' ' Cinema Romantico: What is the Best Fake Song in a Movie?

Thursday, December 03, 2020

What is the Best Fake Song in a Movie?

Last week Randall Otis, a writer at Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, Tweeted out a question: “What’s the best fake song? Like a song that exists in the world of a show/movie but not our world?” This isn’t a new question, of course. EW asked in 2019, settling on “Pretend to be Nice” by Josie and the Pussycats as their #1. The Ringer asked in 2018, settling on “Remember Me” from “Coco.” And Spin asked in 2015, choosing the title track to “That Thing You Do!” for the top spot. Otis was content to put the Tweet out in the world and then let everyone else have at it, never weighing back in, never establishing a consensus reply. 

If there was a consensus I was able to detect simply from surfing through the replies, it might have been “Scotty Doesn’t Know” from “EuroTrip”, sung (shouted) by a shaved-head Matt Damon to the movie’s main character. However, a blogger writes a blog and he must admit he is that blogger. And friends, foes, this blogger must admit he’s never had much room in his heart for 90s pop punk; that dross is softer than The Andrews Sisters. Here, at Cinema Romantico, if we were ranking Best Fake Songs in movies, “Scotty Doesn’t Know” would wind up, like, #1,937. “Hello from the Gutters” by Ritchie and Ruby’s band in “Summer of Sam” blows “Scotty Doesn’t Know” out of the friggin’ water. (So does “I Hate You” from “Star Trek IV.”)

Of course, “Scotty Doesn’t Know” engendered some social media comment section controversy. The song, written and recorded by Lustra, charted on the Billboard Hot 100. If a song charts, some wondered, would that not render it as ineligible for such a list per Mr. Otis’s criteria. But does that mean Fred Astaire singing “The Way You Look Tonight” to Ginger Rogers is ineligible since it went to the top of the charts in 1936? And wouldn’t that, others wondered, mean that none of these songs are eligible? Don’t they all exist in our world once they appear in the movie? To which I rebut: OMFG. A bunch of party-hearties, them. Go away, please, and let us continue trying to answer Mr. Otis’s query.

[Note: Mr. Otis, of course, asked show/movie, but this is a movie blog. We are not interested in the trifle of TV. Still, the correct answer there is, of course, “Don’t Be A Lawyer.” Unless the criteria does not allow for true blue musical numbers. In which case the correct answer is “Free Love Freeway.”

Otis did not stipulate if songs from musicals counted but both Dana Schwartz of EW and the Spin staff did, indicating that musical numbers – as in, when characters spontaneously break into song, outside of a performance context – do not count. There goes “You and I” from “Meet Me in St. Louis” not to mention “The Lady Loves Me” from “Viva Las Vegas.” (It would also seem to eliminate all of Jonathan Richman’s stellar Greek Chorus work from “There’s Something About Mary.”) That does not, I do not think, eliminate “When Your Mind’s Made Up” from “Once”, which is billed as a musical but is nevertheless a sequence in which see the characters recording the song, the film’s 28,000 ft peak. That’s a contender. “Remember Me” from “Coco” would also seem to remain eligible then, unless the Neil deGrasse Tyson disciples point that that “Coco” is animated and therefore not real at all. But I dunno. I liked “Un Poco Loco” a little better than “Remember Me” anyway.

If “Scotty Doesn’t Know” is a slice of pop punk I can do without, EW’s top choice, “Pretend to be Nice” works much better, perhaps because it was written the late Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of Fountains of Wayne, one of the pop punk acts of the era that worked for me.

As good as “Pretend to be Nice” is, though, and it’s really good, “That Thing You Do!”, also written by Schlesinger, is probably just a little bit better. I wrote about that song back in April when Schlesinger passed and I will quote myself: “a catchy kind of throwaway, not an homage so much as believably of the movie’s time, like you could have just stuck in rotation on the local oldies station between The Dave Clark Five and The Four Seasons and no one would have noticed.” It’s hard to ague against that track being #1 from an impartial standpoint but this is Cinema Romantico, son. Savvy? We disclose our partiality when you sign up for our newsletter. (We don’t have a newsletter.) 

A number of people answering Otis’s question cited “Fever Dog” by Stillwater, the fictional band in “Almost Famous.” But “You Had to Be There” is a better song than “Fever Dog” and, anyway, I’d take Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” over the whole Stillwater catalogue.

It pains me that I can’t consider Vic Tenetta, the raja of romance, the ministerio moonlight, of “The Hudsucker Proxy” because the song he’s singing – nay, crooning – is “Memories are Made of This.” Then again, it’s not the song; it’s the performance. The same goes for the climactic “Zach’s Song” from “The School of Rock” which really requires the kick of the live show to put it over the top. 

“Dracula’s Lament”, culled from“ Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, was also consistently recognized by Otis’s commenters. A fine choice, the song is a remarkably comic, unexpectedly moving ode to heartbreak. And yet it can’t quite compare to Corey Flood’s unrecorded “Joe Lies” of “Say Anything” which in one line “Joe lies when he cries” manages to both send up and honor every singer/songwriter confessional ever written. 

No one in Otis’s comments, or in these other past lists, really seemed to consider country music, however, a grievous oversight. Nothing from “Tender Mercies”, nothing from “Nashville”, no mention of Peter Fonda’s “Outlaw Blues”, not even “Fallin’ & Flyin’”, the true standout from Jeff Bridges’s “Crazy Heart”, containing what might be the best Fake Song Lyric of all-time: “It’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ / if only for a little while.” People did frequently bring up the singer/songwriter biopic spoof to utterly destroy every singer/songwriter biopic for eternity, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”, though no consensus formed, unfortunately, around that standout soundtrack’s standout track. “Let’s Duet” takes the cake because the song, a series of escalating double entendres, while funny, sounds so wholly real in its instrumentation that John C. Reilly could perform it straight-faced with Holly Williams at a Nashville club

“Please Mr. Kennedy”, the novelty folk tune from “Inside Llewyn Davis”, manages the same deft trick, sounding totally authentic, being completely comical, but also making you believe the horse’s ass Llewyn Davis himself would think it utterly beneath him. “Love Me Sexy”, on the other hand, the one-hit wonder that brings Jackie Moon just enough fame and fortune in “Semi-Pro” to buy a professional basketball team truly embodies its one-hit wonder nature, just catchy enough to stay with you, just bland enough to make you understand why he never followed up its success. (Billy Mack’s gloriously god awful “Christmas Is All Around” from “Love Actually” is based on a real song by The Troggs, “Love Is All Around”, rendering it ineligible.) 

Some might argue that “Why Did You Do That?” mines similar terrain. That’s the bouncy slice of pop Ally performs on Saturday Night Live in “A Star Is Born”, seeming to emblemize the moment when the character departs the realm of authenticity for mass market appeal, or something, christened in her husband Jackson Maine’s lukewarm reaction. Of course, as someone who might well list his favorite two musical genres as, like, alt-country and diva pop, I shake my head at people who can’t see how dance-pop contains just as much truth as cowpunk. 

Right. The divas. It’s about time we discuss Jackie Q, the preeminent movie pop diva, who, as everyone knows, carried Aldous Snow’s arrogant ass for years. Because the best fake song in a movie might well be “Super Tight.” “Super Tight”, which you can listen to/watch right here (not safe for work! NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!!!!!!!!!) is a masterpiece, raunchy and comical but driven by a sound that could work in a club without the lyrics even being heard. I would genuinely consider “Super Tight” as the ultimate answer to this question.

But what about my “PoP! Goes My Heart”, the song that opens “Music and Lyrics?” The accompanying video is as hilarious as “Super Tight’s”, true, but like “Super Tight” just let the song play and, truly, you can hear Casey Kasem counting “PoP! Goes My Heart” down. Hmmmm. Maybe that’s #1? And yet.

You thought I was going to forget. You really thought I was going to forget, didn’t you? Readers, I would never forget. The opening scene of  “Adventures in Babysitting” is, of course, canon, but that’s Ronnie Spector while “The Babysitting Blues”, written by Albert Collins, the Ice Man himself, is pure Chris Parker, even as it finds room to acknowledge that you can’t quite sing the blues the same way when you’re from Oak Park. Maybe that’s #1? And yet.

There can only be one. And #1 is “Nowhere Fast” by Fire Inc. in “Streets of Fire”. Walter Hill’s movie might be a musical, albeit an unlikely musical, but that song is performed, meeting the criteria. And while noting that Professor Roy Bittan played keys and Mighty Max Weinberg played drums on the track might expose my biases, I admitted those up front. “Nowhere Fast” is The Best Fake Song In A Movie. The end.

Vive la Ellen Aim.

No comments: