How the creative use of pop music in film—think Saturday Night Fever or Apocalypse Now—has shaped and shifted music history since the 1960s
Quick: What movie do you think of when you hear “The Sounds of Silence”? Better yet, what song comes to mind when you think of The Graduate? The link between film and song endures as more than a memory, Nate Patrin suggests with this wide-ranging and energetic book. It is, in fact, a sort of cultural symbiosis that has mutually influenced movies and pop music, a phenomenon Patrin tracks through the past fifty years, revealing the power of music in movies to move the needle in popular culture.
Rock ’n’ roll, reggae, R&B, jazz, techno, and hip-hop: each had its moment—or many—as music deployed in movies emerged as a form of interpretive commentary, making way for the legitimization of pop and rock music as art forms worthy of serious consideration. These commentaries run the gamut from comedic irony to cheap-thrills excitement to deeply felt drama, all of which Patrin examines in pairings such as American Graffiti and “Do You Want to Dance?”; Saturday Night Fever and “Disco Inferno”; Apocalypse Now and “The End”; Wayne’s World and “Bohemian Rhapsody”; and Jackie Brown and “Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time?”.
What gives power to these individual moments, and how have they shaped and shifted music history, recasting source material or even stirring wider interest in previously niche pop genres? As Patrin surveys the scene—musical and cinematic—across the decades, expanding into the deeper origins, wider connections, and echoed histories that come into play, The Needle and the Lens offers a new way of seeing, and hearing, these iconic soundtrack moments.
Scorpio Rising, “He’s a Rebel”
The Graduate, “The Sounds of Silence”
Easy Rider, “The Pusher”
The Harder They Come, “Many Rivers to Cross”
American Graffiti, “Do You Want to Dance”
Saturday Night Fever, “Disco Inferno”
Killer of Sheep, “This Bitter Earth”
Apocalypse Now, “The End”
Repo Man, “When the Shit Hits the Fan”
Krush Groove, “King of Rock”
Blue Velvet, “In Dreams”
Wayne’s World, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Jackie Brown, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”
Belly, “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)”
The Royal Tenenbaums, “Needle in the Hay”
Drive, “A Real Hero”
Outro: Twenty-Four More Great Needle Drops
Nate Patrin is a longtime music critic whose writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, Bandcamp Daily, Red Bull Music Academy, and his hometown Twin Cities’ late alt-weekly City Pages. His first book, Bring That Beat Back: How Sampling Built Hip-Hop (Minnesota, 2020), was named a Best Music Book of 2020 by Kirkus and Rolling Stone.
"Music writing and film writing are seldom as accessible and as rigorous as they are in Nate Patrin’s The Needle and the Lens—never mind in the same package and carrying the same weight. As he persuasively argues from first example to last, cinema after rock has often used existing recordings to ends that transform both, in terms cinematic and real-world alike. This sharp, humane book’s gift is in never losing sight, or focus, of either."—Michaelangelo Matos, author of Can't Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop's Blockbuster Year