To the chagrin of hipsters everywhere, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love has found new life, reaching number one on the iTunes chart thirty-seven years after its release, introducing everyone’s favorite weird art rock aunt to a new—decidedly more mainstream—audience. This is singlehandedly thanks to Stranger Things wherein the spellbinding track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” is featured in an important plot point.
Of course, this has elitists who have long known how good Kate Bush is rolling their eyes, complaining that kids today are only listening to one of the greatest albums of all time because it’s trendy.
Obviously, this is a stupid attitude to have, for a number of reasons. Chief of these reasons is that it’s a good thing for people to like good music. Art isn’t cheapened by more people enjoying it, even if you found it first. As a friend of mine always says, every day, someone new discovers The Flintstones.
Kate Bush isn’t the first artist to be propelled into the stratosphere after being featured in a popular soundtrack though. Many TV shows or movies have brought many artists the attention they deserve simply based on their inclusion in the soundtrack. And while they might not have the sort of explosive effect as Stranger Things has had on Kate Bush, they still deserve recognition.
Queen: Wayne’s World
It feels strange to think about it now, but there was once a time that “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t absolutely ubiquituous. The veritable rock opera is considered by many people to be the best song ever written. It is the quintessential singalong, even by certain grumps who might begrudge it.
But that wasn’t always the case: in the early nineties, it was nearly forgotten. That is, until it was featured in the iconic carride singalong scene in Wayne’s World, complete with headbanging wigs, assigned harmony parts, and copious air guitar. That scene brought “Bohemian Rhapsody” back into the collective consciousness—where it has stayed ever since.
Sleeping at Last: Grey’s Anatomy
When I first heard Sleeping At Last, they were a three piece indie band from Wheaton Illinois who managed to gain some short-lived noteriety after an endorsement from the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Two albums and some lineup changes later, they were left as a solo project limping to remain viable.
Then, medical soap Grey’s Anatomy used their song “Quicksand” in the premiere of the third season. And then they used another song in the eighth season. Soon enough, Sleeping At Last practically became the go to soundtrack for the series. They’ve been featured literally dozens of times on the show, becoming a favorite of fans of the series and having a huge boon to continue the project.
Peter Gabriel: Say Anything
Few movie scenes are as iconic as John Cusack hoisting his boombox into the air to woo his ex to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” While that gesture might actually be a little problematic (don’t harrass her at her house, man), that track is absolutely wonderful.
And it brought some delayed attention to the equally wonderful album So, released three years prior.
Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley/Rufus Wainwright: Shrek
This is a tough one to call, because just about everyone has covered Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” But most of the attention it received came after Rufus Wainwright’s version of the song was used in an emotional scene in the film Shrek.
That appearance brought more attention to Wainwright, of course, but it also brought renewed interest in Leonard Cohen’s original version. And once people realized that Leonard Cohen can’t really sing (which is kind of the point of Leonard Cohen), they turned to Jeff Buckley’s devestating version from the album Grace. And personally, I know I’m not the only person who took that route to Jeff Buckley.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Peaky Blinders
Speaking of 80s songwriters with gravelly voices…
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds lived for a long time as heroes of the underground, their haunting fusion of folk and post punk giving them cult followings that overlapped those of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits.
They’d had flits of attention over the years, but they saw a huge boom when “Red Right Hand” from their 1994 album Let Love In was chosen as the theme song for the BBC/Netflix series Peaky Blinders about an Irish crime family.
MASSIVE ATTACK: HOUSE
Being on the soundtrack of a popular series is one thing: becoming the theme song is another. And where Nick Cave had the benefit of introducing a popular streaming series each episode, that’s nothing compared to the explosion that comes from landing the theme song spot on a primetime network TV show.
That’s exactly what happened to Massive Attack. While their song “Angel” topped the British charts when Mezzanine was released in 1998, it didn’t get much attention in the States until it became the theme song for House in 2004. Tangentially, Elisabeth Fraser has stated that the lyrics were written about Jeff Buckley, who she was dating when he disappeared.
THE WHO: REIGN OvER ME
This one is interesting, because not only is “Love Reign O’er Me” on the soundtrack of the (checks notes) 9/11-centered PTSD drama starring (checks notes) Adam Sandler, but it’s also a major narrative device of the film. And while die hard fans were certainly aware of the track (and its album Quadrophenia), at the time of the film’s release, the Who were mostly remembered for tracks like “Pinball Wizard,” “My Generation,” and for inspiring a number of Abbott & Costello-like routines on children’s cartoons.
And while Reign Over Me wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, it brought a renewed interest to the Who’s other rock opera in a way that the album’s own film couldn’t (Tommy remains the only Who movie that most people talk about).
Explosions in the Sky: Friday Night Lights
Before Explosions in the Sky was chosen to work on the soundtrack for the television adaptation of the film of the same name, their track “Your Hand in Mine” was included on the soundtrack of the football drama Friday Night Lights.
Long, guitar-driven instrumentals aren’t exactly mainstream fodder: most people think of it as background music. But their inclusion in the film brought the Austin, Texas natives a huge wash of attention. That track would later be used in several other movies, TV shows, and commercials, and eventually, would net Explosions in the Sky an offer to compose the original score for the series based on the movie—among others.
Imogen Heap: The O.C./SNL
In 2005, Imogen Heap was already a bonafide indie heroine as a member of electropop duo Frou Frou (who would also be featured on a Shrek soundtrack, but that’s another story). She was gearing up to release her second solo record (and first of any consequence) when she got the huge opportunity for her song “Hide and Seek” to be featured during a pivotal moment in the season finale of the teen drama The O.C.
As much hype as she got from that though, it would pale in comparison to the boost she would see two years later when the scene was spoofed by The Lonely Island on Saturday Night Live. That sketch catapulted it higher than The O.C. could, and the resulting attention would lead to the track being heavily sampled by Jason Derulo’s debut single “Watcha Say,” which would reach number one on the Billboard Charts.
The Shins: Garden State
Is there a better endorsement a band can receive than Natalie Portman declaring that they will change your life? Not for The Shins there’s not. Three years after their debut Oh, Inverted World, their song “New Slang” was heavily featured on screen (“Caring is Creepy” was also included on the soundtrack).
While Garden State was hardly a blockbuster, it had a cult following that grew through the indie film boom of the mid 2000s, and as the movie found new fans, so did the Shins.
Nirvana: The Batman
Director Matt Reeves was not shy at all about the influence of goth and grunge on the mood of The Batman, citing Cocteau Twins, The Cure, and Joy Division as inspirations on his interpretation of the character.
But the biggest influence was that of Nirvana, whose track “Something in the Way” was featured heavily both in the trailers and the film itself.
As a result, the track charted for the first time in the thirty years since its release (remember—it was never a single) and saw a massive spike in its streaming numbers.
Whether you like it or not, soundtracks can be an important vessel for people to find good music—even if you didn’t need the cultural zeitgeist shoving it down your throats to realize how important it was. I’m sure everyone is very impressed. Congratulations.
In any case, the next time you get sick of “Hallelujah” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” being overplayed, just blame Mike Meyers.
What did I forget? Yell at me in the comments.