The Soundtrack Series: Martin Scorsese

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The Soundtrack Series marches on, this time turning its gaze towards Martin Scorsese. His appreciation for the Rolling Stones is certainly famous, but that a list like this could be filled out with only one Stones selection proves that he’s not a one-trick pony. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to suggest that Scorsese’s use of music in his films in the early 1970s revolutionized film. Here are a several examples of his best soundtrack efforts.

Casino, House of the Rising Sun
Someone had to pay the price for sloppy bookkeeping. And in this case, it was pretty much everyone who wasn’t on top. “The House of the Rising Sun” was the perfect cherry on top of the death sundae.

Whiter Shade of Pale, New York Stories (1989)
It’s a lesser-known use of a song in a Scorsese film- in this case, a short film. But the song peppers Scorsese’s entry into New York Stories, almost becoming a character of its own.

Atlantis, Goodfellas (1990)
Every time I’ve heard this song since I first saw Goodfellas, Billy Batts gets stuffed into a trunk in my mind all over again.

Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, Raging Bull (1980)
In short, it’s beautiful, if it’s possible to combine anger and violence with a lyrical, haunting boxer’s dance and call it beautiful.

Comfortably Numb, The Departed
The “Shipping Up to Boston” clip is more celebrated, but I think the “Comfortably Numb” clip has more teeth. On the surface, it’s perfect for Billy/DiCaprio’s descent into mixed moral roles. On a parallel level, it’s a great boomerang moment to include a classic song performed by star of The Last Waltz, Van Morrison.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Mean Streets
Like I said in the intro, Scorsese is famous for his appreciation of the Stones. There’s no better choice here than Deniro’s intro in one of Scorsese’s earliest films, Mean Streets (1973).

And Then He Kissed Me, Goodfellas
Also known as “the best tracking shot in movie history.” It starts innocently enough. But by the time it’s over, you realize just how powerful Henry Hill is, and just how smitten Karen has become. Those are two major plot points, all executed in one three-minute segment. It’s perfect in almost every way.

Werewolves of London, The Color of Money (1986)
Speaking of condensing a lot into a scene, this scene in The Color of Money encapsulates everything there was to like and hate about the early part of Tom Cruise’s career.

Main Title, Taxi Drive (1976)
Sure, the name of the song- “Main Title”- does little to inspire. But Bernard Hermann’s theme for the film spilling over the opening credits frames the film serendipitously. It’s part noir, matching New York’s gritty 1970s streets, while also infusing it with just the right air of militarism and tension. Hermann was a master and it’s evident here.

On the Nature of Daylight, Shutter Island (2010) 
It occurs right around the 0:46 mark in this clip and it’s a heart-wrenching classical piece that accentuates Teddy Daniels’ gradual realization about his own past (I don’t care if you saw it coming a mile away).

Layla, Goodfellas (1990)
I saved the best for last. I’m not sure there’s anything more cathartic on film than the piano rift in “Layla” and the months after the robbery when they were finding bodies all over. I’ve always wondered if the butcher who owned the meat truck ended up selling the meat that was in there with Carbone.


10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Soundtrack Series: Martin Scorsese

  1. Delilah

    I was just watching Casino the other day on tv. Couldn’t agree more!

  2. While I could comment on all of the classic Scorsese selections in this post, I am happy to see that you included the clip from Life Lessons. Once again, back in the day when I had more time to myself, I ran down to the Ritz Five movie theater in Society Hill Philadelphia on a weekday afternoon and saw New York Stories on my own. In retrospect, I wish the Scorsese short was last in the rotation since the Woody Allen and Coppola films were mediocre at best. And Nick Nolte was soooo good as the crazy artist in this film!

    Great stuff Sir LaRue! Once again, well done!

    • I’ll admit, I actually liked the Woody Allen short, too (though not nearly as much as Life Lessons).

      That Coppola segment, though… holy crap. That was awful.

  3. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    As good as Tarantino is at finding so many underappreciated gems for his soundtracks, Scorsese is a genius in his use of classic rock for his soundtracks. Who the hell did that version of Comfortably Numb; its not Pink Floyd. It sounds like a lounge singer version of the song (which in some ways, is more appropriate for The Departed scene.

    • That’s Roger Waters, Van Morrison, and The Band. It was also played on The Sopranos in the final season when… uh… I don’t want to spoil stuff for others, but when Tony and Christopher get into that car wreck.

      • The Guy Who Was Babysit by the sister of Nuclear Man in Superman IV

        I’m kind of surprised that was Roger Waters. I’m guessing your trip to Florida is Spring Training related. Is this Jupitor only or are you going somewhere else?

  4. Alright, I think I’m about due for a Scorcese marathon. Been years since I last watched Casino, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and I still haven’t seen The Color of Money or Mean Streets.

    Awesome work as always, John! Loving this series.

  5. The use of Jumpin Jack Flash in Mean Streets might be one of my favorite things ever.

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