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Movie soundtracks are bringing a fresh set of ears to old classics

(SOUNDBITE OF SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR SONG, "MURDER ON THE DANCEFLOOR")

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Who doesn't love a fun new song to add to your New Year's resolution workout playlist? This is "Murder On The Dancefloor" by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and it's not new - just renewed. It's just the latest track to be dusted off and given new life. And NPR Music's Stephen Thompson joins us now to talk about that. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So first, give us the basics on this song and the artist. What is the history here?

THOMPSON: Well, the song "Murder On The Dancefloor" was a hit - like, a huge hit - across the U.K. and Australia and a few other countries in late 2001 and 2002. It kind of barely grazed the charts in the U.S., though. And basically, what happened is the song gets used in a very pivotal scene at the end of the movie "Saltburn," which is bonkers. This movie is - I don't know if you've seen "Saltburn," but it is...

RASCOE: No, no, no.

THOMPSON: ...Very polarizing, very memorable. I happen to love it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MURDER ON THE DANCEFLOOR")

SOPHIE ELLIS-BEXTOR: (Singing) Hear me when I say, hey, it's murder on the dancefloor, but you'd better not kill the groove...

THOMPSON: It has seared the song into the memory of basically anyone who has seen "Saltburn." And so in the U.S., it's - it feels newer to a lot of people. And so it has kind of become this viral hit even though the song is about 20 years old.

RASCOE: And we've seen this happen before 'cause another song took a very similar path - "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush topped the charts in the summer of 2022, right?

THOMPSON: Yeah. That song was placed in a very memorable scene in the TV show "Stranger Things," and that song's from 1985, and a lot of the audiences that are watching "Stranger Things" and a lot of the audiences that embraced that song really weren't familiar with it. And so you're seeing this phenomenon more and more with the advent of streaming, with the advent of - you know, TV shows and movies have been have been placing songs in effective ways for decades now, but you're really seeing this blurring of the line between old and new on the pop charts in a lot of different ways. If you think about - a lot of the songs that were big hits last year, a lot of them have ties to, you know, decades ago. And that's just a really interesting phenomenon where, like, it used to be that - where if you turned on, like, the, you know, Top 40 radio, you would only hear new songs.

RASCOE: I mean, because rediscovering music is not a new phenomenon...

THOMPSON: No.

RASCOE: ...But it seems like it's much easier to have that new life breathed into old tracks when you have streaming and also social media.

THOMPSON: Yeah, and I think so many ways that music is, like, designated as successful - you know, like, through the Billboard charts or whatever - it's become a lot easier for fans to dictate that success. The gatekeepers of, like, radio programmers don't have as much power as they used to. And now a really well-placed needle drop on TikTok can propel a song back onto the charts in ways that, obviously, weren't possible just a few years ago.

RASCOE: When you look at these artists, though - like, we talked about Kate Bush with "Running Up That Hill" - are these tracks and these artists - are they now better known than they were originally?

THOMPSON: I think you can certainly make the case. First of all, it charted much, much higher this time around, and that's a case where the song is definitely more successful in the 2020s than it was in the 1980s. But it really depends on the song and on the artist. What's interesting to me about it is the kind of cross-generational conversation that winds up happening where - you know, I'm 51 years old. I play "Running Up That Hill" for my kids. It's a new song to them, but it's an old song to me, and we're able to celebrate it together. And I think that's really sweet and lovely to see.

And one of the things that I think is really great about it - it breathes new life into these artists' careers. You know, Kate Bush was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in part because of all the renewed attention that was paid to "Running Up That Hill." She belonged in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as of years and years and years ago. And so I really like the fact that it's, like, shining new light on these artists' catalogs and giving them kind of new opportunities to be heard. And if they have more music they want to share with the world, they have a better opportunity to do that, and that's what's really exciting to me.

RASCOE: That's Stephen Thompson of NPR Music. Thank you so much for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Ayesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL (A DEAL WITH GOD)")

KATE BUSH: (Singing) And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)