I know most of my fan-base are literature fans, but there are plenty of lit fans who are also fans of Hollywood (when films are done right) and pop music.
There are some great stories in music that, I believe, deserve unrolling onto the silver screen. In that spirit, here are five songs that should be made into films. Sure, some of these songs have back-stories of their own, but they also stand as great jumping-off points for movies.
Southern Cross – Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Sure, this would be one of those painful, beautiful, failed romance films they would only show in that one art-house theater downtown where you saw Even The Rain. But, good God, wouldn’t it be gorgeous and moving? The tension between the intimate, personal, romantic desires and the grand, transpersonal, spiritual forces tugging on the narrator’s soul carries immense narrative promise.
Okay, I have to admit I am partial to this song due to its nautical theme and the fact that it is one of the few pop songs that pronounces a Polynesian word (Pape’ete) near to correct.
And, I would not have included it on this list before I saw the Coen Brothers’ True Grit. Why? Capturing the full majesty and mystery of the night sky on film is rarely attempted and nearly always fails; take as an example the dead calm scene from At World’s End, in which the sky looks like the cramped back-drop of a science fair project.
But, the snakebite rescue sequence at the climax of True Grit was one of the most remarkable pieces of cinematography I have ever witnessed. These guys could definitely make you understand what the song’s narrator means by “when you see the Southern Cross for the first time.”
And, just imagine the way the Coen Brothers portray the pathetic nobility of the average human being, applied to plot hints like:
- In a noisy bar in Avalon, I tried to call you. But, on a midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away.
- We cheated and we lied and we tested, and we never failed to fail: it was the easiest thing to do.
- I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are dying, and my love is an anchor tied to you.
I would stand in line to see this film.
[Get Southern Cross on Amazon]
My Hooptie – Sir Mix-A-Lot. Every film needs a premise. How about this: “Gotta roll this bucket, ’cause my Benz is in the shop!”
Every line of this classic hip-hop song is hilarious. If you missed it (or you think Mix-A-Lot only had that one song about big butts) you need to crack open the Amazon link below and drop 99 pennies on this tune.
There are enough gags in My Hooptie to fill a typical “one crazy night” comedy film:
- Trunk lock stuck
- Stepped on the brakes, Skittles came out
- Tinted back window with a bubble in the middle
- Something on my left front tire keeps clicking
- My ex-girlfriend shot out my headlight
There’s a “bad neighborhood” scene, a “crazy party” scene, a “stopped by the cops” scene. The script practically writes itself. And, not only is it a perfect premise for a “one crazy night” film, but following a posse of wealthy rappers in a beat-up car is a great opportunity for a lot of “fish out of water” moments.
Okay, the song was released late in 1989, so by now this movie would be a period piece. But if Hot Tub Time Machine can riff on the mid-80’s why not riff on the early 90’s? Imagine Hot Tub meets The Hangover meets Friday.
Meets a parody of all those Fast and Furious movies.
[Get My Hooptie at Amazon]
Blood Red Skies – Judas Priest. This song might be another one that sends you clicking to iTunes to find out what the heck song I’m talking about, but it does contain a bit of music that should be familiar to most media-savvy Americans. The acoustic intro of Blood Red Skies reprises the band’s Hellion riff (made famous outside heavy metal circles by a recent Honda Odyssey commercial) before descending into the cyberpunk technapocalypse grind the band had already been riding for years when Blood Red Skies was released in 1988.
Are the lyrics corny? Sure, but one person’s corn is another person’s cornucopia of striking sci-fi imagery:
- Cybernetic heartbeat — digital precise
- Pneumatic fingers nearly had me in their vice
- Through a shattered city, watched by laser eyes
- Overhead, the night squad glides — the decaying paradise
Not only do the lyrics themselves suggest a fantastic cinematic romp through a schlock-rock wet dream, but the epic outro invokes visions of machines exploding and flying robotic marauders ripping clouds to shreds as they pepper a futurescape with incendiary rocket fire.
End note: If you like metal or are musically open-minded, add Blood Red Skies to your run/exercise playlist with the info adjusted so the song starts at 1:43. You’ll thank me.
[Get Blood Red Skies at Amazon]
Sunny Came Home – Shawn Colvin. There’s plenty of narrative space left open in the lyrics of this song for a good screenwriter to develop a back-story for Sunny’s surprisingly destructive act, and plenty of hints on which to build that back-story.
- Whose kids are they? Is Sunny their mother or is she simply taking care of them?
- Why is she burning down the house? Whose house is it? What happened there?
- Is she insane or acting out of desperation? The line “I close my eyes and fly, out of my mind, into the fire” seems to imply she’s a bit disturbed.
- Who is talking to her during the bridge? Again, is she crazy?
- What the heck is that book she opens with the box of tools?
The song’s story is masterfully hidden under Colvin’s understated title, and the eerily misleading tagline — “It’s time for a few small repairs” — is both literary and cinematic in its force.
Can’t you just imagine that line on a movie poster, or as the opening voice-over for a trailer?
[Get Sunny Came Home at Amazon]
I Shot The Sheriff – Bob Marley. Who doesn’t like a hero with a troubled past? The most intriguing part of this classic reggae tune is that the narrator is actually guilty, just not guilty of everything he’s accused of.
Well, technically maybe he’s not guilty of a crime (“I swear it was in self defense”) but he does admit to killing the sheriff. The real mystery of the song is who actually killed the deputy, and why are they trying to pin it on this guy instead?
For a clever screenwriter, the lyrics:
- hint at a history of bad blood: “Sheriff John Brown always hated me”
- set up a chase: “All around my hometown, they’re trying to track me down”
- point to a talent that turns into a fatal flaw: “reflexes got the better of me”
- and a false victory: “freedom came my way one day and I started out of town … all of a sudden I saw Sheriff John Brown, aiming to shoot me down”
The main character was clearly was arrested at some point, then freed. We can imagine Sheriff John Brown, furious at the main character’s release, seeking confrontation. Why did Brown hate this guy? Was it related to the “reflexes” that ironically proved the Sheriff’s doom?
I envision this film as a chase flick with the back-story revealed through flashbacks as the main character visits key places in his hometown while trying to escape his pursuers and prove his (relative) innocence.
[Get I Shot The Sheriff at Amazon]