Every movie has their almost-was moments — a piece of casting that changed, a scene that was left on the cutting room floor.
But in the case of 2001’s Moulin Rouge!, it was mostly songs that got left by the wayside. There were, of course, scenes that got cut or moments that changed (the Duke almost sang Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” instead of “Like A Virgin”; there was a whole romantic ballooning sequence with Christian and Satine where they sang The Fifth Dimension’s “Up Up & Away, My Beautiful Balloon”).
And there were a lot of tracks tried on for size that were replaced with a better fit as the team behind the music of Moulin Rouge! assembled its score. But there were also two major songs that eluded them because of licensing issues.
The first was Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” for which Stevens, who now goes by Yusuf Islam, declined to give the rights. “”Originally [director and co-writer] Baz Luhrmann and [co-writer] Craig Pearce opened the film with a scene that was based around Christian having a disagreement with his father about what he wanted to do with his life and his father’s saying, ‘You have this ridiculous obsession with love,'” executive music producer and music supervisor Anton Monsted tells EW. “It was the most amazing song that we all felt was perfect for this opening of the film.”
Though it was a disappointment for the team, there was some eventual vindication when Islam later admitted he regretted denying them the permissions. “He said in an interview, ‘I was approached to have ‘Father and Son’ be the opening song of Moulin Rouge!, and at the time, I didn’t realize what what this film was trying to say and trying to do, and it was only much later when I saw the film that I realized it was a work of true intent and real meaning,'” recounts Monsted.
The other major song that got away rocked a lot harder; it was the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” which they wanted the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) to taunt Satine (Nicole Kidman) with while singing. Record label executive Alan Klein owned the rights to early years of the Stones catalog, and a deal was never reached.
“That was always an idea that was in early drafts of the script and the lyrics just worked beautifully, but we couldn’t come to terms on the rights deal to license the song,” says Monsted. “It wasn’t a moral objection and it wasn’t a creative objection from anywhere; it was just the terms of the music license and we couldn’t quite get there with with Alan Klein. So, that was one that had to go.”
But even this ended up having its own moral victory. When music director Justin Levine was putting together the score for the stage production of Moulin Rouge!, he remembered this story. “I knew Baz was trying to get a Rolling Stones song into the movie, originally,” Levine tells EW. “So that was something that was really important to me that I would try and see if we could make that happen.”
After much back and forth with the Stones’ team and what song they would use, how they’d use it, and how much of it they’d use, Levine secured “Sympathy for the Devil,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Gimme Shelter” for a medley titled “Sympathy for the Duke.”
So, whether they ended up in the film or not, perhaps the greatest thing we could ever learn about these songs is just to love — because eventually, you’ll be loved in return.