Eight Hit Songs from Obscure Movies

7. “You Light Up My Life” by Joseph Brooks (popularized by Debby Boone), from You Light Up My Life (1977) In the 1970’s, Joseph Brooks was a top composer of advertising jingles (like this one). But what he really wanted … Continued

7. “You Light Up My Life” by Joseph Brooks (popularized by Debby Boone), from You Light Up My Life (1977)
In the 1970’s, Joseph Brooks was a top composer of advertising jingles (like this one). But what he really wanted to do was make movies. You Light Up My Life, a dramedy about a young woman who dreams of being a songwriter, was his first effort. Brooks’ writing and directing left something to be desired (4.2 out of 10 on IMDB). But he put his jingle-writing skills to good use on the movie’s title track, earning a Grammy and an Academy Award.

The lead role, Laurie, is played by Didi Conn (a year away from immortalizing Frenchie in Grease). Early in the movie, she has a one night stand with a film director named Cris Nolan. (Very much not to be confused with this guy.) During the tasteful makeout scene, we first hear “You Light Up My Life” swelling on the soundtrack. But over breakfast Laurie reveals that she’s getting married in a few days, and takes off without giving her number.

Laurie goes to audition for a movie. The producers tell her they’re uphappy with their lead’s singing voice, and they’re looking for someone to dub her. (Mildly ironic, since Didi Conn herself was dubbed by a singer Brooks knew from his jingle days, Kacey “Have you driven a Foooord… lately?” Cisyk.) Laurie’s ready to go, until she meets the film’s director – none other than Cris Nolan (once again, not the Memento guy). Laurie seems understandably freaked out, but Nolan’s so happy to see her he insists she audition not on guitar, but backed by a full orchestra. Luckily, she apparently carries around 50-part arrangements of her songs, just in case:


By the way, the bearded conductor in that scene was none other than writer/director/composer/all-around-polymath Joe Brooks.

For a while it seems like Laurie is destined for a starring role in Nolan’s movie, and in his pants. She even dumps her fiancee. And that’s when Joe Brooks hits us with a twist worthy of Chris Nolan (the Memento guy, this time). Nolan (the other one) decides to cast a blond in the movie instead of Laurie, and blows her off with the comically brutal: “Friends? Bye bye.” And it dawns on us that despite the poster with the couple walking on the beach, You Light Up My Life isn’t a love story. A piano version of “You Light Up My Life” fades in during the movie’s climax, as Laurie tearfully muses:

I learned that I’ve got to depend on myself. I can’t depend on anybody else. And that’s okay. You know why? Because I’m a really good person to depend on.

In other words, “I light up my own damn life.”

Anyway, when it came time to release a single from the film, Joe Brooks did his own backstabbing. He thought that he needed a bigger (and easier to spell) name than poor Kacey Cisyk. So he got up-and-coming star Debby Boone to rerecord the song. That version spent 10 weeks at number one, making it the biggest hit of the entire decade.

29 Comments on “Eight Hit Songs from Obscure Movies”

  1. Gab #

    I really hope no one actually believed that Didi sang it herself. Oddly enough, I remember her more for her role in “Shining Time Station” than “Grease,” even though she was only in two episodes (or so IMDB claims).


  2. Andrew Breza #

    Great compilation and analysis!


  3. Scott #

    Hey Matthew,
    first off, great blog. I found your page from a Film Experience link. This is one of the coolest posts I’ve read in a LONG time.

    I love how many coincidences there are, like Frenchie’s dubbing, the AIDS song from the prostitute movie, and especially the Muppets version of a softcore porno song. Hilarious.

    I’d love to read a “Great Movies with Terrible Songs” post.

    Keep up the good work. I’m going to add you to my blogroll.



  4. fenzel #

    Great work! It’s a lot to take in — and it definitely yields to rereading! I didn’t know about the Dionne Warwick one. Pretty cool. Although the Heaven one made me laugh the most.

    I’d definitely love to read a “Song based on the movie that describes the plot and gets it wrong” post. But I have weird tastes.


  5. Slokes #

    Great idea, and a fine list!

    Some other worthy candidates:

    Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from the Kim Cattrall-Andrew McCarthy vehicle “Manniquin”, which Mystery Science Theater fans will recognize.

    Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You” from “Streets Of Fire”, a here-and-gone Diane Lane-Michael Pare action film/rock musical.

    Diana Ross & The Supremes “The Happening” is not one of their best remembered hits now, but it reached #1 on the Billboard Pop chart and was from a horrid youth-culture film starring Anthony Quinn and Faye Dunaway.

    George Benson’s “The Greatest” from the Mohammad Ali biopic of the same name was not a hit, but like “New York, New York” it found a second life with Whitney Houston as “The Greatest Love Of All.”


  6. David #

    I’m not sure if this qualifies or not, but “I Will Always Love You” was originally sung by Dolly Parton in “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” long before Whitney Houston covered it fo “The Bodyguard”. However, it would be the Houston version that seems to have had the staying power.


  7. rachel #

    Great list! Don’t forget “Here Comes the Hotstepper” by Ini Koamoze from Prêt-à-Porter (Ready to wear)! An all star cast flop.


  8. Mark #

    The one I always think of is a song that was hugely popular when I was in high school, called “Here Comes the Hot Stepper,” or something like that. A hip-hoppy dance number that many of my classmates were obsessed by, which was from the soundtrack to a lesser (in my opinion, anyway) Robert Altman movie, Ready to Wear, or Pret-a-Porter. No one in my high school class knew what the hell the movie was, which just fed my pretentious teenaged film geek ego, or geego, if you will.


  9. wrather #

    I’m not sure that this was a strict policy, but I think Matt may have been excluding musicals, so Best Little Whorehouse might not have made the cut.

    My suggestion, when this post was being written, was “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail, but I guess the song wasn’t enough of a hit or the movie not obscure enough.


  10. mlawski OTI Staff #

    An American Tail is NOT obscure enough! Best Mouse as Jew movie evar!


  11. sheely OTI Staff #

    One that just occurred to me the other day when I was listening to the new Girl Talk Album is that “Ghetto Superstar” by Pras, ODB, and Mya is originally from Bulworth. But I wonder if I love that song more than most people and if most other people associate it strongly with the film (Warren Beatty was in the video, at least a little bit, I think).


  12. fenzel #

    My suggestions were:

    “Against All Odds” from _Against All Odds_ (the Phil Collins song that might as well be called “Take a Look At Me Now.”)

    “X ‘Gon Give It To Ya” from _Cradle 2 Tha Grave_

    “Blaze of Glory” from _Young Guns 2_

    But Blinks only took the best of the best.

    And the American Tail one isn’t even close, Matt — that movie is as well-known as the song, easily.


  13. bud #

    I’ll point out Honeymoon Suite’s “What Does It Take,” from the film One Crazy Summer.


  14. bud #

    Also, Celine Dion had a 1992 hit with “If You Asked Me To,” which was a cover of Patti LaBelle’s 1989 song used during the closing credits of “Licence To Kill,” the final James Bond movie before the prolonged dormant period prior to Pierce Brosnan taking over the role.


  15. wookie #

    Here’s another one that is very, very obscure: Roy Orbison’s remake of “Crying” featuring k d lang. It was from a movie called “Hiding Out” in which Jon Cryer plays a guy who poses as a high school student to avoid hitmen from the Mob.


  16. Gorelick #

    I’d throw in Madonna’s “Crazy for You” from Vision Quest (1985), her second #1 single (she appears briefly in the movie, as a nightclub singer).


  17. B #

    Belinkie strikes again!!!


  18. clickliter33 #

    I was thinking “I Try” by Macy Gray huge hit in 98-99 but was originally released in 97 in the movie Picture Perfect, Jay Mohr is so versatile.


  19. clickliter33 #

    Also, “But not Tonight” Depeche Mode from Modern Girls. Clayton Rohner of Just One of the Guys, I loved those horrible 80’s movies.


  20. Luke Harrington #

    mlawski, An American Tail might be the best mouse-as-Jew movie ever, but in the context of all media, that honor definitely goes to Maus. :)

    Great post, Matthew! It reminded me of why movie blogs are frickin’ awesome.


  21. Kevin #

    I got 2….with you Im born again by billy preston and syreeta from the movie fast break….dunno what this song was doing in this movie about basketball…the other is driving my life away by eddie rabbit from the movie roadie


  22. Chris #

    Here’s another one: The late-disco era hit “On The Radio” (performed by Donna Summer, written and produced by Giorgio Moroder I believe) was apparently written for the now almost forgotten 1980 movie “FOXES” directed by Adrian Lyne: Jodie Foster and Scott Baio star as troublemaking kids running around the late 70’s rat trap San Fernando Valley!?! You can’t miss that one! lol


  23. Binx #

    A great list.

    But, what about “Unchained Melody,” one of the most recognizable songs out there.

    It was written for the obscure prison film “Unchained” in 1955, ten years before the Righteous Brothers’ version.


  24. Professor Coldheart #

    Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” from the forgettable 70s flick “Thank God It’s Friday.”


  25. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    So THAT’S why it’s called “Unchained Melody!” Great one, Binx! I did decide before I started I wouldn’t look before 1960. But had I known about the single most played song of the 20th century being from an obscure prison film, I might have put it at number one.


  26. Unk L #

    Great informative list. The NIGHT SHIFT tale was news to me. I too was thinking of the Dan Hartman song from STREETS IF FIRE but then again, I am always thinking about that movie!!!


  27. Professor Coldheart #

    Also: “Gangsta’s Paradise” from the mediocre movie “Dangerous Minds.”


  28. Lisa #

    I don’t agree with the analysis of The Woman In Red movie. I don’t think the song was trying to be sarcastic or ironic. I think the fact that Gene’s character was only 90 minutes away from Charlotte , yet he paused to call his wife showed he was having second thoughts. I thin that “I Just Called to Say I KLove You” song being played at that moment in the airport as he sat there is an indication that he is torn between his love for his wife vs. his desire to be with Charlotte (Kelly LeBrock’s character). The fact that his character doesn’t continue on to Los Angeles to meet up with her when he’s so close further shows he’s second guessing the whole thing and doesn’t know whats gonna happen next. Oh, and his wife wasn’t chehating with the daugther’s botfriend, she is talking on the phone and he is (in his immature, juvenile way) trying to seduce her and she is simply trying to fend him off, which she unsuccessfully does until her daugther calls him away. I guess I see the movie in a whole other way than the person who did the analysis above. anyhow thats my 2 cents. Its a great 80s movie though, cheesey but fun to watch.


  29. Jarrett #

    Would anyone know where I can find the soundtrack/movie scores for the 1974 movie The Beast Must Die?


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