By Leah Greenblatt
Updated June 30, 2009 at 09:00 AM EDT

Welcome,class, to the first session of EW University! It’s just like theLearning Annex, minus the celebrity guests (boo) and pesky course fees(yay!). Every day this week, we’ll be examining the role of music inseminal coming-of-age films — specifically, the songs whose use goesbeyond sonic set decoration to become an integral part of the movieexperience itself. Our journey will be divided into several categories, followed by a quiz that willtest your music and movie knowledge. –Prof. Leah Greenblatt

At the Hop: Mid-Century Nostalgia
Obsolete technology, costumes, and cars can always get the job done,but nothing evokes a bygone era with quite the ease and immediacy oftime-specific music — especially the songs already woven into thefabric of baby boomers’ collective memory.

Barry Levinson’s semi-autobiographical Diner (set in 1959, released in1982), George Lucas’s teenage-cruiser pick American Graffiti (set in‘62, released in ’73), the Motown-soaked boomer classic The Big Chill(set in both the ‘60s and ‘80s, released in 1983), and Rob Reiner’sboys-in-the-wood drama Stand By Me (set in ‘59, released in ‘86) allpurposefully stimulate nostalgia with prominent use of some of thatera’s best-known hits (though budget constraints compelled Lucas todrop Elvis from AG’s lineup). Just imagine if Stand by Me had beencalled Papa Don’t Preach (the no. 1 song in the country at the time ofits release), or if The Big Chill had built itself on the Police’sSynchronicity (the no. 1 album) and you’ll get a renewed sense of thecentrality of music to movies like these — and their importance inestablishing the mood of a bygone era.

After the jump: A scene from The Big Chill and The Graduate as a cultural turning point

Mike Nichols’ 1967 examination of youth and alienation, The Graduate,has none of that rose-colored sentimentality we would see in laterfilms looking back at that time. Instead, he heralded the passing of anold era and the dawning of a new one: messier, murkier, but brimmingwith a new kind of freedom. Then-rising folk duo Simon & Garfunkelnot only soundtracked the seduction of aimless college grad BenjaminBraddock (Dustin Hoffman) by the sultry proto-cougar Mrs. Robinson(Anne Bancroft, in real life only six years older than Hoffman), theygave it its immortal coo-coo-kachoo. And their “where did you go, JoeDiMaggio?” refrain hinted at the passing of a certain sort ofinnocence; a post-WWII, pre-Vietnam complacency America may never quitehave recaptured.

For reference: Buddy Holly, “That’ll Be the Day”; Del Shannon,“Runaway”; the Del Vikings, “Come Go With Me”; Smokey Robinson &the Miracles, “Tracks of My Tears”; The Temptations, “Ain’t Too Proudto Beg”; and Ben E. King, “Stand By Me.”

Extra credit viewing: That Thing You Do!, Eddie & the Cruisers, Shag

For discussion: What music or artists do you think signaled the end of the Eisenhower’50s and the beginning of the flower-power era? Discuss in the commentssection below.

Class dismissed! Come back tomorrow for a look at the most important coming-of-age soundtracks from the 1970s.