The Grammys are just a week away, and I feel that justifies an exploration of one of my favorite topics: wonderful music from god-awful movies. Here are my 10 favorite tunes specifically produced for the soundtracks of wretched movies.
10. Michelle Pfeiffer, “Cool Rider” from Grease 2
Grease 2 is a confounding mess from start to finish, but it’s a complete blast if you’re into campy singalong experiences. The movie’s best tune is undoubtedly the brassy, kicky “Cool Rider” where The Greatest Catwoman croons like Benatar over a rip-roaring pop hook. It’s damn replayable, which is something not often said about Grease 2.
9. Alanis Morissette, “Uninvited” from City of Angels
City of Angels is one of those infuriating movies that dares to take its ridiculous melodrama seriously. It’s a feature-length Creed video. Thankfully its soundtrack was a rightful blockbuster featuring original tracks by U2 and — perhaps most famously — the Goo Goo Dolls, who took over the world with their breakout hit “Iris.” For me, the sentiment of “Iris” is slightly too schlocky for inclusion here, but Alanis Morissette’s wailing, Grammy-winning “Uninvited” is perfect: a booming, atmospheric opus with intriguing lyrics and cinematic grandeur. It was the perfect segue between the caustic, catharsis-needy Alanis of Jagged Little Pill and the contemplative, Far Eastern-tinged Alanis of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.
8. Madonna, “Causing a Commotion” from Who’s That Girl?
Madonna has had multiple great songs in terrible movies — “Beautiful Stranger” in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (HATE those movies), “Crazy for You” in Vision Quest, and the watery, wonderful “I’ll Remember” from the so-so film With Honors. But no movie was worse than Who’s That Girl?, which featured four great Madonna tracks including the zesty, effervescent “Causing a Commotion.” Among Madonna fans it’s generally hailed as the obscurest of her masterpiece singles, and it contains the definitive Madonna lyric: “Quit wasting time / Make up your mind / And get into the groove.”
7. Eric Clapton, “Tears in Heaven” from Rush
“Tears in Heaven” is a heavy, droopy ballad, but it’s a killer. Clapton’s painful elegy finds the guitar legend grappling with the death of his son Conor, and its lyrics and music make for an unbearably moving experience — as opposed to the movie Rush, which is just unbearable. The song would become the signature tune from Clapton’s MTV Unplugged disc, which would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.
6. Janet Jackson, “Doesn’t Really Matter” from The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps
Frankly, pop music rarely gets better than this: Janet Jackson’s sprightly, blippy “Doesn’t Really Matter” is the only lovable thing related to The Nutty Professor 2. Jackson’s Watley-lite vocal is perfect for the trippy little gem, and it was the perfect antidote to the self-imposed heaviness of the Velvet Rope album.
5. Olivia Newton-John, “Magic” from Xanadu
To be honest, I had a really difficult time picking the best song from the Xanadu soundtrack. The movie is a noted disaster, but its major problem is it doesn’t spend enough time AT Xanadu, the mythological roller disco that finally manifests in the film’s final reel. Olivia Newton-John — who is still an underrated vocalist — sounds crisp and ethereal on the ELO soundtrack contributions, including “Xanadu,” the gorgeous “Suspended in Time,” and the ABBA-level heavenliness of “Magic.” Like Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night,” it defies categorization because it’s a ballad with bursts of sonic toughness. A masterwork worthy of only the fairest-haired Fate.
4. Donna Summer, “Last Dance” from Thank God It’s Friday
An unthinkably awful movie paired with an Oscar-winning, career-defining song, Donna Summer’s “Last Dance’ is so ubiquitous that we forget to associate it with the ’79 film Thank God It’s Friday. As Leonard Maltin once noted, it may be the single worst film ever to garner an Academy Award, but I’m sure songwriter Paul Jabara didn’t mind picking up the hardware anyway.
3. Dionne Warwick, “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” from Valley of the Dolls
World-class vocalist Dionne Warwick sells the hell out of this gorgeous ballad, which is lovelier and more restrained than just about anything in the insane adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s novel. (Though Lee Grant’s delivery of “I’m gonna heat up the lasagna” is pretty divine.) Warwick’s clear, yet melancholy trill is perfect, and you can thank Dory and Andre Previn (the former Mr. Mia Farrow, mais bien sur) for its classic lushness.
2. Prince, “Kiss” from Parade: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon
I was tempted to include “When Doves Cry” or “Let’s Go Crazy” on this list, but there can be no denying that Under the Cherry Moon is a far inferior film to Purple Rain — and that “Kiss” may be a superior jam to both aforementioned hits. “Kiss” is the sexiest, nerviest, kinkiest little dance classic ever, and its spareness is just as addicting as Prince’s precise coo. Along with “Erotic City,” it’s the most tantalizingly naughty dancefloor-filler in Prince’s catalog.
1. Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody?” from Dr. Dolittle
Satan thanks me for even daring to mention Dr. Dolittle, but its soundtrack features not only a stellar R&B dance jam and a bona fide radio hit in “Are You That Somebody?”, but a decade-defining single that combined beat-driven emotionality with flawless production. It’s a thumping, undeniable earworm, and Aaliyah’s classy, yet energized vocal is simply unforgettable. Eddie Murphy, here’s your real dreamgirl.
Your turn: What’s the best music of the worst cinema?