But this feature isn’t about the sci-fi and fantasy musical numbers that always make it into these kinds of features. Hell, if you tried to list “10 Best Musical Moments In Sci-Fi” then “One More With Feeling” and Dr Horrible’s Sing-Alog Blog would nab most of the places in the chart, which would be a bit dull.
So, instead, here we present some of the SFX ’s favourite weird or unexpected or less well known musical moments (in other words we’re ignoring the usual suspects like Buffy and Xena and The Simpsons because they’re always getting mentions in lists like these). A lot of them earn their position here because they’re not from musical films or episodes – the writers just suddenly slam a song and dance number in your face for the hell of it. Others are from musicals, but for one reason or another, they still manage to stand out.
Take it away maestro…
The Banana Boat Song
A dinner party is hijacked when the guests become possessed by Harry Belafonte’s version of the traditional Jamaican mento folk song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)". We would say it’s a typically Tim Burton moment, except that it looks even more typical of one of the musical numbers from The Muppet Show .
Austin Powers In Goldmember
Austin Powers Theme
The best and most elaborate of the Austin Powers numbers, most notable for a somersaulting Steven Spielberg and Britney Spears as a fembot – “Ooops,” exclaims Austin when her head explodes, “I did it again.”
The Conference Call
Most of Sanctuary ’s musical episode, “Fugue”, was, frankly, dire. It didn’t really have songs, just dialogue that occasionally rhymed, set to music that sounded suspiciously like Evanescence jamming. But right in the middle, the episode suddenly pulled this little gem out of the hat – the closest sci-fi’s ever come to Gilbert & Sullivan… erm, except for those bits in sci-fi when the characters sing Gilbert & Sullivan, which is always embarrassing, as this clip from Star Trek: Insurrection proves.
Maybe Patrick Stewart had it written into his contract. It seems like he’d been trying to get a song into Next Gen for a while. Here’s a little surprise he sprang on Gene Roddenberry once for his birthday; when the Trek creator sat down to watch a recently completed episode, this popped up in the middle…
Batman The Brave And The Bold
The World Is Mine
Fresh out of Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Neil Patrick Harris lends his voice to the character of Batman foe The Music Meister, who uses this catchy tune to control the populace including, Black Canary, Aquaman, Black Manta and Clock King. The episode itself, "Mayhem Of The Music Meister", went on to receive an Emmy nomination, with eight of the songs featuring in this musical episode then being released as a soundtrack. (Click on image to take you to video)
Let’s Do It
By far the best thing about Tank Girl was this anarchic version of Cole Porter’s smutty ditty. Lori Petty looks more at home doing an impression of Madonna doing an impression of Marlene Dietrich than she does at any other point in the film. Shame someone has to throw gas grenades into the middle of it, forcing the plot to take over again. (Click on image to take you to video)
When “Parallel Universe”, the final episode of Red Dwarf ’s second season, was first shown, the audience was thrown a curveball from the opening moments. Instead of the opening credits, we got what looked like Cat, Lister and Rimmer performing on Top Of The Pops . It was so unexpected your initial thought was that the show had well and truly jumped the shark. But quickly you began to realise what a work of musical genius and comedy gold it was. Series writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor wrote the lyrics and the song was later released as a single, reaching number 17 in the charts.
And we reckon Jedward should do a cover version. We’d love to hear them sing, “ningy-nongy”.
I’ve Got You Under My Skin
In a bizarre parallel to Tank Girl , the best moment in the generally dreadful Gamer is a freaky song and dance number based on a Cole Porter tune. The mix of violence and choreography, though, clearly owes more to A Clockwork Orange than Petty’s film, though in the way the scene stylises the carnage to make it look cool, it is, ironically, becoming exactly the kind of desensitising experience that Kubrick was satirising. It’s made creepier, also, because it’s Michael C Hall from Dexter doing the singing. (Click on image to take you to video)
A Clockwork Orange
Singing In The Rain
We did have some discussion about whether to include this shocking scene from Kubrick’s film in this list. Not because it doesn’t deserve to be – it certainly meets all the criteria. Rather we were concerned that in a list that contains so many frivolous entries, were we in danger of trivialising its brutality by placing it alongside backflipping Spielbergs and comedy speech impediments.
Because this isn’t a barrel of laughs. It’s painful to watch. It’s hardhitting. It’s controversial (to this day). And it’s made even more powerful because it’s all set to an innocuous musical show number.
The song wasn’t in the original script. Kubrick spent five days trying to work out how to make the scene work cinematically, not actually shooting any footage, but just moving the furniture round the set in the hope it'd give him some inspiration, when he finally asked Malcolm McDowell – who was playing Alex – “Can you dance?” McDowell, bored by hanging around at this point, responded by bursting into “Singing In The Rain” and improvising the kick-dance that made it into the film.
Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Believe it or not, when the SFX crew had to vote for their favourite Spielberg moments a few years back – each member of the team being able to nominate five – this actually came out top, because everyone included it in their list. Kate Kapshaw kick off the film singing “Anything Goes” (yep, it’s that Porter guy again) in Mandarin at Club Obi Wan. It’s her best moment in the film, mainly because while she’s singing, she’s not screaming.
Puttin’ On The Ritz
From the days when Mel Brooks used to make really funny films. And would you believe… “Putting On The Ritz” wasn’t written by Cole Porter? It’s by Irving Berlin. Mel Brooks obviously didn’t get the memo.
The Candy Man
Fringe ’s musical episode, “Brown Betty” was a rare misstep for the show, because for much of the time it all felt a little half-hearted. Even this moment, the undoubted highlight, suffers from being over almost before you realise it’s begun. But hey, it's better to leave ’em wanting more. “The Candy Man” was written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the 1971 film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory . (Click on image to take you to video)
Lexx was always weird; it was in its DNA. So a musical episode should have been a great excuse for some melodic madness. Sadly, the best thing about the episode turned out to be its title, “Brigadoom”. The Lexx crew discovers a floating theatre in space performing an elaborate musical production based on the history of Kai and his people, the Brunnen-G. Most of the songs and choreography aren’t particularly great, but “Brigadoom” does have its moments, and, somewhat ironically, a song called “Dull” is one of the liveliest.
Little Shop Of Horrors
“I get off on the pain that I give.” Steve Martin as the Mengele of molar manglers belts his way through a biting satire (ouch) on dentistry. Pain is so close to pleasure.