City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Music for Films: Top 12 Appearances by Bands in Films

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A bit of New Year fun for you … Looking at a favourite music list from a couple of years ago, I noted the jazz club scene from the film ‘Collateral’, and how much I enjoyed such scenes in films. So Chris Jones and I have been playing a little game, augmenting our fading memories with the magnificent YouTube, in order to create a list of the classic band performances in films.

The completely arbitrary rules are these: it mustn’t be a musical like ‘An American In Paris’, or music-orientated like ‘Round Midnight’ or ‘Downtown 81’, or about a band, like ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ (which sadly rules out this classic Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band clip. Take a look anyway). Many early films are counted out as they would often feature a number as part of the show, functioning more of as entertaining interlude than plot device. Obviously, we’re not talking backing music á là Scorcese’s ‘Mean Streets’, either.

No, the examples we’re looking for are those where a band performance is used as a signifier or symbol. They’re not a character as such, more an atmospheric effect into which characters are thrust. Not part of the plot, but part of the scenery, almost. So there’s a golden era for these, from the late 1950s, when jazz and then psychedelic bands would be used to indicate when a character was about to dally in something a bit shady, up to the mid-1980s, when bands stopped being, well, bands. In a meaningful sense for the movies, like.

They don’t have to be real bands, though bonus points if they are.

Last rule is that the sequence has to exist on YouTube. That’s just for practicality’s sake. I just hope the following stay up long enough.

So here’s our top twelve sequences of bands in films, in no particular order. There must be many more out there, so use the comments to suggest other contenders. In the meantime, enjoy! (Tip: If you’re finding the videos a bit jerky, as I’ve embedded quite a few here, click the YouTube logo on the video itself and watch it there.)

San Francisco dinner jazz in ‘Bullitt’
The scene that got me started. I’ve seen Bullitt so many times and this is as emblematic a scene as the famous car chase. Steve McQueen manages to look both super-cool and out-of-place simultaneously, eyeing up the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset, as a boho ‘Frisco jazz band get busy amidst the diners. It’s fantastic. No idea who they are. All we know is that the guitarist is Mike Deasy. He was also in ‘Dirty Harry’ you know. Correction! See comment below.

Jazz club scene in ‘Collateral’
Jumping forward, this scene is related to ‘Bullitt’ perhaps, yet this is a sharper brew – a version of Miles Davis’ ‘Spanish Key’. Michael Mann’s use of music is exemplary, although he rarely places it in the foreground like this. The club shootout scene (here re-edited with just track, no dialogue) later – soundtracked to Paul Oakenfold – is more contemporary Mann. But this is beautifully put together.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in ‘Wings of Desire’
Fantastic couple of performances. A classic example of mood-setting, Aussie wasters conveying Berliner decadence as angels wander invisibly on stage. Lovely. See also Crime and the City Solution’s ‘Six Bells Chime’ in the same film.

Cliff Richard ‘Junior’ in ‘Thunderbirds’
Oh yes, this qualifies. Just in case you thought this was all getting a bit dour. Cliff and The Shadows in puppet form, guitar-shaped rockets and all.

The Pretty Things and Norman Wisdom in ‘What’s Good For The Goose’
Yes, you read that right. Norman Wisdom plays a hippy in this 1969 British film, and goes to see a band called The Electric Banana. They’re played by The Pretty Things. Norm seems to be getting into it. As Chris said: “Far out Mr. Grimsdale” etc. There’s another clip here, dubbed in German and featuring swings, for added surrealism. (Norman Wisdom link for overseas readers.)

Graham Bond Organisation in ‘Gonks Go Beat’
To complete this triumvirate of unbelievably dated British movies, here’s a groovy classic featuring Carry On player Kenneth Connor encountering The Graham Bond Organisation, in some kind of future ‘beat club’. Absolutely hilarious. And a fantastic track. The dancing is particularly enticing. Features the young Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and John McLaughlin before their subsequent stellar careers. Oh, and Kenneth Connor. Dig?

Warhol party scene from ‘Midnight Cowboy’
OK, the band aren’t actually visible in this, but it’s clearly a Warhol Factory affair, so we can assume that John Cale arguing with LaMonte Young about tape loops somewhere while Nico and Lou Reed check out the girls. And boys. Actually, according to the comments, the track is ‘Old Man’s Willow’ by Elephant’s Memory. It’s a great example of rock being used to denote seediness.

Moby Grape from ‘Sweet Ride’
You have to fast-forward this one to about 5′ 28” in. (Although you’d be advised to just let it play through, as Moby Grape were rather good.) Anyway, when you get there, you’ll see a scene from ‘Sweet Ride’ (1968), showing a freak-out in full effect. Note how ‘engaged’ the San Francisco crowd are compared to the London scene in ‘Blow Up’ (below). Check the drummer in a pith helmet. See if you can spot Lee Hazlewood and Peter Fonda too. “Phew it sure is wild out there …”

Chico Hamilton Quintet in ‘Sweet Smell of Success’
Noir often used jazz as one of its key signifiers. Frankly, could’ve used many similar clips here. I discounted Frank Sinatra as Frankie Machine in Preminger’s superb ‘Man With The Golden Arm’ due to it being too obviously about music. This strikes a better balance of scene-setting for the principal characters. Features Chico Hamilton. And it’s a great film.

Jazz band creates havoc in Tati’s ‘Playtime’
Tati himself helps with the destruction of the impossibly ill-conceived modern restaurant in ‘Playtlme’ yet the super ‘ip jazz band help things along by filling the dancefloor and playing at one hundred miles an hour. And keep going while everything falls apart around them and new social groupings emerge. Fabulous.

Bauhaus in ‘The Hunger’
Sadly I can’t embed this one, so you’ll have to follow this link to see Bauhaus performing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ at the start of ‘The Hunger’. Deneuve, Sarandon, Pete Murphy. Hmm doesn’t quite follow does it. Anyway, this one just sneaks in, despite being a little bit promo/title sequence.

The Yardbirds in ‘Blow Up’
Perhaps the quintessential ‘band in film’ scene features The Yardbirds – Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck an’ all – in Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’. Love the way that Beck so carefully wrecks his amplifier. It’s all so studied. As are the crowd. Look how utterly London they are. Motionless, too-cool. Compare again to the Moby Grape crowd earler! Save for a couple of groovers at the back, they’re barely there. At least they wake up a bit when Beck chucks what’s left of his guitar into the crowd. This was shot in the 100 Club on Oxford Street, which is still there, although Oxford Street looks a bit different now.


136 responses to “Music for Films: Top 12 Appearances by Bands in Films”

  1. timmy Avatar

    Vanilla Ice in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Secert of the Ooze.


  2. timmy Avatar

    Vanilla Ice in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Secert of the Ooze.


  3. FenderKing Avatar

    Jeff Healey Band in Roadhouse


  4. Liz Avatar

    George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic in PCU!!!!!!!!


  5. BenM Avatar

    The Reverend Horton Heat in “Love and a .45” and Urge Overkill in “Kingpin.”


  6. Amy Avatar

    Oingo Boingo in “Back to School.” With Danny Elfman fronting on “Dead Man’s Party.”
    Please note: The video uses clips from the movie. So it does count 🙂

    As a bonus, they also did the title track for the movie “Weird Science,” in which Bill Paxton gets turned into a huge, steaming mound of POO. Anyone here remember that one?


  7. DANTE CUBIT Avatar

    what about a whole movie full of bands?Straight to Hell by Alex Cox has to be the best by far.Joe Strummer,The Pogues,Elvis Costello,Courtney Love and a load of others to.


  8. Ben Good Avatar

    Serge Gainsbourg in Le Pacha, playing Requiem Pour un Con


  9. Scott Avatar

    What about Infectious Grooves in Encino Man.


  10. dan Avatar

    how’s about public enemy (or was it just flava flav?) in new jack city. also a starring role for another star of the hip-hop world, the inimitable ice T who plays a cop or something, i forget. and then there are the lads singing on the street, i’m sure that’s someone as well.


  11. lousy Avatar

    how about L7 playing in the fantastic ‘Serial Mom’?


  12. peter Avatar

    how’s about Tubby Hayes and his band (with Roy Castle) in the sublime ‘Dr Teror’s House of Horrors’?


  13. Trippy Weekender Avatar
    Trippy Weekender

    The track by Elephant’s Memory is a great part of the “Midnight Cowboy” soundtrack…perfect music for trippin’ which is what Joe Buck (Jon Voight) was doing in this scene. I believe there’s a second song by them on the soundtrack as well. Elephant’s Memory later went on to back John Lennon on his “Somewhere In New York City” LP.


  14. Dan Hill Avatar

    How did I miss this? Pete and Dud with a couple of fantastic, if contrasting, performances from ‘Bedazzled’. Genius. Drimble Wedge & the Vegetation indeed. “You fill me with inertia”.


  15. Andy Avatar

    nice site you have, thanks for sharing, have a look at when you get time :>


  16. Dan Hill Avatar

    Here’s a new (old) one via Chris Jones. We’re not sure what the film is, but the band is Kaleidoscope (feat. David Lindley) and the audience are well into it.


  17. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Primus (Tommy The Cat) in one of the Bill & Ted films (Bogus Journey?) very breif. Also seem to recall seeing somebody from Faith No More in the same film but I don’t think they were playing


  18. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Rammstein in XXX – Feuer Frei


  19. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Graham Bonnet in ‘Three For All’ singing ‘Don’t Drink the Water’


  20. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Checkout ‘Velvet Goldmine’ for ‘The Flaming Creatures’ featuring some members of Placebo


  21. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    The Beatles (is that cheating?)


  22. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Tupac Shakur in the band ‘Digital Underground’ in ‘Nothing But Trouble’


  23. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Not sure if Bowie singing in Labyrinth, or any other film, counts?
    (racking my brains now)


  24. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Miles Davis and a few others eminant players playing a Jazz version of ‘We Three Kings’ in ‘Scrooged’


  25. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Stanley Jordan in ‘Blind Date’ possibly playing ‘Eleanor Rigby’ but it’s not on the CD of the film


  26. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Steve Vai in ‘Crossroads’ dueting with an unseen Ry Cooder (and himself too)


  27. Paul Treneary Avatar
    Paul Treneary

    Tori Amos in ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ singing ‘Murder He says” & “You Belong To Me”


  28. lehi Avatar

    anybody ever see jubilee? queen elizabeth the first is transported into the future by her court magician at her request and comes to a dystopian england rampant with punks. adam and the ants + siouxsie and the banshees = amazing. also scored by brian eno.


  29. Lori Avatar

    there was an 80’s movie about some kids in college who are trying raise money and a funk / R&B type band shows up in a tour bus, can’t remember the name of the movie or the band, but the lead of the band has huge dreadlocks… anyone know this movie or band?


  30. Georgia Avatar

    That thunderbirds cameo is great.


  31. Dave K Avatar
    Dave K

    Re jazz band in Bullitt. That sure as hell looks like Mingus on acoustic double bass…


  32. B Winton Avatar
    B Winton

    Rush – I Love You Man.


  33. sophia Avatar

    The Strawberry Alarm Clock in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Not only do they look amazing and perform two songs for the crowd


  34. Dan Hill Avatar

    Stu Gardner in the nightclub scene in ‘Point Blank’ (1967)


  35. eavedrop44 Avatar

    My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult in ‘The Crow,’ and Girls Against Boys in ‘200 Cigarettes.’Mac Mini Mount


  36. Pflugerville Real Estate Avatar
    Pflugerville Real Estate

    Scott Matthew in Shortbus, although not a great film he really sets the mood through a lot of the movie.Pflugerville Real Estate


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