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WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

Typically appearing in works that employ a score with non-original elements, these are brief segments of standard songs—such as old songs that don't involve paying royalties — as themes for various types of scenes or activities. Some of these have become standardized, and in some cases they are the only reason that many people know the songs at all.

Many of these have become verbal shorthand for particular nationalities or ethnicities, and thus may border on stereotypes.

Very common in Golden Age cartoons that employ Mickey Mousing, where they may be used as a Leitmotif. Less so in modern cartoons, unless they have the budget to score episodes individually. If there is danger of having to pay money to use a piece of music, the piece can be imitated in style (The Jimmy Hart Version) or parodied. In Renaissance Age Warner Bros cartoons, this often happened with movie scores. A few other unreasonable substitutes are very recognizable, though.

Many songs owe their entries on the list below to the work of Carl Stalling, the musical director for the vast majority of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons. He had a well-known tendency toward musical quotation and punning; Chuck Jones was known to complain that Stalling would always use certain pieces of music in certain situations and would go out of his way to find preexisting pieces whose titles corresponded to the action he was scoring.[1]

Expect a fair amount of Exactly What It Says on the Tin with classical pieces; the composers typically wrote these pieces for the precise contexts that their titles indicate (likewise with some pop songs). Many of these are Undead Horse Tropes, but may reach a stage where they are only used ironically.

Compare with Stock Footage, Regional Riff, and Public Domain Soundtrack.

Lohengrin and Mendelssohn is a subtrope specifically for weddings, and Standard Pre-Ass-Kicking Snippet is a subtrope for badass scenes.

If you're trying to find the name of a famous tune, "100 Very Well-Known Instrumentals" or "Another 100 Well-Known Instrumentals" may help.

Examples of Standard Snippet include:

This list is by no means complete, but let's give it a shot, eh?

The Classics

Song Theme
1812 Overture (specifically the final part, starting at 15:35) Explosions, bombing runs, cannon fire. (The original symphony called for cannons.) Destroying the oppressive Government. If used, the explosions will almost always go off in time with the music. Also used in TV spots for family movies, often with slapstick and/or Stuff Blowing Up timed to the music.
Adagio for Strings (Samuel Barber) Something really depressing happened. Starting to rival Ludwig Van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata for Tear Jerker status.
Agnus Dei (Samuel Barber) - same tune as Adagio above Old ecclesiastical sites; tombs and sepulchres; meditative sorrow; old battlefields and war graves (often with poppies); peace when the dust has settled; aftermath of tragedy or an apocalypse. And Homeworld here.
Air on a G String (adapted from 2nd movement of Orchestral Suite No. 3 by J.S. Bach) Scenes of peace, relaxation and repose, English countryside in good weather. Cute girls. Destroying Mass-Produced Evangelion Units. It's also inextricably tied to the Hamlet cigar ads. In Italy, it's tied to scientific TV programmes since the 1980s, because it's been used from 1981 to the present as the opening of documentaries presented by Piero Angela.
Alla Turca from Piano Sonata No. 11 (Mozart) Busy, flustered activity, Regency England
Also Sprach Zarathustra, Sunrise (R. Strauss) Moments of something that can only be described as "Über" happening, paralyzing everyone in transcendent awe, often in space. More often that not used in a humorous fashion, or as a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or as Ric Flair's ring entrance tune.
Amazing Grace (John Newton) Funerals. Usually played on bagpipes.
Anitra's Dance from Peer Gynt Suite (Edvard Grieg) Dance displays involving women (usually Eastern); display can involve live footage, statuary, friezes and 2D art in any combination.
Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore (Verdi) Any kind of rhythmic pounding or hammering, as by blacksmiths or construction workers.
The Aquarium from The Carnival of the Animals (Saint-Saëns) Underwater scenes. Pretty common, even in live action. Also commonly used in movie trailers, especially for films concerning magic, wizards, fortune-telling and the like.
The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Handel) Period architecture, estates and larger dwellings; formal or state occasions.
Åse's Death from Peer Gynt Suite (Edvard Grieg) Any slow-moving and/or depressing scene or sequence; shots of fjords in overcast weather.
The Barber of Seville (Rossini): Largo al Factotum Opera singers, barbers
Boléro (Ravel) Seduction
Bugler's Dream (Leo Arnaud)/Olympic Fanfare and Theme (John Williams) The Olympics, athletes, sporting events, especially track and field. Also majestic processionals. The two themes have become near-inseparable since NBC stuck them together for their Olympic coverage.
Canon in D Major (Pachelbel) Weddings and fancy art museums, memories. Inspiring shampoo commercials. And yes, we've all heard the rant and it doesn't count as it is about another trope.
Overture from Carmen (Georges Bizet) Fast-paced, often Slapstick montages of comedy scenes in movie trailers. Weird Al Yankovic flailing around like a constipated chimpanzee.
Carmina Burana (Orff): Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi (O Fortuna) High drama, movie trailers, video game final bosses, demons being summoned, cavalry charges, revealed castles (with lightning)
Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Va Pensiero) from Nabucco (Verdi) Things proceeding in smooth and orderly fashion; engineering or civil engineering being showcased.
Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda (Ponchielli) Mincing ballet dancers. Old-fashioned domestic scenes. Tutu-clad hippos. Or kids writing home from Camp Granada.
Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev) Heavy industry and engineering, industrial revolutions, history of same.
Dance of the Reed Flutes and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky) Ballet, delicacy and daintiness; tiptoeing; mincing and effeminacy; ickle children waking in expensive houses on snowy Christmas mornings.
Dies Irae (13th century) The instrumental equivalent of Ominous Latin Chanting—or, if sung with lyrics, literally Ominous Latin Chanting, especially in association with the Middle Ages.
Dies Irae by Mozart (18th century) or Verdi (19th century) Same lyrics as above, different tunes, and famous pieces in their own respects. Mozart's conveys a sense of terror and sadness, and Verdi's conveys a sense of urgency. Both are dramatic to the utmost. Note that the Dies Irae by Mozart you will hear most of the time is the version of his Requiem as completed by Süssmayr.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart) Any and all fancy parties. Rivaled by Minuet and Spring, below.
Entrance of the Gladiators (Julius Fucík) Clowns, the circus, carnivals
Fingal's Cave (Felix Mendelssohn concert overture "The Hebrides") Any action in a cave, or journeys over turbulent waters. Also perversely utilized by Chuck Jones in his "Inki" cartoons (none of which have anything to do with caves) whenever the mysterious Mynah Bird appears on-screen.
Flight of the Bumblebee (Rimsky-Korsakov) Frantic activity, swarms of insects
Flower Duet from Lakmé (Delibes) Beautiful and/or delicate settings and things.
Funeral March (Chopin) Death, used especially in television portrayals of video games
Funeral March of a Marionette (Gounod) "Good evening." Or a trip to the gallows.
Gallop from The Comedians (Dmitri Kabalevsky) Comically frantic activity, chases, the circus
Gavotte (François-Joseph Gossec) Mincing, prancing movements, such as setting a table just so
Gavotte in Rondeau (J.S. Bach) Something classical and elegant in the background. (It's a three-minute snippet from a much longer work, J. S. Bach's Partita for Violin No. 3.)
La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) (Rossini) (it's an excerpt from the overture, here) Classy, elegant, balletic shenanigans. And sometimes, even straight ballet. Also, those fight scenes in A Clockwork Orange (Warning: ultra violence).
Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Vivaldi) Great ecclesiastical buildings and architecture, also seats of learning and medicine. Can be applied to any work of man on an impressive scale that is photogenic and non-evil.
Gymnopédie No.1 and Gnossienne No.1 (Satie) Stillness, quiet and introspection. Stills and slow montages. The dwelling place and haunts of an artist now deceased.
Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah (George Frideric Handel) Epiphanies; particularly fortuitous events, someone finally getting what they want (often used facetiously). Mind Rape.
Hoedown from Rodeo (Copland) Film trailers for Westerns, especially light-hearted or family-friendly ones. Also, beef, which is what's for dinner.
Hungarian Rhapsody no.2 (Liszt) Mostly here because it is not an example: it was used in famous cartoons, yes, but played directly by the characters. It is used as a snippet in My Fair Lady.
In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt suite (Edvard Grieg) A particularly dramatic or ominous event. Sometimes used for comedic effect in scenes featuring large and needlessly complicated machinery under construction or in operation.
Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity (Gustav Holst) England at its pompous, grandiose best.
Khoschei's Infernal Dance from Firebird Suite (Stravinsky) Daring flight, pursuit, science, art, etc. Challenges made and met.
Libiamo ne' lieti calici (Drinking Song) from La traviata (Verdi) Extravagance, luxury. Sometimes used ironically to criticize decadence.
Light Cavalry overture (Suppé) The Cavalry (when not being Big Damn Heroes)
Lohengrin (Richard Wagner): Prelude to Act III Flight, air power, squadrons of bombers
Lohengrin (Richard Wagner): Treulich geführt ziehet dahin Western wedding ceremonies, especially the entrance of the bride ("Here comes the bride.") One of the quintessential wedding songs; see Lohengrin and Mendelssohn.
Lullaby (Johannes Brahms) Getting sleepy
Mars, Bringer of War (Gustav Holst) Dramatic entrances by the villains; movie trailers
Un bel dì from Madame Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini) Melodramatic scenes and ironic melodrama. Accompanying footage often in soft focus or in black and white. Can also apply to beautiful and/or delicate things if they use just the opening section.
Marche Slave (Tchaikovsky) Slavery, toiling, the construction of Egyptian monuments.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Felix Mendelssohn): Wedding March Wedding outtros; see Lohengrin and Mendelssohn.
Minuet (Luigi Boccherini) When Eine Kleine Nachtmusik just isn't fancy enough (or you need to plan a heist genteelly).
Moonlight Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven) Tear Jerker moments
Morning Mood (from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt suite) Sunrises
Night on Bare/Bald Mountain (Mussorgsky) Winds, storms, perils and devilment abroad, Chernabog, also cassette tape sales.
Nimrod (from Elgar's Enigma Variations) Memorial services, scenes of quiet and dignified grief.
On the Beautiful Blue Danube (Blue Danube Waltz, Johann Strauss II) Rivers, waterfowl, graceful motion (think ice-skating or swans swimming) astronauts in space (especially a space ship docking with a space station, referencing its use in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Occasionally used for humorous or ironic effect.
On the Trail from Grand Canyon Suite (Ferde Grofé) Cowboys loping along on horseback under Western skies.
Orpheus in the Underworld (Orphée aux enfers) (Offenbach): The Can-Can Chorus Girls, especially French ones. Or possibly lemmings.
Over the Waves (Sobre las Olas) (Juventino Rosas) Trapeze and high-wire work in a circus; fairgrounds, merry-go-rounds and any form of travel humorously related to such a situation. (Occasionally used for swimming scenes, since it is officially about water.) Of course, this tune is a common fixture on merry-go-rounds and calliopes in real life.
Piano Sonata No. 16, 1st Movement (Mozart) Cozy, tranquil domestic scenes, especially of a slightly formal and refined type (e.g. tea in Grandmother's parlor)
Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky) Pictures at an exhibition; Japanese television uses the opening; Jerry Lawler's theme music; movement (Promenade) surprisingly often in connection with anything "artistic"
The Hut on Fowl's Legs/Baba Yaga (from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky) Pursuit and peril, evil on the move.
Pie Jesu from Fauré's Requiem Ecclesiastical sites, done low key; tombs and sepulchres; meditative sorrow; old battlefields and war graves (often with poppies); peace when the dust has settled.
Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhäuser (Wagner) - the part starting 2:15 Love and reunion, the cavalry arriving, impressive scenery and holiday destinations. And Bugs Bunny, dressed as Brunhilde, riding in on a white mare. Twice.
Pizzicato from Sylvia (Delibes) Like Gavotte, overly fussy action.
Poet and Peasant Overture (Franz von Suppé) Fistfights on top of moving trains, a holdover from its use with silent films.
Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 (Elgar) Graduations. (Truth in Television: Nowadays American and Canadian students "get" to hear the same four lines repeated ad nauseum during commencements). Also, frequently (although not officially) used as the British national anthem, as Land of Hope and Glory. A fixture at the Last Night of the Proms.
Pomp and Circumstance March No.4 (Elgar) The cream of British society. Opening theme: arrival at, or establishing shot of, exclusive event or venue. 2nd theme: (1:15) Quiet, ancestral dignity.
Prelude from the first of Bach's Six Suites for Cello Refinement, elegance, dinner parties and balls that are so fancy they don't have to show off how fancy they are.
The Prince of Denmark's March (Jeremiah Clarke) Posh, Regal or Noble stuff, rather like Minuet, Rondeau, Spring and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik elsewhere on this list. Commonly, although erroneously, called the Trumpet Voluntary.
Radetzky March (Strauss) Soldiers marching jauntily and ninth-graders killing one another on an island.
Heda! Heda! Hedo! from Das Rheingold (Wagner) Like "Ride of the Valkyries", but lighter and with little promise of peril or asskicking. Impressive and dramatic scenes at or from high elevations.
Entry of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold (Wagner) Real estate, the city, castles
Romeo and Juliet, Love Theme (Tchaikovsky) Romance, Love At First Sight. Meadow Run.
Rondeau from Suite de Symphonies (Jean-Joseph Mouret) The procession of royalty, or the bride and groom. Also well-known as the theme of Masterpiece Theatre.
Russian Dance/Trepak(Tchaikovsky) from The Nutcracker Ballet Played in just about any movie trailer with a Christmas Tropes theme to imply that hilarity will ensue.
Sabre Dance (Khachaturian) Frenetic activity, often with the camera undercranked, such as the Dish Dash.
The Skater's Waltz (Emile Waldteufel) Ice skating. Figure skating. Attempts by cartoon characters to travel or manoeuvre in a low or zero friction situation, usually resulting in misadventure.
Sleeping Beauty Waltz (Tchaikovsky) Ballet. Grand balls. Traditional venues for the aforementioned. Romantic or comedic impromptu waltzes.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Dukas) Sorcery, automatons on the march, processes going out of control, trouble brewing. And a famous cartoon mouse.
Adagio from Spartacus (Khachaturian) Grand (sometimes ironically over the top) romance, great vistas/scenery/cloudscapes (again with grand romance), tall ships under full sail in good weather (thanks to The Onedin Line).
Spring from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi When Minuet is still not fancy enough. Also the StandardSnippet for any news report or item involving English stately homes.
Spring Song (Felix Mendelssohn) Associated with comical balletic movement, feminine delicacy, or prissy mannerisms.
Overture to Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky) The original, Bela Lugosi Dracula, and references to it.
Symphony No. 3 in E flat Major (Beethoven): I. Allegro con brio Expanding vistas. Inspiring montages. Usually coupled with a desire that you buy into something big.
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor (Beethoven): I. Allegro con brio Meeting a dire fate; being confronted or caught by an authority figure; classical musicians in concert
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Beethoven): IV. Allegro assai: Freude, schöner Götterfunken (Ode to Joy) Any character overwhelmed by joy or sudden good fortune (real or imagined). Unless it's anime, in which case things are going to go very badly.
Toccata and Fugue in D minor (attrib. J.S. Bach) Haunted houses, Bela Lugosi impersonators and Captain Nemo. Often played on the Ominous Pipe Organ.
Toccata from Symphony No.5 (Widor) Weddings (especially Royal), grand events, cathedrals, consecrations, high church investitures.
Tritsch Tratsch Polka (from Die Fledermaus, Johann Strauss) Comedic pursuit, good-natured shenanigans. The piece is sometimes performed at concerts with an element of this taking centre stage.
Triumphal March from Aida (Verdi) Victory and triumphalism. Sporting events and displays. Set pieces. Prizegivings. (Mussolini was rather fond of this one.)
Troika from Lieutenant Kijé (Prokofiev) White Christmas, usually with Santa's sleigh (or, rarely, a Russian troika - a three horse sleigh).[2]
Under the Double Eagle/Unter dem Doppeladler by Joseph Franz Wagner Fairgrounds, circuses, parades, calliopes, dancing teeth. Rarely used to represent Austro-Hungary, though.
Feuerzauber/Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre (Wagner) Magical power; controlled descent from a great height
"Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre (Wagner) Nazis (especially Luftwaffe), Invading Poland, World War II, bombs, speed, violence, helicopters (ever since Apocalypse Now), more bombs, wabbit hunting; descending swarms of enraged nerds, rodeo clowns, grannies, or any group generally lacking dignity, in slow motion. So standard that it has its own page.
William Tell Overture: Finale (Rossini) Galloping, the cavalry, The Lone Ranger clones, horse races
William Tell Overture: Ranz de Vaches Morning, waking up, nature, pastoralism, tranquillity.
William Tell Overture: Storm Storms at sea
Zadok the Priest (Coronation Anthem No.1) (Handel) Every British coronation since it was written (and a few elsewhere). World-class football. Buildup to inspiring scenes. Holiday sales with this.

Setting The Setting

See also Regional Riff.
Song Theme
''Ach du Lieber Augustin Germany, Germans (usually overweight and/or bumbling), beer, sausages that end in -wurst. Note that the text says: "Oh my dear Augustin, everything's lost."
Alouette The French, and especially French Canadians--sometimes hummed or sung by characters to show how French they are
America the Beautiful United States patriotism (typically this is played, and not The Star-Spangled Banner, which is reserved for non-background use in ceremonies such as military funerals and baseball); mattress sales
The Asian Riff East Asian characters and stereotypes.
Auprès de ma blonde An alternative to Alouette to demonstrate how Gallic characters or setting are
The Bowery — From 1892's A Trip to Chinatown New York City and its East Side, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as here(dead link) (between 1:50 and 2:00).
Brindisi from La Traviata (Verdi) Italy, Italian cities, food, opera and drink, Italians making merry
Carmen, Entr'acte between acts III & IV, Bizet Toros Y Flamenco
Carmen, Habanera, Bizet, with or without lyrics Sex, a beautiful and sensual woman, love, dancing (with charged subtext similar to a tango), Spain or the Spanish, mystery, intrigue, villainy, the opera, elegance, upperclass pursuits. An aria with a lot to say for itself.
Cielito Lindo or "The song that goes 'Ay yi yi yi'" Mariachi bands and Mexico
La Cucaracha Anything involving Mexico
Le Tic Toc Choc (or a sound-alike) 18th Century western Europe (generally France), usually in an aristocratic setting
Dark Eyes [1] (Ochi Chernye) Russians, Fake Russians, or people who smoke candy and listen to cigarettes.
Dixie's Land Synonymous with the Deep South. (Note, though, that it is not the official anthem of the Confederacy; that was God Save the South.)
La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto (Verdi) Italy (usually larger conurbations with older architecture), Italian opera and food
Drowsy Maggie Anything Irish
The Eyes of Texas Everything Is Big in Texas. (Same tune as I've Been Workin' on the Railroad.)
Fanfare for the Common Man (Copland) North America. Panoramas and grand cityscapes. Stadia and stadium events. The early says of space exploration. Unless it's the rock version by Emerson Lake and Palmer, in which case you're looking at Britain in The Seventies, and probably watching sports.
Overture to La forza del destino / The Force of Destiny (Verdi) - part starting 0:50 Rural France and its inhabitants, usually in good weather. Rural jiggery-pokery. Mostly attributable to its use in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources.
Forty-Second Street New York City, especially in the '30s and '40s
Funiculì, Funiculà Italians and their food
Gaudeamus Igitur (De Brevitate Vitae) Establishing Shot of the old Alma Mater; used as a snippet as far back as Brahms's Academic Festival Overture
God Save the Queen (UK National Anthem) UK Royal Family, particularly the Queen; any scene in London. The USA patriotic song My Country 'Tis Of Thee is set to the same tune.
God Save the Tsar! ("Bozhe, Tsarya khrani!") The Russian Empire; non-Communist Russian military forces. Also used at the aforementioned climax of the 1812 Overture; when the Tsarist anthem was banned in the USSR, its use in the 1812 Overture was replaced with a tune from an opera by Glinka.
Hail to the Chief The Invisible President, The White House
Hava Nagila Jewish culture, particularly festivals and weddings; Roma; the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.
Theme from How the West Was Won The Wild West, adventures/epics (or parodies thereof), Big Damn Heroes moments, and Midwestern State Fair highlights.
I Left My Heart In San Francisco San Francisco, oddly enough
In a Persian Market (Ketèlbey) Arabian lands and surrounding areas. Or, if you're not picky, just about any Old World location that's suitably exotic-looking.
In the Good Old Summertime The Edwardian Era
In the Mood (Glenn Miller) Having fun in The Forties, Swing/Big Band era.
The Irish Washerwoman Anything Irish
Jerusalem (And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time) Unofficial national anthem of England (the other countries in the Union have their own official national anthems, but England doesn't); endorsed by Edward VII.
Kalinka Russia, Russians, cossack dancing, the arcade version of Tetris.
Korobeiniki Russia, Russians, Tetris. (The Tetris Company owns a sound trademark on this for computer games.)
Land Down Under Australia, the Land Down Under.
Das Lied der Deutschen (Deutschlandlied, "Deutschland über alles") Germany, Germans (with dignity), Axis forces (in WWII propaganda cartoons). Note that only the third verse is now sung in Germany- it's their National Anthem
Londonderry Air ("Oh Danny Boy") Associated with mourning and Ireland.
Loch Lomond Scotland; the Highlands
The Maple Leaf Forever Canada. Within Canada, usually used ironically in the same way America the Beautiful is used, at least in English Canada.
Mademoiselle from Armentieres Anything set in World War I, especially dogfights; olde-time airplanes. You may remember the "Inky-Dinky-Parlez-Vous" lyric.
Malaguena or something similarly flamenco-sounding Usually related to things Spanish or Hispanic in general
Theme from The Magnificent Seven Establishing Shot or panorama of The Wild West
La Marseillaise Any scene change or opening on France (this even happens in live action; it's even quoted in the 1812 Overture)
La Mer (Charles Trénet) France, artistic and relaxed, with ample time for long establishing sequences.
The Mexican Hat Dance Anything vaguely celebratory in Mexico
Midnight in Moscow (also known as Moscow Nights) Anything to do with the former Soviet Union, Russia, or the city of Moscow
The Millers' Dance (de Falla) Hispanic scenes and people, usually rural settings or smaller population centres.
Misirlou (fast version) At the original tempo, anything involving Greece or The Middle East; when played by Dick Dale or a sound-alike, surfing, or as an entrance for Badass characters
Moonlight Serenade Wartime romance
National Anthem of the Soviet Union The USSR and Russia (the tune is still used), especially the Reds With Rockets
New World Symphony - Largo, Dvorak (If arranged for brass) Bread, Oop North.
New York, New York (Start Spreading The News) The Big Applesauce's "Official Horrendously Overexposed Hit Show Tune" (as Dave Barry put it). Liza Minelli's signature song. The New York Yankees play it at the end of all of their home games: Frank Sinatra's version if they win, Liza's if they lose.
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Édith Piaf) Paris. Old quarters of French cities. French quarters of old(ish) cities. Bars and clubs in those places.[3]
O Sole Mio Venice, especially a gondola ride - overlooking the fact that the composer, Eduardo di Capua, hailed from Naples ...and that the lyrics are in the Neapolitan dialect! (No wonder its use in the Venice gondola rides has later been banned in the Venice itself.)
Oh Susanna The Deep South. The Wild West. The Gold Rush. The Confederacy.
The Old Folks At Home (Swanee River) The Deep South. Especially around Mississippi River.
Rhapsody in Blue (Gershwin) Establishing Shot of New York City
Rule Britannia Establishing Shot of London- mentioned as such in the DVD Commentary for Austin Powers.
Sakura ("Cherry Blossoms") Japan, especially rural or historic Japan
Scotland the Brave Standard piece used when bagpipes are played, especially when set in Scotland
The Sidewalks of New York New York City, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Was associated with Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith.
Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing) The home front during World War II. In the Mood may be used instead.
The Stars and Stripes Forever (Sousa) Climax to college sports games; "Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends," Popeye kicking Bluto's ass, fireworks, any large amount of continuous pyrotechnic explosions when played for laughs
The Streets Of Cairo, or The Poor Little Country Maid The Middle East, snake charming, "hoochy-kootchy" belly dancing (You may know it as "There's A Place In France.") Originally part of a 1893 World's Fair exhibit which is reenacted in Show Boat.
Tarantella Napoletana Italy, Italians
La Vie en Rose (also called "You're Too dangerous, Cherie") Streets of Paris, French countryside; love—I mean, l'amour (though this song tends to cost money. Also the signature song of French songstress Edith Piaf)
Sirtaki from Zorba The Greek Greek stuff, notably in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Marches, Bugle Calls, And Other Military Shenanigans

Song Theme
Anchors Aweigh The Navy, sailors, the sea
Assembly (US Army bugle call) The army
The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory) Any American patriotic speech, the American Civil War
The British Grenadiers The British Army in general, Redcoats in particular
Colonel Bogey (Ricketts) British troops and encampments. Showing cheery mood, insouciance, or a brave face. Often whistled, as in The Bridge on the River Kwai, or sung as "Hitler has only got one ball" [4]
Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean The U.S. Navy (Ironically, this song has nothing to do with the ocean or ships. The lines about the ark riding safe through the storm are "ship of state" imagery, and the "gem of the ocean" refers to the New World.)
First Call (US Army bugle call) Horse racing. At the races it's known as "Call to the Post."
The Girl I Left Behind Me Marching American soldiers, as far back as the Revolution. Or British Redcoats Napoleonic Era.
A Life on the Ocean Wave Exactly What It Says on the Tin, usually accompanied by, but not limited to, the British Navy.
Marine's Hymn ("From the halls of Montezuma...") Marines on the march, especially common in WWII era cartoons
Reveille (US Army bugle call) An abrupt morning wakeup; the army
Semper Fidelis by John Philip Sousa United States Marine Corps' official march; US marines on parade; cheeses from around the world.
The Star Spangled Banner The United States, the army, the US flag, military victory (especially in WWII propaganda cartoons)
Taps (US Army bugle call) Someone dying/pretending to die; the army going to sleep.
The Last Post UK-based and Canada-based military remembrance (and possibly other Commonwealth nations as well), and for good reason.
To The Colors (US Army bugle call) The army; the US flag
When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again Armies, parades, marching; occasionally, specifically Irish (the origin of the song). Dramatic Irony in anti-war film.[5] Common on fife and drum.
Wild Blue Yonder Airplanes, flying. The US Air Force.

Pop Songs You Probably Only Know From Cartoons

Song Theme
Ain't She Sweet (Ager/Yellen) Pretty girls, especially (but not exclusively) in The Roaring Twenties.
Ain't We Got Fun? The Roaring Twenties, even used in period pieces.
Aloha 'Oe Hawaii, tropical vacations, subversions thereof.
Arkansas Traveler Slow, stupid characters, usually played very slowly. Also known as "I'm Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee".
Autumn Leaves Maudlin-tinged counterpart to A Summer Place. Autumn leaves. Partings. Regrets and minor sorrows. Quiet romance. Slow montages, pans and dissolves. Easy listening moments. Extremely versatile.
Baby Elephant Walk Slow, stupid characters; animals; people carrying awkward loads.
Beautiful Dreamer Sleep, dreams. In various anime, unfulfilled dreams and hopes.
California Here I Come Travelling to California (natch), Trains in general. The theme song for the ubiquitous Huell Howser shows, in which he explores unusual California landmarks.
The Camptown Races Horse races. Associated with the Warner Bros. character Foghorn Leghorn, who generally walked around humming it. Also used in Saloons in The Wild West
Chicken Reel Farmyards with chickens, gluttonous eating
Coronation Scot Steam trains, often coupled with a standard shot of the camera fixed to the running board showing the wheels going round and/or a camera between the rails watching the train go overhead.
A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You Eating, meals
The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze Slow, stylish flying
Der Deitcher's Dog (Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone)(Septimus Winner) Cute puppies and their antics. Somewhat ironic, given the original lyrics.
Devil's Gallop (Charles Williams) Dramatic, old-style chases, The Spanish Inquisition, two inebriated bums impersonating Sherlock Holmes and The Watson, 'tecs vs crooks, skulduggery afoot. Originally the theme to Dick Barton - Special Agent.
Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes (Ben Jonson) Drinking—if it's milk, juice, or water. Also performed reluctantly by those who love to singa.
The Entertainer (Scott Joplin) Early 20th Century America up till late 1930s (Note this is anachronistic; ragtime gave way to early jazz around WWI. But ever since The Sting everybody knows Ragtime = Great Depression because Reality Is Unrealistic.)[6]
Freddy The Freshman Football or other sports; less frequently college in general
The Gold Diggers Song (We're in the Money) You're in the money.
Goofus Characters on the move, rural settings
Happy Days Are Here Again Rivals the Gold Digger's Song for being rich. Also popular in political pastiches, assuring voters that the days will be happy once our boy[7] is elected.
Happy Go Lively, Laurie Johnson Perky, efficient, immaculately dressed Fifties housewives working in ultramodern Kitchens of The Future, or those kitchens themselves; cleaning.
Hearts And Flowers Overacted melodrama, love, romance, and tragedy. This is the "world's saddest song" that so often gets sarcastically played on the "world's smallest violin" for chronic whiners.
Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush Chasing in circles, washing things (think This Is The Way We Wash Our Clothes)
Home, Sweet Home Cabins, houses, anyplace considered a "home" or a "home away from home". Also played in nightclubs when it's time to close. Popular in anime due to a well-known translation, and often used with World War II sequences (see Grave of the Fireflies).
Hooray for Hollywood Hollywood scenes, movie stars
How Dry I Am Drinking, drunkenness
I've Been Working On The Railroad Hard work, often Mickey Mousing the fall of sledgehammers to the beat. The "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah" part (actually a much older song assimilated by Railroad) can be substituted for Shortnin' Bread in the kitchen.
Lady In Red A beautiful woman, often wearing red
The Loveliest Night of the Year Trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, or parodies thereof
My Old Kentucky Home Rural homes, the South. In Real Life, always played just before the running of the Kentucky Derby
Mysterioso Pizzicato also known as The Villains Theme and jazzed up as "Mysterious Mose" Sneakiness, stealth (often Mickey Moused), entrance of the mustache-twirling villain.
Nearer, My God, to Thee The Titanic, sinking ships, or inevitable doom, especially when met with tragic dignity.
Notre Dame Victory March Football, sports, pep talks (since the movie Knute Rockne, All American)
Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma (Rodgers & Hammerstein) Waking, morning scenes and montages, the morning after the night before (possibly including a Hangover Sensitivity).
On Moonlight Bay Drinking, sailing, sailing while drinking. Along with How Dry I Am, makes for great drunken harmonizing in addition to background music
Over There World War I (U.S. involvement, 1917–18)
Por una Cabeza Tango, especially when used as a Mating Dance.
Powerhouse (B strain) (Raymond Scott) Factories, industry, active machinery, going up and down stairs while carrying a heavy load. (Q.v. below)
A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody (Irving Berlin) As Irving Berlin (the song's author) himself observed: "Today they play it when a pretty girl walks across a stage. And strip teasers disrobe to it. That's show business."
Rock-a-bye Baby Babies, rocking, or occasionally both. (When used outside of BGM, can function as Instant Sedation.)
Sailing, Sailing Ships, the ocean
Sailor's Hornpipe Sailors, particularly those with one eye and an affinity for spinach
Shuffle Off To Buffalo Exit, stage right.
Shortnin' Bread Food or cooking
Silver Threads Among the Gold Elderly people
Sing, Sing, Sing Swing dancing or dancing in general, boisterous parties, the early 20th century, Chips Ahoy Song.
Song of the Marines ("We're Shoving Right Off For Home Again") Sailors, sailing vessels, long voyages at sea
Theme from A Summer Place Relax-O-Vision, medium-sized intermissions
Sweet Georgia Brown (or an appropriate soundalike), usually whistled Basketball (after its association with the Harlem Globetrotters); sports antics
The Syncopated Clock Clocks, or clockwork machinery
Teddy Bears' Picnic (Henry Hall) Teddy bears. Woods. Childhood, make-believe, and its imaginary perils. Confronting the former as an adult. And (employing increasing amounts of irony) psychological horror and worse.
(Believe Me if All) Those Endearing Young Charms The Xylophone Gag. Only counts here because the background music tends to finish off the piece after the explosion.
The Toy Trumpet (Raymond Scott) Toys, especially toy soldiers
Trade Winds Tropical islands
Turkey in the Straw Farms, rurality, harvest festivals.
The Volga Boatmen's Song (Mily Balkarev) Hard labor, especially the forced kind (chain gangs, slavery, etc.) Especially Russian hard labor.
What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor? Sailors, the ocean, Pirates and anything nautical
We'll Meet Again World War II, from the British perspective. Especially sad scenes (or nuclear war).
You Ought To Be In Pictures Hollywood scenes

Recent Works

See also Recycled Trailer Music.
Song Theme
633 Squadron (Theme) World War II aircraft, bombing runs in particular. For the less picky, any piston-prop closed-cockpit plane in flight.
Acceptable in the '80s (Calvin Harris) Programmes discussing the 1980s or, more generally, looking back on popular things of the past we now consider stupid.
Albatross (Fleetwood Mac) Tropical islands and beaches (or, at least, a token facsimile thereof), relaxation in such locales.
All Along the Watchtower (almost always the Hendrix cover) War, particularly Vietnam or a pastiche of same, frequently involving a ragtag and motley group of heroes; was an Arc Song for the last season of Battlestar Galactica.
An Ending (Ascent) (Brian Eno) Tear Jerker moments, calm, contemplative scenes, space.
Another One Bites the Dust (Queen) Another one bites the dust. Defeat, disqualification, failure and being finished off.
Ashokan Farewell (Like as not, The Jimmy Hart Version) Parodies of Ken Burns documentaries, played over wartime letters to sweethearts back home while panning across sepia-tone photos; The American Civil War[8]
Bad To The Bone (George Thorogood and the Destroyers) The arrival or entrance of the Badass, particularly a Badass Biker. Distressingly common even in live action.
Basic Instinct (Jerry Goldsmith) Sexy, erotic thrillers.
Battle Without Honor or Humanity (Tomoyasu Hotei) The arrival of an extreme Badass, and the fight scene resulting thereof.
The Breakfast Machine (Danny Elfman) Frenetic but mechanized action; Rube Goldberg devices; factories and machines; undercranked scenes of people in lines or rush-hour traffic.
Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf) Bikers, and other people who are, well, born to be wild.
Bright Eyes (Art Garfunkel) Rabbits. Usually used as Parental Bonus.
The Chain (the end and the guitar solo) Motor racing - in particular, the BBC coverage of Formula One.
"Chariots of Fire" Theme (Vangelis) The last few segments of an important race, especially if in slow motion (a tribute to the 1981 movie of the same name, where it doesn't actually appear in that manner in the final race); alternately, tongue-in-cheek slow motion cheesy inspirational music.
Cloudscape (Philip Glass, from Koyaanisqatsi) Danger and disturbance, troubled times, stormy works, Freudian psychology, onset of puberty given a dramatic spin.
Clubbed to Death (Rob Dougan); itself derived from Elgar's Enigma Variations. Adds a Power Walk -like ambience to any character's perambulations (if correctly timed with their footsteps), game-face montages, trailers. Extra points if they do a sharp focus change on the gap between the first and second bits of the opening. A mid-90s piece, but gained its notoriety in '99 through The Matrix (or at the very least, through its soundtrack album—the piece only makes one relatively brief scene in the film).
Don't Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin) Sad Times Montage in comedies. Cheer-up song used to indicate a Crap Saccharine World, e.g. here. (if it's an outright Crapsack World, What A Wonderful World can be used).
Theme from Dragnet Investigation by police or other officials. The opening four-note sting can indicate any surprising discovery or revelation. Additionally, the Domm-Da Dom-Domm routine is #8 of essential routines for typical-type lampoons.
Dream Weaver (Gary Wright) Love At First Sight; almost never used seriously anymore.
Duel of the Fates, from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace Dramatic situations in particular. Is beginning to give O Fortuna, which it resembles, some competition, especially on the Talent Show.
Dueling Banjos, Arthur Smith Scenes in set the rural back-country; Rednecks. Especially associated with Deliverance
Title theme to Edward Scissorhands Fairytale settings, celestial myths, white Christmas, toy sales.
Eye of the Tiger (Survivor) Training Montage
Firestarter (The Prodigy) Rabble rousing, vigilantism, urban dissent and riot, punk fashion, juveniles acting up.
For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays) Anything related to Greed or high finance.
Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival) The Vietnam War.
For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield) The 1960s, Vietnam, general social strife, usually used when focusing on assassinations, protest. (often ironic, except in non-fiction television)
Get Ready for This (2 Unlimited) Sports events, especially basketball. Big arenas full of people
Ghost Love Score, or rather 45 seconds of it What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?, Unnecessary Combat Rolls, ever since its use in a YTMND fad featuring a Star Trek character rolling under a closing door.
The Girl from Ipanema An instrumental version is standard "elevator music", to the point where it's named its own trope.
Gonna Fly Now, Bill Conti (Rocky) Training Montage. Compare with Eye of the Tiger.
Gonna Make You Sweat (C+C Music Factory) The Nineties, rave culture, cash-in compilations of "rave" music, energetic dancing. Often known by its main repeated lyric: "Everybody Dance Now".
The Good the Bad And The Ugly (Main Theme) Old West gunfight, or parody thereof; showdown or confrontation of any kind
The Great Escape theme (Elmer Bernstein) Escaping, or energetic group preparation to escape.
I Got You (I Feel Good) (James Brown) Celebrations, characters having good fortune or...feeling good. (examples) See also Stock Trailer Music.
I Predict a Riot (Kaiser Chiefs) Social unrest. Often, the opening riff is enough.
I Want to Break Free (Queen) People (usually men) doing housework.
The Imperial March from Star Wars Pure evil, totalitarianism, forced conformity, bad authority figures, awe-inspiring power. Generally not used seriously outside of Star Wars itself.
Incense and Peppermints (Strawberry Alarm Clock), or White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane) Drug trips. Rarely used without at least some sense of irony anymore; often replaced with a sound-alike as it's still under copyright
Main Title and First Victim from Jaws Being oblivious to approaching danger, being unknowingly stalked - probably by a predator. Strongly associated with water. Du-dun, du-dun, dudun dudun dudun...
Jessica (The Allman Brothers Band) Road trips and driving montages. And Top Gear. Don't forget Top Gear.
Journey to the Line from The Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer) WWII Was Beginning. Or possibly During the War. In any case, Stuff Blowing Up set to serene classical music with the sound turned off. Heroes dying horribly.
Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas) Martial arts, whether actual Kung fu is being practised or not.
Lux Æterna (Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet) Melodrama, first used in Requiem for a Dream when the main characters are about to hit rock bottom; re-worked for the trailer for The Two Towers as Requiem for a Tower, which is sadly(?) the better-known version.
Layla (Eric Clapton[9]) Fast cars. Motor racing.
Let's Get it On (Marvin Gaye) Sexiness, the beginning of a romantic or intimate moment
Mad World (Gary Joules' version) Scenes of desolate environments, or a sober/tragic scene in a drama.
The Magnificent Seven theme (Elmer Bernstein) In settings with cowboys; portraying the romantic Old West. Also the theme for Marlboro Country.
Mission Impossible theme (Lalo Schifrin) Preparation for or execution of a complex task, generally with high-tech elements or requiring gymnastic activity. Also the surprise injection of visible gas into a confined space such as a lift, where the protagonists are trapped.
Money (Pink Floyd) Documentaries on financial shenanigans, less respectful looks at the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Music Box Dancer (Frank Mills)[10] Dance. Gymnastics routines. Little girls pretending to be the ballerina in the music box. Brisk leisure activities.
My Generation (The Who) Children or the elderly; almost always played for irony with the latter.
Oh Yeah (Yello) Lust, avarice and/or greed. Hot cars and hotter babes that you are expected to covet upon seeing. Oh, and Ferris Bueller.
Oxygene part 2 (Jean Michel Jarre) High technology, often with Blinkenlights. Uber geekiness. Astronomical or paranormal events (e.g. viewing eclipses).
Oxygene part 4 (Jean Michel Jarre) Flight, especially gliders. Smooth action. CGI mockups. Technology. Rhythmic gym.
Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones) The Vietnam War.
"Peter Gunn" theme (Henry Mancini) Spies, capers, schemes (thanks to Spy Hunter and The Blues Brothers, probably)
Phantom of the Opera (Iron Maiden) The start of a race, with buildup.
Pompeii (E.S. Posthumus) Crowning Moment of Awesome meets Ominous Latin Chanting.
Popcorn [11](Gershon Kingsley) Techy geekiness, often quirky. Fads and gadgets. The early '70s. And occasionally, popcorn.
Psycho Suite (Bernard Herrmann) Psycho Strings.
Reach for the Stars (Richard Harvey) The finale to a breathtaking scene, the closing of a race.
San Francisco (Flowers..) (Scott McKenzie) Haight Ashbury, Hippies, 1960s, Nostalgia.
Piano break from Sinnerman (Nina Simone) Extreme, high falutin' and usually highly successful naughtiness.
Six Million Dollar Man theme Superhuman strength or speed, in slow motion.
Soul Bossa Nova (Quincy Jones) The Swinging Sixties. Fashions and open-topped vehicles of that era. Groovy chicks. Austin Powers.
Space Oddity (David Bowie) Dramatic or sombre scenes in space. If it's just the opening, space travel in general.
Stayin' Alive (The Bee Gees) The 1970s. Also (because of a big push by the British Heart Association) CPR.
The Stripper, David Rose Anyone performing a striptease. However, a scene done by Morecambe and Wise, where they make breakfast to this tune in a well-done dance routine is also well known.
Stuck in the Middle With You (Stealers Wheel) Interrogation scenes. usually a tongue-in-cheek reference to its use in Reservoir Dogs.
Song 2 (Blur), AKA "Woo-Hoo" Action scenes, particularly extreme sports.
Theme from "A Summer Place" (Percy Faith) Classic "easy listening" music, typically denoting shopping malls, doctor's offices, hotel lobbies, elevators, telephones on hold, and Relax-O-Vision.
Sunshine of Your Love (Cream) Vietnam, or that time period in general
The Syncopated Clock (Leroy Anderson) Waiting. Sometimes used as an alternative to the Jeopardy Thinking Music for intense thought
Things Can Only Get Better (D:Ream) Used for British Prime Ministers, usually mockingly. Originally used as Tony Blair's election theme.
Title theme from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Ron Goodwin) Classic biplanes and triplanes. Lo-tech prototypes, joke mock-ups and risible failures in the field of aeronautics.
The Twilight Zone Theme Something is very disturbingly wrong. (Note that the first season of The Twilight Zone didn't use this iconic theme.)
The Typewriter (Leroy Anderson) Newsrooms and secretarial pools, BBC Radio's The News Quiz. Jerry Lewis made this his own in Who's Minding the Store, though it was written before that.
Under Pressure (Queen) Training montages, financial crises, buildup to someone's big event, performance anxiety - but soft-pedaled. Getting across the notion of "under pressure" without going for one of the obvious ones.
We Are The Champions (Queen) Victory in a sporting contest. Usually tongue-in-cheek.
What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong) Romantic or just as often ironic, such as horrific fighting on screen. Soundtrack Dissonance, used to indicate a Crapsack World. See also Don't Worry Be Happy above.
Wipe Out Surfing. Humorous accidents. Used more often for this purpose than Misirlou, but not nearly as badass
Yakety Sax Wacky comedic chase scenes. Usually with the action sped up. See also The Benny Hill Show, Musical Slapstick Montage.

The One Everybody Always Asks About

Song Theme
Powerhouse (Raymond Scott) Used or imitated in a number of later WB theatrical shorts, in scenes involving a chase, or (especially) a factory or mechanism such as a Rube Goldberg Device. The latter usage (Powerhouse B) has become famous enough to be recognizable outside an animated context. Full documentation of all Raymond Scott works and "soundalikes" in WB cartoons can be found here.
  1. Stalling would have been foolish not to make the most of the studio's great facilities: the vast Warner music catalogue and a full studio orchestra. Stalling's contribution to those Golden Age cartoons is noticeable when you compare the 1940s classics to the later shorts of the 1950s, with much more minimal scoring. (Classic Warner Bros. cartoons also used some songs that were neither public domain nor from the Warner music catalogue, particularly Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse").
  2. "Troika" translates as "threesome" or "three of a kind".
  3. (but not ones with actual torch singers, obviously, as that breaks the trope)
  4. Churchill's press secretary came up with these lyrics - while in the bath - and Churchill got him to sing them to the assembled chiefs of staff at the next opportunity. Oh, and Hitler did turn out to have just the one testicle...
  5. Its Irish counterpart, "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye", is an anti-war song.
  6. And in more ways than one: older folks would have still been listening to ragtime during the depression, which was sort of the point of using it to start with.
  7. it's always a male candidate
  8. Note that it is not a Civil War era piece; it was written in 1982 to express the composer's sadness at leaving fiddle camp.
  9. performing as "Derek and the Dominoes"
  10. You might be more familiar with Richard Clayderman's cover version here.
  11. Yes, this is Hot Butter's better-known cover version. Kingsley's original version here has a slightly different melody, rather muddy editing and some chaotic key changes.