This is the kind of stuff I carry around in my head, for better or worse. I would be lost as a modern-day Grammy commentator, but I know Georgia Gibbs’ voice when I hear even a snippet of her hit record “Kiss of Fire,” as I did in Hitchcock, during a scene at Helen Mirren’s beach house.
Classic songs and selections from what’s now called the Great American Songbook still turn up in contemporary films, either suggested by music supervisors or thought of by savvy directors. Sometimes the usage is ironic or odd, as when Andrew Dominik chose to have Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards warbling “It’s Only a Paper Moon” while someone was being brutally murdered in Killing Them Softly.
More often, older music is used to evoke a particular mood or era. I anticipated hearing familiar tunes in Hyde Park on Hudson, which is set in 1939, but I was especially pleased to recognize two songs by The Ink Spots, “If I Didn’t Care” and “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” before a word was sung, as their guitar-and-piano introductions are so familiar.
None of this makes me special; I have lots of friends who are equally conversant with vintage pop music. But at a time when soundtracks are dominated by current and recent compositions, I take almost disproportionate pleasure in hearing music from an earlier time, especially when it takes me by surprise.
P.S. In case you don’t know, two of Alfred Newman’s sons are carrying on his tradition as film composers: David Newman, whose credits include Galaxy Quest, Ice Age, and The Cat in the Hat, and Thomas Newman, whose Oscar nominations include The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and this year’s Skyfall. Their cousin Randy Newman also has formidable credentials as a singer, songwriter, and film composer.