The Five Best Movie Music Covers

The Five Best Movie Music CoversOne of the pleasures (not to mention the occasional massive time suck) of the video web is rooting around for and discovering well-performed cover versions of classic movie tunes. Caught up against our weekly deadline with no articles to speak of completed (though some in progress), I decided to turn on the MovieFanFare jukebox and toss up five of my recent favorites in this tradition:

Theme from Schindler’s List

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The upcoming Blu-ray release of Spielberg’s Holocaust masterpiece—not to mention our recent inquiry as to composer John Williams’ status as overrated or underrated—got me thinking once more of this haunting melody. Ann Fontanella has some local (that is to say, Philadelphia) connections; this video, like her many others, includes some marvelous running annotations that reveal her insights about the nature of the piece and the technical requirements for playing it. You’re going to be an instant fan; her performance of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 is a real stunner.

“Meglio Stasera” (“It Had Better Be Tonight”), from The Pink Panther

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No lyrics here in Italian nor English, but Henry Mancini’s catchy melody survives quite well without them. And these folks are obviously having a fine time of it.  To enjoy the definitive performance of this “Frantastic” piece, go here.

Skyfall

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As Adele marches on to inevitable Oscar glory (put that one in the bank), it’s been amazing to see how many people have attempted to cover the latest Bond tune. Of all the ones I’ve listened to, I’m partial to this for evoking the sensual melancholy we associate with best John Barry 007 scores. At 3:04, you’ll hear the cello play a fragment of the James Bond Theme’s brassy midsection that I wish the film’s version had included; I think it makes for an even better bridge than the film’s edit of the full single at that juncture. (Though I suppose those extra few notes from the Norman/Barry piece may have rendered it ineligible for an Academy Award for excessive use of preexisting material)

“Smile” (Charles Chaplin, John Turner & Geoffrey Parsons)

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Charlie Chaplin composed the melody for Modern Times; in 1954, lyrics were added for Nat King Cole’s debut cover of the romantic, optimistic standard. I like the Holly Cole cover, but I find it difficult to locate anything that equals NKC’s soulful interpretation. This one, by Elvis Costello, comes close with its jazzy cheer; this video matches some charming footage to it (while the abrupt cut-off at the end perhaps keeps it from true YouTube greatness).

Finally…this is just irresistible fun for the movie music maniac:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713983697 Gordon S. Jackson

    Judy Garland does a brilliant, quite dramatic SMILE interrpretation from her 1963/64 television series.

    • GeorgeDAllen

      I’ve seen/heard that one :) I like Judy, and don’t particularly object to her version, but her performances of it somehow strike me as more, I don’t know—funereal?—than that song should be; I also like both of Robert Downey Jr.’s covers of the song: the first, that’s heard over the end credits of Attenborough’s underappreciated biopic of Chaplin (the electronica might sound outdated but it’s so jaunty!), and the more laid-back version you can hear on Downey’s 2004 album “The Futurist.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713983697 Gordon S. Jackson

        Judy rarely sang a lyric but tended more to interpret or even live it, like any fine actor. For me, she got inside of SMILE, giving it a meaning beyond it’s being ‘a nice ballad.’ That said, of course, the beauty of music is in the ear of the beholder.

        • GeorgeDAllen

          Absolutely — that makes me think of the recent adoration of Anne Hathaway’s long-take bit in “Les Miserables”…a moment I had the exact opposite reaction to than most fans who positively went bananas over it. That just wasn’t for me, either as a scene in a movie or a lived-in interpretation of a song. How to explain? I just didn’t “get” it.

          On a mildly related note, the other week I’d rewatched the great doc “The Kid Stays in the Picture” about Robert Evans, and upon hearing the music backing his discussion of falling in love with Ali MacGraw, I heard a very familiar melody, but being very out of touch with most pop tunes of any era, all I could think was “What is that song…WHAT IS THAT SONG…” —everyone else, naturally, would know instantly it was “L’amour est bleu” (Love Is Blue)…and I just started playing that song (the Paul Mauriat cover, of course) over and over and over again, such a brilliant melody.

  • Wayne P.

    Nice selections…and anything by Elvis Costello is worth listening to also…can still remember his debut album being recorded using a 4-track studio mix and the raw appeal of the barebones quality sound is undeniable…as was the Ramones. Along with The Cars, Cheap Trick, Nick Lowe and others, Elvis helped usher in the late 70′s rock&roll revival ’2nd English Invasion’ which rivaled the first from the 60′s with the Beatles and Rolling Stones. I think am gonna start “Watching the Detectives” again!

  • GSVuille

    My favorite musical cover is for “Doctor George’s Magnificent Zeppelin”.

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Here I thought there was a good dirty joke in there somewhere, but no. Aren’t there less awkward ways of trying to promote a self-published book?