7) Kenny Rogers & The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In” from The Big Lebowski
Islands in the Stream…of consciousness! He obviously knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, but what geek today would have guessed that Kenny Rogers also knew when to tune in, turn on, and drop out? Yes, the memorable slice of ’60s psychedelic kitsch that accompanies the Dude’s “Busby Berkeley in a bowling alley” dream sequence in The Big Lebowski was performed by none other than The Gambler himself. (How would Kramer warn his neighbors about this, I wonder? “Bad acid! Mess you up!”) Maybe it’s the far-out music, maybe it’s the dazzling choreography, mayb
e it’s the subliminal band of bearded brotherhood formed by Rogers and El Duderino, but in a T-Bone Burnett-curated soundtrack brimming with hidden gems and stone classics alike, Kenny’s ode to that crazy day he tore his mind on a jagged sky is the standout — a veritable Achiever anthem. And I don’t know about you, but let’s just say that I find Julianne Moore in that Valkyrie get-up strongly vaginal.
6) Queen’s “Princes of the Universe” from Highlander
Finally, a video that harnesses the raw destructive power of Freddie Mercury! The second — and more straightforwardly ass-kicking — of Queen’s ’80s fantasy-movie theme songs, “Princes of the Universe” is notable for placing the band amidst a set that recreates the rooftop of Silvercup Studios, where the climax of Highlander takes place…and then permitting their sheer rockitude to blow the fucking thing to smithereens. Mercury, never one for half measures, gives one of his most vocally committed performances of all time: When he bellows “I AM IMMORTAL! I HAVE INSIDE ME BLOOD OF KINGS!”, do you have any doubt he’s telling the truth? And before you homophobes make the obvious “that’s not the only fluid of kings he has inside him” joke, so overpowering is Mercury’s pansexual machismo that he actually makes his guitar-solo exclamation “BRING ON THE GIRLS!” sound totally convincing. Kicking off with Queen’s trademark multitracked harmonies and featuring some insane Brian May soloing, the whole shebang’s a perfect fit for Highlander‘s sword-wielding, head-chopping, Connery-guest-starring over-the-top action. Leading man Christopher Lambert himself even shows up in the vid, looking serious and gamely crossing swords with Freddie. Sorry, McLeod: When it comes to Mr. Mercury, there can be only one.
5) Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules’ “Mad World” from Donnie Darko
Most geeky movies use their final songs to get you pumped up. Donnie Darko used its final song to help you process what the hell it was you just saw. Like David Lynch meets I Love the ’80s, Darko is a very emotional, occasionally very frightening satire of the Reagan Era suburbs, relentlessly counting down to a climax that hits mind and gut with equal power. After that final twist, director Richard Kelly — who already proved himself a master of the Tears for Fears-based musical sequence earlier in the movie with that one-take “Head Over Heels” journey through the halls of high school–lets us down easy with this cover of an early Tears track, crafted by Darko composer Michael Andrews (whose resume also included the geek-cult TV shows Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and Wonderfalls) with vocals by his friend Gary Jules. Stripped down to a haunting bare minimum of voice, piano, cello, and the occasional electronic swoosh, it’s the perfect accompaniment to silent, slow-motion shots of the film’s main characters reacting to the tragedy that’s unfolded…which is more or less exactly what we’re doing, too. For extra nerdity, the song also featured prominently in the ad campaign for the Xbox 360’s Gears of War. Believe it or not, this cover version actually became a #1 hit in the U.K., the best proof this side of Kylie Minogue and the Stone Roses that the Brits have a much, much better pop-music industry than we do.
4) Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” from This Is Spinal Tap
How do you parody a genre that’s already beyond parody? Prior to Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer’s immortal creation, hard rock had already given us AC/DC’s “Big Balls” and Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” — the Spinal Tap boys just split the difference, to hilarious effect. The lyrics — just about the most frequently quoted from the whole movie aside from “These go to 11” — are an ever-escalating avalanche of sexist single-entendre stupidity: “The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’,” “My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo — I’d like to sink her with my pink torpedo,” “How could I leave this behind?” et cetera. Still, never let it be said that David St. Hubbins is unwilling to admit his own fallibility: “The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand,” he sings, but not without adding the caveat “or so I have read.” Best of all, with that bottom-heavy opening drum solo and sludgy, sleazy bass riff, it actually works as a rock song — leading to a straightfaced cover version by Soundgarden and a memorable Live Earth rendition featuring the bass players from every other act at the show.
3) Queen’s “Flash” from Flash Gordon
Indulge me with a little gedankenexperiment, won’t you? Let’s say you’re Queen. You are a bombastic, fantastic band, able to persuade arenas full of hockey fans to stamp their feet and clap their hands in rhythmic unison despite the fact that even your name is out and proud. You’re pretty awesome. Meanwhile, the film for which you’ve been hired to record a theme song contains lines like “Oh Flash, I love you! But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” — they have a certain an idiotic grandeur that not even the band who made “Bicycle Race” could adequately capture. What do you do? You cut the Gordian knot and simply insert quotes like that throughout your theme song. That’s so crazy it just might work! Crafting a ditty with a piano buildup and vocal explosion so intense that everyone from Tenacious D to Public Enemy uses it to get the crowd going won’t hurt, either. Sadly, your search for the musical equivalent of Ornella Muti as Princess Aura remains fruitless.
2) Richard O’Brien’s “The Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show
Are you a wedding DJ? Would you like to play a song tha
t will instantly fill the floor with girls who’ve worn purple crushed velvet to science-fiction conventions and dudes who LARP, all squealing with sexual abandon? I know I would! Well look no further than “The Time Warp,” the trademark track from the mother of all midnight movies, the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Several generations of nerds have had their mental cherries popped by this glam-era paean to polymorphous perversity. The message of the movie is basically that even freaks, geeks, weirdos, and kids who get called “fag” by lacrosse players can bang muscly blonde dudes or an in-her-prime Susan Sarandon, whichever they prefer — and this irresistibly catchy singalong, complete with step-by-step instructions, brings it all rushing back. Fun fact: I actually met my wife at a wedding reception because we were the only people there who knew how to do this dance. I instantly knew this was the girl I wanted to share lingerie with for the rest of my life.
1) Monty Python’s “The Lumberjack Song” from Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different
On a scale of nerdery in which “I enjoyed The Dark Knight” is like smoking a little weed in college and “I prefer Army of Darkness to Evil Dead 2” is like regularly doing bumps in a nightclub men’s room, Monty Python fandom is like holding up a drugstore for Sudafed, then receiving third degree burns when your meth lab blows up. This is the hard stuff. Any idiot can say “he slimed me” or refer to Star Wars as Episode IV, but if you’ve ever sung the lyrics to “The Lumberjack Song,” you are a fucking NERD. Like, you’ve been beaten up for it and everything. But more importantly, you know it was all worth it. Monty Python are the Beatles of comedy — everything from The State to Mr. Show to Adult Swim to the venerable Saturday Night Live itself simply would not exist without it — and this sucker’s their “Hey Jude.” The ridiculous visuals, the Oxbridge wordplay, the merciless lampooning of macho authority figures, the references to crossdressing, the sexy female supporting players: “The Lumberjack Song” is one giant Terry Gilliam-animated foot away from containing everything that’s great about Monty Python. Bonus: This version from the “best of” movie And Now for Something Completely Different springs out of the equally classic Parrot Sketch, which is like if your all-time favorite meal became a lapdance from the hottest girl in your high school halfway through eating it.