It’s the Music That Makes the Man: Top 10 Movie Themes for Action-Packed Guys in Film

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Every movie has to have its signature song and that certainly goes for the action-oriented males in film that are fortunate to have these finger-snapping tunes represent them on the big screen. The movie theme song indulges the audience and delivers a whole new kind of intrigue and feeling that we invest in the roguish ruffians on the big screen that some men would like to emulate and the ladies would love to cozy up to intimately.

There are music selections that do bring to mind the euphoria of the male action-packed characters we regard highly despite their moral compass. Maybe one can get excitable when hearing Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” tune for the Marvel Comics superhero of the same name? Perhaps any of the musical themes for the countless James Bond films tickle your fancy? (there are two included in this article incidentally). Your preference might be in any of the 1960′s/1970′s spaghetti westerns where the music theme songs were mysterious and soothingly haunting?

In It’s the Music That Makes the Man: Top 10 Movie Themes for Action-Packed Guys in Film are (presented in alphabetical order according to movie title):

1.) Flash” (Artist: Queen) from Flash Gordon (1980)

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Sure, Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) may have been the savior of the universe and Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) was intent on ruling the galaxy where every man, woman and child would bow down to his control. But what really made the campy escapades of this 1980 sci-fi spectacle feel special beyond its colorfully cheesy scope is the injection of Queen’s energizing rock soundtrack. Having Queen’s late frontman Freddie Mercury belt out with conviction the Flash Gordon theme song with lyrics such as “…just a man with a man’s courage…just a man that can never fail…” and emphatically repeating the tag line “Flash…ah ha…savior of the universe!” really gave this space-aged actioner its spry legs.

It was a really nice fit with the theatrical bounce of Queen’s high-amp rock music to give some splashy defiance to the cunning quarterback whose playbook was to save the Earth…and Queen was instrumental (no pun intended) to see that our eardrums was just as pumped up for this futuristic flick as we were nearly 35 years ago.

2.) “Who Ya’ Gonna Call?” (Artist: Ray Parker, Jr.) from Ghostbusters (1984)

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If you were fortunate enough to be around in the mid-80′s then chances are you could not escape the infectious Ray Parker, Jr. tune “Who Ya’ Gonna Call?” otherwise known as the theme song to the hugely popular ghostly urban comedy Ghostbusters. 

The Ghostbusters consisted of ex-”Saturday Night Live” alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as well as the late Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson. However, the “fifth” honorary Ghostbuster was indeed the film’s leading crooner Parker, Jr. whose spunky signature song captured the outlandish goofiness of the boo-enhanced comedy. The Ghostbusters music video was so in demand that a who’s who of the day’s notable personalities made cameos repeating the catchy “Who ya’ gonna call?” tag line that seemed to take the country by storm.

Great novelty tune, high-spirited hook to the song and imaginatively bouncy, the Ghostbusters movie theme and its movie premiered thirty years ago. Geez, where does the time fly anyway?

3.)  “Let’s Do It Again” (Artist: The Staple Singers) from Let’s Do It Again (1975)

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Ah, those sweet childhood memories but let us not digress. For some of you oldsters out there that recall the days when Oscar-winner Sidney Poitier and Emmy-winner Bill Cosby were a comedic pair on the big screen creating mischievousness in a series of black buddy flicks that included the well-received Uptown Saturday NightA Piece of the Action and of course Let’s Do It Again…the subject of this article about the movie and its theme music.

The best remedy to add to the Poitier-Cosby on-screen lunacy was infusing the soulful tune “Let’s Do It Again” on the movie soundtrack where the legendary Staple Singers grooved and moved audiences with their gospel-rhythm and blues-soul style of belting out a tune that made one swerve one’s head in absolute tranquility.

Naturally, the Staple Singers had a solid hit with “Let’s Do It Again” and its connection to the film certainly did not hinder its chances at being a finger-snapping favorite. Maybe some of us are showing our ages but who cares…good sounds being married to a cult favorite urban comedy from the seventies is indeed sweet chin music worth reminiscing about without being apologetic.

4.) “Live and Let Die” (Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings) from Live and Let Die (1973)

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Almost anyone can make a case for what they consider their ultimate James Bond movie theme song. There are so many memorable Bond movie themes that it is hard to pinpoint one over the other. Perhaps one could get into Shirley Bassie’s sultry delivery of the Goldfinger theme? Whatever Bond signature song one might cite is sure to register with the cunning persona of Agent 007.

Interestingly, iconic Beatle Paul McCartney and his band Wings did the honors for providing his velvet voice to the Bond flick Live and Let Die by delivering a dramatic and sometimes mellow interpretation to the theme song that goes by the same name as the film. The instrumentation in “Live and Let Die” is playfully dynamic as McCartney’s vocals heightens the mystique and adventurous exploits of Roger Moore’s suave spy.

“Live and Let Die” may not even be in the top ten of Bond movie themes periods. Tough stuff. It certainly makes the cut in this case. Sing it Sir Paul…sing it!

5.) “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” (Artist: Harry Nilsson) from Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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There has been no movie theme song that has embraced the essence of its film’s subject matter more than Harry Nilsson’s soothing and poignant “Everybody’s Talkin’” from the Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy. Heartfelt, smooth and lyrically contemplative, Nilsson’s tune is absolutely reflective of the film’s protagonists in hustlers Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).

A movie theme song and its singer needs to tell a story just as much as the screenwriter does when penning a script for a movie. In fact, “Everybody’s Talkin’” does that and then some in the way it reminds us about the plight of lost men in Buck and Rizzo…a couple of guys that have their dreams and ambitions but had fallen out of that idealized fantasy in exchange for their harsh reality.

Whenever a movie theme song such as Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” can be as compelling and concentrated as its motion picture counterpart then realize that Midnight Cowboy needed this signature tune as much as Ratso Rizzo needed his bus ride to warm and cozy Florida.

6.) The Theme From Shaft” (Artist: Isaac Hayes) from Shaft (1971)

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Sorry to disappoint anyone under the age of forty but before there was the collaboration of John Singleton and Samuel L. Jackson bringing their version of Shaft to the big screen several years ago they had inspiration from the original “sex machine to all the chicks” in Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft…you know…the cat that will fight back! Can you dig it?

As cool and crafty as Shaft was with the ladies and his challenging cases in the mean streets of New York back in the early seventies, he had one component that sold his ultra-slick profile more so than any professionally produced resume. Roundtree’s John Shaft had the late great soulster Isaac Hayes and his Oscar-winning song “The Theme From Shaft” that gave us the skinny on how potent this urban badass PI was in body and soul.

Hayes’s theme song resonated convincingly and gave hip urgency to former male model turned actor Roundtree’s big screen credibility and his shifty alter ego John Shaft’s theatrical antics in busting heads and befriending the babes. After all they say that cat Shaft is a bad mother…shut your mouth! And so is Hayes and his winning, memorable theme song.

7.) “Are You Man Enough” (Artist: The Four Tops) from Shaft in Africa (1973)

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In 1971 Shaft made an instant star out of Richard Roundtree and of course elevated soul singer Isaac Hayes into the stratosphere with his Oscar-winning song “Theme From Shaft”. Naturally, Shaft stimulated the so-called blaxpoitation film genre as everyone from ex-footballers Jim Brown and Fred Williamson to martial arts performers such as the Afro-donning Jim Kelly took to offering entertainment escapist for urban audiences.

Cleverly capitalizing on the Shaft phenomenon a couple of years earlier the sequel Shaft in Africa was ushered into theaters to continue the ultra-coolness exploits of PI John Shaft. No, Isaac Hayes was not around to provide the musical score for this particular Shaft installment. Instead, the veteran Motown musical group Four Tops did the honors in singing the Shaft in Africa theme song “Are You Man Enough”. It may not have caused a stir as much as Hayes’s “Theme From Shaft” back in 1971 but the Four Tops still delivered a masterful song ballard that was every bit as powerful and soulful while pinning down the definition of John Shaft. “Are you man enough…are you gonna let them shoot you down?” Now that’s a lyric! The Four Tops gave Shaft in Africa conviction in sound and soulful style.

8.) “Nobody Does it Better” (Artist: Carly Simon) from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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It is always a nice touch when you acquire the services of a singing siren such as Carly Simon and have her practically serenade cinema’s top-notch super-spy in one James Bond a.k.a. Agent 007. Of course Simon’s Bond theme was entitled “Nobody Does it Better” from the spy flick The Spy Who Loved Me. 

Simon’s sensual and wonderful vocals give a calming and unassuming calculating zip to the film’s soundtrack. Furthermore, the song almost romanticizes Roger Moore’s Bond to the point that he comes off as a gentlemanly licensed to kill Lothario who can deliver flowers to his bedded-down female conquests one moment then pierce a bullet into a sinister foe the next moment. “Nobody Does it Better’s” gradual piano riffs in the beginning of the song until the climax of Simon’s vibrant voice in the musical piece gives a sense of elegance and provocative promise to Bond’s high-wire hedonism. Besides James Bond nobody does it better than Carly Simon’s tender touch to the spy that could love her or any other women that would desire Agent 007′s affections.

9.) “Superfly” (Artist: Curtis Mayfield) from Superfly (1972)

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After Shaft and Isaac Hayes made an immediate impact in the blaxpoitation movie soundtrack business a year earlier 1972′s Superfly came along and continued the finger-snapping fever with socially relevant music spearheaded by veteran soul and funk artist Curtis Mayfield. Mayfield single-handily revolutionized the scene with his powerful and poetic contributions to the cautionary drug-dealing drama Superfly by singing the film’s main theme going by the same name.

Additionally, Mayfield  wrote and composed other songs on the soundtrack that was just as titillating as Superfly’s main theme. Tunes such as “Freddie’s Dead”, “Pusherman”, “Little Child Running Wild” and “Junkie Chase” were all hard-driven and introspective songs that aptly detailed the chaotic life of a cocaine dealer Priest (Ron O’Neal) looking to have one last shot in the drug-selling business before hanging up his hat. Mayfield’s intense and soulfully reflective Superfly theme song grabs the listener and hopefully instills some cautionary messaging about its anti-drug stance in a flashy blaxpoitation flick meant to highlight an ambiguous anti-hero of sorts.

10.) Superman Theme” (Artist: John Williams) from Superman the Movie (1978)

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Blockbuster films, especially superhero sagas, ought to be majestic in scope and sound. This was certainly the case for 1978′s Superman The Movie theme song with composer John Williams’s creatively inviting score. Pulsating, emphatic, surging and emotional, Williams’s “Superman Theme” was musically expressive with this sophisticated yet infectiously spry instrumentation that reminded one of the mighty Superman–noble, victorious, strong and steel-minded.

The inflection of horns and cymbals in the “Superman Theme” rises above its aforementioned majestic melodies and gives us the ambition and anticipation to endure the latest Man of Steel’s big screen crime-fighting capabilities. One could listen to the “Superman Theme” and soak in John Williams’s lyrical artistry until the cows come home or when Superman finds a cure for a bad case of Kryptonite…which ever comes first.

HONORABLE MENTION

“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (Artist: Three 6 Mafia) from Hustle & Flow (2005)

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Laugh or roll your eyes if you will but the reality is that the hip hop musical act Three 6 Mafia managed to pull off the impossible and win an Academy Award for their signature song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the 2005 film Hustle & Flow. Thus, it makes Three 6 Mafia the first hip hop group to win an Oscar for best song. Now do you sense that the apocalypse is approaching upon us?

In all honesty, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” is actually a catchy and conscious-minded song. Now whether one is compelled to sympathize with flesh-peddling hustlers is another matter entirely. But in an off-kilter and poetic way Hustle & Flow’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” tells of its struggle detailing street life and focusing on another kind of urban oppressor of women (Terence Howard) that sees his ambitious elsewhere in the realm of something more “legit”…the world of music. Much like the broken men in Midnight Cowboy or Superfly Howard’s protagonist hustles but longs for a shot at a golden break where the drudgery of an infamous urban lifestyle can be abandoned if the pursued dream is possibly realized. If it’s hard out there for a pimp then imagine how rough it will be for the rest of us playing by the societal rules?

Pulp Fiction soundtrack (Artist: various) from Pulp Fiction (1994)

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As of 2014, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is celebrating its twentieth anniversary since being released and adding a whole new imaginative and innovative twist to the crime genre. The film revived former teen heartthrob’s John Travolta’s sagging movie career and made veteran Samuel L. Jackson more of a household name. Suddenly violence, gore, Bible verses, burgers, foot fetishes, racist sadomasochists and off-the-wall drug-taking dalliances were the carefree stamp of this acidic and irreverent gangster indie.

Even more riveting was Tarantino’s usage of oldies music and other novelty ditties on the film’s soundtrack to give his surreal crime caper more of an offbeat appeal. Just take your pick: Dick Dale and his Del Tone’s “Miserlou”, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”, “Jungle Boogie”, “Girl, You Will be a Woman Soon” and Chuck Berry’s “You Can Never Tell”, etc. Very nice, huh?

–Frank Ochieng



By Frank Ochieng

Frank Ochieng frequently guests on Boston s WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM (2003-present) as a panelist/contributor for the "Movie Night/TV Night" broadcasts and had previously written film reviews for the independent urban newspaper The Boston Banner (now "The Bay State Banner"). Ochieng has been an online movie reviewer for such outlets as Filmcritic.com, MovieEye.com (now defunct), TheWorldJournal.com, SF Crowsnest, Yahoo! Voices Movies and Focus of New York Magazine. Additionally, he is a member of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and Internet Film Critics Society (IFCS).

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One Response to It’s the Music That Makes the Man: Top 10 Movie Themes for Action-Packed Guys in Film

  1. Tam June 19, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    I’m glad you mentioned two of the James Bonds movies and made the comment that you could list any of them as they are all unique and memorable. All your examples are good and as with all your articles it makes me ponder my own choices. Nice job!

    Reply

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