment below!

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