looks at the use of “needle dropped” songs, many of them popular tunes, in movies. Specifically, in more than one. Yet they are not officially considered part of a film’s score. A score consists of those orchestral, choral, or instrumental pieces some consider background music. Both music forms are equally utilized as cues by filmmakers for a specific purpose or to elicit certain reactions by the audience.
On December 6, 1961, singer Solomon Burke recorded the country/soul/R&B mashup “Cry to Me.” The song’s upbeat melody, crisp tempo, and soaring vocal belie its themes of loneliness and weariness. It was released in 1962 as a single with “I Almost Lost My Mind” on the b-side and placed on Billboard’s Hot R&B (peaking at #5) and Hot 100 (#44) charts upon its release. The song was written and produced by Bert Berns (aka Bert Russell), a Juilliard-trained musician, with whom Burke had a rocky relationship. Burke had rejected two other Berns compositions during the same session and was reluctant to record “Cry” as well — until Burke decided to speed it up. The song became one of the singer’s biggest hits, cementing his image as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Soul,” and it soon had a permanent place in the popular music songbook. Per Wikipedia, the varied and numerous artists to cover the immortal track include Betty Harris, the Pretty Things, the Rolling Stones, Raul Malo of the Mavericks, and the late great Tom Petty. The song was recently used in two mostly different features to very different effect, released less than a year apart: ’71 (2014) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015). While both films share certain plot keywords and deal in varying degrees with covert operations, the tone of each couldn’t be more different.
In Yann Demange’s ’71, young British soldier Hook (Jack O’Connell) is abandoned after a riot on the streets of 1971 Belfast turns deadly. His best mate Thommo (Jack Lowden) is shot by the IRA, the rest of his unit bails out, leaving Hook, badly beaten up by the local Catholics and on the run. Eventually he is found by a Protestant kid whose uncle is high up in the Loyalist mob, and Hook is taken to their headquarters, a pub. In the back room, two henchmen are putting together a bomb, under the direct supervision of a member of another division of the British military, a guy Hook recognizes from the barracks. The catch is, Hook wasn’t supposed to know. No one is; the British army isn’t supposed to be involved with Protestant paramilitaries. As Hook sits at the bar nursing his beer, he knows he is in big trouble. The IRA will shoot him on sight, and he senses that his own side don’t really want him around anymore either, now that he knows too much. Originating from the pub’s jukebox, “Cry To Me” reflects and amplifies the utter loneliness that Hook feels but cannot express, due to the situation, his personality, and his upbringing.
I really cannot say too many good things about ’71. Just go watch it. Not only is it a top-notch thriller with a lot of twists you won’t see coming, but it rewards repeat viewing, simply because things happen so fast that you’ll see something new every time.
“Cry to Me” is also used in Guy Ritchie’s criminally underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin respectively, the tone of this film is far from the gritty street battles and social commentary of ’71. In the early ’60s in Cold War Europe, these reluctant allies have teamed up with Solo’s East German extractee Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) and they are now all under cover to find out what Gaby’s scientist father is cooking up with some leftover World War II fascists, led by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki). Here the song is the accompaniment for Gaby’s crazy-sexy attempt to seduce Illya, who is not entirely immune to her charms. “So you don’t want to dance, but you do want to wrestle.”
Employing witty repartee, stylish production values, solid action sequences, amazing costumes, and Hugh Grant in a small but hilarious and vital role, this film is fun, fun, fun. Why it didn’t do better at the box office I’ll never know…it clearly was set up for a sequel, one that I would have welcomed.
Many thanks to Michael for letting me borrow his idea. His entire Same Song-Different Movie series is here.