Martin Scorsese’s best musical moments 

As our greatest living film director turns 80, we celebrate with Marty’s most memorable needle drops

“Music and film are almost one and the same”, Martin Scorsese once wrote. “Most of the shots I design and most of the way I approach any scene comes from music. I usually put myself in a room for about eight or nine days with music and design a picture on the page.” 

From timing the punches in Raging Bull to match the beats of a Hollywood musical, to in-depth rock documentaries like The Last WaltzNo Direction Home and Shine A Light, Scorsese has always engaged with music on a level few other directors have tried to match. With some of his most memorable scenes forever tied to their soundtracks, we take a walk back through Marty’s standout musical moments. 

Mean Streets (1973)

‘Be My Baby’ – The Ronettes

Mean Streets (1973) title sequence

Scorsese made a few films before Mean Streets, but it was the opening beat of ‘Be My Baby’ that announced his arrival with one line of dialogue, three perfect cuts, and a Motown classic ballsy enough to sound like a whole new generation kicking down the door.

New York, New York (1977)

‘But The World Goes ’Round’ – Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli - But The World Goes 'Round (New York, New York)

So many of Scorsese’s films are in love with Hollywood musicals that it only makes sense that his entry in the genre is still one of the very best (and most copied – looking at you La La Land…). Liza Minnelli’s window-shaking ballad is her nod to her mum, even as Scorsese is tipping his hat to her dad. 

Raging Bull (1980)

‘Cavalleria Rusticana/Intermezzo’ – Pietro Mascagni

Raging Bull (1980) title sequence

Built like an opera, cut like a musical and staged like a Shakespearian tragedy, Raging Bull might be one of the best films ever made – and it’s hard not to think some of the credit belongs to Pietro Mascagni for writing an Intermezzo so beautiful it makes grown boxers cry.   

The Colour Of Money (1986)

‘Werewolves Of London’ – Warren Zevon

Werewolves Of London (The Color Of Money)

We don’t make the rules. If you’re ever in a bar and ‘Werewolves Of London’ comes on, you need to get up and start playing pool. If you’re any good, feel free to dance around with the cue like Tom Cruise. If you’re not, just stand there looking horrified like Paul Newman. 

The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)

‘It Is Accomplished’ – Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel - The Last Temptation of Christ - It Is Accomplished

Only Scorsese could jump from the death of Jesus to a Peter Gabriel song. Cutting to black only after a rainbow flicker of celluloid, the song feels perfect for something so exultant – the film’s final moment of pure religious faith coming after two hours of existential horror (the people who tried to get the film banned for blasphemy probably didn’t make it that far though…)

Goodfellas (1990)

‘Sunshine Of My Love’ – Cream

DeNiro Goodfellas bar scene

Classic British psych rock isn’t the only musical influence at work on Scorsese’s most famous shot – with Robert De Niro apparently instructed to mimic the exact facial expressions of Robert Heplman in Powell and Pressberger’s ballet, The Tales Of Hoffman. He looks a lot less threatening when you imagine him about to burst into dance. 

Casino (1995)

‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ – The Animals

Casino (10/10) Movie CLIP - House of the Rising Sun (1995) HD

Despite pretty much being one big wall-to-wall musical montage (there are a total of 76 songs in Casino), it’s not hard to pick the standout track here. Wrapping up every loose end in five minutes of sickening violence – it’s Eric Burdon’s howling church blues vocals that cut the deepest. 

Bringing Out The Dead (1999)

‘Janie Jones’ – The Clash

Bringing Out the Dead (8/9) Movie CLIP - The City's Burning (1999) HD

Weirdly underrated, Scorsese’s punk paramedic nightmare deserves to be remembered for much more than a few Nicolas Cage memes. Running on amphetamine fumes from the very start, it’s moments like the perfect ‘Janie Jones’ freak-out that stoke the film’s engines.  

Gangs Of New York (2002)

‘Shimmy She Wobble’ – Othar Turner, The Rising Star Fife And Drum Band

Gangs of New York - Opening Sequence

Stuffing a soundtrack with everything from wax records of Sidney Stripling to U2 (plus a bit more Peter Gabriel), Scorsese’s New York history lives and breathes with The Rising Star Fife And Drum Band. Used throughout, whenever there’s a march or a riot or a fight (that’s a lot), ‘Shimmy She Wobble’ is the beat of Gangs Of New York

The Departed (2006)

‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’ – The Dropkick Murphys

I'm Shipping Up To Boston (Dropkick Murphys) "The Departed" Movie Soundtrack HD

The genius of the song choice is also in the editing – with The Dropkick Murphy’s blast of Celtic punk kicking in without its intro for the film’s prologue. The use of the song in the film went on to help the band get their only platinum-selling single to date. 

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

‘Mrs Robinson’ – The Lemonheads

O Lobo de Wall Street/ The Wolf of Wall Street - Mrs Robinson

The real best musical moment in The Wolf Of Wall Street is when Matthew McConaughey does “the money chant” in the middle of a fancy restaurant, but since that’s not on the soundtrack the title has to go to The Lemonheads. It’s also nice to know that Evan Dando got a nice royalty cheque courtesy of Jordan Belfort. 

The Irishman (2019)

‘In The Still Of The Night’ – The Five Satins

Opening Scene| The Irishman

The third part of Scorsese’s mafia trilogy tries hard to undo the glamour of the first two films – swapping night clubs for retirement homes, and ‘Gimme Shelter’ for a mournful doo-wop lullaby that gets picked up again and again throughout the film. A song about loneliness in a film about old age, it’s one of the most heart-breaking records Scorsese ever played us.