Music in the movies: Martin Scorsese

News Glen Chapman
25 May 2010 - 05:08

Glen turns his attention this week to celebrating the music from Martin Scorsese movies....

Like the other two directors that I've looked at in this series, Martin Scorsese is a master when it comes to the use of music in his films and the same could be said about all aspects of his work. Looking through the music to his films, it's easy to get a feel for who his favourite artists are, but there are always one or two surprise inclusions on his soundtracks.

Blending the familiar with lesser known tracks to brilliant effect, Scorcese's films have been accompanied by some of the more memorable soundtracks in recent memory.

Here are what I consider to be some of his finest...

Taxi Driver

The score for Taxi Driver is notable for being the final score from legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. To say that Herrmann's score here is one of his best pieces of work is high praise indeed, given the fact that he has contributed scores for some of the greatest films of all time. His contribution was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination and a BAFTA win.

The use of brass and percussion borders on the oppressive brilliantly, which is a great strength of the soundtrack, amplifying the feelings of isolation and despair felt by Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle.

Scorsese is, of course, well known for the use of sourced music in his films, but there's only one such example here: Jackson Browne's Late For The Sky, which accompanies a scene where an envious Bickle watches couples dancing on TV.

Raging Bull

The film boasts a great soundtrack that shows an immense level of attention to detail and consideration to ensure that what is heard on screen is what would have been heard around the time in which the movie is set. Scorsese was assisted by Band (subject of The Last Waltz) guitarist Robbie Robertson, who also provides some instrumental pieces for the film.

The one piece of music that stands out from all the others is Pietro Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, which is the closest the film has to a theme. I remember being blown away by the use of the track and how it complimented the imagery on screen when I first saw the film, and it's now impossible for me not to think of Raging Bull when I hear it elsewhere. Out of all the great choices of music in Scorsese's movies, this is my favourite.

Due to licensing difficulties, the soundtrack wasn't available for purchase until 25 years after the film's release. The two disc set with a run time of over two hours is incredibly good value, offering listeners both quantity and quality, with all the material that features complimenting each other perfectly.


Like the film itself, the soundtrack to Goodfellas gets more rewarding each time you experience it. There's clearly a painstaking attention to detail here as each song that features thematically compliments the scene in which it features and also had to be released prior to the time when each scene is set.

It's reported that a lot of the selections were worked into the script, which goes some way to explain why, in certain key scenes, the lyrics of the song appear to be assisting the narrative in lieu of dialogue.

This is widely regarded as one of the finest sourced material soundtracks of all time and one that is said to have inspired a generation of filmmakers to recognise the importance of sourcing the perfect piece of music to compliment a scene. Even with this being the case, I feel that it doesn't quite match the quality seen in Raging Bull, a soundtrack that outclasses Goodfellas in both quantity and quality.


Another collaboration with Robertson sees another epic soundtrack for Scorsese's 1995 hit, which at the time it was released, held the record for the most uses of the word "fuck" in a film. Dubious honours aside, Casino is a fantastic film that's ambitious in scale and beautifully executed, featuring career high performances from a number of its stars.

The official soundtrack includes over 30 tracks, but the film features over 50, including a whole lot of Rolling Stones material. Like most of Scorsese's great soundtracks, the music in Casino plays out like a brilliant mix tape that includes a mixture of familiar and lesser known tracks. When you've got tracks by Devo and Roxy Music sitting alongside B.B. King and Muddy Waters, you know you're in for a good time.

Bringing Out The Dead

I'm a big fan of Bringing Out The Dead, a film that turned out to be something of a box office flop. It's a much better film than it was given credit for.

Mixing rock, reggae and R&B, the songs featured are all a perfect fit for the scenes in which they feature, even if this is perhaps not the most cohesive collections of music when listened to in isolation from the film. It's hard to pick fault with any of the selections.

From the opening song of Van Morrison's T.B. Sheets, a song that is thematically such a perfect fit for the film, it's clear that this is another classic Scorsese soundtrack. Hearing R.E.M's What's The Frequency Kenneth anywhere is great. The same could be said for selections such as The Clash's I'm So Bored With The USA and Nowhere To Run by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.

The Departed

The film that finally saw Scorsese win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director is by no means the director's best work, but it's a brilliant film that has its own identity and provides an interesting twist on the film that it was based on.

Scorsese staples The Rolling Stones feature in the film and the soundtrack, and the film is full of a mix of tracks from artists that previously featured on his soundtracks such as Van Morrison and The Band who collaborate with Roger Waters on a brilliant cover of Comfortably Numb.

For all the great inclusions from revered artists, it's Dropkick Murphys' I'm Shipping Up To Boston which plays out over the title sequence.

Please add your Martin Scorsese favourites in the comments!

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