Illustration Ben Beechener

There are few things finer in life than settling down into a plush leather cinema seat as the lights darken and the surround sound booms out the start of a hotly anticipated new release. Although, I’ll allow that perhaps, if cost effectiveness is taken into consideration, cosying up with a blanket in front of the telly could trump that. Either way, the joy of immersing yourself into a cinematic experience—whether it be entirely new or returning to an old favourite—is a simple pleasure I savour. What makes those moments so transformative? One could say the writing, cinematography, the performances of the people on screen. I’d argue all of the previous are vital. But tying it all together? The soundtrack. For me, oftentimes when a particular scene from a show or film sticks with me, so does the track that accompanies it. Here are some of my favourite musical accompaniments to stand out scenes from the big and small screen.

The Suicide Squad (2021)—’People Who Died’, The Jim Carroll Band

Although the two films are almost worlds apart, what both Suicide Squad’s nail is their scores. 2016’s adaptation provided some of the catchiest songs of the year with the likes of ‘Heathens’ and ‘You Don’t Own Me’. But the latest adaptation, notable for its unflinching violence, offbeat humour and surprisingly stark social commentary, made a notable shift away from those ‘down with the kids’ pop anthems.

Not much could have prepared me for the start of this film (not even a second viewing). The explosive (excuse the pun) opening sequence was equal parts shocking and impressive, exacerbated by the jarringly upbeat ‘People Who Died’ by The Jim Carroll Band raging away in the background. The scene stuck with me for various reasons, however, it was that song—of the many catchy tracks littered throughout the film—that I left the cinema humming under my breath. 

‘People Who Died’, I realised, matched the scene perfectly. The song’s lyrics are dark, as Jim Carroll rattles off a list of ‘those […] people who died’, but the anthemic singing and chorus retain an undoubtedly addictive and fun overtone. That was exactly what The Suicide Squad promised with its opening. This adaptation would be different—dark, adult, befitting of the comic story—but still a wildly entertaining and memorable ride. Both the song and film are works of contrasting art—dark but fun, heavy but entertaining. As such, this perfect coupling set the tone for the rest of the movie and, from there, the film flourished.

Vikings (2013-2020)—’If I Had a Heart’, Fever Ray

I dare you—actually, scratch that, I double dare you—to watch two episodes of Vikings and not get Fever Ray’s haunting dark ballad ‘If I Had a Heart’ stuck in your head for the rest of the day. With its hypnotic rhythm and low, moody singing, ‘If I Had a Heart’ has viewers perking up and paying attention before an episode even begins. There’s an unmistakable excitement in watching the title sequence roll and, inevitably, singing along to the show’s theme, before being immersed in the adventures and ambition of protagonist Ragnar Lothbrok. Beyond the Gothic catchiness of the song, the lyrics complement the show’s protagonist perfectly. The show cuts the start of the song slightly, beginning with the demand ‘more, give me more, give me more’ and it works a treat. If that statement doesn’t perfectly represent the foundation of the show—Ragnar and his unshakeable desire to have his cake and eat it, in more ways than one—then I don’t know what does.

Fleabag, season 2 (2019)—‘This Feeling’, Alabama Shakes

Now I may have (d)evolved since my formative years at a Catholic primary school but very few things have stirred my religious fervour more than the second season of Fleabag. I could merrily talk about the dramatic choir harmonies that accompanied that iconic one word line, yes, you know the one. But the moment and music that brought me up short the most was a far more tender scene between Fleabag and the Hot Priest. Alabama Shakes’ bittersweet acoustic ballad, ‘This Feeling’, conjures images of rainy days in the city, day turning to dusk, warmth against the cold and, cosying up inside with a hot drink and a good book. But it also raises the distinct visual of two people in love, sat at a bus stop, letting go.

Watching that scene play out rose in me a feeling so indescribably all-consuming I could have wept just for relief. Perhaps, as an English student, I should be able to decipher and articulate better such a visceral reaction to fiction, but, then again, perhaps it is my precise inability to do so that is testament to the skill of writer and star of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The scene is tender and raw, speaking to the sometimes painful but equally beautiful nature of humans and the flawed, fickle nature of relationships (with others and ourselves). But it also still retains Waller-Bridge’s sharp observations about the funny quirks of life. Led by two powerhouse performances, this moment culminates a mere two series, just 12 episodes, that somehow managed to pack in huge amounts of heart and humour. It’s one of the most perfect television endings, and still holds the power to make me sob (just a little).

Twilight (2008)—’Supermassive Black Hole’, Muse

It seems, for better or for worse, that the Twilight saga is having a renaissance of its very own. Admittedly, this franchise was a staple of my formative years. From my well-worn and well-loved copies of the books, to quite frankly embarrassing levels of obsession for Robert Pattinson, Stephenie Meyers’s sparkling money-making machine and I have been on quite the journey together. We have journeyed from love, to hate, impassivity and now, into the realm of flawed but fun comfort movie. Regardless, few scenes marry so well pure cinematic excellence and brilliant music as The Baseball Scene and Muse. Thunder rumbles, the on screen hue is blueish, and the Cullen family limber up as that iconic electric guitar riff begins. What follows is a scene so mind-bogglingly ridiculous it borders on sheer genius, aided handsomely by Matt Bellamy’s distinctive tenor. ‘Ooooh, you set my soul alive’ Bellamy sings against a backdrop of comical vampire sprinting and fun family dynamics, and this scene sure as hell lights up mine. If you’re not doing baseball like the Cullens, ask yourself, why even bother?

Honourable Mentions:

The Boys (2019-)‘Psycho Killer’, Talking Heads

Man of Steel (2013)—‘Look to the Stars’, Hans Zimmer

Euphoria (2019-)—‘All for Us’, Labrinth, Zendaya

Black Widow (2021)—‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Malia J

I could probably (definitely) continue to ramble about film and tv and the songs that just pair so well with my favourite moments. Instead, fortunately for you, I’ll end on my list of honourable mentions and return to whatever 5 songs I’m currently obsessively playing on repeat.

Hetta Johnson

Hetta Johnson (she/her) is a contributing writer and Junior Editor for Cultures at The Oxford Blue. She is in her second year reading English Language and Literature at Worcester College and, when not...