When The Needle Drops.

When The Needle Drops.

By Olivia Yokubonis


When it comes to movies, music often times is just as important as the visual and there is one technique that filmmakers use to great effect.

Let’s set the scene. You’re at the movies seeing the critically claimed film of the year. Snacks are stocked to the brim, a nice bubbly soft drink is secured in the cup holder. You’re sitting back, relaxing, and are ready to enjoy the show. Halfway through the film, you are deep into the story line and a familiar tune starts playing in the background. It was the perfect placement at the perfect moment and it was exactly what the scene needed. And that reader, is the magic of a needle drop.

A needle drop is when a pre-existing song is used in a film to underscore a particular scene. This can be a powerful tool for filmmakers, as the emotions and associations that we have with a particular song can enhance the emotions and associations that we have with a particular scene.

Think of that moment in "The Graduate" when Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" plays as Ben drives away from the church. Or that moment in "Pulp Fiction" when "Son of a Preacher Man" plays as Mia and Vincent dance. These are iconic needle drops that have become inextricably linked with their respective films.

Of course, needle drops can also be overused or used inappropriately. When used well, though, they can elevate a film to new heights and make it a truly unforgettable experience. Here are a few of our favorites in film and television.


GHOST: The Righteous Brothers, “Unchained Melody”

The scene where Patrick Swayze's Sam returns from beyond the grave to help Molly (Demi Moore) sensually spin some pottery is one of the most iconic and frequently referenced moments in movie music history. The Righteous Brothers' cover of "Unchained Melody" was perfectly placed to set the mood for the scene. It's hard not to swoon along with the music and the sensual use of molding clay. It's no wonder that so many of us wanted to take up pottery after watching this famous scene.


SAY ANYTHING: Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”

In 1989's Say Anything, John Cusack's character famously holds up a boombox playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" as a romantic gesture. As Diane wakes up to the sound of Gabriel's dulcet tones, Lloyd stands outside with his arms raised, holding the boombox, in a scene that has become so iconic that people dress up as it for Halloween. The track is from Gabriel's album “So”, released in the same year as the film's debut, an impressive tactic which landed the song on the Top 100 chart for 28 weeks.


LAST OF US: Linda Ronstadt, "Long, Long Time”

In the third episode of the post-apocalyptic survival series, Linda Ronstadt's 1970 ballad is a perfect placement in the heartbreaking moment that is essential to the story line. The lyrics of "Long, Long Time" are critical to the scene as Bill (Nick Offerman) reveals his loneliness by somberly playing the song on the piano after allowing another man, Frank (Murray Bartlett), into his home after three years of isolation. The track marks the beginning of their long relationship, featuring sentimental lyrics in the chorus like, "I think I'm gonna love you for a long, long time," and "I think I'm gonna miss you for a long, long time." The end of the episode returns to the main story line, where Ellie finds a cassette in the glovebox and it is a recording of this exact song. 


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Blue Swede, "Hooked on a Feeling”

The Guargians of the Galaxy series is well known for their incredible song placement’s and it all started with Blue Swede’s, "Hooked on a Feeling” which is closely associated with the first Guardians of the Galaxy trailer and is memorable for its catchy "Ooga-Chaka" chant. It also appears in an early scene of the movie, as Peter is arrested, tasered, and jailed before escaping with the other Guardians. With its classic pop/rock sound, it's a perfect fit for the film's energetic tone and has become an integral part of its soundtrack and a catalyst for continued iconic placements in the series.


BARBIE: Matchbox Twenty, “Push”

One of the most memorable musical moments in the film is Ken's performance of "Push" by Matchbox Twenty. In this hilarious scene, Ken (Ryan Gosling) serenades Barbie (Margot Robbie) with the song for hours on end, accompanying himself on guitar around a campfire on the beach of course (where else!). The scene kickstarts the movie's climax, as Barbie and her fellow dolls attempt to rescue Barbie Land from Ken's bro-dude brewtopia filled with horses, sports, and "The Godfather." The song even becomes the national anthem of the so-called Kendom, replacing Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine."


These songs inevitably will be married to these movies until the end of time, and needle drops will continually be the a tool that the best filmmakers will utilize to elevate a film to new heights and make it a truly unforgettable experience. We hope that you identify and appreciate the needle drops in every film or TV show you watch moving forward. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!


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