If there’s one thing I love more than films, it’s music, and when the two get combined, I’m having a good time. But what are some great performances by fictional musicians in movies?
To be clear, I’m not looking for concert movies with real bands, but I will accept real musicians playing fictional characters. Also, while I’m not discounting song and dance numbers from the musical genre, I’m more interested in performances by fictional musicians or bands.
In no particular order then – and like all ‘best of lists’ dictated mainly by my mood at the time of writing – here are five of my favourites…
The Soggy Bottom Boys – O Brother, Where Art Thou?
It’s been a long time since I’ve actually watched O Brother Where Art Thou, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack more than a few times in the years since its release.
The first performance by the Soggy Bottom Boys – George Clooney, Tim Blake-Nelson and John Turturro, with Chris Thomas King – in a recording studio belting out Man Of Constant Sorrow is terrific. Obviously, it’s from a recording, and Clooney isn’t actually doing the singing (disguised in the first place by a conveniently large vintage mic, but more noticeable later on), but it’s one of those movie music moments that has always stuck with me.
The cartoonish quality of the performance becomes more exaggerated in the public show at the end of the movie which for my money earns it the win because (a) Tim Blake-Nelson is actually doing his own singing on In The Jailhouse Now, (b) John Turturro’s dancing in the background just kills me, and (c) the boys’ reactions to the crowd going nuts for the opening bars of Man Of Constant Sorrow are just great too. Also, (d) Clooney’s dancing during the latter song is hilarious.
Stillwater – Almost Famous
Almost Famous is another one I haven’t seen in decades and can’t currently watch as my Blu-Ray player won’t play US discs.
I almost went for the Tiny Dancer moment on the tour bus, but as much as I love it, that scene needed to be earned and works best as catharsis for the challenges the band has faced to that point in the movie.
Instead, I’m going for Fever Dog, as it’s one of the closest experiences to going to a live gig I’ve seen put on film. I’ve reviewed live shows in the past and was on occasion too blown away by a performance to view it objectively – that’s something I grew out of by necessity, but watching Patrick Fugit channel Cameron Crowe here to just get swept up in his love for the music is something I can relate to.
Marvin Berry and the Starlighters – Back To The Future
Yes, the Johnny B Goode performance is probably more memorable – though I’ve still got a lot of love for Marty McFly & The Pinheads brief audition earlier in the movie – but I love Back To The Future and cannot think of it without thinking of Earth Angel.
I don’t think it’s the song itself, rather the way Alan Silvestri weaves in elements of his score to underline the peril Marty is in as George and Lorraine drift apart, before triumphantly swelling to a spine-tingling crescendo still seamlessly tied in with the in-movie performance as the couple kiss for the first time.
Simply put, it’s brilliant, uplifting and punch-the-air satisfying.
Guy and Girl – Once
This is another one of those films I don’t know as well as the soundtrack (or at least the signature tune), but Once is a really touching story of musicians falling in love in Dublin.
Falling Slowly had previously been released on an album by Glen Hansard with his band The Frames, but this simple, unshowy performance in an Irish music shop with Marketa Irglova perfectly illustrates a growing bond between the partners.
Josie and the Pussycats – Josie and the Pussycats
I watched this film a lot back in the day, but hadn’t seen it for over 15 years until recently. I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up and that it’d look dated, and while some of the fashions and cultural references have aged, I’m pleased to report that it’s still smarter than expected, funny, and the soundtrack is still a banger.
Yes, it’s turn of the noughties pop-punk, yes it’s not Rachel Leigh Cook’s singing voice (take a bow, Kay Hanley from Letters From Cleo), but Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid were well trained enough on their instruments to look like a real band and the attitude and confidence they exude has you rooting for them from the off.
There are plenty of great tunes on the soundtrack, and the scene itself is part performance part montage but Pretend To Be Nice has the catchiest “ooo-ee-ooo-ee-ooo” hook that’ll bury itself in your brain for a while. Enjoy.
Alright, I couldn’t write about great tracks from Josie and the Pussycats without including Backdoor Lover by DuJour – it’s a low quality video, but it’s basically The Lonely Island before they were a thing, a glorious celebration of innuendo and 90s/00s plastic boybands.
What have I missed?
As I said, these are just five tracks buzzing round my head right now – ask me next week and it’ll be another five.
(There are loads in Across The Universe too, in case you haven’t seen it!)
But if you’d like to recommend any great musical performances in movies, take to the socials or comments section and let me know!