Boogie nights contains 36 featured tracks, so how are they used in the Paul Thomas Anderson classic? The film was originally released in 1997 and explores the adult entertainment industry in California’s San Fernando Valley in the late 1970s. Music plays continuously from scene to scene and gives the film a feel-good energy.
In Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg plays a teenager named Eddie Adams who turns out to be a porn star named Dirk Diggler. Anderson’s script mainly focuses on the rise and fall of the protagonist, but also includes numerous secondary players who are just as difficult to find their way through the industry. American musician Michael Penn composed the official music for Boogie Night, but it’s the mainstream hits that really liven up the plot, starting with the opening scene.
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Boogie Nights mostly shows funk and disco tracks from the 70s and even has a few tragicomic scenes in which Dirk records music with his partner Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly). In the final act, a prolonged absence of music suggests the party is over, but the jams pick up as Wahlberg’s blessed protagonist regains his confidence. Here is a breakdown of all the featured songs in Boogie Nights.
“Best of My Love” from emotions: Boogie Nights begins with a shot of a traditional Reseda movie theater, followed by a pan that puts the spotlight on an adult movie theater called Hot Traxx. The scene establishes the atmosphere of the adult entertainment world in the San Fernando Valley, and song usage positions Jack as a beloved character.
“Sunny” by Boney M: The song plays while Jack follows Eddie and seems to recognize “bright days” as the lyrics implies.
“Fly, Robin, fly” by Silver Convention: Jack makes a sexually suggestive statement to Eddie, and the song acts as an exclamation point for character dialogue.
“Jazz theme from Sweet (The Sage)” by Chico Hamilton Quintet: Jacks plays the song when he comes home after meeting Mark Wahlberg’s Eddie. It takes several minutes over different scenes.
“Joy” from Apollo 100: The song plays during a pan in Eddie’s room and reflects his excitement as a teenager.
“Off the Road” by Richard Gill: Buck tries to sell speakers to a customer and plays the song. He says the bass “kicks” and is then chastised by his boss for playing a country western tune.
“Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band: The song plays softly as Eddie’s friend admires his body, with the lyrics suggesting that she is happy with her afternoon experience.
“Jungle Fever” by The Chakachas: While Eddie is working, the song is played while the camera tracks Roller Girl, played by Heather Graham. The breathy singing corresponds to the sexual nature of the scene.
“Brand new key” from Melanie: Roller Girl plays a record before an intimate encounter with Eddie. As Jack watches the male character, he realizes he has a brand new star. The lyrics also refer to “a brand new pair of roller skates,” which links the song to Graham’s character, who is roller-skated throughout the scene (and throughout the movie).
“Mom told me not to come” from Three Dog Night: After Eddie’s mother kicked him out of her Torrance home, the teenage boy visits Jack Horner and is unofficially involved in the porn industry. The song, written by Randy Newman, reflects someone who is experiencing their first big party in Los Angeles, which coincides with Eddie’s character arc in the film.
“Spill the Wine” from War with Eric Burdon: Colonel James arrives at Jack’s house for a party and Don Cheadles Buck explains to Becky that his cowboy look is back in style. In the further course of the party scene, the song with its text about alcohol consumption on a hot summer day acts as a mood-maker.
“Lonely Boy” by Andrew Gold: Maurie tells Buck to wear what he likes, then looks for a woman named Maggie, who turns out to be Julianne Moore’s cocaine-panting character, Amber Waves. The use of the song provides a subtle commentary on the porn industry.
“Fooled around and in love” by Elvin Bishop: Amber stares at Eddie and smiles as he jumps into a pool. Moments later, Little Bill spots a crowd of partiers watching his wife have sex. The song captures the perspective of William H. Macy’s character as he has a conversation about work while he keeps turning to watch his wife.
“Fat Man” by Jethro Tull: The song plays briefly when the Colonel and Jack find an overdose woman at the party. The opening drums are used to complement the characters’ walk through a hallway.
“You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate: Scotty, portrayed as Philip Seymour Hoffman, arrives at the party looking nervous and awkward. The lyrics highlight everything he wants to be and also scores the moment he first discovers Eddie.
“I want to be free” by Ohio players: Eddie jumps into the pool after showing the Colonel his penis. During a transitional scene, Reed recites a poem about Wahlberg’s character during a whirlpool moment. The song is used to reflect the mindset of both characters who ultimately join forces as creative collaborators.
“Boogie Shoes” by KC & the Sunshine Band: After Dirk’s first porn scene, a montage shows his new lifestyle. The song fits the character’s glamorous’ 70s outfits and growing ego, and also plays a nightclub scene where he literally boogles and describes his new shoes.
“Machine Gun” by The Commodores: Jack directs Eddie and Roller Girl before filming a scene. The song is an upbeat instrumental piece and is used to capture the relaxed mood among the staff. In addition, a montage is played over in which critic Dirk praises them. Last but not least, “Machine Gun” has an extended dance sequence.
“Magnet & Stahl” by Walter Egan: While on a road trip, Dirk and Reed Jack introduce a series of films about male characters named Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell. The soft rock song continues as background music during a montage about Dirk’s achievements.
“JP Walk” from Sound Experience: The song plays during a trailer for Dirk’s new film Brock Landers: Angels Live in My Town. The instrumental is thematically oriented towards the entire disco aesthetic.
“I have to give it up” by Marvin Gaye: While Dirk humbly brags about his new purchases, the song acts as a mood setter to highlight the character’s fame and fortune.
“Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead: After Jack makes a movie he wants to remember, the song plays briefly as the 80s and new pop culture trends begin. The lyrics suggest that Reynolds’ character has reached the peak of his career.
“Driver’s Seat” from Sniff ‘N the Tears: Floyd Gondolli visits the Colonel at a party. Thematically, the song follows the introduction of new characters as the power dynamic begins to change.
“Feel Too Good” from The Move: Floyd meets with Jack and makes a business proposal. The rock song fits Floyd’s perspective that he’s trying to help everyone stay one step ahead of the game. From Jack’s point of view, however, the moment feels too good to be true.
“Do Your Thing” by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: Scotty cries in his car after revealing his feelings for Dirk. The song title reflects Scott’s lack of identity, and the film transitions into a New Year’s Eve sequence in which Little Bill finds his wife again having sex with a partygoer. This time he commits a double homicide before taking his own life.
“Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton: Amber talks to Dirk about her directorial debut, the lyrics reflecting her loving nature.
“It’s only a matter of time” by Brooke Benton: During a sequence from December 1982, the song suggests that it is only a matter of time before Dirk realizes he was “blind”. The character meets Jack’s new actor Johnny Doe and doesn’t seem too pleased with his potential replacement.
“The Touch” by Mark Wahlberg, Jon Brion, Brian Kehew, Michael Penn: Dirk Diggler records a single on set after a public meltdown. The moment reinforces his steady decline as a performer.
“Feel the Heat” by Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly: Dirk records a song with Reed; the bad singing suggests that he is becoming increasingly delusional.
“Compared to what” by Robert Flack: The song plays over various scenes in which characters are trying to maintain their lifestyle. The song underlines the concept that Dirk and Co. “love lies”. Roller Girl even asks Amber to be her mother.
“Sister Christian” from Night Ranger: The song plays when Todd, Dirk and Reed arrive at Rahad’s house, who is performing the “Motorin ‘” lyrics. As the moment becomes more intense, the 80s classic corresponds to inherent surrealism.
“Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield: The song starts after “Sister Christian” has stopped abruptly. Rahad appears again when his Chinese friend Cosmo sets off fireworks. It’s another pop culture-themed moment where the loud music affects Dirk’s state of mind.
“99 balloons” by Nena: After Todd starts a shootout, Rahad shoots him when Dirk and Reed flee.
“God only knows” by The Beach Boys: Buck is making a promo for his new store, Buck’s Super Cool Stereo Store. The song continues to play as various characters start new lives outside of the porn industry.
“Voices Carry” by Til Tuesday: The song plays briefly as Roller Girl talks to Jack while listening to her Walkman.
“Livin ‘Thing” by Electric Light Orchestra: After Dirk has exposed himself in a changing room, the song runs during Boogie nights last moments and about the credits.
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QV Hough is a senior writer at Screen Rant. He is also the founding editor of Vague Visages and has contributed to RogerEbert.com and Fandor.
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