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November 14, 2016 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I just watched That Thing You Do for the first time in ages, and fell in love with the title track all over again. It got me wondering, what other good and notable songs were written to sound like the popular songs of a different era?

I'm particularly interested in great pieces of music that were written for other media. Films, TV, even notable concept albums or other quirks of music history that don't quite fit into such a rigid structure. They don't necessarily have to have gone on to mainstream success to count for this, but parodies aren't as interesting to me. I like the idea of a song that could have existed in another era, and perhaps would have been a popular song in an alternate history.

A couple more examples I can think of that might fight the bill are Sugar, Sugar written for the fictional band on The Archies cartoon, or Please, Mr. Kennedy from the main character in Inside Llewyn Davis. I'd go far enough to count Pineapple Express by Huey Lewis and the News for sounding so much like their music of the 80s that likely would have been a hit amongst their catalogue of the time, or Higher & Higher from Wet Hot American Summer for being such a good 80s motivational track in the style of Eye of the Tiger.
posted by gregoryg to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, my friend, Grace of My Heart.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:29 PM on November 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

The soundtrack for Todd Haynes' film Velvet Goldmine is full of covers of classic glam rock interspersed with some spot-on glam tunes written especially for the film. (also.. in case it's not clear enough: I recommend the soundtrack highly if you like that sort of thing.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:31 PM on November 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Almost Famous has Fever Dog (& the whole in-universe Stillwater album).
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 7:32 PM on November 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I came here to say Grace of My Heart, too.

Also: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:34 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Humboldt32 beat me to it. GOMH has wonderful songs.

The Rutles (the pre-fab four) Beatle-esque tunes are fantastic. Just close enough but different enough.. that takes real talent.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:36 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's a pretty bad movie, but Music and Lyrics (with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant) is about a 80s popstar who is now writing covers for Brittany Spears-type performers. His hit 80s tune "Pop! Goes My Heart" is (if not great) exactly what you're looking for: a song written to mimic an earlier hit style.
posted by sardonyx at 7:38 PM on November 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Rock Star has songs written for fictional 1980s band Steel Dragon. I actually think "We All Die Young" is a terrific example of the genre.
posted by lalex at 7:39 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

All the folk songs in A Mighty Wind are wonderful, even if there are a few that shade towards parody.
posted by Threeve at 7:40 PM on November 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, you are watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, right? Pretty much every episode has a song that fits your category, even if the tone typically falls into the bitter/sarcastic side of the emotional spectrum. It also runs the gamut from 80s hair bands to 30s song and dance to Broadway show tunes to Disney musicals.
posted by sardonyx at 7:43 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Came to say Velvet Goldmine (which is my favorite Todd Haynes movie, and possibly my favorite soundtrack of all time). A few songs are covers, but many were written and recorded specifically for the movie by "fake" glam rock groups made up of members of real '90s band (like Shudder to Think, Placebo, Radiohead, Suede, Grant Lee Buffalo, etc.). This song gives me chills and thrills for its spot-on 1971 glam sound.

We watched VG a few times this January after Bowie died, as did many other folks.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:56 PM on November 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Craig Wedren is kind of an underrated genius at this sort of thing. He was the lead singer of the seminal indie band Shudder To Think -- they're responsible for the aforementioned Wet, Hot, American Summer, Velvet Goldmine, First Love, Last Rites and High Art. I'm a big fan of all of his music, but the entire soundtrack for First Love, Last Rites is eerie in it's authenticity. You can totally imagine hearing Jeff Buckley's "I Want Someone Badly" or Lena Karlsson's "The Wedding Is Over" playing on the radio back in the day. And Wedren does a pitch perfect imitation of Neil Diamond on "Just Really Wanna See You". It's hilarious, evocative, and sweet all at the same time. That entire album is like being pulled back in a time warp. Amazon has it here.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:01 PM on November 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

The O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack is well known for combining Lomax-era archival recordings with brand new stuff that sounds pretty similar. "I am a man of constant sorrow" specifically was written and recorded for the movie.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:16 PM on November 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

The Dukes of Stratosphere (aka most of XTC) made spot-on pastiches of 60s psychedelia, such as The Mole from the Ministry
posted by scruss at 8:18 PM on November 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh my God, Spinal Tap for sure!

Hell Hole
Big Bottoms
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:19 PM on November 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

"The Night Begins to Shine", by BER, (from Teen Titans Go show) is a perfect pastiche of 80s fantasy/Heavy Metal-style pop. Bonus points for getting the visuals hilariously right as well.
posted by librosegretti at 8:21 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Darkness is a hair-metal band that is a throwback to the 80s.
posted by adamrice at 8:25 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry to report that sleeping bear is incorrect about Man of Constant Sorrow. It's a classic folk song; here's Bob Dylan performing it, for just one example predating the movie.
posted by telegraph at 8:32 PM on November 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would nominate basically all of r/outrun, r/newretrowave, etc. For an exemplar, try Cobra Copter, "Ultimate Ninja."
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:41 PM on November 14, 2016

"New York, New York!" is arguably both a song written to sound like it was written in the post-war period and a movie made to feel like it was made in the same time.
posted by bq at 8:44 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I thought "On the Dark Side" was an actual Bruce Springsteen song for a long time, but it's not; it's just a spot-on imitation. It's from an '80s movie about '50s and '60s music, Eddie and the Cruisers.
posted by honey wheat at 8:51 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding scruss's recommendation of XTC's "Dukes of Stratosphear" psychedelic side-project. If you liked the Nuggets collections of psychedelic & garage band singles you'll love the Dukes (and probably vice versa..)
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:07 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Billy Boola was written in 1994 for In The Name of the Father as a throwback to the 70s.

Then somehow it ended up sounding exactly like the 2001 cover of Lady Marmalade, which was weird.
posted by fshgrl at 10:37 PM on November 14, 2016

Going a bit leftfield on this question...

You might be interested in the labelography of Ghost Box Records. As the wikipedia page notes:
It was originally created as an outlet for their own musical experiments with the idea that each release’s packaging would display a similar design sensibility and both music and design would allude to House and Jupp’s shared imaginary landscape; a very British parallel world of TV soundtracks, public information films, 60s and 70s horror movies, vintage electronic music, folk song, English psychedelia, supernatural stories and folklore.... What sets Ghost Box apart from other independent record labels is its strong sense of narrative and fictional setting. Jupp and House have described the label as existing in an imagined or misremembered past. It’s a world outside of time where cultural references from a roughly 30 year period (say 1960-1980) are happening all at once. Influenced by library album covers and the rigid design grid of Penguin and Pelican paperback books, Ghost Box records and CDs were always intended to look and sound like artefacts from a parallel world, familiar, elegant, but somehow "wrong".
It works stunningly well. Example: Belbury Poly - Summer Round

The films of Peter Strickland also come to mind as having a "hauntological" musical and visual quality. The Duke of Burgundy opening credit sequence is an excellent example - it features music by the band Cat's Eyes, who evoke something of a dreamy 70s folk-pop song. Similarly, his Berberian Sound Studio has fake opening credits for a 70s italian giallo movie called Il Vortice Equestre, with music by Hymenoptera, who are really the band Broadcast.

I'd say the Drive soundtrack certainly qualifies - brilliant example being the credit sequence with Kandinsky's "Nightcall". The movie that launched a thousand synthwave bands.
posted by naju at 11:31 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

The theme song for the British sitcom ‘Dad’s Army’ is a spot-on pastiche of wartime music. I think I always assumed it was a real wartime song, but it was written for the show in 1968.

(that’s not actually the original titles, it’s someone’s animation of them, but the music is right. you may be able to see the real titles here, but I can’t tell b/c it’s copyright-blocked in the UK)
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:59 AM on November 15, 2016

One of the running jokes in How I Met Your Mother ( a series produced straddling the 2000s and 2010s) is how Robin Sherbatsky used to be a pop star in Canada under the name Robin Sparkles. Her in-universe hit Let's Go To The Mall is a perfect take on synth-poppy 80's stars like Tiffany and Debbie-Gibson.

But Robin is Canadian, so her bubblegum pop persona is really a take on Alanis Morrisette. So here's the dark, edgy 90's style video for her dark, edgy 90's style breakup song PS I Love You, recorded as Robin Daggers.

Someone made a comparison of Robin Daggers's fictional hit to Alanis's You Oughta Know.
posted by kandinski at 3:18 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since we're in Coen Brothers territory, I can't really tell which of the Inside Llewyn Davis songs are originals and which ones are modern fakes, except for the hilarious Please Mr Kennedy.
posted by kandinski at 3:23 AM on November 15, 2016

I hope i'm not getting distracted by the video and the outfits but your post made me think of The Lily's - A Nanny in Manhattan which i'm pretty sure was on a Levi's advert here in the UK in the 90s. I fucking loved it. Much like 'That thing you do' there are sonic elements that give the era-of-actual-recording away but hopefully this qualifies.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:10 AM on November 15, 2016

I was 100% sure that "Uptown Girl" was a Four Seasons song from the 1960's.

It was recorded by Billy Joel in 1983.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:12 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

People will argue until they are exhausted that Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen was actually written by Elvis.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:17 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hedwig and the Angry Inch does this remarkably well, evoking prime era Glam. And in Boogie Nights, I love the scenes where Mark Wahlberg is recording the Touch, and Feel My Heat in character.
posted by love is a murderer at 7:22 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start with Ming Tea and progress to Sid and Suzie.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:23 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I thought "On the Dark Side" was an actual Bruce Springsteen song for a long time, but it's not

posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:16 AM on November 15, 2016

Love Take Me Down to the Streets is a great fake Paul McCartney & Wings song that is a running joke in the movie Role Models. It finally plays over the credits.
posted by dfan at 11:45 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

  except for the hilarious Please Mr Kennedy

Always thought that was a takeoff of the Holy Modal Rounders' Mr Spaceman, itself a thin riff on Mr. Bass Man from 1963.

If you're needing perfect homage to mid 1980s electro-funk, TWRP are for you. I mean: Pale Blue Dot; c'mon! There needs to be a FPP about TWRP, but I should not be the one to do it.
posted by scruss at 12:12 PM on November 15, 2016

Check out the movie "Sing Street," which just started streaming on Netflix. From the same director as "Once" and "Begin Again," with songs written to sound like various '80s pop styles.
posted by Clustercuss at 1:41 PM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding "Sing Street." The music feels authentic and it is really, really good.

I also wanted to point out that "That Thing You Do" (the song, not the movie) was written by members of the band Fountains of Wayne. Their style varies song-to-song and they have a lot of tunes that sound like they come from a different era.
posted by tacodave at 2:27 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ashokan Farewell, the haunting violin/strings piece, was written for the Ken Burns Civil War documentary.
posted by tracer at 2:33 PM on November 15, 2016

Ashokan Farewell was written as the nightly closer for the Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps several years before that docu.
posted by scruss at 3:10 PM on November 15, 2016

Apologies for the earworm, but.. First Class' "Beach Baby" is a spot on Beach Boys track, recorded in the mid 70s.
posted by softlord at 7:10 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The movies Josie and the Pussycats and Scott Pilgrim vs the World both had soundtracks of songs by the band, which fit the time periods/genres the bands are playing, but are pretty contemporary so I'm not sure if they fit your "of a period" criterion or not.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:54 PM on November 16, 2016

Didn't the Austin Powers movies also have '60s Bond pastiche music?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:55 PM on November 16, 2016

GAH how could I forget That Thing You Do! My fave ever. Such great songs.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:40 AM on November 17, 2016

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