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“What an ending, what a conclusion”: 20 more soundtrack songs that double as film synopses (part 2)

Here’s a bonus Inventory that continues yesterday’s theme: soundtrack songs that double as synopses for their films.

1. Michael Winslow and the L.A. Dream Team, “Citizens On Patrol”

One-man mouth band Michael Winslow didn’t really need the help of the L.A. Dream Team to put the plot of Police Academy 4 to music, but—like ordinary citizens recruited for thankless cop work—the hip-hop duo pitched in anyway. Chris “Snake Puppy” Wilson and the late Rudy Pardee trade verses describing “the new kind of heat that’s walking the beat,” before Winslow pulls up to the crime scene with his Motor Mouth Jones routine, bringing in cameos from (fake) Bubba Smith and (definitely fake) Jimi Hendrix. It’s cartoonish, occasionally obnoxious, and it goes on way too long, just like the Police Academy franchise. [SO]

2. Ice Cube, “Higher”

Basically the movie version of a college freshman who’s just read The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, John Singleton’s Higher Learning offers an outraged, ham-fisted caricature of simmering racial tensions on a college campus. It’s a movie that never opts for subtlety, when it can just have a bunch of skinheads turn up. Fittingly, Ice Cube’s “Higher”—a song rapped from the point of view of Cube’s mouthpiece character, Fudge, but strangely, sometimes also from that of Omar Epps’ track star Malik—makes every one of the film’s plot points sound like a joke even he can’t take seriously. (For example: “A girl gets date-raped just like that at a frat / Now she chase the cat,” Cube says of Kristy Swanson’s lesbian-awakening subplot.) Eventually even Cube gets so exhausted with all the melodrama, he starts openly daydreaming about smoking weed. [SO]

3. The Ramones, “Pet Sematary”

There are a lot of ridiculous things about Pet Sematary—Fred Gwynne’s Maine accent, Dale Midkiff’s overwrought “Nooooooooooo!”—that make it hard to take the movie’s more horrifying elements seriously. The Ramones’ bouncy pogo punk further confuses the tone; “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” is, to say the least, an interesting choice for a scene where a child gets fatally mowed down. The overall impression is that Stephen King just liked The Ramones and wanted them in his movie, regardless of whether it “worked,” an indifferent attitude that extends to the theme song. “Pet Sematary” combines generic horror imagery with specific references to things that are (“Victor is grinning, flesh rotting away”) and are not (“Ancient goblins, and warlords”) in the movie. But none of that really matters, because catchy choruses were what The Ramones did best, and “I don’t want to be buried in a Pet Sematary / I don’t want to live my life again” was infectious enough to make “Pet Sematary” one of The Ramones’ biggest radio hits. [KR]

4. Tina Turner, “We Don’t Need Another Hero”

Tina Turner isn’t just the queen of the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome soundtrack, she’s also one of the film’s chief villains—Aunty Entity, who rules Bartertown with an iron fist. For the movie’s big song, though, Turner is more empathetic to the children of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Over music that sounds exactly like all her big hits from the era, she sings of the struggle of the kids who live under her character’s regime and the battle-to-the-death arena she runs: “All the children say… ‘All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome.’” Spoiler alert: They eventually find life beyond the Thunderdome, after Mad Max drives a car really fast and awesome. Further spoiler alert: There is a saxophone solo. [JM]

5. The Coupe De Villes, “Big Trouble In Little China”

Big Trouble In Little China was hardly the first time director John Carpenter pulled double duty and also composed the film’s soundtrack, but he did shake things up with a theme song by his synth-rock side project, the Coupe De Villes. Carpenter himself sings lyrics that evoke the supernatural circumstances Jack Burton and Gracie Law et al. find themselves in—“Runnin’ through the mystic night / Runnin’ through the rolling fire / Runnin’ through the burning blade / Runnin’ through the crawling snakes,” and so on. Carpenter and his bandmates—which included fellow directors Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter) and Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III)—even put together a video that’s about as 1986 as it gets. [WHa]

6. Bill Lee, “The Legend Of Chuck-A-Luck”
Rancho Notorious, the best of Fritz Lang’s three forays into the Western genre, is also the weirdest—a highly stylized, flashback-packed revenge yarn that owes more to Bertolt Brecht than Zane Grey. Fittingly, the opening-credits number is a Western ballad that moves like a Kurt Weill art song, playing an important role in the movie’s design, reiterating central themes (“Hate, murder, and… revenge” is the chorus) and providing a general summary of the plot about a vengeance-seeker searching for an illicit gambling den called Chuck-A-Luck. Sung by Bill Lee—whose dubbed-in signing voice would become a staple of ’50s and ’60s Hollywood musicals—and written by three-time Oscar winner Ken Darby, it’s one of the more effective examples of the movie-summary song, and the first distancing device in a movie chock full of them. [IV]

7. Huey Lewis, “Pineapple Express”

When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg commissioned Huey Lewis to write an ’80s-style tune for their ’80s-style action-comedy Pineapple Express, they allegedly gave him two parameters: It must summarize the plot, and it must feature wailing sax. Huey Lewis was as good as his word, and the resulting title song fulfills both requirements—though the sax is more memorable than the synopsis. Lewis vaguely references the characters being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” wonders how they “got into this mess,” and helpfully notes that stoners are “not used to the stress.” Still, a hazy summary actually captures the short term memory-addled spirit of David Gordon Green’s throwback better than a more exacting account would. [JH]

8. Frankie Laine, “Blazing Saddles”

On the surface, the theme from Mel Brooks’ classic Western spoof could fit any movie about a lone hero standing up to outlaws on the frontier. In fact, singer Frankie Laine—a veteran of Western soundtracks who provided the title themes for Rawhide, the original 3:10 To Yuma, and many more—was reportedly unaware that the film was a comedy. He still knew enough about Blazing Saddles to sing about it, though: Its hero “conquered fear, and he conquered hate,” a reference to the film’s theme of overcoming racism, and of course, there’s the final lines that call out Cleavon Little’s character as the hero Laine’s been crooning about (and maybe should have clued him in that things were a bit off): “And Bart was his name. Yes, Bart was his name.” [WHu]

9. The Wondermints, “Austin Powers”

What would a James Bond parody flick be without a killer theme song? In their mod-inflected title tune for Mike Myers’ 1997 spy spoof, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, The Wondermints begin with the title character’s cryogenic unfreezing and highlight his efforts as a jet-setting man of danger, the guy you call when Dr. Evil gets an idea. Of course, any song about Powers would be remiss to skip out on the international man of mystery’s greatest asset: banging ladies. Never fear, the Wondermints remind listeners, “In a jet or in a Jag / In a pinch he’s ready to shag.” [ME]

10. Christopher Cross, “Arthur’s Theme”

Tasked with filling in the blanks on a movie that gave audiences nothing to go on but its character’s first name, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager joined forces with singer Christopher Cross to capture Dudley Moore’s drunken man-child Arthur in song. To do so, they borrowed a line from a song Sager wrote with Peter Allen— “When you get caught between the moon and New York City,” which ended up being its most famous lyric—and wrapped it around a song about an overgrown boy who “does what he pleases,” “livin’ his life one day at a time,” and “laughin’ about the way they want him to be.” That is, until he finds the one who “turns your heart around,” and happens to look like Liza Minnelli. [WHa]

11. Devo, “Theme From Doctor Detroit”

Devo didn’t get super specific with the lyrics to “Theme From Doctor Detroit,” so maybe the band had to make the concession and call it that. In any case, there are a couple of lines that evoke the ridiculous 1983 film, which stars Dan Aykroyd as a mild-mannered professor who’s tricked into becoming a pimp, eventually getting really good at it (while remaining really nice to all the prostitutes, just like in real life!). Only the lines “Don’t try to run” and “It gets you from behind” could potentially reference scenes from the movie—scenes that are handily included in the accompanying music video. “The doctor’s not an M.D. / what he does this time he does for free,” might also reference Doctor Detroit’s actions, while “it comes and goes” seems to wink at what his clientele is doing. The song was an inauspicious way for Devo to leave the public consciousness for a while—it was the last time the group would appear on the American singles charts. [JM]

12. KRS-One, “Generique Assault”
Though rapper Ja Rule acts in the serviceable 2005 remake of Assault On Precinct 13, the job of providing an end-credits summary song fell instead to KRS-One, who got very specific with “Generique Assault.” The first verse captures the movie’s cooperative standoff between cops and criminals succinctly: “Enemies work together by putting their shit on pause.” KRS then goes on to namecheck stars Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne and brag that he holds the mic “like Ja Rule held the baseball bat” (counting on the listener’s recall of Ja Rule’s iconic baseball-bat-holding scene). Later verses wander farther afield, but he eventually brings it back around, exclaiming, “What an ending! What a conclusion!”—possibly referring to the movie, the song, or most likely both. [JH]

13. Bruce Broughton, “The Monster Squad Rap”

The key to The Monster Squad’s cultish appeal is the movie’s canny amalgam of snarky enthusiasm and classic monster-movie homage. The rap song that kicks off the end credits captures that spirit with a chest-thumping ode to its self-aggrandizing title characters, who print out business cards before they’ve defeated a single bad guy. In between lyrics reciting plot basics (“First came Dracula, the Wolf Man too / The Mummy, and the Gill-Man swimming in the pool”), the repeated “M-m-m-m-m-monster Squad” serves as the perfect, in-your-face refrain for a story about childish brio. And after “The Monster Squad Rap,” any movie that doesn’t end with a three-minute song bragging about its heroes seems like a wasted effort. [ZH]

14. Dolby’s Cube featuring Cherry Bomb, “Howard The Duck”

Thomas Dolby, not too far removed from his “She Blinded Me With Science” years, did about half the soundtrack to the cult hit/commercial bomb Howard The Duck, a film far ahead of its time in adapting a Marvel comic. The movie’s theme song, delivered in a big production by Cherry Bomb—featuring lead singer Lea Thompson, also the film’s lead human—is so ridiculously over the top that it fits in perfectly with the rest of the movie. Written by Dolby with help from George Clinton, the song features such film-specific lines as “Get that planet on the phone / ain’t no time to waste / Tell ’em he ain’t coming home / Done joined the human race!” Later, Howard is also deemed “too groovy for gravy, to precious for pate,” which must have made the duck feel better, that his friends have decided not to eat him. [JM]

15. MC Eiht, “Streiht Up Menace”
1993’s Menace II Society presented an uglier, grittier, and far more nihilistic answer to Boyz N The Hood’s vision of life in South Central L.A., both visually and aurally. Appropriately, the soundtrack was a collection of scrappier underground West Coast talent, featuring artists like Ant Banks, Spice 1, and DJ Quik who would ultimately prove too rough for mainstream ears. Among them, MC Eiht (who also played the film’s A-Wax) turned his “Streiht Up Menace” into a film synopsis and brutal portrait of gangsta life, with Eiht recounting protagonist Caine’s doomed trajectory from brew-sippin’ baby to crack hustler to gunshot casualty. [DF]

16. Pras (feat. Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard), “Ghetto Supastar”

Though it was quickly overshadowed by its smash crossover success and the mystery of what ever happened to Mya, Pras’ “Ghetto Supastar” is indelibly linked to the 1997 comedy Bulworth. Much of the song is Pras’ generic braggadocio, wrapped around Mya’s play on Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Islands In The Stream” hook. Leave it to Ol’ Dirty Bastard to be the unlikely grounding force. In his few moments on the mic, Ol’ Dirty Bastard becomes Warren Beatty’s Jay Bulworth: “My eyes is sore, being a senator,” ODB starts, before tracing Bulworth’s entire arc from jaded politician to truth-spitting hero of the downtrodden in his two guest verses. “I became hardcore, couldn’t take it no more / I’m-a reveal everything, change the law,” he says, even reserving an aside for the movie’s assassination subplot with “didn’t know my love was the one holding the gun and glove.” Perhaps Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the only one who actually saw the movie? [SO]

17. LL Cool J, “Deepest Bluest”
Opening by comparing his hat to a shark’s fin, LL Cool J recounts the plot of Deep Blue Sea by getting into the head of one of the film’s genetically engineered sharks his character faces: “Other fish in the sea but Barracudas ain’t equal / To a half-human predator created by a needle.” He goes on to reference other plot points—namely the moment the crew figures out the sharks have flooded their research facility in order to escape (“These waters are waist-level / The hallway’s flooded / Lost your scuba gear / The killer’s cold-blooded”). In the end, LL Cool J might have been better off sticking with his own character’s perspective, considering he’s the one who lives. [ME]

18. RZA ft. Blake Perlman, “Drift”

To capture the two sides of Guillermo Del Toro’s paean to Japanese giant monster movies, RZA teamed with Blake Perlman—daughter of the film’s Ron Perlman—to produce “Drift.” Perlman’s verses float dreamily through subtext and figurative language, focusing on the titular phenomenon—a telepathic connection between a giant mecha’s paired pilots—that serves as the film’s emotional core. RZA’s verse, on the other hand, is all about the nature of Kaiju War. Lines like “Great scientist minds, militaries combined / To form the greatest weapons to defend mankind,” and “A strong mighty body, hundred tons of steel, Kaiju / Facing the enemy that stands before us” put the movie’s high-stakes heavyweight battles into sonically aggressive rap. [WHu]

19. RZA, “Ode To O-Ren Ishii”

The Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack might be the most Quentin Tarantino of all the filmmaker’s sonic collections, a schizophrenic game of genre leapfrog, culling such disparate artists as Charlie Feathers to krautrockers Neu!. Keeping things in line was RZA, tapped by Tarantino to oversee the chop-socky mixtape, and marrying the Wu-Tang leader’s own kung-fu fetishism with Tarantino’s lust for obscure ’70s pop. In his most literal contribution, a tribute to Lucy Liu’s deadly, sword-wielding character O-Ren Ishii, RZA rhymes over Vincent Tempera’s propulsive score for Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic, narrating Ishii’s tragic tale. “She got the sinister cat eyes and little freckles on her complexion / Cheaper than Yakuza, but she’s wicked like Medusa / And she got Crazy 88 killers that’ll slice right through ya,” RZA spits as he walks the listener through Ishii’s blood-soaked rise to power. Still, while Ishii’s henchmen know to never mention her mixed racial heritage, even after repeatedly warning of her deadliness, RZA isn’t so intimidated that he doesn’t make it his hook. (“Half Chinese/Half Japane-see, Half American and yo / Oh what a species.”) [DF]

20. Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
In his 8 Mile single, Eminem narrates the story of his protagonist, Rabbit, in first, second, and third person—alternating among the perspectives with a fluidity that reveals his simultaneous investment in, and distance from, the person he was before he became Eminem. Whenever that perspective shifts, as in the song’s hook, the punctuated, powerful “snap back to reality” reads like a command. “Lose Yourself” starts with Eminem rapping about Rabbit’s nervous state of mind—and vomit-stained sweater—on battle night, then moves on to his intense desire to rise above his surroundings. The mood turns more animated as Eminem first wills Rabbit to succeed, then finally breaks out of the screen: “And there’s no movie / There’s no Mekhi Phifer / This is my life.” [SS]

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