Nine Popular Songs That You Didn’t Know Were Written for Movies

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Many of today's longest-lasting jazz/pop standards were originally written for movies in the 1930s and 1940s. So many, in fact, that it's futile to list them. (A few standouts: "Cheek to Cheek", "Jeepers Creepers", "Lullaby of Broadway", "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B", "Chattanooga Choo Choo" - and those were just the ones nominated for Oscars!) But here are nine post-WWII classics that I'll bet you probably didn't know were specifically commissioned for movie soundtracks.

  1. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". Bob Dylan wrote and performed this one for the 1973 revisionist Western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, directed by Sam Peckinpah. The song plays as Slim Pickens dies. Dylan's original is still well-known, but many classic rock radio stations prefer to play the awful 1990 Guns 'n' Roses cover.
  2. "The Greatest Love of All". You likely only know the Whitney Houston version of this song, minus the "The" (I should have added it to this other list), and why shouldn't you? It became a #1 hit for her in 1985. But the song was in fact first recorded by George Benson for the 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest. A movie successfully included in another list.
  3. "Que Sera Sera". Like "Greatest Love", this song came from an unlikely source: an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. In fact, it was integral to the plot of 1956's The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which co-star Doris Day used it as a sort of "secret message" to communicate with her kidnapped son. It won the Oscar and was later used as the theme for Day's own TV show.
  4. "New York, New York". This tune feels like it's been around since at least the '50s - and no, I'm not talking about the other "New York, New York", with its lines about the Bronx being up but the Battery being down, as that was written for the 1944 Broadway musical On the Town. In fact, John Kander and Fred Ebb - the guys behind Cabaret and Chicago - wrote this in 1977 for their friend Liza Minnelli to belt out in Martin Scorsese's New York, New York. (The song's official title is "Theme from New York, New York".) Frank Sinatra soon made this one of his signature songs, which is funny since he also sang the other "New York, New York" in the movie version of On the Town.
  5. "That's Amore". While we're on the subject of the Rat Pack, the song most often associated with Dean Martin (as well as a million pizza joints) was written for the actor to croon in the since-forgotten 1953 Martin & Lewis comedy The Caddy.
  6. "The Look of Love". Dusty Springfield's sexy hit was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the ill-fated James Bond spoof Casino Royale (the silly 1967 version, not the serious 2006 reboot).
  7. "Unchained Melody". Sure, you know the 1965 Righteous Brothers recording of this song, which was used so famously in the 1990 hit Ghost, but did you know the song was written for a 1955 prison B-movie called Unchained? Nobody remembers that film, even though the song did receive an Oscar nod.
  8. "On the Radio". Donna Summer was all over the charts in the late '70s, and while some might recall that her disco smash "Last Dance" was made for 1978's Thank God Its Friday (it won the Oscar), her later hit "On the Radio" was from 1980's Foxes, a teen drama starring Jodie Foster and Scott Baio.
  9. "Mah Nà Mah Nà". This nonsense tune is synonymous with various Sesame Street/Muppet Show skits, but it was written by Italian composer Piero Umiliani for the little-known exploitation documentary Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968).