Ten of my favourite English-language songs—not from musicals

Over the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve compiled dozens of song lists, focusing on specific people (actors and actresses, singers, music directors, lyricists), themes, and more. There have been songs from many, many Hindi films, all the way from the 1930s to the first couple of years of the 1970s. One thing there hasn’t been – and quite an omission, too – are songs from Hollywood (or from English language films made outside Hollywood, too). Considering that I watch and review a lot of English language films, including musicals (Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Flower Drum Song and Oliver! among them), I figured it was about time I made a ‘ten favourites’ list of English language songs that I really like.

While–unlike Hindi cinema–Hollywood cannot boast of just about every film it makes being a musical, there has been no dearth of musicals. And that’s where I ran up against an obstacle: where would I stop? There are dozens of songs from films made both in the US and in England which I could listen to (and watch) over and over again. Should I do a theme? Should I choose one actor or actress (Gene Kelly? Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Julie Andrews?)

Too much work, I thought. And too much sifting. So I chose this: songs from films which weren’t musicals. Each of the ten songs in this list is from films which were definitely not musicals. Westerns, war films, drama, comedy: but not the sort of film that had one song after another. In most cases, this particular song was the only song in the film. As always, these are all songs from films I’ve seen, all pre-70s, and in no particular order.

1. When Johnny comes marching home again (Stalag 17, 1953): When Johnny comes marching home again wasn’t composed for Stalag 17–it is a 19th century song that was written (and became popular) during the American Civil War. Its theme, of soldiers returning home from war, made it a very suitable anthem for a film set in a Prison of War camp, as Stalag 17 was. In Stalag 17, When Johnny comes marching home again is sung in a POW sergeants’ barrack at a makeshift party.

Everything about this scene–and this song–is brilliant: there’s the sense of camaraderie, of cheer despite their situation.  There’s the somewhat uncoordinated singing, which makes it more believable, considering these men aren’t supposed to be professional singers. And there’s the suspense in the scene itself. (Note: if you haven’t watched the film yet, and intend to, you should know that this song can be a spoiler, because the scene and some of the dialogues give away an important element of the plot).

2. Que sera sera (The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956): This one was one of the first songs I ever learnt, because my mother used to sing it to me (she always changed the last verse, however, and sang: “Now I have children of my own, they ask their mother, ‘What shall I eat?’”). I liked Que sera sera so much, I wrote down the lyrics, misspelling it as ‘Kay sera sera.’ Even though I discovered Alfred Hitchcock a few years later, the penny didn’t drop until I was in my teens and finally watched The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Here, Doris Day’s character, in Morocco with her husband (James Stewart) sings the song to their son, and further in the film, at a climactic moment, her singing it again forms an important plot point. I don’t recall any other Hitchcock film which included a song, far less a song that was a pivotal part of the plot. Doris Day, it’s said, didn’t care for Que sera sera (which, by the way, was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and won an Oscar for Best Original Song). It, however, became such a signature song for Day that she sang bits of it in other films later in her career too, and it became the theme song for The Doris Day Show on television, 1968-73.

3. The windmills of your mind (The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968): Composed by Michel Legrand, and with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, The windmills of your mind also won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Unlike Que sera sera, this is the rather more common type of song in a film that wasn’t a musical: a credits song. As the credits roll (against a backdrop of striking stills from the film), Noel Harrison’s voice sings the song. I love the music, but what really stands out for me are the lyrics. The word-pictures they conjure up! The door that keeps revolving in a half-forgotten dream; the Earth likened to an apple whirling silently in space… brilliant.

(The 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair had Sting singing his version of The windmills of your mind. I personally prefer Sting’s version to Noel Harrison’s).

4. Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’ (High Noon, 1952): Also known as The Ballad of High Noon, this Oscar-winning song was written by Ned Washington, set to music by Dimitri Tiomkin, and sung by Tex Ritter for this iconic Western about an about-to-retire sheriff who finds he must go up against a band of ruthless outlaws all by himself: the rest of the town has deserted him. His new bride, a Quaker and a staunch pacifist, is clear in her opinion—her husband must not fight. Torn, and eventually deciding to fight even if it’s suicidal, the sheriff walks out into the street at noon, to face the outlaws.

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’ is a credits song, seeming incongruous against a Western setting like this, but it fits right in with the dilemma faced by the characters Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly play in High Noon. He, torn between his duty to the town (which, ironically enough, has turned its back on him) and his nuptial vows. She, torn between the pacifism of her faith, and her nuptial vows.

5. My rifle, my pony and me (Rio Bravo, 1959): High Noon may be now regarded as an iconic Western, but not everybody was pleased with its motif of a sheriff having to go around asking for help, and eventually being helped by his wife. Its writer, Carl Foreman, was forced to leave the US (John Wayne was one of those instrumental in his eviction), and Wayne, along with Howard Hawks, set out to make a film that was a deliberate response to High Noon. Rio Bravo has a similar basic premise: a sheriff (played by John Wayne) has to go up against a bunch of outlaws. He’s not alone, though his assistants are a motley and unprepossessing batch: a drunk, an old man, a boy.

Dean Martin played the alcoholic deputy Dude in Rio Bravo, and where there was Dean, there had to be at least one song. My rifle, my pony and me was the one, a quintessentially Dean Martin song, languorous and smooth and evocative (the music, by the way, is also by Dimitri Tiomkin; lyrics by Don Williams). Ricky Nelson blends in perfectly, too, singing along with Dean. (Incidentally, this role is one of my top two favourite Dean Martin roles—he’s superb as Dude).

6. Moon River (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961): Unlike, say, Julie Andrews or Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn was first and foremost an actress, not a singer (her songs in My Fair Lady too were mostly not sung by her). For Breakfast at Tiffany’s, though, composer Henry Mancini spent a month tinkering around with a tune that she could manage, and ended up with Moon River, written to lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Holly Golightly, the whimsical, somewhat desperate, torn-by-dilemmas heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, sings Moon River in classic Holly style: sitting on a fire escape, strumming a guitar, a woman at ease. Lovely lyrics, and there’s something so wide and free and gentle about the music.

Interestingly enough, while Moon River did go on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song, it almost didn’t get included in the film: the Paramount boss was dead against it, and Audrey Hepburn had to fight very hard to have the song retained.

7. Three coins in the fountain (Three Coins in the Fountain, 1954): ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’ was a term used to label a period during the 1950s and 60s when Rome (and Italy) became a favourite destination for Hollywood film-makers. Sword-and-sandals dramas like Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, and The Fall of the Roman Empire, along with romances and dramas like Roman Holiday and The Agony and the Ecstasy were some of the landmark films of the Hollywood on the Tiber era. Three Coins in the Fountain, about three American women in Rome who find love in the city, wasn’t one of the big hits; but it did feature, as theme song, this romantic number sung by an uncredited Frank Sinatra, to lyrics by Sammy Cahn and with music by Jule Styne. The song was written and composed in an hour’s time, and Sinatra recorded it the next day. The song went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song.   

8. From Russia with love (From Russia With Love, 1963): I had initially titled this post ‘Ten of my favourite Hollywood songs’. Then, I changed that to include English-language songs, not merely songs from Hollywood films—mostly because of this song from British cinema: a theme song from a Bond film. Bond films have never been a huge favourite of mine, and though I’ve watched nearly all of them, they tend to blur into a composite mass of gadgetry, Bond girls, and OTT villains for me. But, the music. From For your eyes only to Skyfall, Bond films have often had really good theme songs (not to mention that classic theme music!).

The theme song of From Russia with love was sung by British singer Matt Monro, to music by Lionel Bart (who would go on to compose the music for Oliver!) Unlike the stylishly hip Bond theme, this song’s a softly romantic number, and Monro’s voice is perfect. My only grouse is that the song is so much in the background: it appears in the last scene as Bond and his Russian girlfriend go down a canal in Venice, talking as the song plays. It continues through the end credits, but I’d have liked it more unadulterated from the beginning.

9. The higher up the berry tree (Many Rivers to Cross, 1955): Like When Johnny comes marching home again, this is another song that wasn’t written specifically for the film in which it appeared. From what I can tell, The higher up the berry tree is a traditional folk song, with obscure roots. Saul Chaplin, who won Oscars for his music in films like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, An American in Paris, and West Side Story, however composed the version that played in Many Rivers to Cross. The song was sung by Sheb Wooley, and appears mostly during the credits, though shortly after the film opens, Robert Taylor, playing the footloose and fancy-free fur trapper Bushrod Gentry, comes tripping along, singing the song too. It’s a delightfully peppy song, and one I fell in love with the first time I watched this film.

10. The longest day (The Longest Day, 1962): I began this list with a song from a World War II film, a song which would be probably familiar to lovers of Hindi cinema (When Johnny comes marching home had its tune adapted to the popular Na bole tum na maine kuchh kaha, from Baaton Baaton Mein). It seems fitting, therefore, to end this list with another song from a WWII film, and a song whose tune was lifted to create a song in Hindi cinema.

The Longest Day, a retelling of D-Day, which launched the Normandy invasion of June 1944, was one of the most ambitious films ever made. It had a huge star cast, including American, British, French and German actors, among them John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Kenneth More, Curd Jurgens, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Ford, Paul Anka, etc. Paul Anka, in fact, wrote the lyrics for the theme song of the film, which was composed by Maurice Jarre. It’s a stirring song, both martial as well as tragic in its prediction that “Many men are here to stay/Many men won’t see the sunset/When it ends the longest day”. The song’s tune ‘inspired’ Zindagi milke bitaayenge, from Satte pe Satta. Anka himself didn’t sing the song, which plays near the end of the credits: it was sung by a chorus.

Which are your favourite songs that fit this theme? Great songs from English-language that aren’t musicals? Please share!


49 thoughts on “Ten of my favourite English-language songs—not from musicals

  1. The problem with adding to a list like this is, all the best ‘uns are already taken. I did think of one you’ve not mentioned. An especial favourite. ‘O’l Turkey Buzzard’ from Mackenna’s Gold (1969):


  2. Incidentally, the first image on the post is clearly from ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head’ from Butch Cassidy, isn’t it? How come it’s not there in your list? I grew up on that song, thought it would be a shoo-in for inclusion in a list such as this. In any case, since you’ve not included it, I guess I can proffer it as a suggestion. So, ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head’ by Engelbert Humperdinck, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):


  3. Dear Madhu,

    I can’t thank you enough for putting out a post with this theme…
    (the pun, wholly unintended!)

    And straight off, wanted to post about two of my all-time favourites,
    keeping in mind, that they were “English-language songs – not from musicals”.
    I hope I am forgiven for giving some relevant info about the songs, though, most certainly, they do not need any approbation.

    The first one is from a film that I vividly remember (and re-visit…) for the times one lived in, and was part of…the eventful ’70s. (that dates me, alright!)

    The theme song from the 1973 film “The Way We Were”
    directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. 

    Song: “The Way We Were”
    Singer: Barbra Streisand
    Composer, Lyricist: Marvin Hamlisch
    Composer, Lyricist: A. Bergman
    Composer, Lyricist: M. Bergman

    Some relevant info on “The Way We Were”.
    from Wiki:
    The film was nominated for several awards and won the Academy Awards for Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Original Song for the theme song “The Way We Were”. 

    In 1998, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and finished at number eight on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Songs list of top tunes in American cinema in 2004. It also was included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    “The Shadow of Your Smile”  from the 1965 film “The Sandpiper”

    Song: “The Shadow Of Your Smile”
    Artist Johnny Mandel
    Music by Johnny Mandel
    Lyrics by Paul Francis Webster

    This brief track by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster was the original version of “The Shadow of Your Smile” also known as the Love Theme from “The Sandpiper” written for the 1965 film “The Sandpiper”. The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1966.
    “The Shadow of Your Smile” is a popular song and reprised by many singers. It won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 2004 the song finished at number 77 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Songs poll of the top tunes in American cinema.
    (Info sourced from Wiki).

    Look forward to discovering more from
    “English-language songs -not from musicals”.
    Thanks again, Madhu, for this great post!

    Praba Mahajan


    • Thank you so much, Praba! I’m so glad you enjoyed this list. And thank you for the songs – it’s been a long time since I heard The way we were. The shadow of your smile was on my shortlist, but I eventually didn’t add it because the version that appears in The Sandpiper, is not the entire song – just a couple of lines; the rest is all music. But such a lovely song.


  4. Hi Madhu,

    What a great theme for a post!

    I did post my comment and also listed two of my all time favourite songs from films (and they def. were “English language songs -not from musicals”.

    I did briefly “see” my comment…and then it suddenly disappeared into the ether…as it were.
    A request: If there is a problem, with say “the length” of the post, and it is being “moderated”….please let me know.

    I would like to send in my reply ( albeit, a shorter one…) – with 2 of my favourite songs that fit these theme.

    Praba Mahajan


    • I think WordPress decided your comment was spam! I think the fact that it had links as well as copy-pasted stuff from Wikipedia (a common marker for spam, apparently) made WordPress’s spam filter push it into moderation, suspecting that it was spam. No matter.


  5. What a lovely post, Madhu! I’ve seen all these films and you brought all these songs back to mind.

    One of my absolute favourites is As time goes by from Casablanca, sung by Dooley Wilson.

    And another is the teasing, flirtatious Baby, it’s cold outside from Neptune’s Daughter.

    And have you heard the funny Dean Martin song That’s amore! from The Caddy?

    Talking about Bond films and music (and I agree with everything you wrote about them), is the Louis Armstrong number We have all the time in the world from One Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

    Of course, an all-time favourite is Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson from The Graduate.


    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this list, Anu! I’ve had it in the pipeline for many years, and decided it was high time I finished it off and published it.

      I love the songs you’ve mentioned – especially That’s Amore. I knew it was from one of Dean Martin’s many films with Jerry Lewis, but hadn’t realized that the film wasn’t a musical; I was somehow under the impression that all of their films were musicals.

      And I didn’t know Baby, it’s cold outside was from a movie! Love that one too. :-) As well as Mrs Robinson… so many good songs there. Thank you!


  6. This theme certainly is different. Nice list of songs. Madhu, I liked reading your childhood memory about “Que Sera Sera” (which I consider to be the greatest classic in your list).

    My mother was a high school teacher in a tough school in the South Bronx, but she also was a big Anglophile. Put those two things together, and that meant that since I was a child (in the late 1960s), my family had to see a certain film a few times (though I don’t recall seeing it in the theater, but certainly when it was broadcast on TV). The film is good and it’s one of the main reasons that everyone knows about Sidney Poitier, but the thing that really stuck with me from that film was the theme song – and the singer. I’ll have to think about this a little, but Lulu may be my favorite singer to appear in any film that wasn’t a musical – at least any before 1970. For this comment, I thought of including the wonderful performance scene, but that doesn’t give you the whole song, and parts of the song were also used in the opening and closing credits. So, I’m including this clip of film highlights that contains the whole song.

    Of course, To Sir With Love wasn’t the only film about a tough school that starred Sidney Poitier. I was also thinking about Blackboard Jungle (made 12 years earlier), in which he played a student. That film included great songs, such as “Rock Around The Clock,” but as far as I can recall, it didn’t contain any songs in full, and the songs were known well beyond their use in the film. So I don’t know if it would count for this list, but the film did make use of some great music.


    • I am so glad you enjoyed this list, Richard, and equally glad you posted To sir, with love! That had been on my shortlist, but I dropped it because the bit at the end (which was all I could find from the film itself) seemed to me much shorter than my memory of the song. I love that song (and can sing most of it – it used to be a huge favourite of mine, even though I never had any such exemplary teachers!). I had heard vaguely of Blackboard Jungle but have never watched it. I want to, now, so thank you for that recommendation too.


      • Has anyone ever had such exemplary teachers? :) It’s hard to imagine. But I think the lyrics can be enjoyed in a more general sense – the sweetness of those lines beginning, “If you wanted the sky,” “If you wanted the moon,” and so on . . .

        I like the song most for the music and for Lulu’s voice. It’s a perfect ’60s pop song. I love other things Lulu did in the mid to late ’60s too – her version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” is fantastic and she did a great rendition of Neil Diamond’s “The Boat That I Row.” To Sir With Love is a nice movie, but I have to admit, I like it more for the big featured song and singer than for anything else. In that way, I guess it’s not very different from at least few Hindi films. :)


        • “Has anyone ever had such exemplary teachers? :)

          LOL! I agree. But come September 5 (which is Teachers’ Day in India) almost all Indians seem to go into ecstasies about what fantastic teachers they had, or have, or whatever. I always end up feeling somewhat cheated – how come I don’t recall any teachers who changed my life in a big way? :-D

          I love Lulu’s voice too, and the songs you mention are great. I especially love Shout. Oh, and I also love The man with the golden gun.


          • Ah, we agree about “Shout”! I admit, I had kind of forgotten that she sang in the credits for “The Man with the Golden Gun.” I don’t think I ever saw that one. I saw the prior Bond film, “Live and Let Die.” (I was never really a big Bond fan, even as a kid. Actually, I think I was curious about “Live and Let Die” mainly because I knew the theme song in that one – and the singer, another British pop star who’d had a few hits in his day.)


            • I must admit it’s the theme songs of the Bond films that appeal to me the most of all the elements in the films. I’ve really liked some of the actors – Connery, Brosnan, Craig – who’ve played Bond, but as actors, not as Bond. I am just not fond of Bond. :-)

              And I completely forgot, one of the popular Lulu songs in our home is this one: I’m a Tiger. I call it the LO’s signature song, because it so completely encapsulates her: I look like a little girl, living in a big man’s world/But you’ll never tame this child/She loves running wild. That’s the LO, through and through.


  7. Oh this is great! Your choices are ace. A hard line to draw though. So many 30s-50s movies have several songs but aren’t really musicals. I don’t know.

    Anyway. I’m through with love, from Some Like It Hot.

    It’s so emotional and full of great musical acting. Since there is a musical adaptation, I’ve decided this isn’t a musical. Time after Time:

    In my opinion, perfect use of a song as emotional denouement. Waterloo, from Muriel’s Wedding.

    One of my secret favourite things is when very commercial pop is given huge emotional weight. I also loved Breakfast on Pluto for that. Female Trouble:

    I was going to post Marlene Dietrich’s song from Morocco, but that’s been copystruck, I guess, as have been almost all of Mae West’s songs. So have Divine instead!


        • @Abhik, one of Marilyn’s songs was there on my shortlist too. The title song of River of No Return. That film had her singing several songs, so I wasn’t sure whether it should be called a non-musical! But here you go:


              • Hi all!

                I know, I know, this post of mine is quite removed from the main theme..
                but hope you’ll forgive me the digression..

                I was quite intrigued by Madhu’s reference to her uncle Vernon here…

                …”my uncle Vernon, who used to be a guitarist in Hindi cinema :)

                That, Madhu, has to be the most understated description ever… of your uncle Vernon’s magical craft!
                I just had to go looking for more info….and found this…
                (posted by you in Sept. 2018)


                I realise that most of you may have read this earlier, but, if like me, arrived late at “Dustedoff”…it is simple fantastic stuff. Do make time to read it….

                (There are a few other links to Vernon Liddle, but do not want to risk this post being held back…Fingers crossed…)

                Praba Mahajan


    • I must admit the only song from these that I have actually seen before is the first one (also the only movie that I’ve seen). I’ve taken the liberty of editing your comment to add the names of songs/films, because Youtube has a bad habit of summarily disabling accounts, in which case the video in question vanishes, leaving future readers clueless about which song you mean. :-)


  8. Some songs that I grew up with:

    Somewhere My Love……. from Dr Zhivago
    Where Di I begin………. from LoveStory
    (Although they appeared as tracks in the first cut of films and lyrics were released later, they have subsequently become synonymous with these movies)

    And some from the heady adolescence and youth :

    Unchained Melody …… from the movie Unchained , but getting a much larger recognition in the 1990s thanks to the movie Ghost.

    Pretty Woman and It Must Have Been Love ….. both in the movie Pretty Woman

    You Take My Breath Away and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ….. from Top Gun

    And then my absolute favourite … Leonard Cohen’s Dance me to the End of Love …. used in the movie Scent of a Woman. Love both the song and the movie !! (posting only this video here)


    • Yes! Those were the songs that were hugely popular in my early years too. I very much wanted to put Somewhere my love on the list, but as you rightly point out, the vocals version wasn’t actually part of the movie, which was why I had to (regretfully) leave it out. I love that song, in particular. Oh, and It must have been love. Beautiful.


  9. Very interesting post and comments, has given me a lot of songs to “look up”, as to my surprise I am not familiar with a lot of them. I have a question.. while I still listen to a lot of Indian film songs (1930’s to the very early 2000s) I have not watched any films for quite a while.. Do the more recent films contain as many song numbers as they used to, and has the staging and presentation of them changed.?


    • I have to admit I watch very few new films – and those mostly ones which people I trust have recommended. Which means generally films which are somewhat offbeat, not necessarily the regular commercial films. But from what I can tell, while the number of songs are probably the same as earlier, more songs these days tend to be background songs, rather than songs that characters lip-sync to. I might be mistaken, of course, given that I watch so little new cinema.


      • Thank you for the reply. I kind of stopped ‘following’ the music around 2007 because it seemed so many of the songs were the “techno-club dance-remix” type, and while I don’t dislike them entirely, it was too repetitious…I like the more melodic “dancing in a garden” type. I know there are still romantic songs done but I did not become familiar with the newer singers..


        • “I did not become familiar with the newer singers.

          Same here! The techno-club-dance-remix type of music I find very repetitive too, but another type which I enjoy is the somewhat philosophical style, which I find typified by songs like Roobaroo or Maula mere le le meri jaan.

          One recent song I liked a lot was this part-philosophical, part-fun song from Axone, Dance it out:


  10. A lovey post…. Que Sera Sera and Moonriver are my all time favourites.

    Here are other favourites of mine…

    “A Time for us” from ‘Romeo and Juliet”. I have not seen the movie so not sure if it is musical or not.

    “Dark Waltz” from ‘The phantom of opera’

    OST of ‘4 weddings and a funeral’

    It might be just a stanza but A. R. Rehman shines in Lagaan

    “I might be sentimental” from ‘Tanu Weds Manu 2’. A silly song with all it’s indian accent yet I find it lovey.

    And like you said ‘Somwhere my love’ & ‘Where do I begin’ which cannot be added to list as originally those were just soundtracks. Similarly “La Vida Es Bella” from ‘Life is Beautiful’


    • Thanks for these. However, neither the song from Tanu Weds Manu nor the one from Lagaan actually fits, because both films are resoundingly musicals – they have lots of songs! Just because one song happens to be partly in English doesn’t qualify the song for this list, because this list is for English language songs from films that weren’t musicals.


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