If you notice yourself waxing particularly nostalgic while listening to a song, there is good reason for it. Music operates on the brain in unusual, powerful ways, one of which is to cause particularly heightened activity in one of our key memory-making centers, the hippocampus, causing the memories formed while listening to music to be easily retrieved when we hear the same song again later.*
It is no wonder, then, that so many of the movies to which I feel the most attached have scenes, or even entire scores filled with music I love. When I watch these movies now, or even just hear a bit of music from them, I don’t just remember my life back when I first saw the film, I feel it. I feel 1988 or 1994; I feel the halls of high school or the breeze on the quad at the University of Iowa.
Here are the songs, soundtracks and scores that take me back the most.
It is a testament to the power of adolescence that the first six movies on the list come from consecutive years, starting with my 10th year on the planet. It was not planned. I thought of them in random order and was surprised to see them all lined up in such a neat row when I was done.
The NeverEnding Story 1984; Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, The NeverEnding Story triggered my imagination, leading to a chain reaction of voracious reading and exploring that I’m happy to say I am still caught up in. It also provoked my first feelings of nostalgia, at the ripe old age of 10. Somehow I understood Sebastian’s sadness over the loss of his mother, and the worry and fear of Atreyu, Falcor and the Princess as the Nothing came to swallow everything they had loved. The title song by Limahl was one of the first I sought out on the radio, and to this day it makes me feel sad and strong and like it’s 1984 outside. The score from Giorgio Mororder was also really nice, but it’s the song that does it for me.
Breakfast Club 1985; John Hughes made many, many good decisions when it came to The Breakfast Club; casting, script, location. I’m not sure if he had anything to do with the selection of “Don’t You Forget About Me” as the final song to run as the credits roll, but I suspect he at least OK’d it, and it just might that final element that makes the movie a bonafide classic. The Breakfast Club is one of the few movies I remember seeing in the theater distinctly. I even remember the conversation my mom and I had on the way to the car when it was over. This is due in no small part to the fact that every time this song plays, I think about it; I think about being 11 and having another piece of the puzzle to the complicated, beautiful mess the years to come would bring me. Of every song or score on this list, surely this one has the most staying power.
This isn’t the official Simple Minds video, but a collection of scenes from the film with the song over it. Side note: as I write this, the second comment under this video says “Man, I wish I grew up in the 80s instead of this shitty decade.” For reasons I could never explain, this makes me giggle uncontrollably.
Stand By Me 1986; Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body not only turned all four of its young leads (River Pheonix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) into stars, it is perhaps the single best depiction of boys coming of age that has been done. You can label each of the kids as Nerd, Crazy-kid, Fat Kid, and Bad-Boy-With-Good-Heart, but they defy those stereotypes with their humor, intelligence and humanity. The soundtrack full of songs from the 50s went a long way toward transporting audiences back in time while watching. I bought this soundtrack on vinyl and danced around my room for hours. ”Mr. Lee” by the Bobbettes, “Everyday” by Buddy Holly, and “Lollypop” by the Chordettes (below) were my favorites.
The Lost Boys 1987, Directed by Joel Schumacher, The Lost Boys is the perfect teen vampire movie, balancing humor, horror and a surprising amount of honest human emotion. The soundtrack combines adrenaline filled songs and haunting ones to create an 80s-at-its-best atmosphere. As a bonus, it is what brought Bex and I together way back in 8th grade. I knew she had the soundtrack and asked her to tape it for me. Up until that point, she was the quiet girl with spiral curls to envy in my French class. After that, she was super-cool-music-chick. The rest is history. My favorites are “Good Times” from INXS and Jimmy Barnes, “I Still Believe” from Tim Cappello, and ”Cry Little Sister” (below) from Gerard McMann.
Beetlejuice 1988; Still my favorite Tim Burton film, I wore my carpet OUT dancing to “Jump in Line” from Harry Belafonte. I can’t say this movie holds a place in my heart like the others on this list, but when I caught it on cable a few nights ago I felt transported back to age 14, and somehow felt only good. The movie is fun, the soundtrack positively joyful. Danny Elfman’s score must be acknowledged here – it is brilliant, as his work always is. It is the scene below, however, that I remember with most fondness.
Glory 1989; The Civil War drama about the 54th regiment, comprised of African-American soldiers, will always have a place in my Top Ten Movies of all Time. The score from James Horner, also known for about a million other scores, including Braveheart and Titanic, still gives me goosebumps. It is powerful, beautiful…all those kinds of words. And it always makes me think, “Give ‘em Hell, 54th,” then (even now), I cry.
Power of One 1992; I’m not sure how many people saw this film starring Stephen Dorff as an English student growing up in an Afrikaans school in South Africa, but I fell in love with it. Dorff is certainly responsible for part of that, but it is the soundtrack from Hans Zimmer that sealed the deal. I still play it often, and I remember being 18 and on fire with the desire to change the world.
The Crow 1994; My boyfriend and I saw this movie together. Afterward, we spoke for a long time with strangers in the parking lot about the death of Brandon Lee, the fact that the movie had made him a star while at the same time taking his life, and how we had never before felt so much like we were watching a comic book brought to life on the screen. As soon as I could get my hands on it, I bought the soundtrack and played it like any good 20-year-old girl: with candles lit and incense burning. This soundtrack feels like the 90s. I’d tell you what that was like, but…you had to be there. ”Time Baby III” by Medicine, “Burn” by The Cure (below), and “Big Empty” by Stone Temple Pilots stand out as my favorites.
Lost 2004-2010; Last winter, at the end of a fitness class, the instructor played some music from Lost. I felt like she had punched me in my heart. The score from Micheal Giacchino, performed by Hollywood Studio Symphony, makes me sad and happy and sad again. I MISS YOU, JACK.
OK, now that that’s done, I need to go cry for a while.
Please let me know I’m not alone. Tell us your favorite movie-music-moments.
*Trivia fact: The only sense more powerful for memory retrieval? Smell – the olfactory nerve goes straight into the brain, very close to the hippocampus.
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