Musical films are a little bit like marmite: you’re either going to love them or hate them. Regardless of personal feelings, there’s no doubt that the musical genre of film that has been around for many decades. Whilst there was a definite golden age for musical films in the 1930s, the genre started with musical short films by Lee de Forest in 1926. A year later The Jazz Singer was released and really began a change in the way films were made (despite the rather racist elements) but it was the 1929 hit Gold Diggers of Broadway that really kicked off the Golden Age of musical films. Even after the golden era, some of the best musical films were released including The Sound of Music, Cabaret and My Fair Lady. Today the genre is still very much alive albeit with darker tones than their 20th century predecessors including Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber on Fleet Street.
Every Sperm Is Sacred from Monty Python: The Meaning Of Life (1983)
Kicking off this list is a song from a sketch comedy musical from one of the best comedy troups of all time. Whilst ‘Always Look on The Bright Side of Life” is a great song, Life of Brian isn’t a musical film. This musical is full of brilliance and wit. ‘Galaxy Song’ is a really honest song about the ultimate insignificance of our existence that’s inanely bright and cheery but it’s ‘Every Sperm Is Sacred’ that, in my opinion, is the better song. It’s a perfect mockery of the anti-contraception and anti-abortion stance of Catholicism. The fact they got a whole host of children born to the character singing the song joining in makes it even funnier. For those who find it disturbing that children are singing “Every sperm is sacred”, you may want to look up ‘Leck mir dem Arsch fein recht schon sauber’ by Mozart on YouTube. The first hit is a group of school-aged children singing a song that has the lyrics “Lick my arse, lick it nice and clean.”
Blame Canada from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999)
Growing up, a lot of adults would regularly dismiss the tv series South Park as just a load of crap that’s out to offend everyone for no reason. That didn’t stop me and my best friend at the time watching it behind their backs and discovering the interesting commentary it provided. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was a film that not only parodied films of the Disney Renaissance but had intriguing commentary on bad parenting and censorship. The best example through the movie of this is the ever popular song ‘Blame Canada.’ It has a lot of gravitas with the dramatic orchestrals exemplifying the conviction of the misguided parents which makes it all the funnier. This song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and somehow lost to the rather corny and frankly forgettable ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ by Phil Collins for the Tarzan soundtrack.
Remains of the Day from Corpse Bride (2005)
When people think of musical songs, this song from Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride often comes up. Composed by the ever talented Danny Elfman, this song serves as well executed exposition explaining Emily’s backstory. This song’s morbid topic is accompanied by the upbeat New Orleans jazz style of the music itself is the perfect representation of one of the key themes of the whole film: light vs dark. This is the kind of song one would want to dance to despite the tragic story in the lyrics.
Singin’ In The Rain from Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
How can a “Best Songs in Musical Films” list exist without an entry from Singin’ In The Rain? Answer: it can’t. Singin’ In The Rain is one of the classic musical films with an interesting narrative made spectacular with performances from the likes of the late Gene Kelly and choreography that today’s music videos can only dream of being as good as. The song is so well known outside the musical I barely need to describe only to say that it’s earned it’s title as a classic. It’s a simple, sweet song about being so blissfully in love the rest of the world doesn’t matter and all your worries melt away. It’s got all the hallmarks of a great musical song from the classical musical era.
Everybody Needs Somebody To Love from Blues Brothers (1980)
The centre piece song of the wildly entertaining Blues Brothers, this is a song that has cemented itself as a classic musical song in a musical that’s so different from the norm. ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’ is quite straight forward lyrically but the bombastic music and the energetic singing makes it impossible to hate. The message is one of all out love and kindness sung by two men on a mission from God. It’s a song that is perfectly representative of the tone of the movie but it’s also worth checking out other songs from the musical including ‘Minnie the Moocher’, ‘Shake a Tail Feather’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’
Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
If we’re discussing musicals during Tim Burton week, we have to discuss Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This was Burton’s adaptation of the Broadway stage show by Sondheim and it had an all star cast including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. There are some great songs in the film but my personal favourite is ‘Pretty Women’ between Rickman’s Judge Turpin and Depp as the titular character. Rickman and Depp work wonderfully together with the music of the song ever evolving as the mood progresses. The set-up of Todd offering Turpin a shave whilst plotting to take his revenge for the wife and child he lost is quite captivating.
The Sound Of Music from The Sound Of Music (1965)
This song is one that doesn’t need an introduction. It’s one of the most iconic musical songs ever. Who doesn’t feel whisked away when Julie Andrews sings “The hills are alive, with the sound of music”? A beautiful song sung by a character whose just left a convent and loves life to its fullest, Andrews does such a wonderful job of portraying a woman whose sense of happiness and whimsy brings her such joy and determination for life. Whilst other songs in the movie are enjoyable such as the classic ‘Do-Re-Me’ and the coming of age song ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’, ‘The Sound of Music’ is the most iconic and memorable.
This Is Halloween from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
“This is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…” A song that kicks off The Nightmare Before Christmas after the opening by Patrick Stewart, ‘This Is Halloween’ is a wonderfully executed exposition song that exquisitely sets up the atmosphere and the place our characters live in. In less than 4 minutes the audience is not only introduced to the citizens of Halloween Town but also get a feel of what can be expected within it (if the name didn’t give it away enough.) Composed by the ever talented Danny Elfman, this Tim Burton produced film is a must see for every Halloween and this song is a key reason why.