Martin Scorsese has never shied away from integrating his own personal music tastes into his movies. Most infamously, this usually takes the form of shoehorning ‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones into any possible place he can, appearing in Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed. The director is happy to place some classic doo-wop in 1950s New York City, but he’s also willing to drop in old-time folk music to add just that little added hint of realism to Gangs of New York.
But when it comes to one of classic rock’s most beloved acts, Scorsese has actually been a bit reticent. The Beach Boys’ radiant harmonies are mostly at odds with Scorsese’s dedication to bringing crime and filth to the big screen, but Marty has never been above a little bit irony in that regard. Couldn’t the wild electric theremin of ‘Good Vibrations’ have found a place in one of his movies? Or couldn’t ‘God Only Knows’ have stepped in during the ‘Layla’ sequence of Goodfellas? Perhaps not.
Scorsese actually has used Beach Boys songs on two occasions: the first was in The Departed, as the unease and paranoia of the film’s narrative coincides with the “unsettled ocean” described in the song’s lyrics. But Scorsese pulled out another Beach Boys song with a nautical theme to underscore one of his more recent films, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Only the director didn’t use the actual song. To give a grand scale to Jordan Belfort’s newfound wealth, especially his purchase of an absolutely gargantuan yacht, Scorsese couldn’t have gone with the dulcet tones of The Beach Boys’ original recording of ‘Sloop John B’. He needed something a little more edgy, a little more aggressive, and a little more fist-pumping.
So Scorsese went a different direction. Instead of the original Pet Sounds track, the director decided to use the punk rock cover version supplied by the genres greatest supergroup cover band, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The Gimmes, made up of members of Lagwagon, NOFX, Swinging’ Utters, and formerly Foo Fighters (guitarist Chris Shiflett officially left the group in 2019), have been cranking out snot-nosed versions of the greatest songs of all time for almost three decades. It’s their souped-up version that appears in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Although Brian Wilson purists may bicker, it’s actually a rather inspired choice. Belfort’s quite a bit of a phony himself, having adapted to the dog-eat-dog world of Wall Street in his own self-interest. He’s plenty aggro, giving into the seedier and more thrilling aspects of life, and so he’s probably not sitting around pumping out Beach Boys songs on his yacht. If nothing else, it’s pretty damn exciting when those first crashing notes land as Jordan’s yacht is revealed in all its glory, and if The Wolf of Wall Street is about anything, it’s style over substance.