Top 10 Martin Scorsese Rock Music Scenes
It’s the 35th anniversary of ‘The Last Waltz’'s release, and we’re celebrating with a list of the Top 10 Martin Scorsese Rock Music Scenes. The Oscar-winning director is not only a certified rock ’n’ roll fan who has helmed documentaries about the Band, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, he’s also a genius when it comes to using classic rock and pop music in his movies. Ever since he called upon the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ in the opening scene of ‘Mean Streets,’ Scorsese has regularly implemented classic tracks to score – and underscore – key scenes in his films. Here are 10 unforgettable moments, made all the more memorable by their rock soundtracks.
‘The Departed’ (2006)
In this instance, Scorsese might have borrowed a move from one of the legions of filmmakers he inspired: Quentin Tarantino. Another master of pairing the perfect scene and song, QT employed the ’60s garage-rock hit ‘Nobody but Me’ during the epic showdown between the Bride and the Crazy 88 in 2003’s ‘Kill Bill, Vol. 1.’ Scorsese used it for another violent purpose: a snack-shop butt-whupping in ‘The Departed.’ The fight begins, the director turns the volume up and Leonardo DiCaprio lays into a pair of wiseguys. Two words: coat rack.
‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)
Would Robert De Niro have earned his reputation as a brilliant actor without the help of such great songs outlining his state of mind? OK, probably … but the tunes certainly don’t hurt. In this scene from ‘Taxi Driver,’ Travis Bickle contemplates pulling an Elvis and blowing away his TV. Meanwhile, teenagers slow dance to ‘Late for the Sky’ on ‘American Bandstand,’ and Travis stews in his lonely state.
‘Life Lessons’ in ‘New York Stories’ (1989)
‘New York Stories’ assembled three short films (with the shared setting of the Big Apple) by Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen. Marty loaded his segment with tons of great music – Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ Cream’s ‘Politician’ and more. But the most perfect match comes in the form of Bob Dylan and the Band’s live version of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ blasting away on a stereo while Nick Nolte’s Lionel Dobie splashes paint all over a giant canvas, Jackson Pollock-style. Music as inspiration – something that Scorsese can certainly relate to. (We couldn't find a clip of this scene online, but the linked montage does highlight some of the music in the short film, including ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’)
‘The Departed’ (2006)
Who else would have the gall to use the same song in three different movies? After placing the Stones’ apocalyptic classic in ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino,’ Scorsese again drew upon ‘Gimme Shelter’ to underscore the backstory in the opening scenes of ‘The Departed.’ Lesser directors would have opted for an alternate option, but Scorsese went with his gut. Good call. Bringing together a wailing Mick Jagger and a delightfully devilish Jack Nicholson just works. Third time’s a charm …
Scorsese uses this Animals hit as an elegy for the inevitable. In one of the Top 10 Martin Scorsese Rock Music Scenes, the bosses decide to take out everyone who knew anything. The organ-fueled dirge wafts over carnage in snow-covered parking lots and Costa Rican mansions. And the mighty Eric Burdon howls, “Mothers, tell your children not to do what I have done.”
‘The Color of Money’ (1986)
Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson co-wrote ‘It’s in the Way That You Use It’ for this sequel to ‘The Hustler,’ but it’s Warren Zevon’s novelty hit that makes a bigger impact onscreen. It’s tough to forget hotshot Vince (Tom Cruise) smiling ear to ear, doing samurai moves with a pool cue and singing along (“his hair was perfect”) as he obliterates an unsuspecting sucker in a smoky gaming den.
‘Bringing Out the Dead’ (1999)
Scorsese’s a big Clash fan; the members even had cameos in 1983’s ‘The King of Comedy.’ Decades after ‘Taxi Driver,’ when the director returned to make a movie about Hell’s Kitchen, he found the perfect musical match for the mental state of manic ambulance driver Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage). The nervy kickoff track from the Clash’s debut album perfectly dovetails with Cage’s bloodshot performance. The furiously paced punk tune only adds to the sensation of a busted-up ambulance hurtling its way through Manhattan’s slippery streets in the middle of the night.
A precursor to a similar scene in ‘Casino’ (see No. 6 in our list of the Top 10 Martin Scorsese Rock Music Scenes), ‘Layla’s’ sighing piano coda unspools as we see the aftermath of Jimmy Conway’s (De Niro) move against the others involved in the Lufthansa job. Clapton and Duane Allman’s intertwined axes weep for the foolish criminals, who lay motionless in a pink Cadillac, tumble out the back of a garbage truck or (in that magnificent dolly shot) hang from a hook in a meat truck. Jimmy certainly eased his worried mind.
This film is so stacked with great music and moments, you could make the case for an all-‘Goodfellas’ Top 10 Martin Scorsese Rock Music Scenes. This one would be chief among them – one of the best one-take sequences in all of cinema history. Henry (Ray Liotta) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) bypass the line at the Copacabana and wind their way through the club’s kitchen and back hallways as Henry schmoozes and hands out twenties like they were penny candy. Because the shot isn’t broken by any cuts (all the way from the car keys to “Take my wife, please”), it’s the galloping rhythms of ‘And Then He Kissed Me’ that lend the scene its energy and excitement. As Scorsese has said, the sequence is both about Henry seducing Karen and Henry being seduced by his new lifestyle. With his use of music and movement, Scorsese is also seducing the audience.
‘Mean Streets’ (1973)
This is how you make an entrance! Scorsese dollies in slow motion on a concerned Charlie (Harvey Keitel), who watches loosey-goosey Johnny Boy stumble into the blood-red bar, flanked by a woman on both sides. As if we didn't already know that this spelled danger for Charlie, the opening razor-blade riffs of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ drive it home. Here comes trouble, and you can’t tear your eyes from the screen. Why would you want to?