Style with your hair with the finest dapper pomade (“I don’t want Fop, goddamn it! I’m a Dapper Dan man!”) and set fire to the hotel, it’s time we be a-celebrating: the Coen Brothers’s new movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, comes out this week. In case you haven’t heard, it’s a semi-biographical look at the 1960s folk scene in New York City, based very loosely on Dave Van Ronk’s must-read memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. The film has received outstanding reviews, but we could have told you that the second it started filming: John Goodman is in it, and any Coen Brothers movie with John Goodman is going to be great.
The soundtrack also sounds stellar, which is somewhat unexpected considering The Guy From NSYNC, The Girl Who Sings “New York, New York” In Shame, and The Creep from Girls all contribute selections to it. But the Coen Brothers consistently pick the perfect song for the perfect scene. Here are eight of their finest musical moments.
1. “Way Out There” by Carter Burwell from Raising Arizona
Maybe the key to a great Nicolas Cage movie is yodeling? I mean, sure, there’s no yodeling in Leaving Las Vegas, Con Air, Bringing Out the Dead, Adaptation., The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or Kick-Ass, but there is in Raising Arizona, and Raising Arizona might be his best movie, so…The point I’m trying to make is, why haven’t the Coen Brothers made another film with Nicolas Cage? With or without yodeling.
2. “Danny Boy” by Frank Patterson from Miller’s Crossing
Please note the name of this video: “You Can’t Hit Albert Finney.” That is so true, especially when Irish folk songs are playing. In a movie full of outstanding moments, Leo O’Bannon’s thwarted assassination is the most outstanding — Frank Patterson’s dramatic “Danny Boy” heightens the tension, and adds poignancy to the shot of Finney standing in the street, watching the flames, holding a smoking gun. Patterson’s no Barney Gumble, but he’ll do in a pinch.
3. Howling Fat Men from Barton Fink
The soundtracks to Barton Fink (my favorite Coen Brothers movie) and Fargo were released at the same time, on the same day, on the same disc. They both rely on a stark, minimalistic score with very little external music. It’s really depressing. So instead, here’s a compilation called “The Howling Fat Men of the Coen Brothers.” It’s the soundtrack to my life.
4. “Let’s Find Each Other Tonight” by José Feliciano from Fargo
Like Barton Fink, the musical moments in Fargo are few and far between. There’s Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” a song that will forever be associated with King of the Hill, and not much else, outside of José Feliciano’s live performance of “Let’s Find Each Other Tonight” that plays during Carl’s awkward dinner with an escort. She’s not impressed. Guess she’s not a “Feliz Navidad” fan. The great thing about this scene is that you could replace Carl with any of Steve Buscemi’s characters, and it still works. “…that plays during Nucky Thompson’s awkward dinner with an escort.” Just add some Chalky, and you’ve got yourself a movie.
5. “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan from The Big Lebowski
“Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles.” “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” Covers of “Hotel California” and “Dead Flowers.” The Big Lebowski‘s soundtrack is as essential as the movie itself, so why “The Man in Me” over, say, “Glück das mir verblieb”? Well, that title is annoying to type. Also, because I appreciate any and all attention paid to New Morning, one of Bob Dylan’s lesser known albums. It’s more pleasant than revolutionary, but that doesn’t take away from the simple beauty of “Went to See the Gypsy,” “One More Weekend,” and “The Man in Me,” which wasn’t even released as a single. Then again, if the Coen Brothers had gone with “Three Angels” or “Father of Night,” also from New Morning, this blurb would look very different.
6. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” by the Soggy Bottom Boys from O Brother, Where Art Thou?
We’re all one of the approximately 78 million who bought the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack when it came out in late 2000. It was inescapably massive, winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, as well as placing on multiple Best Albums of the 2000s lists. What made this accomplishment so special was that it wasn’t like you were going to hear Ralph Stanley on the radio; O Brother‘s popularity was entirely homegrown. And thirteen years later, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” still sounds lively, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering the song’s been around since at least the 1910s, when it was first probably, maybe written by a blind fiddler named Dick Burnett. Related, here is a great sentence: “Since it is known that Burnett was born in 1883, married in 1905, and blinded in 1907…” Burnett is a real-life Coen Brothers character.
7. “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane from A Serious Man
Come for the debates about the quality of A Serious Man; stay for the Jefferson Airplane soundtrack.
8. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” by Iris DeMent from True Grit
It’s tough to upstage Johnny Cash, whose “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” accompanies the trailer for True Grit, but Iris DeMent does exactly that with the sparse, astonishing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” I could listen to the way DeMent says “leaning” until the end of time. FUN FACT: the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” is named after her. FUN MENTAL IMAGE: Johnny Cash listening to the Goo Goo Dolls.