Director Martin Scorsese and the Rolling Stones‘ Mick Jagger have teamed as executive producers of Vinyl,
a 10-episode series on the ’70s rock scene that premieres on HBO Feb. 14.
At a Television Critics Association panel, Jagger acknowledged that the acclaimed director “was one of the first people that really used rock ‘n’ roll, like wall to wall. Before Marty, people used music occasionally, like rock music and other kinds of popular music, but not really like he did.”
Scorsese has utilized rock music in his soundtracks since his first feature, 1967’s Who’s That Knocking at My Door? , so we’ve assembled our Top 11 Scorsese Film Songs, each from a different movie. Here are the stories behind the songs.
11. Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum from New York Stories: Life Lessons
Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid told Uncut that the mysterious song, a No. 5 hit in 1967, was put together like a puzzle. “I had the phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale,’ that was the start, and I knew it was a song. It’s like a jigsaw where you’ve got one piece, then you make up all the others to fit in. I was trying to conjure a mood as much as tell a straightforward, girl-leaves-boy story. With the ceiling flying away and room humming harder, I wanted to paint an image of a scene. I wasn’t trying to be mysterious with those images.”
Lead vocalist and co-writer Gary Brooker told Acoustic Storm that Reid has never told him what the lyrics mean. “There seems to be a girl somewhere amongst it all. That’s all I can see in it, I don’t know what it means. If everybody knew what it meant it probably wouldn’t have lasted so long.”
“The point was not so much what the songs were saying, specifically, as what they were suggesting to each of us, individually, where all those sounds and images would lead us, and leave us,” said Scorsese in Procol Harum: The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale. “Procol Harum’s music drew from so many deep wells – classical music, 19th Century literature, rhythm and blues, seaman’s logs, concretist poetry – that each tune became a cross-cultural whirligig, a road trip through the pop subconscious.”
Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum from New York Stories: Life Lessons
10. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon from The Color of Money
Warren Zevon wrote Werewolves of London with friend Roy Marinell and guitarist Waddy Wachtell, his bandmate with the Everly Brothers. Fifty-nine takes were required to record Werewolves. Writing the 1978 hit went much faster.
“We wrote the song one afternoon,” Wachtel relates on his website. “I remember going by Roy’s house one afternoon on my way into town to do some sessions, and Warren was there, and he says, ‘Waddy, it’s great you’re here! Phil Everly gave me a great title for a song. We’re going to write a song called Werewolves of London.’
“Now, Roy had been sitting around for months with this little guitar figure, and we never could do anything with it. I said to Warren, ‘Werewolves of London? You mean like, “ow-ooooo”?’ Warren says, ‘Yeah, yeah!’ I said, ‘That’s easy. Roy, play that lick of yours.’ And he started playing it. I had just gotten back from England so I had all these lyrics in my head, so I just spit out that whole first verse. Warren says, ‘That’s great!’ I said, ‘Really? Okay, fine. There’s your first verse. You write the rest. I’ve gotta go into town.’ And then they worked on the rest of it.”
Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon from The Color of Money
9. Sunshine of Your Love by Cream from GoodFellas
Here is how Jack Bruce characterized Cream‘s Sunshine of Your Love: “When you enter a music shop this is the song that kids always play to try out a guitar.” Eric Clapton revealed that Jimi Hendrix was Bruce’s inspiration for its memorable bass riff.
“We’d been to see Hendrix about two nights before … he played this gig that was just blinding.” Clapton told Rolling Stone. “After the gig [Bruce] went home and came up with the riff. It was strictly a dedication to Jimi. And then we wrote a song on top of it.”
Sunshine of Your Love was a No. 5 hit in 1968. Bruce, Clapton and lyricist Pete Brown shared the writing credits. “The way the song happened was the riff came first,” Bruce said in Ultimate Guitar. “I just played the riff on the double bass. And then I knew that that had to become a song but it took a while to make it into a song until Eric came up with the turnaround part [‘I’ve been waiting so long’], which is the part that he wrote of the song.”
Sunshine of Your Love by Cream from GoodFellas
8. Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones from Mean Streets
Written by Jagger and Keith Richards, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was a return to the gritty sound of the early Stones after the LPs Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request. The song, Jagger told Rolling Stone in 1995, was an escape “out of all the acid of Satanic Majesties. It’s about having a hard time and getting out. Just a metaphor for getting out of all the acid things.”
In his autobiography Life, Richards reveals the inspiration for the 1968 hit. “Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside and there was the sound of these heavy stomping rubber boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer, a real country man from Sussex. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s jumping Jack.’ I started to work around the phrase on the guitar, which was in open tuning, singing the phrase ‘Jumping Jack.’ Mick said, ‘Flash,’ and suddenly we had this phrase with a great rhythm and ring to it.”
Jumpin’ Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones from Mean Streets
7. Back on the Chain Gang by the Pretenders from The King of Comedy
Back on the Chain Gang was recorded by the Pretenders in July 1982, days after lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose. A No. 5 hit, the song was written by singer Chrissie Hynde with Scott in mind. “That was a song I was writing and I had shown Jimmy Scott some of the chords,” Hynde told Blue Railroad. “I was working on this song which he liked, and then he died, and it turned into more of a tribute to him.”
“When it came to her vocals, Chrissie was great so long as nobody else was in the room,” engineer Steve Churchyard said in Sound on Sound. “The band, everybody was kicked out. They all went upstairs and played pool, and nobody was allowed to come back down until we’d got them. Only [producer] Chris Thomas and myself were in the control room while Chrissie sang … If you catch her on the wrong day, things can be heavy, but she can also be very funny, and she was very easy to work with when we did Chain Gang. Only later did I realize how emotional it must have been for her.”
“Sad? Yeah, but that’s life,” acknowledged Hynde in the Telegraph.
“There is sadness every day. I’m mindful not to get too self-pitying or too revealing of my own pain. Everyone else has theirs. They don’t need mine.”
Back on the Chain Gang by the Pretenders from The King of Comedy
6. Daniel by Elton John from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Written by Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin, the meaning of Daniel has puzzled fans since it reached No. 2 in 1973. “Daniel is probably the most misinterpreted song in our repertoire,” Taupin told the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “One of the reasons supposedly that people have misinterpreted it was because it originally had a last verse, and it was too long, so we had to get rid of the last verse.”
Taupin’s inspiration was a news magazine story he’d read about a veteran returning home from the Vietnam War. “He came from a small town, he went back and there were flags, and banners, and he was brought back as a hero, and he didn’t want to know about that. He just wanted to go back to his life. He was basically driven away from his home by people’s adulation of him. So I made it into this story about his younger brother and him going away to Europe, because he couldn’t stand being in his own country anymore, because he felt he was a freak.”
Daniel by Elton John from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
5. Baby Blue by Badfinger from The Departed
Baby Blue was a Top 20 hit for Badfinger in 1972. The song was written by singer Pete Ham and produced by Todd Rundgren. Ham wrote Baby Blue for Dixie Armstrong, a singer he’d met during the band’s 1971 U.S. tour.
“She came to one of the shows, they got talking and Pete really liked her,” guitarist Joey Molland told Team Rock. “I don’t know whether they fell in love straight away, but he invited her on the road with us and she came along. She came back to England, too. But we were working in the studio a lot and doing gigs, and I don’t think she was really into that side of it. And then Pete wouldn’t call her when he was away, though I don’t know why. We were just a bunch of guys, and didn’t sit around talking about romantic relationships.
“Pete had written it on acoustic guitar and had some ideas for the linking licks. So I took over that job, we all ran through it a few times, and recorded it. Then we did a couple of overdubs to fatten it up.”
Baby Blue would be the Badfinger’s last hit single. In addition to its use in The Departed, the song was featured in the finale of the TV series Breaking Bad.
Baby Blue by Badfinger from The Departed
4. Do Right Woman, Do Right Man by Aretha Franklin from Cape Fear
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man was a 1967 hit for Aretha Franklin. The tune was the first success for songwriters Dan Penn and Chips Moman. “I had ‘do right’ on my mind,” Penn told the Country Music Hall of Fame. “To me it sounded like black street slang. Everything then was ‘do right’ or ‘uptight.'”
Franklin first tried to record Do Right Woman at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Al. When Franklin’s then-husband and manager Ted White accused a musician of flirting with the singer, the session was cancelled. Franklin re-recorded the song at an eight-track studio in New York with sisters Carolyn and Erma singing backup. “She had put her sisters on it, she’d sang it over, she’d played piano herself, and I realized then you can make anything out of anything with a lot of tracks,” Penn recalled in Vox. “It was such a wonderful record when they played it back. It’s still one of the best records I’ve ever heard by anybody – not ’cause it’s my song, but just that record. It’ll reach out and get you in your heart.”
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man by Aretha Franklin from Cape Fear
3. Janie Jones by the Clash from Bringing Out the Dead
Janie Jones was an early anti-establishment anthem written and performed by the Clash. The British punk rockers titled the tune for Janie Jones, a notorious pop singer of the ’60s. The Clash song is a lament by an office worker stuck in a boring job who dreams of picking up Jones after work.
Born Marion Mitchell, Jones adopted her more famous stage name and first made waves in 1964 when she appeared at a film premiere wearing a topless dress. Her biggest success as a singer was the novelty song Witches Brew. Jones was famously jailed in the ’70s for running a prostitution ring; she served three years.
In 1982 Clash guitarist Mick Jones worked with the singer to form Janie Jones & the Lash. Their single, House of the Ju-Ju Queen, was produced by Joe Strummer and released in 1983.
Janie Jones by the Clash from Bringing Out the Dead
2. Shotgun by Jr. Walker & the All Stars from Who’s That Knocking at My Door?
In 1964, Jr. Walker had yet to score a hit for Motown’s Soul label. While performing at the El Grotto club in Battle Creek, Mich., the saxophonist noticed dance moves that resembled shooting a gun. Walker asked what the dance was called. “The Shotgun,” he was told.
Walker wrote Shotgun, which was produced by Motown head Berry Gordy and became a No. 4 hit in 1965. UDiscover reveals that its introduction, which features the crack of a gunshot, was not what it seemed.
“The sound effect on the intro is not a gun at all, but a heavily echoed and compressed recording of Eddie Willis, guitarist with Motown house musicians the Funk Brothers, accidentally kicking his amplifier. That effect was not on the version included on the group’s 1965 album of the same name, and when Jr. Walker’s Greatest Hits came out four years later, a recording of a real shotgun being fired was overdubbed from a sound effects record.”
Shotgun by Jr. Walker & the All Stars from Who’s That Knocking at My Door?
1. House of the Rising Sun by the Animals from Casino
The Animals reached No. 1 in 1964 with House of the Rising Sun, called “the first folk rock tune” by the BBC.
Though its author is unknown, versions of Rising Sun have been recorded since the 1930s. Bob Dylan learned the song from folk singer Dave Van Ronk and included it on his 1962 debut album. “The first version I heard was Dylan’s,” Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine told Uncut. “To this day I still think it’s the definitive one.”
“In my mind, the ‘house’ was a polished gentleman’s club,” added frontman Eric Burdon. “It had to be a room full of women of many colors, sizes and shapes. It would have a spiral staircase. It must have had a black man playing ragtime piano. It must be three stories high and smell of cheap perfume – and way too expensive for me to get across the threshold.”
House of the Rising Sun by the Animals from Casino