From Tarantino to Thor: The A.V. Club’s favorite needle drops

From Tarantino to Thor: The A.V. Club’s favorite needle drops

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Gif: Natalie Peeples

This week’s AVQ&A is from assistant editor Alex McLevy:

What is your favorite “needle drop”? As in, what is your favorite use of a pre-existing song in a TV series or film?

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U2’s “With Or Without You” in The Americans

U2’s “With Or Without You” in The Americans

U2’s “With Or Without You” is an unexpected song choice for a Cold War espionage drama, but it’s an oddly perfect fit for The Americans’ intense series finale. The crushing impact of the music and lyrics is most felt when it drops during the poignant moment when Philip and Elizabeth see their daughter, Paige, at the train station, and they realize she’s chosen to stay in America instead of escape with them to Russia. Bono belting the song’s falsetto has never felt more like a personal attack than when combined with Keri Russell’s heartbreaking expressions. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Shaun Of The Dead

Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in Shaun Of The Dead

Edgar Wright’s films move to a rhythm all their own—except for when they’re quite literally moving to someone else’s. Even before Baby Driver expanded the definition of a “movie musical,” Wright was choreographing his action scenes to choice soundtrack cuts, perhaps most notably in Shaun Of The Dead’s climactic scene at The Winchester, when Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” becomes the delightfully ironic score to the zombie apocalypse. When Shaun and company can’t turn off the jukebox (“Kill the Queen!”), they find themselves fighting for their lives to the beat of the rollicking Jazz cut, wailing on the undead with pool cues as Freddie Mercury wails. I’ll never not think of David (Dylan Moran) enthusiastically flicking fuse switches whenever I hear the song. [Cameron Scheetz]

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Ennio Morricone’s “L’Arena” in Kill Bill Vol. 2

Ennio Morricone’s “L’Arena” in Kill Bill Vol. 2

Given how carefully he’s constructed his career around the pursuit of this exact honorific, it would be cruel to deny Quentin Tarantino his place as the post-Scorsese King Of The Needle Drop, right?. I could pull five or so different picks from Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, or Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, easy, but none stick with me as thoroughly as Tarantino’s use of Ennio Morricone’s “L’Arena” in Kill Bill Vol. 2. Originally written for Sergio Corbucci’s The Mercenary, Morricone’s soaring trumpet piece is sort of the platonic ideal of the Tarantino needle drop: mostly obscure, utterly gorgeous, and so perfectly suited to the needs of the scene—in this case, Uma Thurman’s methodical, wordless escape from a seemingly inescapable death trap—that it instantly supplants any other associations the song might have previously had. [William Hughes]

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The Fray’s “How To Save A Life” in Scrubs

The Fray’s “How To Save A Life” in Scrubs

Scrubs used thousands of needle drops, but none landed better than The Fray’s “How To Save A Life.” The basic setup is that a patient died of an apparent drug overdose, and John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox uses her organs as transplants for three other patients. It later turns out that she actually had rabies, and one by one all three patients die while Cox becomes increasingly shattered. The song is there the whole time, building to the chorus— “…had I known how to save a life”—as Cox loses the last patient, leaving him completely devastated. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it still hurts. [Sam Barsanti]

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Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill The Wine” in Boogie Nights

Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill The Wine” in Boogie Nights

I love any song that tells you all the kinds of ladies there are. There are all kinds of ladies, you see, varying by height, weight, hair color, skin color, etc., and the speaker nearly always loves them all. I also love the deep, sardonic voice of Eric Burdon (formerly of The Animals) and War, whose Dazed And Confused soundtrack contributions, “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and “Low Rider,” could also appear on this list. Burdon and War’s “Spill The Wine” follows the bathing suits and hot bodies of a sunny L.A. porn/pool party in Boogie Nights, the same way Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera does in a single, unbroken take. The lyrics are trippy and somewhat nonsensical, more interesting for the sounds Burdon makes with them than their meaning, and when one of the women at the party—tan and shortish with brown hair—wipes her nose after a line, flicks her cigarette, and dives into the pool, Burdon’s voice swells and the camera follows her under in a perfect moment of pure physical sensation. [Laura Adamczyk]

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The Mountain Goats’ “No Children” in You’re The Worst

The Mountain Goats’ “No Children” in You’re The Worst

When The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle wrote 2002’s Tallahassee from the point of view of a fucked-up Alpha couple, who are “these people who get together in California, and they fall in love, but they’re really broken people, and they’re very bad for each other,” he likely didn’t expect that 12 years later, there’d be a hit TV show about a couple that eerily fits the bill. You’re The Worst ends Jimmy and Gretchen’s love story with a montage soundtracked by “No Children,” featuring them becoming a happy-ish “normal” couple raising a child, and it wrecks me each time I watch it. I never thought a song that goes “I hope you die / I hope we both die” would ever feel so romantic. [Tatiana Tenreyro]

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Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds Of Silence” in The Graduate

Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds Of Silence” in The Graduate

It seems inconceivable now, but no one wanted what Simon & Garfunkel were selling when they first released “Sounds Of Silence” on their debut, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., in 1964. The duo actually disbanded when their album flopped, but were rushed back into the studio a year later when the single proved to be a late bloomer, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1966. The Graduate director Mike Nichols and editor Sam O’Steen initially used the song to time some scenes in post-production, with the intent of replacing it with original music—but they ultimately couldn’t imagine a better track to accentuate the final scene of the film. Though it was relatively unheard of in 1967 to use an already popular song in a movie, the melancholy vibe is a perfect fit as the camera continues to roll long after the “happy ending,” capturing the reality setting in on the faces of Dustin Hoffman’s and Katharine Ross’ characters as they ride off into the unknown. [Patrick Gomez]

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Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” in Inland Empire

Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” in Inland Empire

Your mileage may vary on David Lynch’s Inland Empire, the auteur’s epic (and epically weird, even by Lynchian standards) dive into his own subconscious and the power of imagery on identity. Personally, I’m a fan, though I haven’t revisited it in years. But even detractors should acknowledge that the end credits, kicked off by Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman,” are practically a mini-movie unto themselves. It’s a giddy celebration of all the three-plus hours that came before it, culminating in a dizzying dance performance and a previously unseen Black woman lip-synching Simone’s line “power” over and over, directly to camera, while Laura Dern’s Nikki looks on beatifically. One of the most kinetic sequences of the director’s career, exhilarating in a way his compositions rarely are, it’s one hell of a mic drop to end his strangely absorbing—and most enigmatic—film. [Alex McLevy]

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The Flaming Lips’ “Bad Days” in Batman Forever

The Flaming Lips’ “Bad Days” in Batman Forever

I wanted to write about a needle drop that’s more poignant, or one that’s under-appreciated due to its proximity to a particularly meme-worthy sync from the same movie. But I just kept coming back to Beach Boy harmonies, Gotham City miniatures, and a cramped hideaway that looks cool onscreen but, in our offscreen world, would definitely get its resident locked up. I write, of course, of “Bad Days” by The Flaming Lips and my favorite movie of all time circa 1995, Batman Forever. It’s an almost-too-on-the-nose articulation of Edward Nygma’s workplace woes, pairing the revenge-fantasy lyrics with The Riddler’s junk-store Batcave and carnival ephemera whose provenance was only revealed in the junior novelization of the film. But it’s also proof that when it comes to the first wave of Batman movies, the villains get all the best stuff. Let the Caped Crusader and Dr. Chase Meridian have their Grammy-winning love ballad; give me the scuzzy psychedelic EP cuts, the Method Man character themes, and all the good songs from the Prince album. [Erik Adams]

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Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” in Thor: Ragnarok

Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” in Thor: Ragnarok

We know from Richard Linklater’s School Of Rock that Robert Plant et al. are notoriously stingy when it comes to the usage of Led Zeppelin songs in movies. Fortunately, Marvel has deep pockets and was able to secure the rights to “The Immigrant Song,” just one of the multitude of elements that makes Thor: Ragnarok among the best of the MCU releases. Although written over four decades prior, the song seems perfectly crafted for a Thor movie, describing a “land of ice and snow” and, more importantly, “the hammer of the gods” that belongs to everyone’s favorite Nordic hero. Director Taika Waititi used the iconic rock epic to its full advantage: in the trailer, in Thor’s first big battle scene, and at the end when he regains his power at the battle of Asgard, the powerful screams of “The Immigrant Song” announcing that the God Of Thunder has indeed returned. [Gwen Ihnat]

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