The Best Music Moments from the Coen Brothers


By Niall McArdle

Joel and Ethan Coen are the chameleons of modern cinema: as soon as you think you know what sort of filmmakers they are, they surprise you by skipping effortlessly into a new genre. They’ve reimagined the western (True Grit) and sent up the gangster picture (Miller’s Crossing). They’ve tackled the madcap screwball comedy (Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother, Where Art Thou?), the blackly comic noir (Blood Simple, Fargo). and the Chandleresque Los Angeles detective story (The Big Lebowski).

Debate about what is their greatest film continues to go on – surely a sign that they’re doing something right.

Now they’ve turned their attention to the musical (sort of). Inside Llewyn Davis is about the 1960s New York folk music scene.

To make a film steeped in American folk music, the Coens have teamed up once again with T. Bone Burnett, who, along with Carter Burwell, has helped them find just the right music for their previous films.

The Coens have always been careful about their music choices, and like the films of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, it’s hard now to hear some of the songs they’ve used without thinking of their movies.

Here are a few music highlights from their films

“Go to Sleep, You Little Baby” from O, Brother, Where Art Thou?

This was the Coens’ version of Homer’s Odyssey by way of Preston Sturges. The film is loaded with 1930s folk music, bluegrass and gospel. Here George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson meet three sirens down by the river.

“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” from The Big Lebowski

It’s an LSD-filled pop concoction (sung by Kenny Rogers) that was written as a warning against drugs. But in the hands of the Coens, it’s the soundtrack to a trippy dream sequence that features Busby Berkeley style choreography, Saddam Hussein, bowling, and Julianne Moore dressed as a Valkyrie.

“Danny Boy” from Miller’s Crossing

The Coens were looking for music to accompany a wild shootout scene from their Irish-American gangster comedy. They asked Frank Patterson if it would be okay to use his version of the syrupy Irish love song. He was delighted.

Click here to see. 

“Way Out There” from Raising Arizona

When it came time to find the right music to match the screwball plot of this fast-paced comedy about baby-kidnapping, bikers, bank robbers and bounty-hunters, they asked Carter Burwell to score the film.

“Hotel California” from The Big Lebowski

Why does the Dude hate The Eagles? Is it because their brand of 1970s bland California Rock just doesn’t appeal? Or is it because whenever he hears them he can’t help but think of his rival bowler, Jesus Quintana, who bowls strikes, licks and shines  his bowling ball, and dances to The Gipsy Kings cover of the Eagles’ tune?

Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia” from The Hudsucker Proxy

Aram Khachaturian’s ballet score (familar perhaps to those old enough to remember The Onedin Line) was adapted by Carter Burwell to provide a swooning backdrop to the Coens’ hilarious tale of the invention of the Hula Hoop

Carter Burwell’s Main Theme from Fargo

The screen is white as snow. You can barely see a thing. Gradually, a car’s headlights become visible. It moves slowly through the blizzard, heading for Fargo, North Dakota, while the soundtrack plays an ominous, dirge-like theme. It’s a foreboding beginning to a tale of murder and deceit. But this is the Coen Brothers. The car is being driven by William H Macy as he tows “a brand new burnt umber Ciera” to deliver to Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as part payment in a deal to kidnap his wife. Dark and desperate? You betcha’. Funny as heck? Darn tootin’


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