The Top 10: Musical cliches in TV and Film

There appears to be a little known law that requires certain scenes to be accompanied by specified music

John Rentoul
Friday 08 October 2021 13:30
<p>Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Ready Player One’ used ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order </p>

Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Ready Player One’ used ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order

Thanks to Conor Downey for this one; he nominated the first two. We did Visual Cliches a while ago; it would be a great art project to combine the two.

1. “Two Tribes”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. For any archive footage of the UK miners’ strike.

2. “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. For any US-made scene of an English stately home.

3. “Gymnopedie No 1”, Erik Satie. Moment of Zen-like calm amid chaos or danger. See Man on Wire, The Queen’s Gambit, and so on. Thanks to James Morris.

4. “Street Fighting Man”, The Rolling Stones. Over any scenes of civil unrest in the US in the 1960s. Nominated by Robert Wright. That or “For What It’s Worth”, Buffalo Springfield, nominated by Sioned-Mair Richards and John McKie.

5. “London Calling”, The Clash. For any film set in London that’s not a UK production. Especially over a shot of the plane descending on the flight path to Heathrow. Three Men and a Baby, Die Another Day, Billy Elliot... Thanks to Mary Novakovich, Guy Dresser, Alan Sutherland and Gary Lidington.

6. “Fortunate Son”, Creedence Clearwater Revival, over shots of helicopters landing in paddy fields in Vietnam. Nominated by Will Harris, Darren Sugg, Joe Williams, Marvin and Harry Riedl.

7. “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, The Kinks. In documentaries featuring archive film of models, Carnaby Street or mods and rockers. Nominated by Steven Fogel. If someone has just used it, try “Green Onions”, Booker T and the MGs, instead, suggested Nathan Trout.

8. “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, Richard Strauss. Otherwise we wouldn’t know we were in space. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the BBC’s coverage of the Apollo missions, Man on the Moon, Wall-E, and even Toy Story 2. Thanks to Plato Chips.

9. “Blue Monday”, New Order. Shorthand for being in the 1980s. As seen in Ready Player One, Hot Tub Time Machine and Atomic Blonde. Thanks to Mark D and John Cains. If it’s a documentary about how terrible Thatcher was, use “Ghost Town”, The Specials, instead, suggested Jordan Tyldesley and Very Real Concerns.

10. “Mundian To Bach Ke”, Panjabi MC. “Want to know immediately we’re in India? Even in White Tiger, a film set in Delhi based on a novel by an Indian author? Alexa, play Panjabi MC.” Thanks to Lucy Beresford.

A lot of good nominations this week. No room, then, for “Pomp and Circumstance March No 1”, Elgar (the most irritating music from the Last Night of the Proms), for any graduation on film or indeed in real life (Simon Cook); “Angel”, Massive Attack, on any documentary when something sinister is happening (David Robinson); or “Kind Of Blue”, Miles Davis, for any night-time street scene in New York with wet streets and steam coming out of holes in the street (another from Conor Downey).

There is always one, and this week it is Tom Hamilton, who nominated the drumbeats at the end of each episode of EastEnders at the end of each episode of EastEnders.

Next week: Pop-culture references by leading politicians, after Kermit the Frog (Boris Johnson) and a female Bond (Keir Starmer).

Coming soon: Actors who changed careers as a result of playing a part, such as Virginia McKenna, who set up the Born Free Foundation after playing the part of Joy Adamson in the film.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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