Elvis Presley, 'C'mon Everybody' in 'Viva Las Vegas' (1964)
And this is why Elvis is the King. Not because he made dozens of these movies, most of them total cheese. Not because they’re all full of corny scenes where he can just stroll into the local gym and get begged to do a song like this. ("C’mon Everybody" is no relation to the Eddie Cochran rockabilly classic of the same name, except they're both awesome.) No, he's the King because of the superhuman confidence he brings to every moment. That's also why he brings the seductively leotarded Ann-Margret to an orgasmic frenzy with just the quiver in his voice. He makes her Sweden-sired hips undulate right next to his, for the ultimate cinematic hip-shake battle royale. And what a battle it is – though Elvis would be the first
Chuck Berry, 'You Never Can Tell' in 'Pulp Fiction' (1994) Nobody makes cinematic mix tapes as brilliantly as Quentin Tarantino. He keeps finding new ways to weave music into the action, from the Delfonics in Jackie Brown to Santa Esmeralda in Kill Bill. Even his World War II movie has a David Bowie jam. Reservoir Dogs put him on the map with the "Stuck In the Middle With You" torture sequence, but this Pulp Fiction moment has the edge as the sentimental fave, if only because you can watch it without blowing lunch. A hit man and his boss' wife do the Twist to Chuck Berry, acting out a sexual attraction that can only have bloody results. John Travolta resists at first, but as he gets lured into Uma Thurman's orbit, the killer turns into a dancer.
The Doors, 'Moonlight Drive' in 'Two Lane Blacktop' (1971)
James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in a '55 Chevy – a couple of rock stars acting in Monte Hellman's classic indie film, the ultimate existential road trip. They're a pair of hippie con men, rolling into a new town, cruising the local hot-rod spot looking for a sucker they can lure into a high-stakes drag race. They find the tough guys hanging out in the burger-joint parking lot, blasting the Doors, posing by their muscle cars, waiting for the good times to start. But the music warns that the good times are already over.
. Otis Redding, 'Try a Little Tenderness' in 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)
Some of the most awesomely terrible dancing ever captured by a camera crew – and that's just part of what makes this a perfect rock & roll moment, from a perfect teen flick. Everybody loves Pretty in Pink for all the new wave John Hughes put on the soundtrack – the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, OMD, etc. – but the best moment comes when Jon Cryer's Duckie serenades Molly Ringwald with his rendition of the Otis Redding soul classic. The Duckman's goofball moves cannot remotely be described as "cool," "funky" or even "human," but he needs this song to express all the bottled-up emotion he has for Molly, because he can't tell her himself. So it's slapstick comedy, but it's also true romance: a very rock & roll combo. Despite the Duckie legacy, Jay-Z and Kanye sampled this song anyway for "Otis," which was open-minded of them..
New Order, 'Dreams Never End' in 'Carlos' (2010)
Carlos does for Seventies terrorism what Goodfellas did for the mob, chronicling the epic rise and fall of a real-life criminal empire. Edgar Ramirez plays Carlos the Jackal as a self-styled revolutionary guerrilla, carrying himself like a rock star and falling hard for his own celebrity image. The soundtrack is full of postpunk bands like Wire and the Feelies. The icy death-disco groove of New Order sets the perfect tone of big-city alienation, as Carlos relaxes in the bathtub after casually tossing..
Led Zeppelin, 'Kashmir' in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' (1981)
Right before Ratner's first date with Stacey (the young Jennifer Jason Leigh), Damone gives him a five-point crash course in dating etiquette that ends with the most important advice: "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on Side One of Led Zeppelin IV." Ratner can't even get that one right – the closest he gets is "Kashmir," from Physical Graffiti. (The sight of Ratner at the wheel, while Robert Plant sings, "I am a traveler of both time and space" – what a comical mismatch.) But that just adds to the agonizing awkwardness of the whole night. Besides, as fans have argued for years, "Kashmir" makes much better makeout music than "The Battle of Evermore."
Isaac Hayes, 'Theme From Shaft' in 'Shaft' (1972)
The wah-wah essence of pimp-strut funk. Richard Roundtree's Shaft swaggers out of the subway and through the sleaze of 1970s Times Square, stopping the traffic cold with his sheer badness, walking to the beat of his own personal theme song. Isaac Hayes tells you who this guy is (a black private dick), what he does all day (he's a sex machine to all the chicks) and what people say about him (one bad mother). This is the song we all wish could be the soundtrack of our lives.
. Elton John, 'Tiny Dancer' in 'Almost Famous' (2000)
Something about "Tiny Dancer" brings the drama – it also provided the love theme for a very special episode of WKRP in Cincinnatti. (The one where the visiting Russian diplomat falls in love with Bailey.) Cameron Crowe made it the highlight of Almost Famous, his autobiographical account of hitting the road as a young Rolling Stone writer. He's on the tour bus with the band, but he's a total outsider in this scene, not to mention a kid. The band guys sit in stony silence, pissed at each other, until the Elton John song on the radio coaxes them to sing along. Golden-goddess groupie queen Penny Lane leads the chorus. The drummer taps his sticks on the vinyl bus seat. Harmony is restored. Penny tells the boy that he's home, and he realizes that she's right.
Queen, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 'Wayne's World' (1992)
A carload of suburban-loser party commandos cruise the wastelands of Illinois. Another Saturday night with no girls, no future, no particular place to go. Then they pop in a cassette of "Bohemian Rhapsody." Suddenly, they’re not losers anymore – they turn into an epic choir of rockness. They are the coolest guys on earth, even if nobody knows it besides them. No flick ever did a funnier job of showing how music functions in the day-to-day lives of those of us who live for it. This scene has been imitated to death – the Wayans brothers did a great parody in White Chicks. But nobody can top the original, as Wayne, Garth and their pals explode into galileos and magnificos.