Many movies rely on songs to set the mood, and there are some that are relied upon a lot – what we like to call ‘Soundtrack Staples’. This time around it’s Massive Attack’s seductively sinister Angel.
With incredible tracks such as Unfinished Sympathy, Safe from Harm, Protection and Karmacoma, Bristol’s Massive Attack’s first two albums certainly weren’t without soundtrack appeal. But it was their third long-player, Mezzanine, that really took them stratospheric on the charts – including number one in the UK, Australia and New Zealand – and spawned their most called upon soundtrack song.
While Teardop, which just scraped the top 30 singles chart in Australia, might be the one that you’d think would be the most soundtrack-friendly, with its stunning heartbeat-driven backing under an even more stunning Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) vocal, it was Mezzanine‘s third single, Angel, that pricked up the ears of those who put songs to movie scenes for a living. It wasn’t a massive hit as a single – reaching 30 in the UK and just 129 in Australia – but it has since become one of the band’s most recognised songs.
With vocals by Horace Andy, and based on his song You Are My Angel, the track started life very differently. The intention was for it to be a cover of The Clash’s mighty Straight from Hell, however Andy, being devoutly religious, baulked at singing a song with the word ‘hell’ in it. This bomb dropped when they were all in the studio ready to record, so a plan B was quickly actioned. In a reported four hours, the band stripped out much of the track and rebuilt it with a new melody and additional bits and pieces, at half the speed. It’s a perfect example of triumph through adversity.
Angel rapidly became a soundtrack favourite, appearing in four movies within a year of release, before Guy Ritchie’s people came a-knockin’ and provided arguably its most memorable onscreen home.
Here’s the video, which only surfaced a few years after the single’s release, as the band didn’t feel that it captured the vibe of Angel well enough. Regardless, it’s had some 42 million-plus hits on YouTube since. It’s also an edited version of the song, which didn’t appear anywhere else – even the “radio edit” was over five minutes in duration:
Here we go with film appearances of Angel…
Darren Aronofsky’s maths-centric debut feature saw Massive Attack joining the likes of Orbital, Autechre and Aphex Twin on a soundtrack that also featured the score debut of Pop Will Eat Itself’s Clint Mansell.
The perfect soundtrack when asking for a favour…
Angel found a home in this London-set Michael Winterbottom drama, starring Moaning Myrtle herself, Shirley Henderson.
Best Laid Plans (1999)
Angel seemingly just leant itself to 1999 trailers, like this Reese Witherspoon and Josh Brolin crime thriller. It also appeared a few times in the actual movie.
A brilliant bit of Turkish action – uh, that’s Jason Statham’s character’s name – in Guy Ritchie’s second big film works magnificently with a bit of Angel… LANGUAGE WARNING!
Ryan Philippe, Rachael Leigh Cook and Tim Robbins all starred in this crime drama about the dodgy dealings of a tech billionaire bloke who isn’t Bill Gates.
Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
A change of pace, with an action adventure starring Dennis Quaid, Miranda Otto, Tyrese Gibson and Giovanni Ribisi where a bunch of air crash survivors set about building a new plane in the middle of the Mongolian desert.
The Quiet (2005)
More trailer action, this time for – yep, you probably guessed it – another crime thriller.
An apparent underated gem, this Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) thriller stars Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and a suicidal Ryan Gosling. Well, his character is suicidal.
Sans vocals, for the perfect opening to this Harrison Ford action thriller.
Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood (2012)
At the time of writing, this was the last movie appearance of Angel, so it’s long overdue for a renaissance. This Italian production was a re-enactment of the final days of the 2001 G8 Summit, and the accompanying anti-globalisation protest that degenerated into a massive riot.