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- In the Kia Optima ads featuring NBA player Blake Griffin, he time travels to his past selves (in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2006) to brag about his new Kia, and also to hint that he will play basketball in the future. Whenever he time travels, the car radio plays a big hit from the year he travels to. For example, the 1995 one plays "This Is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan and the 1999 one plays "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" by Eiffel 65.
- The Twelve has twelve World War II characters waking up on the 21st century. They're put in a fake '40s hospital to avoid culture shock during their recovery, complete with a radio playing '40s hits. The first suspicion that something is wrong comes when one of them notices the radio is not playing commercials.
Films — Live-Action
- The movies Forrest Gump and Remember the Titans used only well-known songs in their soundtracks, and a hell of a lot of them; there are enough songs included that roughly 90% of each movie contains a hit song, and no two scenes in either flick re-use the same tune.
- Except for the times when it's in-universe in Remember The Titans, such as when the team sings "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" or "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"
- Remember the Titans also plays with this trope. When things look bad for the Titans, the film's original score is used. When things begin to look better, then they start to use late 60s/early 70s classic rock.
- In Apollo 13 the teenage daughter's radio was playing during almost every scene they showed Lovell's family, clearly to sell yet another late 60s/early 70s classic rock movie soundtrack.
- Many movies set in the very early 90's will include Fight The Power by Public Enemy. Do the Right Thing (1989), Buffalo Soldiers, Jarhead and Three Kings all used it.
- Averted in Zodiac, where most of the contemporary music heard is more obscure than the songs usually used in films set in the 1970s. Ironically, one of the cuts David Fincher made to Zodiac before it hit theaters was a blank-screen audio montage that denoted the passage of time between 1973-1977 with a "nothing but hits" soundtrack spanning the era. The Director's Cut restores this, utilizing well-known songs by Roberta Flack, Wild Cherry, Bachman Turner Overdrive and other ubiquitous hits.
- Many biographical musicals use Nothing But Hits to the point of anachronism.
- In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the movie starts with Elvis singing the song "Hound Dog". Welcome to The '50s, folks.
- Nicely parodied in Tropic Thunder. Seriously, do we ever need to hear "For What It's Worth" in a montage about The '60s again?
- Ironically, the scene in question is actually taking place in roughly our own time. The main characters are actors filming a Vietnam War story on location in Southeast Asia, and they're trying to stay in character even after it becomes clear (to us) that the movie's director has been killed and his cast has wandered off the script. Tugg Speedman remains clueless longer than anyone else: even after he's taken prisoner by heroin dealers in the dreaded Golden Triangle, he assumes they're just actors playing Viet Cong.
- Semi-averted in American Graffiti; while there are plenty of familiar hits like "Rock Around the Clock" and "Johnny B. Goode", you also get such relatively (now) obscure rock and R&B singles as the Five Satins' "To the Aisle" and the Heartbeats' "A Thousand Miles Away". (Granted, that film was only a decade removed from the period it depicted...)
- There was an interview with the director of Let the Right One In where he mentioned that he made a conscious effort to avert this trope: although the film is set in the 80s, he didn't want it to be a nostalgic sort of film, so didn't use any period music. Instead, he took the novel approach of hiring a contemporary musician to write a song that sounded like it was from the 80s.
- Watchmen uses some famous period pieces to date its flashbacks; the way the music combines with the visuals ranges from acceptable to horribly Narmy. The use of Ride of the Valkyries, in particular, is cited as an awkward period film reference. On the other hand, the opening credits, a photo-montage of the in-universe history of superheroes, is set to "The Times They Are A-Changin'", and is nothing short of brilliant. As it is, one song, "All Along the Watchtower" (which is used in a scene set in 1985, by the way), certainly belongs in the film as it is the one song in the film that was used for an end of chapter quote in the original limited series.
- However, Ride of the Valkyries is a Romantic work from the nineteenth century. So unless you take the Apocalypse Now connection into account, it's an aversion of the trope.
- Also, the song had a specific significance in the original comic. This significance had absolutely nothing to do with the scene it was used for in the movie. Also, the comic had several Bob Dylan lyrical quotes in it.
- It was also referencing the original version by Bob Dylan (as being in print it was more concerned with the lyrics than music). The film chose to use the more popular cover by Jimi Hendrix.
- However, Ride of the Valkyries is a Romantic work from the nineteenth century. So unless you take the Apocalypse Now connection into account, it's an aversion of the trope.
- John Waters averts the trope in the soundtracks to his historical epics Hairspray and Cry-Baby. John Waters' passion is trolling record stores, collecting obscure regional hits from that time period. Those were from the days when a start-up band could drop a recording to the local radio deejay and make it big. Waters actually released a multi-disc CD collection of some of his favorites he found on his record store journeys. He even mentions in interviews most of his 50s-60s era movies were a love letter to that period in the music industry's history.
- Played straight several times in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, namely the sequences set in the 1960s and '70s...as noted at the link, they are anachronisms in relation to the events depicted. One not mentioned anymore at IMDb is the use of The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go", from 1982, in a scene that cannot be set any later than early Janurary 1979 because Peter is preparing to film Being There. (Not to mention Peter died in 1980.)
- Dazed and Confused both plays it straight and averts it. Most of the tracks featured in the music-heavy film are fairly iconic of 70s rock and well-known today, but several were fairly obscure genre or regional (Southern American) hits.
- Averted in The Blob (1958) where the movie marquee shows them playing Daughter of Horror, a movie most people have never even heard of.
- Back to the Future
- A non-musical one: in the first film, Marty spends his first night in 1955 with his mother's family, watching an episode of The Honeymooners. Of course, one reason why The Honeymooners only lasted 39 episodes as a standalone sitcom is that in the fall and winter of 1955-56 it regularly got trounced in the ratings by The Perry Como Show in the same Saturday night time slot.
- An inversion occurs in one of the opening scenes of Back to the Future Part III, Marty comes out of the restroom at a drive-in theater dressed like a cheesy 1950s cowboy. He comments that he doesn't think Clint Eastwood would ever wear such a thing, and Clint Eastwood is the name he chooses to go by for the rest of the movie. When he says this, he gestures to the movie posters showcasing what movies are currently showing at the drive-in. The two movies are Revenge of the Creature and Tarantula, two 50s monster flicks, but also the first two movies Eastwood ever appeared in.
- Played straight in an ironic sort of way in Pleasantville, where we hear Buddy' Holly's "Rave On" on a jukebox at exactly the time (April 1958) and place (a teen hang-out) that song would have been heard in real life - but probably NOT in Pleasantville, where anything the least bit unorthodox or controversial (which rock and roll certainly was back then) literally didn't exist.
- Averted in When Harry Met Sally..., which is set between 1977 and 1989. Instead of contemporary music, the movie uses much older classics by the likes of Sinatra and Bing Crosby along with Great American Songbook tunes sung by Harry Connick Jr.
- Subverted in Donnie Darko. It does use some 80s nostalgia tracks like "Head Over Heels" by Tears For Fears but also some more obscurish songs like "The Killing Moon" from Echo & The Bunnymen. Most of what's shown on TV is coverage of the 1988 election and the film shown in the theater is a double bill of The Evil Dead and The Last Temptation of Christ rather than some current film.
- Mostly averted in Adventureland, where the soundtrack is more obscurish songs and music from the underground of the era, rather than a standard "Greatest Hits of the 80s" type deal, though there are a few big hits like Judas Priest's "Breaking The Law" and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again".
- Unless you lived in Australia, where several of those songs were massive hits.
- The Wackness, set in 1994, largely averts this with a soundtrack of mostly obscure hip-hop songs, rather than a pure grunge soundtrack one would associate with the era. However, it is somewhat anachronistic, as some of the tracks were not released until after the time period the film is set in.
- A somewhat odd example happens in The Wackness and Hardball (that Keanu Reeves baseball flick) Where The Notorious B.I.G. is constantly played. Averted in both as the main character in The Wackness constantly carries a walkman with him. And in Reeves in Hardball requests it at a bar.
- Semi-averted in The House of the Devil, which isn't set in the early 80's so much as it is specifically designed to look and feel like it was originally filmed during that period. Three 80's singles are listened to by characters. "One Thing Leads To Another" by The Fixx is well-remembered enough to show up on many 80's hits compilations. On the other hand, "One Of Our Submarines" by Thomas Dolby and "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)" by The Greg Kihn Band are a bit more obscure. All three of these songs were released within a few years of each other and would place the film around 1983 or so. And then the soundtrack also uses much more recent music by Gods Of Fire, which is just influenced by 80's metal enough to not stick out too much.
- The Wood has 80's rap and R&B hits during the flashbacks to 1986.
- Let Me In (the American remake of Let the Right One In), set in 1983, indulges in this with songs by Culture Club, David Bowie and Blue Öyster Cult playing in the background.
- Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July opens in the suburban community of Massapequa, New York, in the year 1956. The characters are attending a Fourth of July parade, and from one of the floats Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around The Clock" can be clearly heard (and there's also a shot of some greaser guys and girls sulking at the edge of the crowd, glaring at everyone). Surprisingly, no one among the families (with many children) lining the street seems to find this at all offensive (which is especially striking because Stone later goes out of his way to show that these working-class suburbanites are extremely socially repressed).
- Take Me Home Tonight runs on this trope as you can guess from the title (it was also titled "Kids In America" at one point).
- Iron Man 3 opens with "Blue (Da Ba Dee)", heralding a flashback to New Year's Eve, 1999.
- X-Men Film Series:
- X-Men: Days of Future Past: All your favorite tunes from the The '70s. The first thing Wolverine hears in 1973 is Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"; Quicksilver listens to Alice Cooper's "Hello Hooray" and Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle"; the disco in Paris is playing Claude Francois's French '70s hit "Stop au nom de l'amour."
- X-Men: Apocalypse: The song selection leaves no doubt that the story is set in The '80s. Metallica's "Four Horsemen" plays when Archangel is "born," and the Eurythmics' most famous song, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," is heard during Quicksilver's rescue of Xavier's students. Both were released in 1983. An Egyptian cover of A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran (So Far Away)," a smash hit in 1982, is blaring from a boombox at the Cairo market. Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance," another classic from that year, accompanies the deleted mall scene.
- The Big Chill and it's use of Motown Records to the point of making oldies cool again.
- Everybody Wants Some!! is meant to be a Spiritual Successor to Dazed And Confused but set in 1980, so fittingly it has a similar mix of iconic late seventies to early eighties hits and less-remembered songs from the era. At one point, the character Willoughby dismisses Van Halen, who were very popular at the time, then puts on "Fearless" by Pink Floyd, a song that was never a single and was released in 1971. This turns out to be foreshadowing: Willoughby later gets kicked out of school because he faked his transcripts and is secretly a decade older than the rest of the main characters; the song was probably new the first time he went to college.
- Guardians of the Galaxy has main character Peter Quill listen to the Awesome Mix Vol. 1, a mixtape of his mother's favorite songs from the 70s. Because it's a greatest hits mixtape, of course, it plays this trope hard, with songs such as "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "I Want You Back", and "Spirit in the Sky". (There are, of course, lesser known songs like "Hooked on a Feeling", "Ooh Child", and "Come and Get Your Love".) The sequel averts this trope a little harder.
Live Action TV
- The NBC miniseries The 60's and it's sequel The 70's are this trope
- Nearly everyone in Life On Mars listens to The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream and Lou Reed. Never Chicory Tip, The Osmonds, Lieutenant Pigeon or Gilbert O'Sullivan. For those who don't understand, the latter bands all had #1 hits in the '70s... but don't get airplay today outside of syndicated reruns of American Top 40.
- Except Gene Hunt, who hates most contemporary pop music, but admits to having easy-listening balladeer Roger Whittaker as a Guilty Pleasure. (Whittaker being the sort of artist who everybody under a certain age probably likes to forget was popular at the time, being somewhat less than "cool".) One of Whittaker's songs is heard closing the episode in question.
- And Gilbert O'Sullivan is actually featured at the end of a 2nd season episode. A very depressed Sam watches him sing "Alone Again (Naturally)" on TV - perhaps because parts of the lyrics foreshadow the end of the show. Seriously, "And climbing to the top, will throw myself off in an effort to make it clear to whoever what it's like when you're shattered" ?
- The U.S. version also used Gilbert O'Sullivan in its first few weeks, but played "Get Down" instead of "Alone Again (Naturally)".
- Another possible example from the same episode, depending on how you feel about the band in question:
Carol Twilling: Does everybody like Santana?Sam: Oh, God. [* everyone stares at him* ] ...God, I love Santana.
- The sequel, Ashes to Ashes has the characters driving the (then) very new- and presumably expensive- Audi Quattro. An icon of 80s nostalgia perhaps, but one suspects they would really have been driving something like a Ford Granada or Cortina, or possibly some 70s-derived model from British Leyland. Of course, it happens in the characters' heads, so if that's how they remember the 70's/80's (as most people do), it's justified.
- Cold Case's flashbacks use only well-remembered hits to help define the feeling of the historical period. With period settings, this can skew toward the anachronistic, since they once used Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls", which Jerry Gray, its composer, did not even write until 1941, in an episode centered around the 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds
- Averted in one episode where plot-related and heard in-universe song was composed specially for show.
- Subverted (like so much else) in Mad Men, which leans towards gooey big band and forgettable novelty songs of the late 50s: the few exceptions tend to be blatantly anachronistic, as with the use of Bob Dylan in the season 1 finale.
- Starting in Season four, the soundtrack becomes way more contemporary but, with a few exceptions, still fairly obscure.
- Doctor Who isn't known for featuring music or TV shows of the day (with a few present-day exceptions), but in the serial "Remembrance of the Daleks" (set at the time that the very first Doctor Who story aired IRL), Ace leaves a room and the camera cuts to the next scene just as the TV announcer is introducing "a brand new science-fiction show called Doctor..." *click*
- The same story (which is set in 1963) has "Do You Want to Know a Secret" and "A Taste of Honey" by The Beatles.
- In "Father's Day", Pete's car radio plays several hits of the late 80s, including "Never Gonna Give You Up".
- Freaks and Geeks did an excellent job at averting this.
- Smallville episode Relic has a series of flashbacks set in the '60s, and at one point the song "Earth Angel" is playing from a car radio... in a scene involving an alien (Jor-El) and his new human girlfriend (Louise).
- American Dreams used this motif while actually playing the songs live as they happened on American Bandstand, with Guest Stars as the singers of the day. (Of course, a few of the songs were never played on Bandstand). The show was notorious for its musical anachronisms. The very first scene in the entire series features Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" playing while the caption reads, "Philadelphia, 1963"...not only three years before the song we're hearing was recorded, but arguably the biggest three-year gap of the rock era in terms of how music changed.
- Call the Midwife averts this. There is a lot of music in the show, but the soundtrack (which has 100 songs!) has fairly obscure 50s hits as well as the standards.
- The repeats of Top of the Pops from The '70s on BBC Four provide an excellent Real Life deconstruction of this trope. The entire show's premise being literally Nothing but Hits - whatever was a hit at the time - but that means everything, including the now-obscure ones and embarrassing novelty records like Disco Duck. Contrast The Old Grey Whistle Test, another contemporary BBC music show which concentrated on more "serious" rock music and the like, which might not have reached the charts but in some cases is regarded as "classic" today.
- My Mad Fat Diary includes quite a few tracks which are not the typical Greatest Hits associated with The '90s, along with occasional tracks from earlier periods depending on the setting.
- The 2002 adaptation of White Teeth uses a number of hit songs contemporary to the setting of each episode (1974 - 1992); mainly non-diagetically for dialogue-free scenes, and in the opening titles and end credits.
- Everybody Hates Chris epitomizes this trope, it takes place in the 80s(1982-1987 to be precise) and almost every single popular 80s song you can think of is heard at some point.
- Averted with the dozens of various artists/greatest hits compilations issued by record labels such as Time Life Music, Rhino Records and so forth. While the iconic hits will certainly be included (aside from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, whose music is so expensive to license), these compilations are more likely to be genuine representations of what were the most popular songs of the era, including the one-hit wonders, novelty songs, country (if said compilation is pop-oriented and the song was also massively popular with pop audiences) and teen pop.
- This is true to a somewhat lesser extent with the country music compilations, although it is possible to get rarities on these various artist albums. It is more likely that consumers will find just the iconic hits of the era rather than also getting songs that, while they may have charted high during their original release, have been relatively forgotten in the years since. Still, country compilations particularly Time-Life's Country USA, Contemporary Country and Classic Country series, both issued in the 1990s tend to be relatively accurate representations of what was the most popular songs on the radio from (depending on the series) the early 1940s through mid 1990s.
- Can be Truth in Television with so called "Top 40" and "All Hits" radio stations which only have the top 10 or so songs in heavy rotation with less popular songs only coming up occasionally.
- Oldies, classic rock and classic hits stations play this straight, playing hit singles from the nostalgic eras they cover. You'll hear the odd album cut on rock-oriented stations.
- BioShock used a lot of famous music that people are likely to recognize as being from the 40's and 50's — the game itself takes place in 1960. A lot of the songs were hits, like Papa Loves Mambo and La Mer, but it's also possible that it's an aversion inasmuch as few people are likely to have heard many (or any) of these songs.
- Of course, Rapture was an underwater city that had existed in secret since the late 1940s. It's justified that there wouldn't be any contemporary music in a city that had lived cut off from the rest of the world for years.
- BioShock Infinite plays with this tropes some more: the game takes place in 1912, but all of Colombia's greatest hits came out after that date in real life, most infamously "Makin' Whoopee" (1928). Early in the game you even hear a vocal group singing "God Only Knows" (1966!).
- Averted with Brütal Legend. While there are quite a few hits of Heavy Metal included on the "Mouth of Metal" radio, there's quite a bit of obscure tracks, including from well-known artists. As an example, Manowar's inclusion is a relatively-obscure track called "The Dawn of Battle," as opposed to their more well-known songs like "The Gods Made Heavy Metal." There's even one track that's nothing but a drum solo.
- The Fallout series is set in an alternate universe post-apocalyptic 1950s with many references to 50s culture, including a collection of period appropriate songs, most prominently featured in Fallout 3 where the player can tune into Three Dog's radio show for some easy listening while wandering the Capital Wasteland.
- Well, it's averted since these most of these songs only appeared in Fallout 3, and they were from the 40's instead of the atomic age proper. Great mood setter though. New Vegas is closer to this trope for actually having period appropriate music, but many of them were novelty songs. Notably averted in-universe here, too: the Kings are based on Elvis (having set up shop in an Elvis Impersonator's School), but no longer have any holotapes of his music because they wore them out, so none appears in game.
- And in Fallout 4, we get a mix of the "greatest hits" method from Fallout 3 and plenty of novelty songs as well (how many people had actually heard of "Uranium Fever" before this game?). It seems that the popular songs survived the apocalypse because of the sheer number of records and holotapes in the world, and anything else that survived was a mishmash of whatever happened to survive.
- Back during the "Introspective Vietnam FPS" craze, many companies invoked this trope. Seeing as how a great deal of developers probably weren't born until the tail end of the war, it should be easy to see why they wouldn't think of adding in stuff that wasn't easily available on a Greatest Hits compilation.
- Used as a plot point in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker; Big Boss obtains a recording of his mentor's voice talking to an Englishwoman he doesn't recognize. The only problem is that in the background of the recording, the Live In Japan of the song "Sing" by The Carpenters is playing, a song that was a hit (in Japan) in 1974, and his mentor died in 1964.
- The soundtracks of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, San Andreas and Vice City Stories are all heavily stacked with hits from The '80s (in the case of the former and the latter) and the early '90s (in the case of San Andreas).
- Averted with several songs, which may sound and feel like the 80's/90's, but are not necessarily widely remembered hits, many being acts that are majorly unknown for people who didn't live in that time period. As well as songs that weren't actually hits outside of the genre charts.
- Subverted with San Andreas, while the game does contain plenty of late 80's and early 90's hip-hop and rock, it also contains representations of genres that were experiencing Popularity Polynomial during the early 90's, such as 70's rock, rare groove and funk.
- Averted with the game version of The Warriors, which in addition to the songs from the movie itself (which are themselves quite obscure to most post-Seventies audiences, with the exception of the cover of "Nowhere to Run") also has catchy - but not well-remembered - disco and pop songs that were only minor hits at the time the narrative is taking place (1978-1979). The list of artists includes Mandrill, Love Deluxe, Vivian Vee, and others whom only diehard fans of Seventies music will ever even have heard of. There's even a slightly anachronistic punk song on the soundtrack that is actually from the early Eighties, but sounds like it could be from the Seventies.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain uses this heavily, being set in 1984 and having radios set around settlements playing mostly hits from the 80's that still haven't aged.
- Part of the point of Todd in the Shadows' "Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of [some bygone year]" lists is to remind viewers that even in years known for excellent music now, what actually made it on the charts may be very different, or at least include a lot of junk that rightfully didn't have staying power.
- One curious aversion exists: in shows and movies set during the 1960s, you are unlikely to hear anything performed by The Beatles on the soundtrack, and if you do hear Beatles songs at any point they're more likely to be covers than the originals. This is partly because the Beatles' music is both costly to get the rights for and for the most part closely guarded as to what projects will be allowed use of their songs. But considering how they were and are pretty much widely considered the iconic band of the 1960s, and how popular and widely played their music was and still is, it can be curious listening to something presenting nothing but the 'hits' of the 1960s with this rather large omission in mind.
- I Am Sam uses nothing but Beatles songs on the soundtrack, but a) It's set in the modern day (the main characters happen to be fans), b) all the songs are covers, and c) many of them are the "deeper" cuts from the group's albums rather than the huge radio hits.
- In fact, it's so rare that when Mad Men used "Tomorrow Never Knows" at the end of an episode, it made the New York Times.
- The Netflix cartoon Beat Bugs also uses Beatles songs, which are woven into the narrative in each episode.
- The same goes for Led Zeppelin and the 1970s, unless your name is Cameron Crowe.
- This BBC article discusses the 'Unswinging Sixties' after Radio 2 played a chart of the best selling music of the decade. Music including Ken Dodd, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frank Ifield, The Seekers, and Rolf Harris.
- Speaking of the BBC, their own Sounds Of The Sixties programme on Saturday mornings averts this trope rather thoroughly; they have an absolutely massive recorded music library, and the show makes a speciality of playing the lesser-known stuff.