When a pop song is released from a movie, it’s meant to promote the movie. But sometimes the song is a huge hit in its own right…and the movie bombs.
The 1994 movie Reality Bites attempted to capture the zeitgiest of Generation X, following around a young woman as she finishes graduate school and tries to find her place in the world. It was well received, but made just $20 million. Co-star Ethan Hawke recommended to director Ben Stiller a song by his neighbor, Lisa Loeb, a struggling coffeehouse singer. Loeb’s “Stay” made the movie and went to #1, the first time ever a singer without a recording contract topped the charts.
Xanadu, the film, was a mess. A musical about a muse taking human form (Olivia Newton-John) to help open a roller disco (really) flopped, earning just $1.4 million on its opening weekend. But five of its songs, written and produced by Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, were huge hits. “Magic” by Newton-John spent four weeks at #1, “Xanadu” reached #2, “Suddenly” went to #20, and two ELO songs, “All Over the World” and “I’m Alive,” were among the biggest hits the band ever had.
Foul-mouthed comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay was very popular in the late 1980s. But by the time his movie The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was released in July 1990, audiences had soured on Clay. He’d been involved in several controversial instances, including an ill-fated gig hosting Saturday Night Live, in which which female cast and crew had sat out in protest. Fairlane flopped at the box office, and won Worst Picture at the Razzies. But its soundtrack song “Cradle of Love” by Billy Idol dominated radio and MTV throughout the year. It peaked at #2 on the pop chart.
You Light Up My Life was a romantic comedy about an aspiring singer released in the summer of 1977, when Star Wars dominated the box office. Grease costar Didi Conn lip-synced the title song in the movie, which was sung by a session singer named Kasey Cisyk. It was then re-recorded by Debby Boone, daughter of 1950s singer Pat Boone, as her first ever release. The movie was sparsely attended, but “You Light Up My Life” was huge. It spent 10 weeks at #1 (at the time, a record), won the Academy Award for Best Song, and then Song of the Year at the Grammys.
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