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Not that song again! Couldn’t they have used something else? Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks the "Top 10 Overused Songs in Film and TV."
For this list, we’ve picked those overplayed and overused songs that always seem to find their way into a movie’s soundtrack or onto television shows. We’re not only talking numbers here, but also considering the quality—or rather, lack thereof, in the common usage of the songs. We’ve excluded purely instrumental songs and film scores, so don’t expect to see songs like “O Fortuna,” the “Theme from Jaws,” and “The Nutcracker Suite” on here.
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#10: “All Along the Watchtower” (1968) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Written and recorded by Bob Dylan, the appearance of the Jimi Hendrix version of this song usually denotes that something epic is about to happen when you hear it on-screen. Said epic-ness usually involves someone tripping on drugs for the first time, but the best uses of “All Along the Watchtower” have deviated from that very obvious hippy sentiment. Case in point, Battlestar Galactica uses the song throughout the series to mark major events for the characters. The psychedelic rocker has also been used as a marker to let audiences know that it’s the 1960s and has basically become the unofficial anthem for the period.
#9: “Gimme Shelter” (1969) The Rolling Stones
Martin Scorsese’s movies probably count for half of the plays this song gets on-screen but “Gimme Shelter” also has a reputation for meaning that something intense is about to happen. That can be emotionally and romantically intense as it is in Layer Cake, or that everything is about to hit the fan, like it does in the bust sequence of GoodFellas. The Stones have so many incredible tunes that we’re thinking this one might deserve a retirement party soon.
#8: “Walking on Sunshine” (1985) Katrina and the Waves
This song may have been the group’s biggest hit, but it’s also guaranteed their spot in pop culture. The pop rock number sounds like sunshine, rainbows, and everything nice, so it’s always played to make sure we know that an on-screen character is feeling good. The most creative use of the Katrina and the Waves single must be in American Psycho though, during the scene in which Patrick Bateman listens to it after a successful night of killing. “Walking on Sunshine” has appeared in dozens of projects, including films, TV shows, video games and more… but maybe it’s about time that it walks away.
#7: “Bad to the Bone” (1982) George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Is an unlikely person about to rebel? If so, cue this song! This song seems to appear every time old people go on a trip, middle-aged men want to be badasses or kids feel the urge to rebel. Before it had such an ironic use, “Bad to the Bone” was used with sincerity. For example, it plays in Terminator 2: Judgment Day after the T-800 suits up in his leather motorcycle outfit. The track’s opening guitar riff makes it instantly recognizable and alerts the audience to watch out for whoever’s on screen.
#6: “Sweet Home Alabama” (1974) Lynyrd Skynyrd
This Lynyrd Skynyrd track seems to be the only tune about the South that Hollywood knows about. And if the on-screen setting isn’t actually in the South, filmmakers seem to use it when they want the audience to know a character is a backwards country hick. “Sweet Home Alabama” may often be used to stereotype, but its two best uses were in scenes in which it was used ironically in Con Air, and humorously in 8 Mile.
#5: “Kung Fu Fighting” (1974) Carl Douglas
The inclusion of this funky disco tune means “we’re about to engage in some wacky fighting!” When this Carl Douglas number comes on, it pretty much guarantees that no one in the scene actually knows kung fu or is even a good fighter. Or if they can fight, it’s almost by miracle. Interestingly enough, this song was originally recorded as a B-side so the producer decided to go over-the-top with the Asian-themed riff in the background. While “Kung Fu Fighting” was fun at the time of its release, now it seems way past its due date.
#4: “Stayin’ Alive” (1977) Bee Gees
Originally created for the “Saturday Night Fever” movie soundtrack, this disco track seems to have really outgrown its source. Sure, when older viewers hear the Bee Gees crooning, they immediately think of John Travolta strutting along the sidewalk. But there have just been so many other on-screen uses of the chart-topper to denote when someone thinks he’s a pretty cool customer, especially when other people do not. It certainly has a great vibe, but it’s also one of the biggest earworms ever, so, more often than not, it can be quite distracting.
#3: “Over the Rainbow” (1939) Judy Garland
The filmmakers behind The Wizard of Oz probably never thought this song would become such a standout track and a cultural phenomenon. There’s no denying the ballad was a beautiful addition to the musical fantasy, but it’s now too often been overtly used to make the audience feel a sense of nostalgia. “Over the Rainbow” has appeared in 100 on-screen projects and shows no signs of slowing down. It may go down as one of the most emotional songs ever, but it’s also often cringe worthy too.
#2: “What a Wonderful World” (1967) Louis Armstrong
If you want viewers to cry, then this is the song to put in your soundtrack. Every time “What a Wonderful World” plays, it pretty much means that something awful happened, but that we should still have faith in humanity. Or, that something truly beautiful has just happened. Either way, Louis Armstrong’s traditional pop tune has become too emotionally manipulative and its on-screen inclusion seems unoriginal at best. Movies like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island attempt to make it new by offering alternative versions of the original, but we see what they’re doing. Stop.
Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “London Calling” (1979) The Clash
- “Somebody to Love” (1967) Jefferson Airplane
- “For What It’s Worth” (1967) Buffalo Springfield
- “Bad Moon Rising” (1969) Creedence Clearwater Revival
- “True” (1983) Spandau Ballet
#1: “Born to be Wild” (1968) Steppenwolf
You can almost hear a motorcycle revvin’ up each time this song comes on. Originally and masterfully used in Easy Rider, the hard rocker truly captured the spirit of 60s counterculture, a sense of Americana, and the quest for freedom. However, the entertainment industry has pretty much ruined those positive connotations with the Steppenwolf song by including it close to a hundred other productions. Though it’s also appeared in movies featuring or about animals, “Born to be Wild” is now too often used in a very clichéd way to represent someone who feels liberated.
Do you agree with our list? Which song do you think is overused onscreen? For more can’t miss Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.