The 50 Best Fictional Songs of All Time
Smelly Cats and Fever Dogs
30. The Soronprfbs, “I Love You All” (Frank, 2014)
A cathartic closing number and a song worthy of building the post-mortem reputation of a “lost” garage band, halfway between the National and Pere Ubu, evolving from unintelligible to hypnotic over three minutes of baroque muttering. “Put your arms around me / Fiddly digits, itchy britches / I love you all.” Cults have been formed over less. — A.U.
29. Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, “Mad About Me (The Cantina Song)” (Star Wars, 1977)
Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina, the premier drinking spot in Tatooine’s Mos Eisley, is a dangerous den of sin and vice, but the joint also books damn-good entertainment. The live band’s signature tune — a looping, carnival-esque instrumental track most commonly known as “The Cantina Song” — is alien (naturally) but strangely jolly and exciting. It’s the lead track for an adventure, a fun taste of a whole new world (or worlds, as it might be). — J.G.
28. Gangstalicious, “Homies Over Hoes” (The Boondocks, 2008)
Predating Guy Code by several years, and blowing up the silliness of such a show’s puffed-chest homosociality by delivering its sentiment through an obviously closeted gay rapper. Of course, the real satire here isn’t of the rampant misogyny of mid-’00s hip-hop, but of the music itself; the song’s three-note faux-Casio synth hook, barely extant snap beat, and mind-numbing chorus chant-along an all-too-on-point approximation of real-life hits by D4L and Hurricane Chris. — A.U.
27. Brendon Poppins and the Chimminy Sweeps, “Freaky, Outie” (Home Movies, 2002)
The pre-adolescent core trio of Home Movies’ abortive attempt at a garage band, with results predictably sublime in their unhinged amateurism. (Today, they’d probably be decently successful through Bandcamp and a cassette-only release or two.) The band has to take rampant criticism of their free-form thrashing throughout the episode form Coach McGuirk and even Brendon’s normally supportive mother, but that’s okay: If the parents understood, it wouldn’t be true rock’n’roll anyway. — A.U.
26. Jim Berkey, Llewyn Davis, and Al Cody, “Please Mr. Kennedy” (Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013)
T Bone Burnett nails the raison d’être of “Please Mr. Kennedy” — and every fake film song, really — when he said in an interview, “Even if a song is supposed to be bad in a film, it still has to be great.” The only song on the film’s soundtrack with writing contributions from the Coen brothers themselves, Jim Berkey’s (a.k.a. Justin Timberlake) hokey protest anthem shows how the ‘60s joke-folk sausage is made with a light touch. “Who wrote this?” asks Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis, with just the barest hint of a sneer before Adam Driver’s otherwise silent Al Cody nearly steals the show with his blubbery lip burbles. — H.B.
25. Josie and the Pussycats, “Pretend to Be Nice” (Josie and the Pussycats, 2001)
An unjustly snubbed expansion of the Archieverse, Josie and the Pussycats dared to dream that a power-pop act could become mega-famous. But the tale of a shady label manipulating the image of its telegenic female artists is, sadly, timeless. The gold-selling soundtrack was written and performed by a murderers’ row: Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger wrote “Pretend to Be Nice,” a killer slice of punk-pop snarled by Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley, who provided the singing voice for Rachel Leigh Cook’s Josie in the movie. Even cameos by Babyface and Carson Daly couldn’t keep the film from tanking; here’s hoping they don’t botch Jem. — B.S.
24. Rayna James and Juliette Barnes, “Wrong Song” (Nashville, 2012)
The long-awaited duet-of-convenience between Nashville’s brightest stars, an old-school, burn-the-house-down riposte to anyone — haters, the music industry, Juliette Barnes and Rayna James’ oft-douchey significant others — who expected them to go gently into that good night. The only problem with it, as with the show’s first season, is how much more convincing Hayden Panettiere is on record as the thirsting upstart Barnes than Connie Britton is as the more seasoned James, but the duo still balance themselves out on a faux-smash that was better than nearly any real-life country hit of 2012. — A.U.
23. Tone Def, “I’m Just a Human Being” (Fear of a Black Hat, 1993)
Media reactions then and now would have you think N.W.A’s success was no laughing matter, but two 1993 films — Tamra Davis’s CB4 and Rusty Cundieff’s Fear of a Black Hat — found mirth in the mania. CB4 had the clout: Chris Rock, Ice Cube, Eazy-E. But Hat may be the bolder of the two, a quasi-mockumentary about Niggaz With Hats and the quizzical sociologist profiling them. The gangsta-rap stuff is great, but the comedy highlight comes after the group splits. Mark Christopher Lawrence’s DJ Tone Def forms a conscious crew; he waxes about a post-racial world in rose-colored tea shades before cutting to the video, a wicked P.M. Dawn pastiche about our coarser commonalities (“We’re all one race on this planet / We all burp and fart and that’s the way God planned it”). — B.S.
22. The Heights, “How Do You Talk to an Angel?” (The Heights, 1992)
One of the most successful fictional songs of all-time, a convincing MOR power ballad that unexpectedly rode a divine Crowded House-like guitar intro and a satisfyingly soaring chorus — if not a ton in between — to the top of the real-world charts in late 1992. The Heights never had a second hit, and considering the TV show that spawned them was canceled a week after “Angel” fell from number one, perhaps even that burst of inspiration was a blessing for the FOX program. Trying to catch a falling star even once is hard enough as is. — A.U.
21. The Beets, “Killer Tofu” (Doug, 1991)
The Beets were one of those too-broad pastiches that nonetheless turned out spot-on: a hybrid of Beatles accents, Ramones shades, and psych-washed “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” chords, who agonized over their complicated relationship with very-‘90s soy proteins. Or so sayeth Doug Funnie’s favorite band: “I used to feel like such a nerd / I refused to eat that strange bean curd.” — D.W.
20. Foregone Conclusion, “Free Love Freeway” (The Office, 2001)
Of course U.K. television’s least-lovable blowhard, David Brent, fancied himself a singer-songwriter (and once opened for Texas). And of course “Free Love Freeway,” his signature employee-torture acoustic jam, would sound like an over-baked ’80s-rock leftover with a borderline nonsensical chorus (“The love is free and the freeway’s long”). An “official” version — with Noel Gallagher! — fulfilled the song’s Tom Cochrane dreams, but “Freeway” feels incomplete without Gareth piping in with his inaccurate ad-libs (“She’s dead!“) and Tim pointing out the holes in lyrical logic (“It just sounds a bit gay”). — A.U.
19. StrongBad, “Trogdor the Burninator” (Strong Bad Emails, 2003)
The only bit of Homestar Runner ephemera better than the crudely animated Trogdor flash game is the one-minute death metal riff adopted as the titular combo man/bat/dragon’s theme song. Strong Bad’s no Hetfield or Araya, but when it comes down to it, a song about supernatural forces slowly devouring all of mankind isn’t all that far from what those dudes might be singing about anyway. — C.J.
18. MouseRat, “5,000 Candles in the Wind” (Parks & Recreation, 2011)
Over the course of seven seasons and 100-plus episodes, Andy Dwyer has gifted us with many a memorable music moment — “Sex Hair,” “November” (that song is actually about April), “Ode to Fairway Frank,” the not-quite-kid-friendly “Sex Bears,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.” But the undisputed pinnacle of Parks and Recreations’ musical oeuvre has to be its unofficial anthem, “5,000 Candles in the Wind.” A tribute to Pawnee’s greatest treasure, the strummed salute was conceived in an attempt to write a song 5,000 times better than Sir Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” and that designation might hold true for the residents of Pawnee, Indiana — maybe even some fans of Parks and Rec, considering the several reprisals the song saw throughout the NBC sitcom’s run. But even if you don’t “get” Li’l Sebastian — if you think he’s just kind of a small horse — there’s no denying the pull of a track that draws guest appearances from Yo La Tengo, the Decemberists, Letters to Cleo, Duke Silver, and Ginuwine. Bye, bye Li’l Sebastian. — K.M.
17. Stillwater, “Fever Dog” (Almost Famous, 2000)
It’s the only original tune on the Grammy-winning soundtrack, which is fitting, since Stillwater was a composite of a number of acts profiled by writer/director Cameron Crowe in his Rolling Stone years. “Fever Dog” has classic-rock cred: It was written by Crowe and his then-spouse, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready plays lead. The vibe is My Morning Jacket covering “When the Levee Breaks,” and in the film, Stillwater performs it for a hyped-up audience. Watching from stage left, Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane gets Patrick Fugit’s Crowe proxy, William Miller, to cease his frantic scribing — a lesson in experiencing the moment that he ultimately heeds a little too well, but an important one nonetheless. — B.S.
16. Djay, “Whoop That Trick” (Hustle & Flow, 2005)
“Whoop That Trick” is a hypnotic, menacing song of its own accord, but Terrence Howard’s furious, Three 6 Mafia-penned banger is best experienced during its big moment in Hustle & Flow, with the stick-like, dorky-grinned DJ Qualls manning a drum machine, pregnant love interest Shug bumping along while holding her belly, and Anthony Anderson nodding along, providing crucial hypeman woos. Set in a home studio with egg cartons taped to the walls, the scene is hilarious and bizarre enough to make one forget Howard is rhyming about beating up his prostitutes. — D.W.
15. Tracy Jordan, “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” (30 Rock, 2007)
While 30 Rock had its share of great ballads (a tip of the hat to Jackie Jormp-Jomp’s “Chunk of My Lung”), none were as spooooooky or scaaaaary as Tracy Jordan’s “novelty party song,” “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.” It’s a perfect parody of the sort of horrifying schmaltz that fills those howl-sampling Halloween compilations, and singularly hilarious in its own right for its brilliantly hybridized imagery (“Boys becoming men / Men becoming wolves!”). The full version acknowledges that the whole concept is a little “sweaty,” but then it pushes on for another minute and a half of circumcision jokes and monster mashing. — C.J.
14. Eddie and the Cruisers, “On the Dark Side” (Eddie and the Cruisers, 1983)
Such a deadringer for Bruuuuuce that it barely avoids becoming outright parody, “On the Dark Side” was basically the eighth top-ten single off of Born in the U.S.A., which just so happened to be performed by someone other than Mr. Springsteen. The rolling piano intro, the delayed-vocal urgency, the “Cherry, Cherry”-like breakdown, and of course, the sax solo — John Cafferty (who, along with his Beaver Brown Band, wrote and played all of the songs in the bar-band faux-biopic Eddie and the Cruisers) may not have been the Boss, but he was at the very least the Head Supervisor, — A.U.
13. Hedwig & the Angry Inch, “Angry Inch” (Hedwig & the Angry Inch, 2001)
Writer/director/star John Cameron Mitchell staged Hedwig’s story as a rapturously received Off-Broadway musical in 1998, and it’s enjoyed a number of revivals since. In between, New Line Cinema turned Hedwig into a motion picture, with Mitchell portraying the titular character: a German-American, genderqueer rocker searching for the man who stole her songs. (It’s important to note that whatever Mitchell’s intentions, a number of trans women have gone on record as being appalled by Hedwig.) The riotous “Angry Inch,” performed in a s–tty chain seafood joint, summarizes a good deal of her origins. “Long story short!” shouts her band, but it only gets rawer from there, with audience-hurled slurs kicking off a brawl that eventually engulfs the whole restaurant, like any self-respecting punk anthem performed for surf’n’turf consumers should. — B.S.
12. 2Gether, “U + Me = Us (Calculus)” (2gether, 2000)
“You! Plus sign. Me! Equal sign. Us!” That, friends, is the chant that made every ’90s adolescent turn self-aware and, just for a second, laugh at their devotion to turn-of-the-century boy-band culture. In MTV’s absurdist look at Millennium-era bubblegum pop and all of the paint-by-numbers marketing that came with it, “Calculus” made damn sure to introduce each 2gether member as the Heartthrob, the Shy One, the Young One, the (much) Older Brother, and the Bad Boy. The end result was a very valuable two-sided coin: priceless satire (Girl, algebra, trigonometry / Can never equal up to what you do to me”) and a real-life product. — R.B.
11. Robbie Hart, “Grow Old With You” (The Wedding Singer, 1997)
The Wedding Singer: The Adam Sandler film favored by leaky-hearted types who enjoy smug jabs at Flock of Seagulls, prefer Jon Lovitz at his slimiest, and have a weakness for public declarations of love (especially those assisted by Billy Idol). Julia
Guglia Sullivan: Not the most iconic character played by Drew Barrymore, but definitely the most crush-worthy. “Grow Old With You”: As appealing a case for monogamy as you’re likely to hear in song, a pledge so pure it proves that best friends make the best lovers. — K.M.