You may have noticed a peculiar trend over the past century: popular music from young people's radio stations and the like are cropping up in cinematic feature films. 2014 continued this burgeoning trend with great gusto, with pretty much every movie you can think of in some way incorporating some of that sweet sugary ear candy. Here are 40 of our favourites, with just one getting very special attention, if only because it really is that unfathomably awesome.
‘Everything Is AWESOME!!!’
Artist: Tegan And Sara / The Lonely Island
In: The Lego Movie
Canadian indie popsters Tegan And Sara were enlisted to perform Bricksburg’s biggest (and only) radio hit - as written by Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton (AKA Jo Li) and comedic music maestros The Lonely Island - giving the world at large a song so infectious and emphatic, the three exclamation marks in its title just didn’t seem quite enough. The International Business Times declared it a brilliantly subversive parody of fascism, which may have been overthinking it just slightly, although if you did want to reduce your population to a servile mass of droolingly obedient human goldfish, there are worse ways of going about it. Altogether now: “You know what's awesome? EVERYTHING!”
‘The Money Chant’
Artist: Robbie Robertson ft. Matthew McConaughey
In: The Wolf Of Wall Street
By the end of 2014, you can pretty much guarantee that nobody but nobody was spelling Matthew McConaughey’s surname incorrectly. An Oscar here, a thought-provoking mega-blockbuster there, a groundbreaking TV show just for the heck of it. Not bad at all. And just for good measure, he was an integral part of the year’s first major earworm. Hardly surprising, of course - music has always been a true love for Hollywood’s foremost naked jazz percussionist, and he must have got a major kick out of featuring on a track by Robbie Robertson. Based around a sample of McConaughey’s chest-thumping inspirational mantra from the lunch scene with Leonardo DiCaprio – itself based on something McConaughey likes to do between takes, and which DiCaprio insisted he include in the film – ‘The Money Chant’ is a deliciously addictive groove about greenbacks.
‘Time In A Bottle’
Artist: Jim Croce
“Should not be a famous overplayed song. Should be one that we make famous, like Quentin did with Neil Diamond’s 'Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon'. Something that would be super-cool now.” Not our words, but the words of Bryan Singer, typed onto his iPhone when his voice gave out during filming of X-Men: Days Of Future Past. He was referring, of course, to the Quicksilver kitchen scene, eulogised elsewhere in our Review Of The Year. Empire asked which song he’d chosen, naturally, but he deflected our inquiry, only to say that it was era-appropriate and subject-appropriate. He wasn’t wrong. ‘Time In A Bottle’, a lilting, folksy lament from Croce, beautifully enhances the scene, where something quirkier and rockier might have fallen utterly flat. Spookily, Croce died in a plane crash in 1973, the year in which Days Of Future Past is set, lending the lyrics of ‘Time In A Bottle’ a poignant edge. “There never seems to be enough time/to do the things you want to do…”
‘Come And Get Your Love’
In: Guardians Of The Galaxy
Singling out one song from the movie that made OSTs cool again is no easy task. This piece could just as easily be about Elvin Bishop’s angelic ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’, for example, or the impish ‘Escape (The Pina Colada Song)’. But it’s this funky classic from Native American rock group Redbone that sets the tone and tempo for James Gunn’s space rock-opera, settling both its hero and the audience into an unmistakable groove as Star-Lord dances around ancient ruins, using local wildlife as an impromptu microphone. It’s the song that says, from the off, this is not the movie you were expecting. And it’s catchy as hell.
Artist: Family Of The Year
The song that adorns Empire’s film of 2014 like the bow on a Christmas present, ‘Hero’ is so full of Boyhood’s charms and uncertainties (“I’m a kid like everyone else” runs one particularly Mason-y lyric), it could only have been written especially for the film. Except, of course, it wasn’t. Californian four-piece Family Of The Year, an indie troupe of Mumfordian folk tendencies, released it two years ago. It was the last track picked for Richard Linklater’s jukebox of time-specific tunes, initially deemed “too much” before the director decided that “too much” was exactly the right amount for the scene. “You know when it works,” he told Time magazine. “That’s the good thing. You know it when you finally crack it.”
Artist: Hans Zimmer
If the year ends with a number between 0 and 9, you can beat your lugholes that Hans Zimmer will have popped up with another score to register high on any December round-up. Interstellar’s space jams, built around a haunting organ motif, were full of the wonder of space and the sheer, jaw-dropping zaniness of its heroes’ interplanetary exploits. This main theme was the perfect earworm for Christopher Nolan’s wormholes.
Artist: Neil Young
In: Expendables 3
Only if Neil Young had bashed out a ditty called ‘Old Man With Massive Rocket Launcher’ could there have been a more perfect accompaniment to the bit of Expendables 3 when its ageing tough guys assemble in a bar and get mercilessly ribbed by the new generation. Yes, there was a new generation. If that sounds worryingly like previous baton-passing exercises (cc Mutt Williams), it looked worrying too. Still, this musical cue was a nice reminder that its current crop of creaking, bus-pass-fumbling cadre of tough guys didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Artist: Marvin Gaye
In: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2014 was the year that Marvel discovered soul. Guardians Of The Galaxy was drenched in it, of course, but the studio kicked off the year in style by updating Steve Rogers’ musical taste with this cracking Marvin Gaye tune. With all the guys in his barbershop quartet now dead, Cap is introduced to the song when he first meets Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Maybe Wilson thought his new BFF would appreciate the lyrics? “I come up hard but that’s okay / 'Cause trouble man, don’t get in my way.” The song itself makes an appearance at the end when Wilson plays it to a recovering Rogers in his hotel room. Disappointingly, Cap doesn’t react like a 95 year-old man normally would. “Would you TURN IT DOWN? It’s VERY LOUD. What’s he SAYING? I CAN’T MAKE OUT THE WORDS.”
‘I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)’
Artist: Bret McKenzie
In: Muppets Most Wanted
Bret McKenzie’s songs for the follow-up to The Muppets are undeniably fun, and fine as far as it goes. But when the first movie bagged the former Conchord an Oscar (in true Academy fashion, for the wrong song; ‘Life’s A Happy Song’ is far superior to ‘Man Or Muppet’), it upped the pressure on the tunes second time around. This seriously sexy Billy Joel-esque number, in which Kermit imposter Constantine attempts to woo Miss Piggy, is possibly the only song to match the highs of the first movie, both musically and lyrically (“You want an ice cream cone? I’ll give it to you. You want a mortgage loan? I’ll give it to you.”). The video, in which McKenzie appears and sings, is also a delight.
‘Frank’s Most Likeable Song Ever’
Artist: Frank Sidebottom
After an entire movie of churning out virtually unlistenable experimental nonsense, Frank (Michael Fassbender) takes Domnhall Gleeson’s Jon into his hotel room and shows that the latter’s exhortations to write more commercial stuff haven’t fallen on papier-mâché ears. “This is my most likeable song… EVER!” exclaims Frank, unleashing a 35-second long blitzkrieg of virtually listenable experimental nonsense that is at once utterly hilarious and the frontrunner to be Ireland’s entry at next year’s Eurovision Song Contest. And it is likeable - an exuberant puppy of a song, name checking everything that is good in this life, including lipstick, Coca-Cola and, of course, Ringo. Peace and love, Frank. Peace and love.
Artist: Gruff Rhys
In: American Interior
This year, Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys made a documentary about a Missouri River-mapping, 18th century Welsh explorer called John Evans – as you do – and produced a concept album to go with it. The album, film and its lead single are all called ‘American Interior’, but as only one of them is actually a song, it’s the 6 Music favourite that’s made it onto our year-end playlist. If you’re curious about the film, do check it out: Evans is represented as a puppet that Rhys drags about with him.
‘Love Me Again’
Artist: John Newman
In: Edge Of Tomorrow
Kicking into gear over the end credits of Doug Liman’s sci-fi actioner, this cracking slice of soul is probably the best-known track by Newman, the youthful Yorkshireman with the voice born and bred in Motown. And it’s a cheeky continuation of the inner monologue of Tom Cruise’s character as he comes face-to-face with Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, a woman with whom he’s deeply in love, but who doesn’t know him from Adam. “I need to know now, know now - can you love me again?” Given the film’s relative underperformance at the box office, this is the closest we’ll come to a sequel.
‘Pretty Girl Rock’
Artist: Keri Hilson
In: The Rover
An oasis of oddness in the desert of depression that is David Michôd’s post-apocalyptic thriller, the scene where Robert Pattinson’s hulking manchild Rey sits in a car and gently sings along to Keri Hilson’s bouncy ode to, well, herself is certainly one of the strangest sights of the cinematic year. And that’s before we’ve even tackled the social and cultural implications of Robert Pattinson - R frickin’ Pattz himself - singing, “Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful”. It’s a reminder that the world of The Rover is not too far removed from the one we’re living in right now, and rather than being a joyous moment, it’s stark and unnerving.
‘Yellow Flicker Beat’
In: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Perhaps overshadowed by the extremely catchy chorus of ‘Hanging Tree’ from Jennifer Lawrence herself, Kiwi singer Lorde’s haunting yet bouncy trip to Panem is a bit of a treat itself, proving yet again that The Hunger Games can attract incredible talent like Coldplay, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore where no other franchise could. Fingers crossed the Part 2 of this song – where all the motifs set up here finally pay off – can deliver.
‘Anthonio (Berlin Breakdown Version)’
**In:** The Guest
This synthy, John Carpenter-esque cut was part of one of the nicest surprises of the year. From a distance, The Guest looked like a fairly standard genre piece, so when Adam Wingard’s film arrived with a star-making turn for Dan Stevens, plenty of tongue-in-cheek twinkle to go with its outlandish action beats, and a stack of ‘80s-sounding vinyl cued up on its stereo, we were suddenly sold on retro thrillers featuring ex-Downton Abbey cast members. You know, just in case anyone wants to remake Escape From New York with Hugh Bonneville.
‘I Need You’
The film may have divided people in these parts, but the soundtrack and Junkie XL-penned score both had their moments. Even the kind of sax solo that would be outlawed in any kind of compassionate society can’t keep French synthster Anthony Gonzalez, AKA M83, from our year-end playlist. This sizeable-sounding slab of electronica is a highpoint.
Artist: Adam Levine
In: Begin Again
Not including his 30 Rock appearance as Jack Donaghy’s “European friend, Rocca”, Adam Levine is a newcomer to acting, but he can definitely sing a bit, as 27 bazillion Maroon Five fans would testify. Despite worrying references to “hunting season” and “lambs on the run” that made him sound a bit like Elmer Fudd, the end-of-the-affair vibe of this power ballad chimed nicely with the film’s downbeat moments. If it sounds a bit like the New Radicals, that’s probably because it was co-written by ex-New Radical (Old Radical?) Gregg Alexander. There’s also a Keira Knightley version, but we can’t tell you why without spoiling the movie.
‘Black Hole Sun’
In: Walk Among The Tombstones trailer
‘Black Hole Sun’ is best known as a raw chunk of classic Soundgarden, so it was a surprise to hear it pop up on the trailer of Liam Neeson thriller Walk Among The Tombstones in pared-down, cover-version form. Nouela Johnston, an unheralded vocalist who coincidentally also hails from Seattle, gave it a eerily low-key treatment – more Soundshrubbery – that mirrored the current trailer trend of spooky reworkings of old staples (see also Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Gone Girl). “I’ve done little things here and there for things like cellphones,” the singer told Grantland, “but to see Liam Neeson kicking the crap out of people with me singing in the background was pretty great.”
‘A Horse With No Name’
In: American Hustle
True fact: America’s Billboard #1 song has appeared in an episode of Friends and Air America, and once prompted Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, to quiz the band on why some of its lyrics – namely “there were plants, and birds, and rocks, and things” – seemed a bit, well, unfinished. It has not, until now, been used to accompany a combover of dazzling complexity like the one executed by Christian Bale at the beginning of American Hustle. First time for everything.
‘Please Mr. Kennedy’
Artists: Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver
In: Inside Llewyn Davis
A song so catchy that the tortured artiste protagonist of the Coen brothers’ latest immediately holds it in utter contempt, ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’ is the comedic highpoint of Inside Llewyn Davis, beautifully playing Oscar Isaac’s increasingly flustered Llewyn off against the earnestness of Justin Timberlake’s Jim, as well as the spectacular oddness of Adam Driver’s Al Cody, bellowing backing vocals like a man having an episode. A jaunty parody of early '60s protest songs that was so close to the T-bone that it was prevented from competing for Best Original Song at last year’s Oscars, it’s glorious stuff. And there’s something strangely beautiful about Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac singing, ‘Please don’t shoot me into outer space’ before they were both cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Artist: Duke Ellington
In: Mood Indigo
There are many strange things in Michel Gondry’s tragi-romance – mice people who travel in the skirting boards, a piano that makes cocktails and a pod car attached to a crane – but the score isn’t one of them, especially for fans of old-school jazz. The latter is mostly provided by Duke Ellington, and it's this wonderfully woozy number that most makes us want to find a 1930s dancefloor and biglemoi right across it, preferably with Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris.
Artist: Alexandre Desplat
In: The Grand Budapest Hotel
If you’ve had a busy year, spare a thought for Alexandre Desplat. The Frenchman, now a near-giant in film composition, wrote and recorded the scores to The Monuments Men, Godzilla, The Imitation Game and Unbroken, as well as Empire’s personal favourite, The Grand Budapest Hotel. If he got more than 17 hours sleep along the way, we’d be surprised. Joyous, infectious and fabulously evocative of the not-quite-Balkan kingdom of Zubrowka, he gave voice to Wes Anderson’s quirky confection. This balalaika theme, accompanying F. Murray Abraham’s grown-up Zero Moustafa, could be the music of the world’s least scary haunted-house movie.
‘London Is The Place For Me’
Artist: D Lime
In: Paddington (NB the following is the original version)
One of the loveliest touches in Paul King’s delightful family film, and one that reinforces his notion of London as a faintly magical storybook realm, comes when Paddington is driven through London as a breezy ditty about the joys of the city plays on the soundtrack, the camera finally coming to rest on the Calypso band specially put together for the film by Damon Albarn, of all people. This is D Lime, and the key song of the movie is ‘London Is The Place For Me’, composed by a Caribbean musician called Lord Kitchener, who came to England - like Paddington - after the World War II on the famous ship, MV Empire Windrush. Amazingly, Kitchener wrote the song, with lyrics like “You can take a walk down Shaftesbury Avenue / There you will laugh and talk and enjoy the breeze”, before he’d even set foot in the city, but somehow its glowing optimism fits Paddington, bear and movie, like a glove.
Artist: Paul Simon
In: Obvious Child
An obvious choice, this. The film is named after the song and the song is used extensively in the film, and that’s more than enough to earn it a place. Hey, we’re simple folk. Besides, this Africa–influenced Paul Simon tune is just that – a tune – boasting a drumbeat you could hang up a thousand loads of damp washing to, and a bunch of nonsensical lyrics you could argue the toss over for years (is he singing about Sonny from The Godfather?). All in all, here’s an underappreciated piece of super pop that you need to play into your brain as soon as possible.
‘I Got To Find Me Somebody’
Artist: The Vel-Vets
In: Northern Soul
A UK hit that blindsided just about everyone, Elaine Constantine’s coming-of-age drama struck the nostalgia motherlode in October with a jukebox-load of feelgood soul and hip-commandeering soul from the early ’70s. The soundtrack – all 54 tunes-worth – will a lot of sixtysomething Lancastrians very happy this Christmas. This track is our pick.
‘We Built This City’
In: The Skeleton Twins
“’We Built This City’ is often on the top list of worst songs of all time,” concedes Skeleton Twins director Craig Johnson, “but it’s an era. We’re all about the same age. We all know it. We all sing along.” So do we, Craig. So do we.
‘Hate The Sport’
Artist: Klara, Bobo and Hedvig
In: We Are The Best!
Klara, Bobo and Hedvig, the three punky teens at the heart of Lukas Moodysson’s return to form, churned out gleeful Riot Grrrl belters without ever going through the conventional phase of learning to play their instruments or even coming up with a band name. Their set list featured this raucous signature tune that left little doubt over where they stood on the subject of sport (“Hate the sport, hate the sport, hate hate hate hate the sport,” they bellow) or their gym teacher.
Artist: Katy Perry
In: Horrible Bosses 2
So far, Katy Perry’s flirtation with the big screen has been restricted to voicing Smurfette in the Smurf Cinematic Universe movies and a concert movie. But, even if she never takes another acting gig, her place in the cinematic pantheon is assured - Jacques Audiard used ‘Firework’ in Rust And Bone (the same year the same song also popped up in Madagascar 3), while 'Roar', her profound paean to being the best that you can and never letting nobody keep you down, plays an integral part in Horrible Bosses 2. Jason Sudeikis’ Kurt claims that he chose it as his ringtone because it’s catchy (and also, we suspect, because he fancies Katy Perry), but really we suspect he’s analysed the lyrics. “You held me down, but I got up / Already brushing off the dust”... If this isn’t a song about small American business owners refusing to lie down and take their medicine from The Man - the EXACT PLOT OF HORRIBLE BOSSES - then we don’t know what is.
Artist: The Rolling Stones
In: 20 Feet From Stardom
Her co-star Darlene Love stole the Oscars’ show with a thunderous acceptance speech but fellow backing-singing great Merry Clayton owned the best moment in 20 Feet From Stardom when she recalled a late-night invitation to the studio of an up-and-coming rock band. “Merry, there’s a group of guys in town called ‘The Rolling somebodies’,” she remembered of that 3am phonecall, “and they need someone who’ll sing with them.” The track turned out to ‘Gimme Shelter’. Not sure what became of The Rolling Somebodies.
Artist: The Band
In: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
When Matt Reeves was looking around for a song to become the first piece of music heard by Dawn’s human heroes in years, when they’re playing around at a deserted gas station just as power is finally restored, he chose this classic cut from The Band. Warm, familiar and with the refrain ‘Take a load off’, it was a perfect choice for the moment in the film when harmony between ape and human seems not only possible, but inevitable. But it also contains the lyrics, ‘You put the load right on me’, and that weight has to give at some point. When it does, it does so spectacularly.
Artist: Damon Albarn
A standout on an Eric Serra-curated soundtrack that wasn’t quite up with his very best, Damon Albarn’s tender, bruised ballad captured the bits of the movie where Scarlett Johansson’s reluctant heroine wasn’t sprouting godlike powers or making Park Chan-wook really, really angry by killing all his henchpeople. “It’s you and me again, waiting for the credits to end,” sang a forlorn-sounding Albarn on a song he wrote for Luc Besson’s sci-fi thriller. A few critics knew the feeling.
Artist: Duke Ellington
In: American Hustle
American Hustle did everything just a little bigger than its competitors this Oscar season – the acting, the collars, the tunes… even the hairpieces were turned up to 11. Any movie with ELO, Wings and The Bee Gees sharing with Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk has plenty going for it, sonically-speaking. This Ellington classic offered a key character moment when Christian Bale and Amy Adams’ scammers-to-be shared their love for it at a party.
Artist: György Ligeti
Grandpa Empire hailed from Transylvania and we’ve all seen Count Duckula, so it’s not difficult to imagine how the haunting Carpathian landscape and its spooky history might have inspired Hungarian composer György Ligeti to come up with his none-more-eerie Requiem mass. Stanley Kubrick famously employed it in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and this year, paying homage to that great sci-fi while ramping up the chills for Godzilla’s HALO jump sequence, Gareth Edwards unleashed it once more on our ear drums like a swarm of killer bees.
Artist: DJ Shadow
In: Dark Days
The man from U.N.K.L.E. popped up in 2000 to lend his heavy, hypnotic beats to Marc Singer’s enthralling documentary about the subterranean shanty town beneath New York. The Freedom Tunnel, a derelict train track that runs from Penn Station through Harlem, could easily double as the set for Luc Besson’s Subway or Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. Instead, Singer’s documentary, re-released this January, told the story of the drug-ravaged denizens who have made it their home. Shadow’s Endtroducing and music he wrote specially for the film – this chunky cut, in particular – provides perfect urban soundscapes to accompany it.
‘The Hanging Tree’
Artist: Jennifer Lawrence
In: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
A capella’ing like she was a shoo-in for Pitch Perfect 3, Jennifer Lawrence added another string to her Hunger Games bow with this gospel-and-blues-style ditty in Mockingjay 1. The song itself – not to be confused with the 1959 Max Steiner effort of the same name – now sits proudly in the charts, despite featuring references to lynching, murder and execution that you won’t find in most One Direction tracks. “I cried on set that day,” remembers the reluctant pop star with a shudder. “It was awful.”
Artist: Hans Zimmer
In: 12 Years A Slave
Full of plangent cellos and violins, building occasionally to quiet swells of emotion, Hans Zimmer’s score for 12 Years A Slave was, as you’d expect, an entirely BRRAAAMMM-free affair. The composer was initially reluctant to take on the job, deterred by the magnitude of the story, but Steve McQueen talked him round and his beautiful, melancholy four-note central theme shows why that was a very good decision indeed.
‘Wish I Was Here’
Artists: Cat Power and Coldplay
In: Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff’s unofficial Garden State follow-up had a tough year, falling flat at the box office and finding its grandstanding use of Paul Simon’s ‘Obvious Child’ hijacked by an entire movie of the same name. To compound things, the musically savvy Braff had Texan rockers Spoon dissing his debut film in song. Still, at least he was able to playlist Wish I Was Here with some dream collaborations – including this one from Cat Power and Coldplay – and hit up The Shins again for another song to change our lives. Chris Martin, Guy Berryman and company also popped to provide the end credits song of Angelina Jolie’s sea-survival tale, Unbroken, although sadly not recording under the name ‘Codplay’.
‘Dust My Broom’
Artist: Elmore James
In: The Wolf Of Wall Street
The great slide guitarist Elmore James was a direct inspiration for Scorsese favourites like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, and while previously used him on The Departed’s soundtrack it was his music producer Robbie Robertson who stuck a copy of James’s 1951 recording under his nose for his ‘80s blow-and-bear-markets period piece. Jazz bandsmen Ahmad Jamal and Cannonball Adderley, bluesman Howlin’ Wolf and R&B legend Bo Diddley also made this a Mojo magazine favourite, in preference to the power and hairspray rock of the early ‘80s. “This is music that gets under your skin immediately,” explains Robertson.
Artists: Víctor Reyes and John Lenehan
In: Grand Piano
The plot of concert thriller Grand Piano has concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) threatened with certain, snipery death by an anonymous figure in the audience - see mum, this is why we didn’t want to do those piano lessons - unless he plays a perfect rendition of a single piece of music. The twist? It’s not 'Chopsticks'. In fact, you’d need the temperament of a Buddhist monk and the limbs of Dave the octopus to perform the fiendish ‘La Cinquette’ flawlessly, which leaves poor Tom in a Hitchcockian bind. Here’s the sniper-free version for your listening pleasure.
‘Far From Any Road’
Artist: The Handsome Family
In: True Detective
The Handsome Family have been wowing folkies and country fans for close on two decades, but when HBO got hold of their slice of desert gothica they were suddenly in the houses of people who wouldn’t know Fairport Convention from the Labour Party Conference. It all came as such a surprise to the folk veterans that when the network originally enquired about using their 12 year-old song on True Detective, they refused to believe it. “We were all, ‘Yeah right, we’ve heard that before’,” remembers Handsome Family member Rennie Sparks. “Then we heard back and it was for real, and now we’re been getting emails from people in Iran and Kyrgyzstan.”