Movie Songs

9 Songs to Retire as Movie and TV Show Needle Drops

May 8, 202412 Mins Read

There’s something magical about the work that a great music supervisor does, finding the perfect song, obscure or well-known, to accompany a scene in a movie or TV show.

This is not a list about those successes. This is, instead, a list spotlighting the songs that need to be retired as needle drops going forward. It’s not that they’re bad songs (many are excellent!) — but they’ve reached the point where they’re no longer welcome in our earbuds while watching our favorite on-screen entertainment. It could be because they’ve just been used too much, or because they’ve come to be associated with negative vibes, or because a certain film or TV show used it so effectively that anyone else attempting to match that is playing a fool’s game. What matters is that we could all use a break from hearing them, no matter the reason.

For the record, this list does not represent not the final word for these songs — there’s always a chance for redemption. On the flip side of things, Consequence reserves the right to add new offenders to this list should they present themselves. As you’ll see below, sometimes it just takes one poor choice to make a song unpalatable for future projects. Tread carefully.

“Fortunate Son”

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Original Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
The Song: A classic anti-Vietnam War anthem from 1969, with some tasty guitar riffs.
Best Use: So when this list was first proposed, we here at Consequence joked about a blanket entry entitled “Pretty Much Any Song from the Forrest Gump Soundtrack.” This is because the Forrest Gump soundtrack, otherwise known as A Newbie’s Guide to Boomer Music, is packed with song choices that have now begun to feel overplayed. Yet to be honest, “Fortunate Son” does a nice job of setting the stage for Forrest’s (Tom Hanks) first encounter with the jungles of Vietnam and Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise), and at that point it wasn’t too overused.
Worst Use: The other blanket entry we joked about was “Pretty Much Any Song from the Suicide Squad (2016) Soundtrack,” and sure enough “Fortunate Son” also is featured there! Every character in Suicide Squad gets their own blunt-force needle drop as an introduction, and this is somehow the choice for Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Because he’s… not a fortunate son? Because he is a crocodile man?
Why It Should Be Retired: Whether casting judgment on a non-lucky child or serving as lazy shorthand for “scene set during the Vietnam War,” “Fortunate Son” has done enough tours of duty. It deserves a cushy pension, and veteran benefits.


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Artist: Jeff Buckley’s cover is the most used version across film and TV, but Leonard Cohen’s original rendition has also received its fair share of appearances, so we’re combining them here.
The Song: The ultimate bummer anthem, utilized for plenty of people-being-sad montages in TV shows ranging from House to The Young Pope to The O.C.
Best Use: It could be argued that the degree to which “Hallelujah” has been overplayed has retroactively ruined the use of the song across time and space. That said, its appearance in a 2002 episode of The West Wing still holds up pretty well — when C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) finds out that her Secret Service crush Mark Harmon has been killed, the song accompanies her teary walk through the streets of New York.
Worst Use: According to TuneFind, the most recent use of “Hallelujah” was in a 2021 episode of the series 9-1-1: Lone Stara sad montage at the end of an episode, in which a prominent character is killed. For the crime of using the song so recently, Lone Star should take the prize. But then there’s Zack Snyder’s Watchmen using the Cohen version for a sex scene between Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman). It is… not a sexy choice.
Why It Should Be Retired: Pure overuse. At this point, any music supervisor who attempts to insert this track into a project has to be doing so as a form of self-parody. Fortunately, its appearances on screen have tapered off dramatically in recent years. Maybe in a decade or so, it’ll be cool again.

“We Three”

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Original Artist: Songwriters Nelson Cogane, Sammy Mysels and Dick Robertson published this track originally in 1939, but many artists have covered it since — the most famous version in this case being the one by vocal group The Ink Spots.
The Song: A ballad with deeply old-timey vibes, the lyrics of “We Three” hint at a man trapped between multiple identities: “My echo, my shadow, and me,” to be specific.
Best Use: The Better Call Saul Season 4 premiere, “Smoke” — a perfect choice for a scene focusing on Gene (aka Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, always played by Bob Odenkirk) in the aftermath of a collapse at his Cinnabon job.
Worst Use: Fallout leans hard on the old-timey song cues, in keeping with its retro-future aesthetic (also featured is arguably a more famous hit from The Ink Spots, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”), but when this one comes in during the final minutes of the first season, it feels redundant.
Why It Should Be Retired: Okay, so “We Three” hasn’t actually been used all that much, in comparison to other songs on this list (the other prominent example comes in the 2019 series Watchmen). But it’s so effective in Better Call Saul that it’s honestly hard to listen to its use in any other context — “My echo, my shadow, and me” sums up the character of Jimmy/Saul/Gene so damn well. There are hundreds of other songs from this era to potentially use! Leave this one alone.

“This Woman’s Work”

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Original Artist: Kate Bush
The Song: A delicate little tune about a man holding his breath, waiting for the woman he loves to survive childbirth. At least that was the original context — it was originally written to accompany a sequence in the 1988 film She’s Having a Baby.
Best Use: Kether Donohue’s very sweet karaoke cover during the You’re the Worst Season 1 finale did a beautiful job of celebrating the song on its own merits, while using it to underline the comic aftermath of a disastrous party.
Worst Use: Few songs have been wielded so inconsistently and obviously as this one. However, the way director Marc Forster uses this lovely little song in 2022’s A Man Called Otto is a true abomination — so much so that this humble nerd wrote a whole article about it. There have been other over-the-top implementations, but none on the level of Otto; I said it then and I’ll repeat it now: Kate Bush deserves an apology.
Why It Should Be Retired: If movies and TV shows can’t be trusted to play nice with this one, then maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to have it at all.

“The Warrior”

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Original Artist: Scandal, featuring Patty Smyth
The Song: There’s not a lot of subtlety to the lyrics of this ’80s rock anthem — the singer is a warrior (bang bang), “shooting at the walls of heartbreak.” Yet both our worst and best uses have very little to do with anything heartbreak-related!
Best Use: “The Warrior” was the theme song for the sadly canceled Netflix series GLOW, and a pretty solid choice given that show’s themes of female empowerment and “remember when the ’80s happened?”
Worst Use: So the Paramount+ limited series Knuckles was a charming surprise, way exceeding expectations for a family-friendly Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff. The only problem with the show was that not only did it use “The Warrior” as its theme song — because the titular hero is a warrior, you see — but it would not stop replaying it. Even outside of the opening credits!
Why It Should Be Retired: Bingeing all six episodes of Knuckles was packed with delights (Cary Elwes really needs to be cast in more comedies). But by the final minutes of the finale, I was ready never to hear “The Warrior” again. Just in time for the show to use it one last time! This one’s the result of pure burnout.

“Don’t Stop Believin’”

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Original Artist: Journey
The Song: An anthem about never giving up, as well as whatever “streetlights people” might be.
Best Use: There is an entire community of TV viewers who have heard this song way too many times. This is because they have devoted precious hours of their lives to watching and rewatching the last few minutes of the Sopranos series finale, looking for clues as to what it all means. It remains one of the wildest moments of television ever aired, and iconic as a result.
Worst Use: The pilot episode of Glee ends with a triumphant acapella rendition of this song, a perfect capper to its underdog tale. The show would then go back to that well seven more times over the course of its run, long past the point where anyone really wanted to hear it again.
Why It Should Be Retired: Look, there are going to be people who think the Best Use and Worst Use mentioned here should be flipped, and quite honestly that’s a valid point of view. Whether it’s associated with a traumatic memory (there are a lot of people who hate that Sopranos ending) or a series that lasted well past its prime, we can all agree that “it goes on and on and on” is a lyric — not a thing this song needs to keep doing.

“You Don’t Own Me”

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Original Artist: Lesley Gore
The Song: The Handmaid’s Tale‘s unofficial theme song, amongst other things.
Best Use: Gotta give it to one of cinema’s greatest musical moments: The above cover by Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn, from The First Wives Club. Yes, it’s an obvious choice for a movie about women who feel badly used by the men in their lives — but they sell the hell out of it.
Worst Use: It’d be lazy to mention Suicide Squad again (though it’s a real contender, thanks to the hamfisted way it accompanies the introduction of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn). Instead, let’s be honest: The Handmaid’s Tale, over the course of four seasons, has leaned too hard on it — the callbacks have become tedious, especially given how literal its message is.
Why It Should Be Retired: In 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale won five Emmys, and every time it won, the ceremony’s DJ would crank “You Don’t Own Me.” And that was only the first season, well before the show itself would run the song into the ground. If this list is about nothing else, it’s about fighting back against using songs in the most obvious way possible. We can all do better.

“Is That All There Is?”

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Original Artist: Peggy Lee
The Song: A melancholy ballad about life with one question on its mind. (Hint: That question is the title of the song.)
Best Use: Mad Men loved to linger with the existential crises of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), and throughout that show’s rich musical history, no other song was used better in capturing that. “Is That All There Is?” opens and closes Season 7’s “Severance” (the show’s final mid-season premiere), as Don faces a potential crossroads that nothing — work, booze, casual sex — can numb.
Worst Use: The HBO series Winning Time drops it casually into a scene from the Season 1 episode of the same name… though it strangely only uses the spoken word prelude in its attempt to capture the malaise of Jerry West (Jason Clarke).
Why It Should Be Retired: This is another example of a song that was used so well by one show that everyone else needs to take the L and leave it alone. (It’s also a pretty pernicious earworm, one that’s hard to get out of your head despite — or perhaps because — it’s a little repetitive.)

“Sympathy for the Devil”

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Original Artist: The Rolling Stones
The Song: C’mon… you know this one. Probably because you’ve seen at least one movie or TV that maybe mentioned the Devil by name. (Weirdly, you know what show never used it? The DC Comics adaptation Lucifer, starring Tom Ellis as the literal Devil! One must admire the restraint. Or the lack of budget.)
Best Use: This was easily the most difficult blurb of this entire list to write, because the song has been used a ton over the last few decades, but always in painfully obvious ways. In fact, I cannot believe that I am going to go with its use in everyone’s favorite HBO series, Entourage — but when those bongos appear at the end of the Season 2 episode “Good Morning Saigon,” it’s actually kind of funny. This is because the song underscores a scene in which super-agent Ari (Jeremy Piven) has been tricked by “the boys” into driving to Napa Valley… you see, he’s the devil, but we have sympathy for him, because of the aforementioned trickery. This counts as a subtle use of the song.
Worst Use: The contenders are many, but let’s give it to 2021’s Cruella. That movie was already a feast of blatantly obvious needle drops before The Rolling Stones were drafted to accompany Cruella (Emma Stone) touring her new home at “Hell Hall”; “Sympathy” happened to be what pushed that film over the edge into true madness.
Why It Should Be Retired: Because at this point, there’s just nothing new to be done — even casually dropping it onto the soundtrack, like The Boys did in its Season 2 premiere, feels overplayed. There is no more sympathy to give the devil. He has used it all up.

Special thanks to the Consequence staff for their help in brainstorming the above. (Eddie, “In the Air Tonight” may definitely warrant a future update. Right now, though, those drums still slap.)

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