Movies

32 Great Songs Featured In Almost Famous

If you were to pick the greatest music movies of all-time, I can’t imagine you’d get to many before Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe’s coming of age exploration of Rock ‘n Roll’s past is jam-packed with a non-stop cacophony of classic tracks, all placed with care to match the emotional impact the exceptional cast is delivering in each scene. 

Altogether, Almost Famous features more than fifty songs from a wide variety of genres and its entire runtime is an auditory treat for viewers. From Elton John to The Beach Boys to Alvin And The Chipmunks, there’s something for everyone. So, let’s talk about some of the best and most prominent choices. Here’s a rundown of some of the greatest songs in Almost Famous, as well as some notes on how they’re used and what strikes me most.  

Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson on the bus in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Tiny Dancer By Elton John

There’s almost certainly no more famous music scene in Almost Famous than the group singalong of “Tiny Dancer.” It perfectly illustrates how music can bring people together, even during hard times, and the scene works so well and touched so many people that Elton John once admitted it single-handedly “resurrected” the song and turned it into one of his most requested hits.

Zooey Deschanel leaving home in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

America By Simon And Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” is used in the scene where William’s sister Anita leaves. She says it explains why she’s leaving home to become a stewardess, and while there’s something about her journey that feels a little naive, there’s also so much hope and beauty. Much of Almost Famous feels like the early 1970s, but that beautiful moment feels like the late ‘60s in the best ways.

Christmas Don't Be Late opening credits in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) By Alvin And The Chipmunks

There are a handful of widely used Christmas songs that immediately put the viewer into a holiday mindset. Typically, these tracks are paired in movies with cold weather and stereotypical imagery, but Almost Famous uses “The Chipmunk Song” alongside shots of beautiful weather in San Diego to establish a different type of feeling. 

Young William listening to music in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Sparks By The Who

When William’s sister Anita leaves to find herself, she gifts William her records. The movie uses his discovery as a way to quickly progress him from an innocent, intelligent little kid to a teenager with a mind of his own. Cameron Crowe could have used any song to establish this narrative transition, and he chose “Sparks” by The Who. The instrumental from the band’s popular album “Tommy” works perfectly to illustrate that simmering, yet careful rebellion brewing inside him.

Opening Credits, Almost Famous, A Film By Cameron Crowe

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Prefunction By Nancy Wilson

Most of the other songs on this list are quite famous outside the movie. “Prefunction” was written by Heart’s Nancy Wilson for the movie. It plays over the film’s opening sequence and sounds a little like The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Here, it’s paired perfectly with hand-written credits that together, elicit a sense of quirky, off-beat charm and blissful adolescence. 

William in high school, Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

The Oogum Boogum Song By Brenton Wood

“The Oogum Boogum Song” just radiates coolness. It’s got a whole vibe and energy unique to itself, which is why it’s the perfect juxtaposition to poor William as the background of a scene where all of the other high school boys are looking at their sprouting facial hair in the mirror. Conversely, he still looks eleven. It turns out that’s because he actually is eleven and is not yet radiating Oogum Boogum levels of swag.

Frances McDormand in Almost Famous' 'Don't Take Drugs' Scene

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Paranoid By Black Sabbath

Early in Almost Famous, William attends a Black Sabbath concert. Not surprisingly, the movie chooses a Black Sabbath song to play in the background. In this case, it’s “Paranoid,” which in addition to being fantastic, is a perfect counterpoint to his mother screaming “Don’t Take Drugs.” She shouts into a crowd, and you can feel her feeling her son starting to pull away for the first time. 

Patrick Fugit Backstage interviewing the band Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

I’ve Seen All Good People By Yes

Almost Famous is a movie about moments and feelings, and Cameron Crowe uses Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People” the moment Stillwater accepts William and invites him backstage. It’s like a new and exciting world has suddenly opened up to him, and this beautiful song really conveys that feeling that something exciting and new and strange is about to consume his life.

Penny "meets" Russell in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

River By Joni Mitchell

“River” is one of Joni Mitchell’s most beautiful songs, and it’s the perfect backing track for the scene where Russell and Penny Lane “meet”/ are re-introduced. You can feel all the history and emotion in her voice when she’s singing but in an understated and thoughtful way, and that same feeling is evoked by the looks Russell and Penny give each other. They know, and that’s what matters. 

Jason Lee and Stillwater band singing in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Fever Dog By Stillwater

Almost Famous only works if you believe Stillwater could really be a band on the rise, the type of band that could inspire the devotion of groupies and be in consideration for the cover of Rolling Stone. Thankfully, “Fever Dog” sounds like it could have been an early ’70s hit, and it stands up well to much of the classic music elsewhere in the film.

Billy Crudup on the airplane Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Peggy Sue By Buddy Holly

In Con Air, Steve Buscemi makes light of the fact that the convicts are dancing around to Lynyrd Skynyrd on a plane when most of the band’s members died in a plane crash. In Almost Famous, Russell starts singing “Peggy Sue” as the plane experiences incredible turbulence. Buddy Holly tragically died in a plane crash, and the moment is a really dark reference only a certain percentage of viewers will get.

Russell's wife shows up and Penny is told to leave in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters By Elton John

There are few songs in Almost Famous that we get more of than “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.” Elton John’s classic plays as we watch but don’t hear Dick tell Penny Lane she needs to leave the party. She’s absolutely crushed and exits into an uncertain future, alone in New York City. William chases to find her, as the song continues and we feel their collective loneliness. It’s perhaps the movie’s most powerful moment, and it has the perfect song for it.

Penny Lane dancing in an empty venue to "The Wind" Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

The Wind By Cat Stevens

Early in Almost Famous, Russell says he got into music to avoid responsibility, but as Stillwater gets more popular, the business of it all becomes impossible to avoid. So, as Jimmy Fallon makes his speech about abandoning the tour bus and turning to a plane, and the band figures out what it wants to do, we’re given a beautiful scene of Penny Lane dancing by herself in an empty venue to “The Wind” by Cat Stevens. It’s as if she’s the same vibe she’s always been, and suddenly, the band isn’t. 

Penny Lane and William chatting in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Cabin In The River By Nancy Wilson

Everyone talks about how incredible the selection of classic rock songs is in Almost Famous, but so much of the energy and anticipation is built by the work Nancy Wilson did in the songs written for the film. “Cabin By The River” is played when Penny first tells William about her dream to go to Morocco, and creates such an atmosphere of excitement and hope.

Anna Paquin and Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Something In The Air By Thunderclap Newman

We don’t actually hear the Thunderclap Newman version in Almost Famous, but we do hear many members of the ensemble singing it together in a hotel room while partying. They put together a nice little rendition. As they’re singing, however, William and Polexia are watching Russell and Penny, as they covertly exit the group and head to the ice machine room.

Almost Famous Tour 73 Bus

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

One Way Out By The Allman Brothers

“One Way Out” is what’s playing when William gets on the tour bus for the first time and officially joins Stillwater on the road. It’s the soundtrack for the moment he fully jumps into the pool, and it really sets the tone for the chaos in his life that’s ahead. As band members and groupies prank each other and get up to shenanigans, William tries to get his first interview and is rebuffed, foreshadowing his inability in the situation he’s found himself in.

Russell Talking To William's Mother in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Simple Man By Lynyrd Skynyrd

As the band parties by the pool, William and Russell finally start talking, and the lead guitarist spills secrets to the one person he shouldn’t be sharing with. He explains he’s surpassed the other band members but feels like he needs to stay for their sake. In the background, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s beautiful track “Simple Man” plays, and in a strange way, it feels like home and all the love, responsibility and frustration that entails. 

Cover Of The Rolling Stone Sing-A-Long Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

The Cover Of Rolling Stone By Dr. Hook

Probably the most on the nose song choice in the entire movie, the band group singalongs “The Cover Of Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook after Williams breaks the news that they’re getting the honor. It’s a euphoric moment for the band, as it feels like they’re suddenly being legitimized and their dreams are coming true. Unfortunately, as Penny Lane watches in the distance, it’s a moment for her too to realize she’s not as much a part of the band and their success as she thought.

Dick gets into a fight in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

That’s The Way By Led Zeppelin

The Rock ‘n Roll tour life is a repeating sequence of peaks and valleys, periods of chaos and excitement, followed by periods of boredom and inactivity. That juxtaposition is perhaps best illustrated in Almost Famous by the manic frenzy of Russell’s electrocution and the tour bus barreling through the gate, followed by the lethargic following day on the bus, backgrounded by Led Zeppelin’s fantastic “That’s The Way.”

Almost Famous' Infamous "I Am A Golden God" scene.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere By Neil Young

Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” plays as Russell and William go to a local Topeka house party. Its pacing and general message fit perfectly, as Russell struggles to try and find authenticity by connecting with anonymous locals who remind him of his past and life before things in the band got so complicated. 

Russell decides to party in Topeka in the Almost Famous trailer.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Dear Jill By Blodwyn Pig

Blodwyn Pig might not be as famous as many of the other bands on this list, but they had a nice little moment in the late ’60s and featured former members of famous bands like Jethro Tull and The Kinks. Their song “Dear Jill” sounds like waking up sober after a hard night of partying, which is why it fits so perfectly as Russell comes down from his acid trip and rejoins Stillwater and the tour.

Nick Swardson cameo in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

I’m Waiting For The Man By David Bowie

Cameron Crowe chooses David Bowie’s version of “I’m Waiting For The Man” rather than the original by The Velvet Underground, but it works as a perfect way to both set the mood and also bring in a totally separate type of music fan in the form of David Bowie supporters waiting in the lobby. They’re a different breed from the rock fans William has encountered so far in the movie, but they’re an important part of that era. Also, shoutout to a young Nick Swardson who screams “It’s Bowie!”

Stillwater playing onstage.

(Image credit: Dreamworks.)

Love Comes And Goes By Stillwater

Every big rock band needs a deeply emotional and quieter song. “Love Comes And Goes” adds that necessary element to Stillwater’s catalog with its keyboard intro. Beyond that, it also serves as a quieter moment for us to get some looks of reflection from Russell as he comes down from his conversation with William’s mother Elaine and Dick as the stress of trying to be hopeful and up all the time for both the band and the crowd starts to wear him down.

Almost Famous plane scene.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Voodoo Child (Slight Return) By Jimi Hendrix

Few songs go harder than “Voodoo Child,” and Almost Famous uses it for the moment the band abandons its old tour bus and the simpler life and fully jumps into the plane and an uncertain future. No one quite knows what’s ahead, but with Jimi Hendrix on the guitar, that future couldn’t possibly seem wilder and more aggressive. 

Patrick Fugit listening in, Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Misty Mountain Hop By Led Zeppelin

“Misty Mountain Hop” is playing when everyone finds out William lost his virginity earlier in the tour. The smirks on everyone else’s faces are a delight, and that conversation, immediately followed by shots of New York City, paint a picture of a suddenly more mature, more grown-up William. More than ever, he feels apart of the action and closer to being on the same level as everyone else, and Led Zeppelin is a great way to express that hipness. 

Penny Lane getting her stomach pumped in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

My Cherie Amour By Stevie Wonder

One of Almost Famous’ great juxtapositions, William watches Penny Lane get her stomach pumped, as “My Cherie Amour” plays in the background. He doesn’t know if she’s going to live or die, but after chasing after her, kissing her and seeing how vulnerable she is, he suddenly starts seeing both her and himself from a completely different perspective.

Almost Famous Small Time Blues

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Small Time Blues By Pete Droge

We only get like ten seconds of “Small Time Blues” by Pete Droge, but it’s a snippet of a beautiful, more modern song. It also serves as a reference to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, who Crowe met while he was a rock journalists in the early 1970s. It feels very much a part of the era and helps set a rock star vibe that anything can happen and you can meet anyone on the road. 

Ending Credits in Almost Famous

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Feel Flows By The Beach Boys

Almost Famous has fantastic opening and closing credits. The opening, set to a Nancy Wilson original, is backed by a hand writing everyone’s names on paper. The closing, set to “Feel Flows” by The Beach Boys features tons of polaroids of the characters and feels like touching little keepsakes for characters we’ve all fallen in love with. “Feel Flows” accompanies those shots and really helps to make them even more impactful. 

William saying goodbye to Russell in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Tangerine By Led Zeppelin

After Russell makes up with William, we’re given a nice little montage at the end of Almost Famous of everything seemingly getting back to normal. That montage is backed by Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” and fits perfectly. It’s a blend of the harmony we get at the beginning of the movie but a cooler, more worldly version of that harmony. 

Lester Bangs in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Mr. Farmer By The Seeds

Despite calling himself uncool, no one in Almost Famous is cooler than Lester Bangs, at least to a percentage of viewers. He’s a total original with a well-developed and very specific taste in music, which is why it’s fine to see him playing some deeper cuts during the movie, including “Mr. Farmer” by The Seeds, which he turns on while talking to William about writing for Rolling Stone.

Kate Hudson crying near the end of Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Slip Away By Clarence Carter

Clarence Carter might be best known to some audiences for his late ’80s novelty hit “Strokin’”, but his most successful song is probably “Slip Away” which can be heard during the scene where Dick and Russell sell Penny Lane to Humble Pie to make sure she’s off the tour by the time Russell’s girlfriend shows up. 

Dick and Russell partying in Almost Famous

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

Every Picture Tells A Story By Rod Stewart

It’s hard to tell the story of ’70s music without Rod Stewart. His track “Every Picture Tells A Story” is used in the hotel party scene in Los Angeles, and it works well as a backing track for generalized debauchery and good times. 

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