Writers, actors, directors are all inspired by a myriad of different sources, but movies influence culture as well. All fifteen of these songs originated or were inspired by a film. Some are more direct than others in revealing their influence, while others drew upon the style or state of mind a certain film.
15. “Valley of the Dolls” by Marina and the Diamonds (Inspired by Valley of the Dolls)
Hollywood’s adaptation of the Jacqueline Susanne novel about movie starlets, backstage drama, and drug abuse remains a camp classic. Beneath the self aware artificiality of the dialogue and the acting lies a nascent feminist message on the treatment of women in show business, which may account for the hostile reaction the film received from male critics. Valley of the Dolls reveals a business using women for their looks only to cast them aside when someone younger comes along.
Welsh singer-songwriter Marina and the Diamonds song of the same title speaks to themes of the film with dreamy 60s melodies interspersed with dark lyrics, “In the valley of the dolls we sleep, got a hole inside of me, living with identities that do not belong to me.” An excellent modern take on a film worthy of reevaluation.
14. “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor (Inspired by High Fidelity)
John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity remarked how music fanatics are so into their music real life often fails to measure up. The Regina Spektor song of the same title plays off that idea, Spektor realizes the imaginary lover in the songs she listens to may never measure up in real life, “I got lost in the sounds I hear in my mind” and it breaks her heart.
The music obsessed characters in High Fidelity who speak in their own language of pop culture references must reconcile themselves with living in the real world. There’s a song for every moment and reference point, but one still has to live. Pop music can reinforce fantasy, yet can also make life more tolerable.
13. “Jocko Homo” by Devo (Inspired by Island of Lost Souls)
Akron based Devo took inspiration from the pre-code classic Island of Lost Souls, the best adaptation ever made of the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. The story’s about a mad scientist conducting genetic experiments between humans and animals, creating a tormented species of hybrids. Eventually they turn on their creator as they repeat the line, “Are we not men?” Members of Devo caught the film on late night TV and saw parallels with their downtrodden hometown of Akron.
The economic malaise of 1970s Akron with closing factories and skyrocketing unemployment, the film mirrored their reality of rustbelt despair. Devo, blending performance art with anti-pop music, embraced their post-industrial identities by wearing radiation suits and forsaking their humanity by regressing to robotic behavior. The chorus repeats, “Are we not men? We are Devo! Are we not men? We are Devo!”
12. “Chain Saw” by The Ramones (Inspired by Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
A standout track from their debut LP, The Ramones and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are a match made in hell. The song begins with the lyric “Sitting around with nothin’ to do, sitting around thinkin only of you” until he realizes his baby got lost in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Boredom, a preoccupation of The Ramones, leads them to thoughts of destructive violence and apathy.
The DIY vibe of Tobe Hooper’s film parallels the punk ethos. The “screw the rules” feel of the film and its willingness to embrace madness shocked audiences. Shot on location at a real house in unbearable 100+ degree weather, Hooper pushed his cast and crew to the limit.
The economic and social realities created the cultural mood for punk to take off, music that embraced living in an age of diminished expectations. Leatherface and his family are terrifying jumble of joyful chaos and anarchy.
11. “So Long, Astoria” by The Ataris (Inspired by The Goonies)
As the popularity of the Netflix Series Stranger Things proved, the mystique of The Goonies survives in the pop culture collective unconscious. The unique cast of characters, rippling dialogue, and old fashioned adventure make The Goonies a Rosetta Stone of 1980s cinema.
Indiana based band The Ataris paid homage to The Goonies in “So Long, Astoria.” The nostalgic tune uses The Goonies as a metaphor for memory. Even though the narrator once saw himself as a rebel, upon reflection realizes he’s like everyone else. Imagining he was in the film “I found a map to buried treasure even if we come home empty handed we still have our stories” he comes to terms with getting older.
The lyric pays tribute to the enduring mythos of The Goonies, a movie about a specific time and place with great friends, corporate sharks, and valiant efforts to keep the band together against all odds. Their only defense: wit, cunning, and unbreakable spirit. So cheer up and go watch The Goonies, is this a nuclear Saturday or something?
10. “Walcott” by The Vampire Weekend (Inspired by The Lost Boys)
Indie Rock band Vampire Weekend got their name from a viewing of The Lost Boys. Like The Goonies, the Lost Boys brought a hip MTV sensibility to the mainstream horror film.
Koenig watched The Lost Boys one night and decided to make his own version set in New England. The song imagines a young man who escaped a town infested with vampires and tires to convince a neighboring city to get ready, a vampire weekend if you will. Lyrics like “Evil Feasts on human lives, the Holy Roman Empire Roots for you tonight” recall the mythos of Dracula. A cool song that led to many more cool songs.
9. “Spectre” by Radiohead (Spectre)
Although the producers of the most James Bond film Spectre rejected the Radiohead theme “Spectre” in favor of Sam Smith’s Oscar winning “Writing on the Wall,” it’s the most radical approach to a Bond theme ever recorded. As the series with Daniel Craig as Bond continues to get darker and more realistic, the song matched the stark mood.
In its original incarnation the super criminal group SPECTRE were more entertaining than menacing, a parody of what such an organization would look like. The lyric, “futures tricked by the past, Spectre, how he laughs,” induce paranoia and doom. The best Bond theme never to appear in an actual Bond film.