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Updated by DJ Rob on Mar 18, 2019
Headline for Spike Lee’s 20 Best Musical Joints!
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Spike Lee’s 20 Best Musical Joints!

This is a list of the 20 best jams created for or included in Spike Lee movies. The renowned and now Oscar-winning filmmaker has created at least two dozen feature films, beginning with “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1986 and continuing most recently with the Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman” from 2018.

All of his movies have featured stellar soundtracks, with songs as important to the films as the stories and characters themselves. This countdown commemorates his most recent achievement in film with a look back at the 20 Best Songs from Spike Lee Joints!

Please scroll through and enjoy!

20. Gold Digger - Kanye West (Inside Man; 2006)

“Anyone else here smarter than me?” That was the line from a bank-robber that followed his beat-down of a bank employee who thought he could out-smart the bad guy in “Inside Man.” When asked by the robber to produce his cell phone, the employee responded he left it at home. Minutes later, the robber checked one-by-one the phones he’d collected from other employees until he found one with the errant employee’s number stored inside. Upon dialing it, the giveaway ring-tone was Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” a No. 1 smash from a couple years earlier.

Gave new meaning to keeping one’s phone in silent mode.

19. Pray For My City - Nick Cannon (Chi-raq; 2015)

Spike’s 2015 movie about warring gangs in Chi-town received criticism for its depiction of a city that doesn’t need any more negative PR. This song from it is one of the film’s more critically acclaimed moments, from the unlikeliest of characters, Nick Cannon, who is known more these days as Mariah Carey’s ex and the current host of the very popular new reality TV competition show, “The Masked Singer.”

18. My Fantasy - Teddy Riley featuring Guy (Do The Right Thing; 1989)

Spike Lee’s best movie Do The Right Thing produced multiple No. 1 hits. This one by the red-hot trio of Guy (featuring producer Teddy Riley) topped the R&B chart in late 1989. Try not to laugh if you watch the video of Riley dancing around in speedos while the Hall brothers back him in pleated baggies. Straight outta 1989!

17. Love Me Still - Chaka Khan (Clockers)

Most people have never seen Clockers, the Spike Lee crime drama starring Mekhi Phifer, and including this beautiful ballad by Chaka Khan (and Bruce Hornsby on piano). It’s a song that many people have never heard, but it is a true beauty that evokes emotions as well as many other songs in the legendary singer’s repertoire. Check out the two legends in the linked video.

16. He Got Game - Public Enemy (He Got Game; 1998)

“He Got Game” is a case of Spike Lee reconnecting with his favorite go-to guys for both acting and movie soundtracks. In this example, it was actor Denzel Washington (in his third of four Spike Lee films) and the rap group Public Enemy (who contributed to “Do The Right Thing” and others).

It worked on all fronts as “He Got Game” was one of Spike’s higher grossing films, as well as being critically acclaimed.

15. Burned Hollywood Burned - Chuck D, the Roots, Zach de la Rocha (Bamboozled; 2000)

With all the attention that “blackface” has received recently, how ironic is it that Spike Lee once made a film that satires it from the standpoint of black people wearing “blackface” makeup? That’s what 2000’s “Bamboozled” was all about.

Critics panned the film then, saying that it was so over the top in its satire that moviegoers would leave the theatre feeling bamboozled. The movie bombed at the box office, earning only $2.5 million total.

This Chuck D. collaboration with the Roots and Zach de la Rocha was pretty decent though.

14. Jungle Fever- Stevie Wonder (1991)

Have you ever thought about how animalistic terms are used to depict relationships that society deems taboo? For example, an older woman is a “cougar” if she likes younger men, or a person is thought to have “Jungle Fever” if he or she is into people of the opposite race (usually reserved for white/black relationships).

Stevie Wonder and Spike Lee captures the absurdity of the latter example in the film and song of the same name in 1991.

Great soundtrack...give it a listen if you haven’t in a while. Meanwhile, check out Stevie’s video (filled with movie-related clips) above.

13. Be Alone Tonight - The Rays (School Daze; 1988)

The Gamma Rays were the auxiliary girl group to the fictional black fraternity Gamma Phi Gamma in “School Daze.” Featuring TV sitcom favorites Tisha Campbell-Martin and Jazmine Guy, the quartet recorded this gem - and the accompanying performance in the movie - with all the class and sass of the group En Vogue, before En Vogue even existed!

The song wasn’t a hit like “Da Butt,” but it’s an underrated tune worthy of inclusion among Spike’s best. Check out The Rays’ performance in the video above.

12. Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers (Clockers; 1995)

There were multiple versions of the hip-hop group Crooklyn Dodgers, and two of them recorded music for Spike Lee’s consecutively released mid-‘90s films “Crooklyn” and “Clockers.” The song they recorded for “Clockers” consisted of Chubb Rock, Jeru the Damaja and O.C.

“Clockers,” a crime drama set in New York, may have failed at the box office, but its soundtrack wasn’t half bad.

11. Mary Don’t You Weep - Prince (BlacKkKlansman: 2018)

Spike Lee’s most Oscar-nominated film includes this unearthed Prince cover of the spiritual that his estate released on his “Piano & A Microphone” album in September 2018. Spike Lee has said that it was pre-ordained that the song be included in “BlacKkKlansman.” Although the film was set in the early 1970s, he used it during a scene capturing images from the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, just before the ending credits rolled.

Of course, we all got the message: same issues...different millennium.

10. These Three Words - Stevie Wonder (Jungle Fever; 1991)

Stevie Wonder had written songs for movies before. He’d even written and recorded whole soundtracks (“The Woman In Red.” “Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants”). But the movie most will associate the legend with is “Jungle Fever,” the soundtrack for which contained some of Stevie’s best post-‘80s work.

Songs like the title track (seen earlier in this countdown), “Fun Day,” “Gotta Have You” and “Chemical Love” resonated well, but it was the ballad “These Three Words” - Stevie’s best ballad of the past 30 years - that took the soundtrack over the top. See the video above for evidence.

9. Too Late To Take Back Now - Cornelius Bros & Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman; 2018)

In the 2018 film “BlacKkKlansman,” set in the early 1970s (clearly Spike’s favorite decade), the song “Too Late To Turn Back Now” by Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose is played at a nightclub while lead character Ron Stallworth dances with his potential love interest Patrice, one of the leaders of the student movement against social injustices towards blacks.

The song’s titular line could have been symbolic of both Ron’s budding interest in Patrice as well as his chosen career as a cop, where he would both try to sabotage a pro-Black rally and infiltrate the KKK.

8. Pusherman - Curtis Mayfield (Crooklyn; 1994)

The soundtrack to the film “Crooklyn” was chock-full of huge hits from the first half of the 1970s, including hits by the Persuaders, the Jackson 5, the Staple Singers and others, and any one of them could have been legitimately chosen for this list.

I chose two: this one and the one at No. 6.

For this one, Spike gets points for having the chutzpah to pick a song written specifically for another film, 1973’s “Superfly,” while the song itself (and Curtis Mayfield) get points for just being badass.

7. Mighty Love - Spinners (Crooklyn; 1994)

“Crooklyn” was a 1994 family film set in Brooklyn in the summer of 1973. One of the best songs used in it happened to come out in 1974. But Spike must have known that few songs captured the essence of family and love better than the Spinners’ No. 1 soul chart hit, “Mighty Love,” even if it didn’t exist until a year after the movie purportedly took place.

6. La Vie En Rose - Grace Jones (Summer of Sam; 1999)

The French phrase “La Vie En Rose” literally translates to Life in Pink, but its loose interpretation is meant to conjure the phrase “life as seen through rose-colored glasses.”

Yet, given the song’s ominous musical setting, as well as the Spike Lee film in which it was used - about the impact of the Son of Sam (David Berkowitz) serial murders on a fictional group of Bronx, NY residents, I’d say life didn’t appear to be that rosy at all.

The legendary Grace Jones killed it though, as you can see in the above rare video.

5. New World Order - Curtis Mayfield (Get On The Bus; 1996)

I’m glad I got to attend the Million Man March in October 1995. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, unifying experience that may never be replicated. Spike Lee captured the essence of it all a year later in the film “Get On The Bus,” and who better to provide a song for it than legendary singer, composer and activist Curtis Mayfield, whose music always delivered messages of hope, dignity, unity and love.

4. Mo’ Better Blues - Branford Marsalis Quartet, Terence Blanchard (Mo’ Better Blues; 1990)

Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard has scored dozens of films, including many for Spike Lee as his go-to guy. But he didn’t receive his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Score until this year for “BlacKkKlansman,” which he lost to “Black Panther.” However, his most memorable soundtrack contribution may be the work he did for “Mo’ Better Blues” and Denzel Washington’s lead trumpet-playing character, Bleek Gilliam.

This stellar title track was written by Spike’s father Bill Lee. Check it out above - and reminisce.

3. Da Butt - E.U. (School Daze; 1988)

If you weren’t already there, didn’t “School Daze” just make you wanna go to college, specifically an HBCU? Contributing to the euphoria of it all was this No. 1 soul chart smash from Experience Unlimited, a go-go-style smash that also reached the pop top 40 in 1989. Black sororities and fraternities didn’t like the so-called exposé Spike was laying down in some of the movie’s scenes, but jams like this one made it irresistible to watch...and wiggle that butt in the process!

2. A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke (Malcolm X; 1992)

Speaking of Oscar snubs, some would argue that “Malcolm X” was Spike Lee’s best film, and that it should have been nominated for more than just Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume design (what!?!). Nonetheless, nothing was more captivating than the scene in which this Sam Cooke classic played, while the Civil Rights leader traveled to where it all would end. Although we knew what was coming, it still evoked tears - both then and now.

1. Fight The Power - Public Enemy (Do The Right Thing; 1989)

From Spike Lee’s best movie comes his best movie song, Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power.” Few movie themes set the tone as well as this opening credit backdrop, full of angst and anger and Chuck D.’s powerful cadence that no one else before or since could have delivered as effectively. If you weren’t already angry as hell by the time the credits finished rolling, you weren’t gonna be. Of course, that’s a lie, because the movie packed enough emotion throughout to justify its theme, and Spike has yet to match this film’s excellence, though he’s come close a few times.

Best line: “Elvis...was a hero to most, but...,” well, you know the rest. Check out the video above.

  • DJ Rob


    Hi, I'm DJ Rob, owner and author of the music blogsite I live in Chicago, IL and have been doing the blogsite since January 2015. It features articles about music news, history and trivia - both old and new. The features I enjoy doing the most are my djroblists. I've done dozens of lists ranking everything from blue-eyed soul singers to Prince's greatest songs. I only recently started converting them to listly to increase interaction with my readers. Take some time to enjoy them and let me know what you think! And check out when you can!

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