Character Select: Ballad of the Ballads

Character Select concerns moments in film, television and gaming where music had such a significant impact that it became a character in its own right. First up, Rob Ó Conchúir tackles a subject close to his heart; movie tie-in songs. 

A great man once sang of a graying tower alone on the sea. Of how “You-oo became, the light on the dark side of meee”. The man was Seal, the year was 1995 and the film was Batman Forever (you know it – it’s the one where Ice Man plays Batman and Ace Ventura plays the Mask playing the Riddler). But more importantly, the song was ‘Kiss from a Rose’, the sensual-if-nonsensical soundtrack ditty attached to the film as was the way of things throughout the overblown decade of the 1990s.

I vividly remember going to see Batman Forever, nearly 20 years ago, in the UCI Tallaght, and being somewhat crestfallen when Seal’s soothing lyrical embrace didn’t find its way into the actual runtime of the film. Despite the meaningless lyrics, the song had resonated with me for some reason. It had become part of the soul of the film. Or more accurately, thanks to the song the film’s brand had ingrained itself so deeply in my brain I couldn’t wait to splash out hard-earned pocket money on Bat-nippled merchandise.


End credit songs were always around (we’ve all seen a Bond movie), but using them strategically as a tool in the marketing of the film began with 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman, best known in 2015 as “That Richard Gere dress-uniform film that they do homages of in Friends and The Simpsons”. In this case the studio wanted to attach a schmaltzy love song to the film (‘Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong’ by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes) and despite the cries of the producer and Gere himself, the song made it into the film and ended up being arguably more iconic than the actual film itself. This created a mad dash to attach syrupy sounds to the end crawl of all major releases resulting in strange (‘Original Sin’ from The Shadow), stupidly wonderful (‘Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ from Armageddon) and endlessly horrifying (‘My Heart Will Go On’) music that remains on ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Spotify playlists to this day.

The songs were always bad, but they held a morbid symbiosis with films that might not have been that good to begin with, hypnotising us with their epic drums and key-changes into believing that the film we’d just seen was the embodiment of hard artistic creativity and not an accountant’s spreadsheet. It turned The Bodyguard from a mediocre Whitney-vehicle into one of the greatest love stories of all time.

It didn’t really seem like a film worth getting excited about if it didn’t have a song you could do an impassioned rendition of at a school talent show (“Yoooouu are the wiiiind…beneath maaah wiiings…” warbled your friend’s sister). It got to the point where the songs would be such an event that they’d often feature entire Michael Jackson-esque mini-films starring the actors and actresses of the film in wholly original mini-plots that had nothing to do with the film (lest we forget Will Smith’s efforts to save Salma Hayek from the steampunk clutches of Kenneth Brannagh in the far more memorable tie-in music video for the reprehensible Wild Wild West). And remember that awful patchwork attempt to shoehorn The Edge and ‘Evil Bono’ into the actual plot of Tomb Raider as part of the video for ‘Elevation’? The world wasn’t ready.

Much like everything in the 1990s, by the 2000s this fad had reached the point of total inescapable farce and needed to die away quietly. Movie ballads still exist to some degree, but not with the kind of bombast they enjoyed in the years of stone-washed jeans and overly-baggy shirts. But lest we remember a thought for the handsome lovers of decades past, their fleeting, unconvincing romances strengthened exponentially by the power of Celine Dion’s vocals.