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Movie and TV ‘Needle-Drops’ that Start Out with a Bang

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For every mainstream or underappreciated song that follows the typical verse to bridge to catchy chorus formula, there are a few truly one-of-a-kind tracks that make it their duty to also come out firing. 

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys (Boogie Nights, 1997) 

The Beach Boys had to fight pushback at every stopgap before admitting they could not find an alternative to “God.” At the time of its 1966 release, titular mention of the Holy Father was considered taboo, and unprecedented for records that wanted any chance of dominating the radio airwaves – lest they risk offending religious groups. Ultimately, all concerns were for naught, as “God Only Knows” became an all-time classic upon arrival. 

Thank God the band stuck to its guns. 

Three decades later, Boogie Nights tabbed the track for key scene-play. However, the film’s montaged deployment of the tune via the “where are they now?” denouement is by far the best usage of “God Only Knows” in film. After being gobsmacked by the switchover from ‘70s disco daydreams to ‘80s boogie nightmares, each of the ensemble’s principals begin to pick up the pieces of themselves as they plunge ahead with their respective endeavors – a part. The saddening reality: codependency kept this surrogate family embroiled in the highs and lows of the adult film world from meeting their individual goals until they split and splintered off from one another. 

Thus, deciding to cut the sequence to “God Only Knows” means everything, in terms of a multi-pronged thematic resonance. When you boldly go with “I may not always love you…” out of the gate, it sets a singular mood and premise: that every successive plea works beautifully on the other end of a “…but” preposition. It confirms that “even though you’ve gone, you’re still here because you once were. And because you helped make me, me.” 

As “God Only Knows” fades off, this exact sentiment is read on the face of (1) every Boogie Nights character who misses the team, and (2) every one of the few of them fortunate enough to reunite with another member by the end of the sprawling narrative. 

Per the starter, The Beach Boys admit the singer in “God Only Knows” quite declaratively does not always feel love for the subject. Despite this, it also reflects the universal longing for the past and the wishful thinking of the future to collide in ways every love song, every love film, aspires to in the vulnerable act of expression. By recognizing he’d be utterly lost without his love, Carl Wilson’s notes – as written by his ingenious, then-surfin’ sound-rejecting older brother, Brian – harkens the innate melancholia of confronting mortality- or, broadly speaking, that all good things.. 

“Drew Barrymore” by SZA (Crashing, 2019) 

From a Rolling Stone Magazine and Messenger Papers all-time Top 11 to a song categorically obscure enough to not have its own Wikipedia page. Unless you were a fan of the contemporary R&B artist, you wouldn’t know the name of the song, or the song at all, if you heard it out and about. However, you will be positively hit over the head with SZA’s messaging in 2017’s “Drew Barrymore” – all thanks to her first line: 

“Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?” 

It’s something paramount to anyone who has experienced a breakup of any kind. A romantic flame dwindled. A best friendship no-more. Parting with an employer, a therapist, anyone. Someone was in your lives, and now they are not. And the togetherness probably could have been disbanded sooner. Now, they are merely a memory to be dredged up every time that familiar song comes up. 

Whereas “Drew Barrymore,” in SZA’s unrelenting, unfiltered way, address the current tides of social scene navigation while reminding you, the Johnny or Jane Everyman/Everywoman listener, not to get hung up on that forevertainted song. Hers, instead, will suffice as the neutral zone where you can think about them for a few minutes at a time without accepting defeat. 

The song is beloved amongst SZA fans, but really found a renewed appreciation amongst another hyper-niche audience: that which belongs to those who watched the little-seen, but simply divine HBO half-hour comedy, Crashing (2017-2019). Starring Pete Holmes in a semi-autobiographical undertaking, the series paints him as exactly what he is, and was: a once-devout evangelical, current clean comic who starts to make headway on the New York standup scene while formulating his own code removed from the Lord for a change. 

As the third and final season comes to a head in season 3, episode 6: “The Viewing Party,” Pete experiences a heartbreak by way of an uncharacteristic street-set screaming match with Kat, his latest partner who brought out a dangerous side in him he never knew existed. Their blow-up awakens him to the truth, though: she was not introducing him to himself, rather, providing him an escape from himself. 

When “Drew Barrymore” queues up over his late-night stroll defined by a new, grey, and somber outlook of the city that saved him during the initial break-up that kicked off the series in the pilot episode, you can’t help but feel for the guy. In fact, you empathize with the couch-crasher turned humbled puddle because he was like you, once upon a time: too love-blind to realize it either wasn’t love at all, or the love you deserved. Plus, who hasn’t felt alone in the city, or period, when life suddenly changes, and you wish it were a month from now, three months from now, anytime but now? 

Prestige cinema, on screens both big and small, is nothing without the music that accompanies it. Whether a soundtrack selection or a score arrangement, don’t overlook the double-whammy of art in motion when the camera’s rolling, and songs or instruments are elevating the frame and/or viewing space. And don’t be surprised when you catch more feelings than you anticipated when you first sat down at the movies or pressed “play” to commence tonight’s epic binge-watch. 

That was the music.

Michael J. Reistetter
Michael J. Reistetter
Editor-in-Chief for The Messenger Papers.