Originally posted on 9.30.06: “It’s amazing what can happen when the right song is laid onto the soundtrack of the right scene in the right film.
“This special chemistry happens for reasons I don’t yet fully understand when Martin Scorsese uses John Lennon‘s ‘Well, Well, Well’ in a scene in The Departed — a scene between Leonardo DiCaprio‘s frazzled cop-mole character and Jack Nicholson‘s grizzled mob boss.
“I haven’t listened to this song in a long time, but it popped through in some live-wire way the other night when I was watching The Departed for a second time. A couple of lines of dialogue about Lennon are heard around the same time. Nicholson asks DiCaprio, ‘Do you know who John Lennon was?’ and DiCaprio answers, ‘Yeah…he was the president right before Lincoln.’
“The musical ride that Scorsese takes you on in this film is great — a series of late ’60s/early ’70s rock tracks that fortify the scenes (or portions of scenes) they play under, but not in any literal ‘oh, the lyrics are commenting on what we’re seeing’ way. It’s more of a visceral-emotional thing, and it feels dead perfect.
“Scorsese achieved a similar connection when he used Mott the Hoople‘s ‘All The Way to Memphis’ at the very beginning of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I had never given much of a shit about Mott the Hoople before seeing that film, but I always felt a measure of respect for those guys (and certainly their song) after they were processed through the Scorsese grinder.”
What makes Scorsese’s rock-scoring so memorable is that once you watch a Scorsese passage that’s been perfectly blended with a well-known track (like that Goodfellas montage of Jimmy Conway murders underlaid with Eric Clapton‘s “Layla” or Harry Nilsson‘s “Jump Into The Fire” augmenting that classic cocaine-frenzy scene with Ray Liotta running around), the song always acquires an extra dimension of some kind — it becomes a stronger song for the association. As in forever.
Example #1: I’d always enjoyed Jimmy Castor‘s “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Calling You,” but it acquired a mythic element when Scorsese used it in that cranked-up Stratton Oakmont scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. It retains that association to this day.
Example #2, #3, #4 and “#5: The Mean Streets quartet — the “Be My Baby” opening credits, the Rolling Stones’ “Tell Me” scene in which Harvey Keitel enters the bar and says hello to everyone, the scene in which Robert DeNiro enters the same bar to the sounds of “Jumpin Jack Flash” and the “Please Mr, Postman” fight scene in that basement-level pool hall.
Example #6: The Mickey & Sylvia “Love Is Strange” moment in Casino when Robert De Niro decides that he’s gotta have Sharon Stone‘s hellcat hustler.