Remember when movies had affiliated pop songs?
Between the late eighties and early 2000s, having a single in the charts to promote your movie was a pretty big deal, and major blockbuster releases would be complete with a singer/songwriter providing their skills.
Not even an “inspired by” album, or a pre-existing song being licensed for a new movie, but an entirely original song being used to promote a movie in pop music charts. This almost never happens now, perhaps due to ends never justifying the means these days.
When was the last time you heard of a major motion picture getting a unique single written for it? Which wasn’t a James Bond movie? (those go without saying; it is a tradition with is wonderful to see being upheld for so long!) I can only think of Rihanna’s song for Star Trek Beyond in 2016.
But recent attempts have fallen on deaf ears, pun intended, and the promotional stunt started to die off at the turn of the millennium. Which is a shame, as I feel that past collaborations say a lot about the creativity behind the movies; Tim Burton working with Prince, and James Cameron working with Guns’n’Roses and Celine Dion.
So this little article is about some of my favourites, and some of the most notable singles (that aren’t James Bond themes) to come out, back when this fun novelty was prevalent.
Are you ready for some 80s-90s energy?? I don’t think you are!
Guns ‘n’ Roses – “You will be Mine” – Terminator 2: Judgment Day
This is the one that sparked writing this article. Of course, Guns ‘n’ Roses are synonymous with the Terminator franchise; featuring heavily in 1991’s Terminator 2, and having a cameo in McG’s Terminator: Salvation. But I hadn’t seen the official video until this year!
Such is the way of these promotional songs, the video is intercut with footage from the movie, but the band even starred in unique footage alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800. What a fun concept. It definitely evokes the attitude and energy that Cameron and Schwarzenegger must have had during their Terminator 2 days.
Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron both approached Guns ‘n’ Roses for the collaboration, with the actor hosting the band to a household dinner to discuss the deal. While not strictly written for the movie, the song was released the same year.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – “Face to Face” – Batman Returns
A personal favourite of mine. I was obsessed with Batman Returns as a kid, and has probably coloured my perceptions of movies ever since. But as mentioned above, director Tim Burton’s fingerprints are all over this, as well it might as the band worked alongside Burton’s long-term musical aid Danny Elfman.
Face to Face, by Siouxie and the Banshees is a hauntingly beautiful, yet primal and dangerous, echoing closely with the film’s portrayal of Catwoman. Tim Burton went on record about how he had “Always been a fan” of the band, and certainly, the song matches the movie completely.
Prince – “Batdance”/”Partyman” – Batman
Probably one of the most famous (infamous) movie collaborations is Tim Burton and Prince for the 1989 Batman movie. Famous for its frankly insane music video called Batdance. For sake of this article, I’ll share the video for Partyman instead but please do look up “Batdance” and report your findings…
While Batdance was a chart topper, bafflingly, Partyman was featured within the film itself; when Joker takes over an art gallery in flamboyant style. Moreover, Prince’s dedication to the collaboration ended with him completing not two songs, but an entire album. Now that is dedication.
Annie Lennox – “Love Song for a Vampire” – Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Another haunting experience, this time from Scottish singer Annie Lennox, written for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula. An eerie, gothic song that definitely evokes the supernatural and electrifying presence of the film’s creature. It is easy to say that the 1992 film is one of the strongest (despite its flaws) adaptations of the gothic novel, and Lennox’s addition only adds to that strength.
Byran Adams – “(Everything I do) I do it For You” – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Sorry everyone, but you can’t do this list without at least mentioning this one.
There was a point in the nineties that people would say in exasperation: “that Bryan Adams song that was number 1 forever!” and indeed, as part of the release of Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner, Canadian Bryan Adams dominated the top of the UK charts for sixteen weeks. The infamous power ballad was criticised by Hollywood executives, who felt the song needed to be more in keeping with the film’s time period.
Luckily for Adams (perhaps less lucky for the rest of us) this critique was ignored!
Kenny Loggins – “Danger Zone” – Top Gun
In making this list, somehow this entry almost slipped by me. So synonymous is Danger Zone to its movie, so parodied is Danger Zone, that one could almost forget that the song was written for the Tony Scott film Top Gun.
There isn’t another song that so perfectly encapsulates the film which is belongs to. There is a sense of speed, a sense of fearlessness, is ridiculously 80s, and has a lot of testosterone. The producers on the movie had around 300 songs in mind for Top Gun, but seemingly none of them quite cut it, and even after Danger Zone had been penned, a singer was not easy to find. They went through Byran Adams, Toto, and REO Speedwagon, with Kenny Loggins being one of them.
Ray Parker Jr. – “Ghostbusters” – Ghostbusters (1984)
If we are talking about a song that represents and elevates the movie it is tied to… “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. is undoubtedly up there. From the very first notes of the song, it is exactly designed for the goofy, spooky, fun, and 1980s energy of the sci-fi comedy.
This song was so integral to the movie, it followed the franchise into video games, cartoons, and sequels.
There was some trouble early on, when Ray Parker Jr. was under a lawsuit by Huey Lewis, claiming the Ghostbusters song plagiarised the song “I Want a New Drug.” The lawsuit failed, and years later, Parker Jr. filed a successful lawsuit against Lewis for a documentary stating that the Ghostbusters theme did plagiarise him. However, the final twist, is that the film producers used “I Want a New Drug” as a bassline for their film’s production, and as reference for the theme song.
We just don’t talk about the version from the 2016 remake… okay?
Will Smith – “Men in Black “/ “Wild Wild West” – Men in Black / Wild Wild West
Of course, the easiest tactic you could have, is to have a lead star who is also a singer. After Independence Day catapulted the fresh prince Will Smith into movie stardom, he leapt into his portrayal of Agent Jay in Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1997 Men In Black, including a hit single to go with it. The song was his first solo outing, with the song lifting from “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen.
In 1999, Smith would return to provide the song for Wild Wild West, also directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and again in 2002 for Men in Black 2.
Unfortunately, Smith declined to supply a single for Men in Black 3 in 2012. Probably a good signifier of when this part of movie promotions died… And so for MIB3 we got… we got Pitbull’s song…
Look it up, if you want, I’m… I’m not sharing it here.
Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On” – Titanic
Ugh. Yeah, I guess we need this one too, don’t we?
Amazingly, for being a massive hit that struck the top of the charts, Titanic director James Cameron and singer Celine Dion did not like the song initially. Dion specifically did not want to push her luck after completing the theme for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, but composer James Horner and lyricist Will Jennings went ahead with preparing the song anyway. In fact, the song recorded for the film was the first demo recording from the singer, while Horner only showed Cameron the final product when the director was in a good mood!
Queen – “Flash” – Flash Gordon
Another one I almost forgot about! Queen’s single recorded for Mike Hodges’ 1980 movie Flash Gordon. Another production rife with issues, with the film itself suffering from being a serious production but resulting in a campy romp.
Producer Dino de Laurentiis did not approve of Queen’s theme song, despite the band and songwriter Brian May being privy to the film’s rushes during production. However director Hodges enjoyed the musical experience, and with the film’s much bigger issues, de Laurentiis had no time to address the issues he had with the music. May, in an interview, described that the band had been looking to do a film soundtrack “if the right one came along”. Perhaps it was destiny, given that the end result was a film of campy silliness, and the theme ultimately accentuated this.