My criteria: The song had to be specifically written for the film in question. “Singing In The Rain” may have been the title song of a classic movie, but it was written for the film Hollywood Revue of 1929 NOT for the 1951 musical starring Gene Kelly.
The songs also had be at least twenty years old, which gives us enough time to track its longevity. It’s one thing for a song to be popular for a moment, but after twenty years, you can began to judge the quality of its vintage.
So, here’s my list, in alphabetical order.
A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (From A Hard Day’s Night)
The first of two Beatles songs on this list. The idea for the song came from one of Ringo Starr’s malapropisms. Lennon wrote the song in one day, and it was recorded in three hours. Lennon shared vocals with McCartney (who could reach the high notes in the bridge – “When I’m hooome!”). Musically, the song opens with George Harrison’s iconic Rickenbacker 12-string “mighty chord” and features one of Harrison’s greatest early guitar solos. The song closes with Harrison playing an arpeggio of the opening chord for the fade-out. A classic early Beatles rocker.
All Over The World – ELO (From Xanadu)
From a movie so bad, it inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards to mock the worst from Hollywood. However, as bad as it is (and it’s pretty awful) the music is consistently excellent, mainly thanks to the involvement of Jeff Lynne who wrote five songs for the film. John Lennon, shortly before his death, committed on how much he liked “All Over the World.” The song became a Top 20 hit in America, and was famously well used in the Simon Pegg sci-fi comedy Paul. Forty years later, it is still a concert highlight for Jeff Lynne.
Beauty and the Beast – Angela Lansbury (From Beauty and the Beast)
This beautiful classic poetic ballad was written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, specifically for the Disney film. They encouraged Lansbury to “sing it as she saw it.” Lansbury was worried that her aging voice was not up to the challenge but recorded her version in one take, which wound up being used in the final film. Producer Don Hahn recalled that the actress simply “sang ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from beginning to end and just nailed it.”
East Bound and Down – Jerry Reed (From Smokey and the Bandit)
Written by Jerry Reed and Dick Feller, the song was a massive hit for Reed (#2 Country Charts; #3 Billboard Pop). During filming, Hal Needam, director of “Smokie and the Bandit”, commented that he didn’t have any music for the film. Two days later, Reed came back with three songs that were used in the movie unchanged, including ‘East Bound and Down.’
Eye Of The Tiger – Survivor (From Rocky III)
“Eye of the Tiger” is the song for the most famous work-out montage of all time, and is still the greatest tune to run up art museum steps to.
The song was written by Survivor guitarist Frankie Sullivan and keyboardist Jim Peterik, and recorded at the request of Sylvester Stallone, after Queen denied him permission to use “Another One Bites the Dust”, the song Stallone originally intended as the Rocky III theme.
Footloose – Kenny Loggins (From Footloose)
Co-written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins, the song spent three weeks at number one, March 31—April 14,1984 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and was the first of two number-one hits from the film. Billboard ranked it at the No. 4 song for 1984.
Freddie’s Dead – Curtis Mayfield (From Super Fly)
The first single from the 1972 soundtrack album for the film Super Fly. The single was released before the Super Fly album, and in fact before the film itself was in theaters. The song peaked at #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart.
The song laments the death of Fat Freddie, a character in the film who is run over by a car.
Like most of the music from the Super Fly album, “Freddie’s Dead” appears in the film only in an instrumental arrangement, without any lyrics. The song’s music is featured prominently in the film’s opening sequence and also recurs at several other points. The arrangement is driven by a strong bass line, wah wah guitars, and a melancholy string orchestration.
“Freddie’s Dead” was ruled ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Song because its lyrics are not sung in the film.
Ghostbusters – Ray Parker, Jr (From Ghostbusters)
According to Parker, he was approached by the film’s producers to create a theme song for the film, though he only had a few days to do so and the film’s title seemed impossible to include in any lyrics. However, when watching television late at night, Parker saw a cheap commercial for a local service that reminded him that the film had a similar commercial featured for the fictional business. This inspired him to write the song as a pseudo-advertising jingle that the business could have commissioned as a promotion.
When the theme song of Ghostbusters was released, Huey Lewis sued plagiarism, stating that Parker’s song was too similar to Lewis’s “I Want a New Drug.” Lewis had initially been approached to compose the main theme song for the film. The parties ultimately settled out of court.
It also contains footage from the film and features cameos from many celebrities of the day, all of whom exclaim the song’s “Ghostbusters!” refrain when shown.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland (From Meet Me In St. Louis)
The first of two Judy Garland appearances on this list. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, the was introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. On Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien. In 2007 it was ranked as the third most performed Christmas song and is a bone fide classic American song.
Help! – The Beatles (From Help!)
Written by John Lennon (with help from Paul McCartney.) According to Lennon’s cousin and Stanley Parkes, “Help!” was written after Lennon “came in from the studio one night. ‘God,’ he said, ‘they’ve changed the title of the film: it’s going to be called ‘Help!’ now. So I’ve had to write a new song with the title called ‘Help!’” Lennon later recounted: “The whole Beatles thing was just beyond comprehension. I was subconsciously crying out for help.”
It is ranked at #29 on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. ‘ It is considered by critics as the first crack in the protective shell Lennon had built around his emotions during the Beatles’ rise to fame, and an important milestone in the development of his songwriting style.
Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings (From Live and Let Die)
Even before the movie began filming, Bond producers invited Paul McCartney to write the theme song utilizing the title. McCartney asked to be sent a copy of Ian Fleming’s novel. “I read it and thought it was pretty good. That afternoon I wrote the song and went in the next week and did it … It was a job of work for me in a way because writing a song around a title like that’s not the easiest thing going.”
The producers wanted to have someone else perform it, but McCartney insisted that if they wanted the song, McCartney’s version was to be used over the opening credits. Produced by the legendary George Martin, it is now considered to be the best of the Bond themes. McCartney often wins the throw-in-an-extra-preposition-and-call-it-art award for the line, “And in this ever changing world in which we live in.”
Mrs. Robinson – Simon and Garfunkel (From the Graduate)
“Mrs. Robinson” became the duo’s second chart-topper, hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and peaking within the top 10 of multiple other countries. In 1969, it became the first rock song to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
While recording their fourth LP, Bookends (1968) Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel pitched the song to director Mike Nichols after he had rejected two other songs intended for the film.
They had been working on a track titled “Mrs. Roosevelt“, about former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt and performed it for Nichols. He was ecstatic about the song, later commenting, “They filled in with dee de dee dee de dee dee dee because there was no verse yet, but I liked even that.” Garfunkel later expanded upon the song’s placement in The Graduate:
“Paul had been working on what is now ‘Mrs. Robinson’, but there was no name in it and we’d just fill in with any three-syllable name. And because of the character in the picture we just began using the name ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to fit […] and one day we were sitting around with Mike talking about ideas for another song. And I said ‘What about Mrs. Robinson.’ Mike shot to his feet. ‘You have a song called “Mrs. Robinson” and you haven’t even shown it to me?’ So we explained the working title and sang it for him. And then Mike froze it for the picture as ‘Mrs. Robinson’.
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head – B. J. Thomas (From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
Written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.. In the film version of the song, B.J. Thomas had been recovering from laryngitis, which made his voice sound hoarser than normal. Billboard Magazine also ranked the song 15th on its Top 50 Movie Songs of All Time list in 2014.
Thomas, who In 1968, was a run-of-the-mill moderately successful country-pop singer when he was offered the song for the movie, which changed his life. In 2011, he recounted:
“The song, initially when it came out, I believe it was October of 1969, the movie didn’t come out until December, it did get some bad reviews. It was a very unique and different sounding song, Bacharach and David never had any qualms about trying to do anything different, or push the envelope so to speak. So nowadays, it sounds pretty tame, but back then, radio resisted it to some degree. But, when the movie came out it hit hugely and sold about 200,000 to 300,000 records a day [and continued selling] for about three years.”
On December 3, 2013, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced that the single would be inducted into the 2014 Grammy Hall Of Fame.
Over The Rainbow – Judy Garland (From the Wizard of Oz)
Composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Yip Harburg for the movie The Wizard of Oz and sung by Judy Garland. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Garland’s signature song.
The song was deleted from the film after a preview because MGM chief executive Louis B. Mayer and producer Mervyn LeRoy thought it “slowed down the picture.” Thankfully, it was reinstated. One of the greatest songs of the 20th century.
Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog (From The Muppet Movie)
Written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher who were tasked with writing the songs for The Muppet Movie. For the song that became “Rainbow Connection”, Jim Henson told them that the opening scene should feature Kermit the Frog by himself, singing and playing the banjo. Williams and Ascher wrote most of the song fairly quickly at Williams’ house, but got stuck trying to think of appropriate words for the part in the chorus that eventually became the phrase “the rainbow connection”; they were looking for a way to tie in the chorus to the song’s theme of rainbows. As they sat down for dinner with Williams’ then-wife, Kate Clinton, they explained to her their predicament of looking for a phrase that would provide “a rainbow connection”, then realized, in the course of explaining the problem to her, that the phrase “the rainbow connection” would itself be a good fit.
The song has been described as on “which Kermit the Frog sings with all the dreamy wistfulness of a short, green Judy Garland. ‘Rainbow Connection’ serves the same purpose in The Muppet Movie that ‘Over the Rainbow’ served in The Wizard of Oz, with nearly equal effectiveness: an opening establishment of the characters’ driving urge for something more in life.”
(Theme from) Shaft – Issac Hayes (From Shaft )
“Who’s the black private dick, that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? / (Shaft!) Ya damn right”
Written and recorded by Isaac Hayes in 1971, the song made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is considered by some to be one of the first disco songs. The funkiest song on this list, with one of the greatest bass lines ever. Can ya dig it? Shut yo mouth!
Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees (From Saturday Night Fever)
The greatest disco song ever? Possibly. This song, and the rest of the soundtrack, pushed a mediocre movie into the stratosphere, and turned John Travolta into a movie star.
The Bee Gees were asked to write songs for a proposed movie that did not have a title; in fact, all they were told was it was based on New York magazine cover story about discomania.
They wrote “Stayin’ Alive” over the course of a few days. The track was finished, with Maurice Gibb laying down a bass line similar to the guitar riff, Barry Gibb and Alan Kendall on guitar riffs.. Barry sings falsetto on the whole song, except on the line “life’s going nowhere, somebody help me.”
Due to the death of drummer Dennis Bryon’s mother in the middle of the song’s sessions, they took two bars from the drum track of the already-recorded “Night Fever” track, rerecorded them as a recurrent loop on a separate tape, and proceeded with sessions for “Stayin’ Alive”. This accounts for the unchanging rhythm throughout the song.
We Don’t Need Another Hero – Tina Turner (From Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome)
This classic power ballad, written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, who had written Turner’s massive comeback hit the year before What’s Love Got To Do With It”, were able to repeat the success with this song, giving Turner a second massive worldwide hit (#2 America). Co-starring with Mel Gibson in the 3rd of the Mad Max blockbuster, also helped ignite her career.
When Doves Cry – Prince (From Purple Rain)
The lead single from his 1984 album Purple Rain, Prince performs all vocals and plays all instruments on the track. It was a worldwide hit, and his first American number one single, topping the charts for five weeks. It is unusual due to the fact there is no bass line in the song, unheard of in a 1980s dance track. After Prince’s death in 2016, the song re-entered the Billboard Top Ten and has become one of his most iconic songs.