Having already looked at some of the most Awesome Forgotten ’80s Movie Songs not once but twice, it seemed like a good time to jump ahead a decade. The ’90s weren’t always the best time for movies — the ratio of junk to classics is probably at least 3-to-1 — but music continued to be well-used onscreen regardless. Everyone remembers Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” from Young Guns II, to name just a few examples. What follows below are ten other awesome ’90s movie songs, ones that have not made the same long-lasting impact. (Note that hip-hop’s move into the mainstream during this era is reflected quite well.) Some are one-time hits that don’t get played on the airwaves anymore, while others are tunes that should have been hits but weren’t. All are terrific, and I hope you enjoy discovering or re-discovering them.
“Part of Me, Part of You” by Glenn Frey (from Thelma & Louise) – The late Eagle Glenn Frey knew a thing or two about writing movie music, having famously contributed “The Heat Is On” to Beverly Hills Cop. He also performed “Flip City” for the Ghostbusters II soundtrack. In 1991, Frey wrote and sang “Part of Me, Part of You” for Ridley Scott’s feminist road-picture Thelma & Louise. While perhaps not his best-known song, it is one of the best he ever recorded. The composition speaks to the strong bond between the film’s two main characters, played to perfection by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. As for the movie, it not only retains its power, but in some ways is even more relevant today than it was then.
“C U When U Get There” by Coolio (from Nothing to Lose) – Nothing to Lose was a mid-level hit in 1997, earning $44 million, largely on the strength of the odd couple casting of Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins. The film was released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures division. Their Hollywood Pictures arm had great success with the Michelle Pfeiffer inner city education drama Dangerous Minds and its Coolio theme song “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which remains the rapper’s best-known work. Perhaps having him contribute “C U When U Get There” to Nothing to Lose was an attempt to recapture the magic. It almost did, hitting #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (“Gangsta’s Paradise” went all the way to the top.) People don’t seem to remember this one as clearly, though, and that’s a shame, because in its own way, it’s every bit as good.
“Blood From a Stone” by Stacy Earl (from Untamed Heart) – Stacy Earl should have been a superstar. She scored two Top 40 hits in 1992: “Love You All Up” and “Romeo & Juliet.” Her music was very similar to what wildly successful (but less talented) singer Paula Abdul was doing. Yet for some unknown reason, Earl had an unfairly short-lived pop career. In 1993, she released her last mainstream single, “Blood From a Stone,” which served as the theme to the Christian Slater/Marisa Tomei tearjerker Untamed Heart. The song went nowhere, despite being typically catchy and beautifully sung. These days, Stacy is a mother and an adoption advocate, as well as an occasional singer of Christian music.
“White Men Can’t Jump” by Riff (from White Men Can’t Jump) – The 1992 Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson basketball comedy White Men Can’t Jump is still fondly remembered by a lot of people. How many can sing the eponymous theme song, though? A shining example of the musical style known as “New Jack Swing,” the tune, which only went to #90 on the charts, was performed by the New Jersey vocal group Riff. They had a few minor R&B hits in the early ’90s, but never really made the kind of impact that Boyz II Men and New Edition did. Still, their uber-catchy beats worked perfectly for the film. One listen and this will be stuck in your head all day.
“Almost Unreal” by Roxette (from Super Mario Bros.) – Swedish duo Roxette took the music world by storm in the late ’80s, with ubiquitous hits like “The Look” and “Listen to Your Heart.” In 1990, they went all the way to #1 with their biggest smash, “It Must Have Been Love,” from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. (It was Billboard’s #2 song of the year, just behind “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.) Roxette were then asked to record a song for the Bette Midler witch comedy Hocus Pocus. They delivered “Almost Unreal,” a song in which the words “hocus pocus” are prominently sung in the chorus. For whatever reason, the folks at Disney decided not to use it in that picture, Instead, it became the theme for another Disney production, the videogame adaptation Super Mario Bros. That “Almost Unreal” was not one of Roxette’s biggest chart successes is undoubtedly tied to the commercial and critical failure of the movie that spawned it. However, band members Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson have also publicly dismissed their work in interviews, with the latter calling it “not one of our most inspired moments.” I beg to differ. Give it a listen and see if you love when it does its hocus pocus to you.
“The Color of the Night” by Lauren Christy (from Color of Night) – You may not know her name, but you definitely know the work of Lauren Christy. She was part of the writing/producing team known as The Matrix. Their hits include Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and “I’m With You,” Jason Mraz’s “The Remedy,” and Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I?” More recently, Christy has co-written tunes for Kelly Clarkson (“I Forgive You”) and Jason Derulo (“Breathing”). Unsurprisingly, she once took a shot at solo stardom. That came in the form of “The Color of the Night,” a sultry ballad recorded for the justly forgotten 1994 Bruce Willis thriller Color of Night, a lame attempt to recapture the psycho-sexual vibe that turned Basic Instinct into a phenomenon a few years before. The tune was nominated for Best Original Song at that year’s Golden Globes. The movie, on the other hand, was given the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.
“Money Can’t Buy You Love” by Ralph Tresvant (from Mo’ Money) – After achieving stardom on TV’s In Living Color, Damon Wayans jumped to the big screen with Mo’ Money, a star vehicle he also wrote. The movie is about a con man who steals from the credit card company where he works and eventually finds himself tangled up in criminal forces much larger than himself. Mo’ Money got poor reviews, yet earned $40 million on a $15 million budget. Continuing In Living Color‘s tradition of showcasing R&B and hip-hop music, the film had a soundtrack that included Janet Jackson, Public Enemy, Color Me Badd, and New Edition’s Ralph Tresvant, whose “Money Can’t Buy You Love” remains an irresistible earworm.
“Life in Mono” by Mono (from Great Expectations) – True story: In late December 1997, I fell asleep in front of the television with MTV on. I dozed through several hours of music videos that night. Then they played Mono’s “Life in Mono,” which had been released in advance of Great Expectations, a modern adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens novel starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke. My subconscious registered the song and immediately woke me up. It had such an incredible sonic ambiance that my system was forced to pay attention. (The only other time this happened was in the ’80s, when Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom [Coming Home]” similarly roused me from a flu-induced nap.) To this day, I can’t hear the song without remembering that magical moment. Two interesting bits of trivia: 1.) “Life in Mono” was reportedly used in the movie at the behest of co-star Robert DeNiro, who heard and loved it; and 2.) Great Expectations was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who later went on to win the Best Director Oscar for Gravity.
“Addams Groove” by MC Hammer (from The Addams Family) – This is probably the movie-est movie song on the list. In a true example of Hollywood “synergy,” rapper MC Hammer, who was a huge star in 1991, was hired to write and perform a song specifically for The Addams Family, a high-profile big screen version of the popular TV program that was slated for a cushy Thanksgiving weekend release. As much a piece of promotional material as it is a song, “Addams Groove” is nonetheless a cheerfully silly work, one that cleverly incorporates snatches of Vic Mizzy’s famous show theme. The accompanying music video even features the film’s stars. The Addams Family was a blockbuster, pulling in $191 million and spawning a sequel several years later. “Addams Groove,” meanwhile, went to #7 on the pop charts. It turned out to be MC Hammer’s final top ten hit.
“Identify” by Natalie Imbruglia (from Stigmata) – “Identify” is a weird song. It is sung by Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia, best known for her annoyingly chirpy hit “Torn.” It was co-written by Billy Corgan, leader of the alt-rock band Smashing Pumpkins. And it was recorded for the 1999 religious horror movie Stigmata, starring Patricia Arquette as a woman who inexplicably develops the wounds of Christ. If that’s not an odd combination, I don’t know what is. Yet despite not really liking Imbruglia, Corgan, or Stigmata (or it’s final third, at least), I have never been able to get enough of this song. It has a haunting quality — lots of minor chords and unusual progressions — that I find hypnotic. When it played over Stigmata‘s closing credits, I got chills that the film itself didn’t quite give me.
There you have ten awesome forgotten ’90s movie songs. Any of them particularly ring a bell for you? I’ve already got enough for a follow-up list, so be on the lookout for that in the future, along with another installment of the ’80s version.