From the inception of his solo directorial debut, 2017’s Get Out, Jordan Peele has become one of horror’s most popular directors due to his unique perspective. In blending his foundation in comedy skits and later social commentary with gory jump scares, he’s drawn in a cult fan following in the span of four years with his game-changing horror movies.
Of course, the makings of a great horror film are always linked to its score, and Peele’s films have all boasted the godly ear of producer Michael Abels. Here are our 10 songs that, thanks to Peele and Abels, have evolved from bops into elevated moment-makers. And beware! Scary spoilers ensue…
‘Feminist Pirate Chantey’, Key & Peele (2015)
‘Pirate Chantey’ is a hilarious deep cut for those in love with Peele’s earlier comedic work with longtime friend and collaborator Keegan-Michael Key. In their iconic sketch show, Key & Peele – which still racks tens of millions of views on YouTube despite going off air in 2015 – the duo used snippy silly tracks to make a joke of something relatable; their beloved ‘MC Mom’ is a fan-favourite for its crude and tongue-in-cheek nature.
Yet some of their tunes are meant to poke fun at societal norms of men and their relationships; this one is still timely as they reinforce a respectful way to approach women with the hook: “We say ‘Yo, ho’ but we don’t say ‘Ho’ / ‘Cause ‘Ho’ is disrespectful, yo”. This is a great one to go back to when you need a reminder on how to treat us womxn.
Corey Hart, ‘Sunglasses at Night (Jean Jacket Mix)’ – Nope (2022)
For every Jordan Peele horror film, he and Abel chop and screw a popular track and make it a murderous soundtrack to evoke tension from the jump. For his recent third film, Nope, the ’80s synth-pop track is slowed down to the point of utterly mind-boggling distortion. The only real link this track has to Nope’s plot is its mention of sight as you can’t look at the alien named Jean Jacket, which the protagonists OJ and Emerald are trying to capture, but the chopped and screwed nature of the remix makes you empathetic to the jarring life they now live in their new world of terror.
Gowan, ‘(You’re a) Strange Animal’ – Nope (2022)
This song makes so much sense in context with Nope. We hear this track when the film cuts to the embedded narrative of one of the antagonists, Jupe. Jupe was once Ricky Park – a huge child star – before owning his amusement park. In the first scene of Nope, we’re met with a murderous chimp who goes bizarre on his adult cast mates and audience, leaving a young Jupe to watch the gory attack. That giddy glimpse into the traumatic backstory of our money-grabbing attention-seeking antagonist is summed up by Lawerence Gowan’s oddly rambunctious ‘85 synth-rock gem.
Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, ‘(I Had) the Time of My Life’ – Get Out (2018)
This anthemic Dirty Dancing masterpiece is played as a cheeky farewell during Chris’ escape from his girlfriend Rose’s honeytrap. While watching Get Out, you’re sickened with the very valid thought of Chris never making it out of Rose’s racist family’s scheme. Bleakly hilarious and ironic, this is quintessential Peele.
Exuma, ‘Exuma, The Obeah Man’ – Nope (2022)
It’s been reported that Nope is, in part, inspired by the “haunting and elemental quality“ of music made by Bahamian alt-folk star Tony Mackey (aka Exuma). The resulting blockbuster sees ‘Exuma”s trippy sound become a perfectly lively soundtrack to the Alien-hunting crew of brother-sister duo of OJ and Emerald.
Luniz, ‘I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix)’ – Us (2019)
Peele infamously used this iconic ‘90s R&B slow-jam for his masterly second horror film, Us. With the film centred on self-identity, the nostalgic track is remixed and contextually screwed with just as the characters in the show are when the Tethered (the clones of the protagonist family, The Wilsons) finally show up. With a song that’s a trusted floorfiller, it lulls you into a false sense of security, but also sonically reflects the film’s premise: even the most familiar things can be ominous.
Minnie Riperton, ‘Les Fleurs’ – Us (2019)
‘Les Fleurs’ is a beautiful touch to Us’ ending. At the end of the haunting psychological horror, we see The Wilsons holding hands together as a unit after the terror they’ve endured. In this position, they can easily flourish again and grow – just like ‘Les Fleurs’ suggests. And if you look at the song’s lyrics, it could perfectly sum up Peele’s film’s commentary on social binaries (poor vs. rich, outer self vs. inner self, white vs. POC): “Inside every man / Lives the seed of a flower / If he looks within he finds beauty and power”.
Noname featuring Eryn Allen Kane and Akenya, ‘Reality Check’ – Us (2019)
This aptly named track pops up when, in Us, Adelaine and her husband Gabe’s daughter, Zola, is chilling in her room of their summer home. What makes this song choice a noteworthy one is the contradiction between the name of the track and what Zola is doing on screen: along with the rest of the characters, she’s living in a fantasy and about to get a very serious reality check. This pick is one that might go over your head as it isn’t attached to a hefty scene, but foreshadows the film enormously.
Flanagan and Allen, ‘Run Rabbit Run’ – Get Out (2018)
This 1932 war song has such an eerie quality, with the rickety orchestra behind the lyrics, making it perfect to start Peele’s directorial debut. It’s another moment of foreshadowing, this time of protagonist Chris’ overwhelming need to, erm, get out of the situation he finds himself in. Flanagan and Allen’s hook (“Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run / Bang, bang, bang, bang goes the farmer’s gun”) is a warning that only becomes obvious when it’s too late. With Get Out being about universal racial tension experienced by Black people in affluent areas and throughout America’s racial history, ‘Run Rabbit Run’ is a perfect opening track for Peel’s nail-biting psychological horror.
Childish Gambino, ‘Redbone’ – Get Out (2018)
‘Redbone’ proved beyond doubt what musical geniuses Michael Abels and Jordan Peele can be. Flipping the popular nu-soul track by lauded musician-turned-actor-turned-artist Childish Gambino, ‘Redbone’ already had arresting lyrics to begin with. Warning the listener to “stay woke / People creepin’”, it’s effectively paired with Get Out as it simplistically foreshadows the movie’s plot. However, the true gimmick arrives in its transmogrification, as this sultry sing-along song became becomes something much more haunting, altering everything you loved about the track. With this pick, the Abels-Peele musical identity was created, establishing the tone for Peele’s idiosyncratic universe.