Hollywood has a major problem with recycling ideas. How many big budget studio films get released nowadays that don’t owe plenty to ones that came before? And isn’t every single television show on cable about a group of young criminologists with forensic technology from the future or a hot-shot lawyer fighting his personal demons, but still kicking ass and winning cases in the court room? To further illustrate how devoid of ideas Hollywood is, we need only think of the dreaded remake. Every blockbuster season you can be sure to see at least one trailer for another new remake of either an 80s horror classic, or a cult classic like the upcoming Mad Max remake. What’s even worse, even though screenwriters in Hollywood by and large seem unable to gather inspiration from anything other than their Netflix subscriptions, or pinch lines from Horatio Cane on CSI Miami, music directors are as guilty of the same thing.
Have you ever watched your favorite show, or seen a trailer for a movie on TV, and heard a clip of music and recognized the song? Of course you have, and that’s because there’s only a list of about 20 songs Hollywood uses for TV, trailers and big budget films. Seriously, it’s a law. Ok, an unwritten law, but strictly adhered to nonetheless. With plenty of independent films commissioning their own soundtracks nowadays (Hollywood, see Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive as an example on how to get the music right) the same giant production studios that commission those lazy writers to write drivel seem to draw from the well of lazy music directors too.
Do you know how many times Sweet Home Alabama by the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd has been heard in a film? 33 times. Add appearances on television and the song’s been used 55 times. The fact that the same song has been used in 33 different movies is obscene, but the most shocking part? Beyond naming a terrible Reese Witherspoon film after the song, Sweet Home Alabama isn’t even close to the top of the most overused music in movies list. So, without further ado, here’s a list of the most annoyingly overused music in film and television.
10. Bad To The Bone – George Thorogood & The Destroyers: 42 Appearances in Film & TV
The opening riff and the slide guitar that follows may be unmistakable, and the chorus may be iconic, but George Thorogood’s “Bad To The Bone” has become the go to track for Hollywood anytime an action star is about to lay down a severe beating on his opponents, or hop on a motorcycle. A classic rock and roll song in its day, after 42 appearances in film and television the song may be most notably remembered by 30 somethings from Terminator 2, but it’s also one of the first to get skipped when it hits the airwaves in the car.
9. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones: 45 Appearances in Film & TV
Subjective or not, how an overrated song manages to appear in such cinematic masterpieces as Adventures in Babysitting is astounding. And yet, Mick, Keith and co. have penned a tune that Hollywood directors have deemed paramount to their films for decades. Gimme Shelter has been heard on screen 45 times, maybe most notably in the Scorsese classic The Departed, but after such over exposure, the song’s refrain of “just a shot away…” couldn’t ring truer.
8. Back In Black – AC/DC: 45 Appearances in Film & TV
Another classic rock and roll song adored by millions world wide, AC/DC have penned countless anthems during their career, perhaps none more than the rollicking “Back In Black”, one of their most popular songs and a song with the distinction of gracing the soundtracks of films as diverse as Jack Black’s School of Rock (makes sense), Iron Man (superhero getting ready to lay a beatdown) and… The Muppets. Once you’ve licensed the rights to your music to film and television 45 times the way AC/DC has with Back In Black as a band, you must just not care anymore. I mean, c’mon, The Muppets?
7. All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan: 46 Appearances in Film & TV
It’s interesting when an artist like Bob Dylan licenses out his music to film and television. It kind of feels like a betrayal to his folk roots, until you remember this is the guy who eventually plugged in his guitar, alienated the majority of his fan base and still didn’t care. “All Along the Watchtower” truly is a classic song, and has actually been featured in a few classic movies, particularly Forrest Gump and the Will Smith vehicle Ali. Hell, it was even in Knocked Up, which was good for a few laughs. The problem is, “All Along the Watchtower” was also in 43 other film and television shows, so, at this point when Dylan sings “there must be some kind of way out of here…” I’m taking it literally.
6. Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas: 51 Appearances in Film & TV
Easily one of the worst songs ever recorded, “Kung Fu Fighting” has more than the fact that it’s a disco song stacked against. The song is just downright appalling. How anyone could possibly think that featuring this utter aural nightmare in a movie would be a good idea just proves how medicated society truly is. How a collection of people could think featuring this song in film and television a total of 51 times was a good idea makes taking the red pill and leaving the Matrix sound appealing right about now.
5. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd: 55 Appearances in Film & TV
The great southern rock anthem of the 1970s by Lynyrd Skynyrd has fallen on hard times lately. From a terrible pseudo cover by Kid Rock to an appearance in 8 Mile, a movie about rapper Eminem’s life also set in Detroit, “Sweet Home Alabama” has become a sad case of one of those songs you love to listen to loud, but can’t anymore because it’s on every TV show, and in every movie. The song’s been heard 55 times on screen, but it really hit its nadir in 2002 when it was not only featured in, but was also the title of the Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama.
4. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves: 75 Appearances in Film & TV
One of the most saccharine pieces of pop music to ever hit the airwaves, “Walking on Sunshine” is just the perfect song to inundate the public with every chance advertisers, television shows and films get. Advertisers still pay up to $200,000 to use the song in a 30 second commercial. And beyond commercials, the song has been featured in television shows and movies at least 75 times. Many may remember it from cult classics like American Psycho, High Fidelity or the less appreciated but equally awesome Daddy Day Care, but it’s also been heard in box office hits like Look Who’s Talking and television shows like the Gilmore Girls and Prison Break. Everyone needs a little sunshine in their lives, but consider this; you could realistically be watching one of these movies on TV, hear the song, then hear it again during a commercial break, and, if you’re like this author who can only fall asleep after an episode of the Gilmore Girls, hear it again all in the same few hours. I’ll take the rain any day after that.
3. Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf: 98 Appearances in Film & TV
Like “Bad to the Bone”, Steppenwolf’s classic tale of rebellion has been watered down to 2% proof Whiskey, and 98% proof overkill. “Born To Be Wild” has been abused over 98 times by the entertainment industry, but the German/Canadian rock and roll band clearly doesn’t seem to care. Being featured in 1969’s Easy Rider, the quintessential road film of the late 60s and the 1970s and easily one of the great counterculture films of all time is one thing, but to follow such a match made in heaven with Dr. Doolittle 2 and Herbie, Fully Loaded, makes one not want to get on a motorcycle with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper with a devil may care attitude, but rather buy some khakis, quit the Gap and apply to the ‘edgier’ American Eagle.
2. Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees: 100 Appearances in Film & TV
Here we go again. How disco was ever a good idea is probably best debated in another article, but how the Bee Gees track “Stayin’ Alive” was ever popular can be debated right here. A product of being in the right place at the right time, the song was originally recorded specifically for the John Travolta film Saturday Night Fever and the subsequent soundtrack. Clearly, the two were meant for each other, but that doesn’t mean “Stayin’ Alive” was meant for another 99 movies and television shows. The disco ‘anthem’ has featured in episodes of CSI, Entourage, and another Travolta hit, the aforementioned Look Who’s Talking. The Brits even saw fit to feature the song during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics. As painful as it may be to hear the chorus every time you turn, the song has most certainly lived up to its title.
1. Over the Rainbow – Judy Garland: 177 Appearances in Film & TV
Another song written specifically for a movie, this time the MGM classic The Wizard of Oz, the Academy Award winning “Over the Rainbow” (not Somewhere…) has received a multitude of accolades since it was first heard in 1939. Among them; the number one spot on the Songs of the Century list released by the Recording Industry Association of America, and the distinction of being named the greatest movie song of all time by The American Film Institute. There is no question the song is a classic, and deserving of the recognition it has received, but it is a song that was written for a specific movie, and therefore, should have remained as an iconic moment in said movie. Instead, in a clear attempt at what Hollywood is best at, capitalizing on a good thing, and beating it to death to the point of massive over saturation, the industry couldn’t allow “Over the Rainbow” to remain immortalized in The Wizard of Oz, and featured it in another 176 films and television shows over the decades. Could it have been Hubris? Avarice? Well, that’s Hollywood.
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