Music

Common Songs from Movies, TV Shows and Commercials You Don't Know the Name Of 

Kellen Perry
Updated November 6, 2017 80.3k views 25 items

You know those songs you're familiar with but can't place? The ones you hear everywhere, the ones that feel like they've always existed? The circus song that's played when the clowns come out. The haunted house organ song. That racist "Asian" riff. The one that played on Looney Tunes during all the chase scenes. What are those songs, anyway?

It turns out there are a ton of famous songs you don't know the names of. What they all have in common is an uncanny ability, thanks to pop culture, to evoke bizarrely specific feelings. Because of that, they're all go-to tracks for filmmakers and TV producers (meaning many have since become cliches). Read on to learn what the heck all those songs are even called (and be sure to listen, too: your mind will be blown at least once). 
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Where You've Heard It: Probably right before a rooster crows in many Golden Age cartoons (also The Simpsons)

Background: Written to be incidental music for Henrik Ibsen's 1867 play Peer Gynt by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Often used over the top of a pastoral scene, the piece was actually written to accompany a scene set in the desert.
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Where You've Heard It: This one is everywhere, and has become audio shorthand for "EPIC!" Excalibur, The Doors, Last of the Mohicans, The General's Daughter, Detroit Rock City, and Jackass: The Movie are just a few of the films its in. It was also prominently used in the trailer for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. On TV, Glee, The Simpsons, American Dad!, and How I Met Your Mother used it, among many others.

Background: "O Fortuna" is a 13th-century poem set to music by German composer Carl Orff in 1935 for his cantata Carmina Burana. Film Score Monthly called it "the most overused piece of music in film history."
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Where You've Heard It: Fantasia, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931), Sunset Boulevard, A Canterbury Tale, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, La Dolce Vita (what is with Fellini and this list?), Halloween music compilations, basically any scene that shows a haunted house.

Background: One of the most famous organ compositions ever, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" was first published in 1833 but was likely written in the 1740s (it's complicated). Despite its spooky reputation, the first ever performance in 1840 was actually praised by one critic as evidence of Bach's sense of humor. 
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Where You've Heard It: The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Felix the Cat, various Mickey Mouse and Goofy cartoons. It's also widely used to "set the scene" when cutting to anything evoking deserts, Egypt, Arabia, etc., despite being American. The Four Lads incorporated the tune into their song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," later covered by They Might Be Giants.

Background: The melody was supposedly written in 1893 by Sol Bloom, the entertainment director of the World's Columbian Exposition (and future U.S. Congressman), to accompany an attraction. James Thornton wrote his own take in 1895.