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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Soundtrack Songs

Picks include ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ ‘Lose Yourself’ and ‘Streets of Philadelphia’

8 Mile, Eminem, Isaac Hayes, Shaft, Prince, Purple Rain

Universal/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

This year's Academy Awards ceremony was ostensibly a celebration of music in film, but that seemed to amount to little beyond bringing in Shirley Bassey to sing "Goldfinger" and reuniting the casts of recent big-screen musicals. (The press also teased us for weeks about a James Bond reunion that never happened.) Disappointment aside, we figured this was a good time to poll our readers about their favorite songs from motion pictures. We used the Academy Award rules here and took out any songs that didn't first appear in a film. Click through to see the results. 

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6. Simon and Garfunkel – ‘Mrs. Robinson’

Film director Mike Nichols became obsessed with Simon and Garfunkel's music while filming The Graduate in 1967. He begged Paul Simon to contribute a new song for the soundtrack, but the group was touring and Simon said he was too busy. He did have one new song, however, called "Mrs. Roosevelt." It was a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt and days gone by, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the movie.

Mike Nichols didn't care one bit. He convinced them to change the title to "Mrs. Robinson," and he used it prominently in the movie. The film was a box office smash, and it helped Simon and Garfunkel reach new heights of success. Strangely enough, it also led to their dissolution. Nichols became close friends with the duo and he cast them both in his 1970 movie Catch-22, though he cut Paul's part shortly before filming. Art remained in the picture, refusing to drop out just because Paul lost the job. This didn't sit well with Simon, and both parties now claim the ensuing fight was a key factor in their split. 

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5. Isaac Hayes – ‘Theme From Shaft’

Isaac Hayes was one of the key creative forces behind Stax Records in the mid-Sixties, co-writing "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and many more. By the early Seventies, he was hoping to transition into acting work, and when the 1971 blaxploitation film Shaft began casting, he begged for a chance to audition. Producer Joel Freeman told him he could try out if he agreed to write the movie's theme.

The audition never came, but Hayes still wrote the song. Beyond being one of the funkiest songs in history, it has one of the greatest opening lines ever: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" It scored Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

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4. Simple Minds – ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’

Scottish New Wave band Simple Bands weren't the first act approached to record "Don't You Forget About Me" for the soundtrack to the 1985 John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. The Fixx, Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol all declined the track, leaving it to Simple Minds, who were largely unknown in America. The movie was a huge hit with teenagers all over the country, and with a lot of help from MTV the song hit the top spot on the Hot 100. Billy Idol lived to regret the decision, and in 2001 he cut his own version of the song. Simple Minds, meanwhile, have an uneasy relationship with the song since they didn't write it, and it's overshadowed so much of their other work. It's still a regular part of their set list, though. 

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3. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Streets of Philadelphia’

Bruce Springsteen was dangerously close to seeming like an Eighties has-been in 1994. Born in the USA was now a decade in the past, and his record sales had slipped exponentially since then. Few fans were happy with his dual 1992 albums Human Touch and Lucky Town, and the supporting tour received a very mixed reaction. After taking some time off to lick his wounds, he went into the studio with members of his touring band and a drum machine to cut a song for Jonathan Demme's movie Philadelphia. It was Hollywood's first movie about the AIDS crisis, and it was a huge critical and commercial hit. The song also became an unlikely radio smash, earning Springsteen a much-needed hit and an Academy Award. It was the first step of his slow comeback, though it would take another eight years for him to record a big commercial album. 

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2. Paul McCartney & Wings – ‘Live and Let Die’

Every James Bond movie has a title song, but few have entered the public consciousness quite like "Live and Let Die." Hard as it is to believe, the film's producer originally didn't want Macca to record the explosive song, feeling that Shirley Bassey should be given the track. Wiser heads prevailed, and the song was used during the opening credits. It shot to number two on the Hot 100 and was impossible to escape in the summer of 1973. The song also marked Paul McCartney's first time working with George Martin since the Abbey Road sessions four years earlier. "Live and Let Die" has been a central part of McCartney's live set for the past 40 years, and is usually accompanied by massive fireballs. Guns N' Roses brought the song back to the charts in 1991.

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1. Prince – ‘Purple Rain’

Opinions vary wildly about the quality of Prince's 1984 movie Purple Rain, but hardly anyone on earth has a negative thing to say about the soundtrack. It's a masterpiece, and many argue it's the high-water mark of Prince's incredible career. Nearly every song is a classic (and a hit), but the nearly nine-minute title track stands a bit above the best. It's the "Stairway to Heaven" of the Eighties, and the shortened radio version just doesn't do it justice. It's also an incredible showcase for Prince's guitar work and his mind-blowing vocal range. Basically, everything brilliant about Prince is showcased in this one song. It's been featured at most of his concerts during the last 30 years, and he closed out his stellar Super Bowl halftime show with the track. 

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