Eight Hit Songs from Obscure Movies

2. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder, from The Woman in Red (1984) This is another one where the song is used in a completely unexpected way. It’s not as unexpected as “That’s What Friends … Continued

2. “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder, from The Woman in Red (1984)

This is another one where the song is used in a completely unexpected way. It’s not as unexpected as “That’s What Friends Are For” popping up during a sex scene, but it’s still unexpected.

The Woman In Red is about a San Francisco ad exec (Gene Wilder) trying to cheat on his wife with Kelly LeBrock (aka the girl from Weird Science). Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, if you consider that Wilder also wrote and directed), LeBrock is totally attracted to him. The problem is logistics – the entire movie consists of Wilder trying to set up dates, and having them always fall through. If that doesn’t sound too funny, gold star for you.

About halfway through the film, LeBrock invites Wilder to spend the night in Los Angeles. Wilder tells his wife that he has to go to a conference in San Diego, and gets on a plane for L.A. But because of fog, the plane is forced to land in… San Diego.

Of course, San Diego is a mere 90 minutes from L.A., and if traversing that distance meant I got to have sex with Kelly LeBrock, I’d steal a car if necessary. But all Wilder does is trudge across the terminal to call his wife, and that’s when we hear “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Yup – one of the most painfully sincere songs ever written was actually first used sarcastically. And in case you didn’t get the irony, during the phone conversation we find out Wilder’s wife is apparently cheating on him… with their teenage daughter’s boyfriend.


So when I saw how the song was used, I got excited. As Jack Black said in High Fidelity, it is indeed “sentimental tacky crap.” But maybe it was supposed to be. Maybe Wilder said, “Stevie, there’s a scene where I call my wife to cover my cheating ass. Can you write me a cheesy love song I can use as a joke?” But since way more people heard the song than saw the movie, “I Just Called to Say I Love You” was taken at face value. If anyone runs into Gene Wilder, can you ask him about this for me? Also ask him how they made the river of chocolate in Willy Wonka.

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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