Readers of this publication will easily agree that music is a crucial element of memory and plays a role in how we not only enjoy life but how we remember it. Popular culture ties a very visible thread to the memories that we as a society share and, depending on our coming of age period, certain songs, movies and other creative works hold special places in our hearts.
As this publication is committed to discussing music, specifically, it is high time we brought you another Top Five list, this time, the Top Five Music Movies of all time. With the slight exception allowed to number five, these are movies where music serves a major plot purpose or where the soundtrack is a crucial part of the film itself.
5. Moonwalker (1988)
For any child of the 1980s (and the 1970s, for that matter), Michael Jackson is not only an icon but a demigod.
Featuring Danny Devito in the role of the villain and the King of Pop himself as the hero, Moonwalker was a piece of 1980s glamorous trash that just, for most, worked. If it came from his imagination, then that makes total sense.
Rather than one plot, Moonwalker featured multiple short films about Jackson during the period where Bad was released and popular. The most absolute badass is the “Smooth Criminal” portion where Jackson sports the sick white suit, crushes a cue ball with his bare hand, and pretty much wins at everything.
He throws a quarter in a jukebox from twenty-five feet away, does the leaning thing that I broke my nose to at least once as a kid, and tapes his fingers up and wears a sick hat like a 1980s Oakland Athletic. Plus, kids get saved at the end and no more jokes about Michael, please. Just watch the movie and love the dancing. There’s the “Man In The Mirror” video which induces crying, like, every time. If that’s your thing. I just like the dancing.
4. High Fidelity (2000)
Like any great tale soaked in popular culture, High Fidelity (based on Nick Hornsby’s book of the same name) suffers the fate of being trapped in an era that anyone born after a certain point — in this case, 1995 — will have to ask for some context to be able to follow along.
While many under 30 can remember record stores, it takes one of a certain age to remember going into the local record shop to buy a new CD and feeling the scorn as you paid $18.99 for a CD release of anything on the Billboard Hot 100, not to mention a Top 40 release.
Bolstered by an amazing soundtrack, High Fidelity relates the tale of a record shop owner whose entire life is soundtracked, bookmarked, enriched and/or undone by his highfaluting musical tastes. A store undone by the big chains (Honorable Mention: Empire Records) and a marriage undone by an obsession, High Fidelity is a great, grown-up story about music and it’s stranglehold on our conscience.
3. Singles (1992)
A snapshot not only in time but in locale, Singles boasts a flawless soundtrack featuring Pearl Jam (members of which are in the film’s fictional band, Citizen Dick), Alice In Chains (who play in a club scene in the movie, for those who wish they could have seen Layne Staley live before he died), Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden. It encapsulates Seattle in the heyday of grunge, and the MTV Generation full of failure to launch and failure to commit, to anything.
Coming of age in the 1990s meant, for many, Doc Martens and shorts and trying to understand grownup jokes in movies like Singles and Reality Bites. The Gen-X vibe is similar between Singles and Reality Bites, but Singles takes the prize for being based around music of the era.
2. House Party (1990)
Kid ‘n Play captured not only the coolest hairstyle of 1990 but helped launch the def party jam trilogy when they released the first House Party film. We will ignore House Party 4 and the ‘tweener that was released in 2012 to fit between 3 and 4.
Another coming-of-age story, this one is mostly about kids sneaking out to party, hook up with girls and get their rhyme on — with some hype dancing to go with it — House Party is easily the most comedic and light-hearted of this list.
It’s also the most hip hop as Kid ‘n Play were legitimate recording artists prior to becoming actors, along with B-Fine of Full Force, also in the film. So was George Clinton, the most sampled artist on the West Coast and probably the most sampled overall in hip hop right after the James Brown Band. Credit this one with launching Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell into sitcom stardom.
1. Pump Up The Volume (1990)
Christian Slater owned the late 80s and early 90s, but no more in antihero fashion than he did with Pump Up The Volume. It may have been a box office flop, but so was Heathers and no one complains about that one. Not available to stream (ummm….) or on Blu-Ray format as of this writing, PUTV is the precursor to podcasting teenage angst for anyone to listen (or, as the case may be, not).
Seth Green is a child in the film, but Slater (as Mark Hunter — shoutout former Chimaira vocalist @chimairamark, though a mere coincidence) is a wise-and-bitter-beyond-his-years high school student in Phoenix running a pirate radio station that gains popularity as he speaks directly to the jaded and (admittedly) over-induldged upper-middle-class kids of the suburbs who just have too much angst to fit in.
PUTV resonated with the outcasts, the kids who lived inside their own heads and inside their own (or their older sibling’s) record collection. An anti-establishment story for teenagers boxed in by the expectations of others and the desire of parents to see their children become what the parents themselves could or did not, Slater’s Mark Hunter ends the movie reminding his peers — who, up to that point, had no idea who broadcast the station — to make their life their own.