Songs You Can't Hear Without Thinking of a TV Show or Movie

There is such a thing as a perfect on-screen moment. It's almost indescribable, this synchronization of the senses, but there are memories that survive lifetimes on the strength of a single moment. And when it happens, when everything matches and the split second gets tattooed to the back of your brain, everything else fades away. You're taken somewhere that doesn't exist anywhere outside its place and time, somewhere immortal.

When that perfect combination of sound and image occurs, you can't even hear a few bars of the song without thinking about the movie or TV show, without being transported back. From Badfinger's "Baby Blue" in the final scene of Breaking Bad to Kavinsky's "Nightcall" ominously soundtracking Drive's opening credits, here are ten songs that are now inextricably linked to a movie or TV show.


2. Badfinger - "Baby Blue"

Show/MovieBreaking Bad

"Baby Blue" is a 41-year-old Badfinger hit that was resurrected when Walter White closed out "Breaking Bad" to its bittersweet goodbye. It didn't really matter what song the show's producers picked. Whatever played when Heisenberg took his last breath was going to be a source of solace for the show's fans, and sure enough, "Baby Blue" was resurrected after the finale.


It's a new kind of moment, the song that ends the TV series rather than a movie. "Breaking Bad" fans had years of emotional tug and pull invested, not just 90 minutes. But "Baby Blue" essentially did the same thing as the rest of the songs on this list. It provided a musical point of reference to apply to the end of "Breaking Bad." Whenever you hear that song, you'll think of Walt lying face-up in the laboratory, bleeding out away from the pile of Nazi corpses he left behind. Sure, Walt's dead. But "Baby Blue" makes it sound like he died happy.

3. Pixies - "Where Is My Mind"

Show/MovieFight Club

The Pixies have come back from the dead.

The band's meteoric rise produced some furious greatness, two incredible albums in two years. But all the glory built from Surfer Rosa (1988) and Doolittle (1989) came to a crashing halt when lead singer Black Francis faxed the band to let them know it was finished in 1993. The bad blood between Francis and bassist Kim Deal had boiled over.

But in 2003, hatchets were buried, tours scheduled, and the Pixies were back together. They hadn't worked together in a decade but the fans that packed venues. And surprisingly, the kids came out too. In an interview with Spin this past summer, Deal reflected on the reunion. She said "I think [that last scene in] Fight Club got "Where Is My Mind?" popular. I don't know how people know our music now. For some reason, over the decade we got popular."

The Pixies do make timeless music, but director David Fincher found a moment where the joyful, reckless peace of that song makes sense. It's right after Edward Norton shoots himself in the neck, killing Tyler Durden and saving himself in the process. But what elevates the scene onto this list is the last line of the movie that tees the ball up for Black Francis.

"You've met me at a very strange time in my life."

4. Elliot Smith - "Needle In The Hay

Show/MovieThe Royal Tenebaums

Elliott Smith had a hard time dealing with his brilliance. He searched everywhere for a place he felt safe, from orchestras to a lonely guitar, but nothing held him still for long. The guitar came closest, giving Smith the space to hiss and whisper into the microphone, barely holding on.

I think Wes Anderson got that when he cut Luke Wilson's wrists to the song. When Wes Anderson uses music, he want you to listen to the music. This is sometimes annoying. It can also be extremely effective. And considering Elliott Smith committed suicide (probably) less than two years after The Royal Tenenbaums came out, the de-bearding of Luke Wilson becomes doubly significant.

5. Steelers Wheel - "Stuck In The Middle With You"

Show/MovieReservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino is one twisted fuck. The way he uses violence in his movies is cartoonish, gratuitous, and totally spellbinding. And when he exercises his encyclopedic knowledge of music, the fanboy movie-store clerk comes out from behind Tarantino's public mask and has a little fun. It's a little like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, a song inspiring glee (something we're all familiar with) that leads to psychoviolence.

Just watch Michael Madsen cut this guy's ear off with a smile on his face.

6. M.I.A. - "Paper Planes"

Show/MoviePineapple Express

Blame it on the trailer. Pineapple Express started its ad campaign just as people were falling in love with this particular cast of characters. Rogen had just made Superbad, McBride was (will always be) Kenny Powers, and Franco was weirding everyone out and looking good doing it. "Paper Planes" had its own life beyond this trailer—it didn't even make it onto the final soundtrack—but for a brief, beautiful moment, the stoners and M.I.A. passed in the night. And it was good.

7. Kavinsky ft. Lovefoxx - "Nightcall"


Drive and its original soundtrack were a bold move in filmmaking. Regardless how you feel about Nicolas Winding Refn's film, there's no denying it's a stark departure from typical fare. And Kavinsky's robotic, menacing, but tenderness-tinged "Nightcall" is the perfect way to kick it off. Though Drive's soundtrack is full of standout tracks ("A Real Hero," "Under Your Spell"), this is the moment where Refn shows you how a song can drive a scene's narrative. Nothing much happens—Ryan Gosling just eyes up his streets, his playground—but the tone is set.

8. Survivor - "Eye Of The Tiger"


In which Rocky Balboa goes to summer camp and does calisthenics outside. I am of the belief that this song is so famous because the world unconsciously realizes it sounds how Sly Stallone operates 1000% of the time. Relentless. Powerful. Exceedingly simple.

Still, there's no denying the iron-clad grip "Eye Of The Tiger" has on the entire Rocky franchise despite the fact it didn't show up until Rocky III. Philadelphia even kinda adopted the song as their personal anthem. But they went too far when a shiny statue of Rocky/Stallone showed up at the bottom of the art museum steps. I did not okay this move.

Anyway, +1 for fan-made vids...

9. Radiohead - "Talk Show Host"

Show/MovieWilliam Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet

There are few directors as well respected by the music community as Baz Luhrmann. His films consistently have brilliant soundtracks, and for his masterful modern adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann used two Radiohead songs. "Exit Music (For A Film)" was the first, made specifically for the end credits.

The second was "Talk Show Host," which had already been released as part of the "Street Spirit" single package in 1995. While having original Radiohead music in your film is pretty awesome, that unmistakeable "Talk Show Host" melody, whilst certainly already known to keen fans of the band, is, for most people, much more closely tied to a young, fresh-faced Leonardo di Caprio playing Romeo than anything else.

10. Geto Boys - "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster"

Show/MovieOffice Space

People stuck in cubicles rarely get to feel like gangsters. Theirs is a tortured existence full of monotony and repetition that leaves little room for freaking and even less for tweaking. That's what Office Space understood, and that's why Peter Gibbons is a real American gangster.

Of course, people don't think of this song when they talk about Office Space. They think about the printer scene. One of many moments in the movie featuring some white-collar stiffs getting down to the Geto Boys.

11. Aerosmith - "Sweet Emotion"

Show/Movie:Dazed and Confused

"Dazed and Confused" is a movie about that moment of weightlessness at the top of the roller coaster: the end of high school is just hours away. Pink, Slater, Mitch, and O'Bannion are most definitely in the midst of some sweet emotions.

So when Aerosmith leads us through a victory lap around the school, just before the bubble pops and the real world comes crashing in, the song is able to translate and concentrate that feeling to its densest form. And of course, Milla Jovovich rolling doobs.