There is a deep, intrinsic and gratifying relationship between esteemed director Martin Scorsese and the iconic rock ‘n’ roll band, The Rolling Stones. One that goes far beyond Scorsese’s musical documentary about the group Shine A Light and stretches across his films to the point of fandom. “My films,” Scorsese once said, “would be unthinkable without them.” That’s all but forgetting Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s failed TV series VINYL. But, if he had to pick, which song would be Scorsese’s favourite Stones number? We think we may have figured it out.
Now, there’s one thing that must be said about this, and every other moment in which a cultural hero picks out their favourite song, film or performance from another pop icon, the very nature of the art means that our favourite not only should change with time and experience but must evolve with one’s life. To think that your favourite song at age 19 would be the same song that gets your vote aged 69 is a little fanciful. To make matters worse, though Scorsese has often shared his love for The Rolling Stones, he’s never officially picked out a single song as his favourite, likely owing to the aforementioned theory. However, there is one key indicator that may hold the answer— his films.
Martin Scorsese is perhaps one director whose name holds as much weight in the field of music as it does in film. The director has long been affiliated with some of the biggest rock acts of all time thanks to his penchant for a musical documentary and a sincere skill at delivering a pulsating concert film, both of which he has completed with aplomb.
Having worked with Bob Dylan to bring the Rolling Thunder Revue to the fore as well as capturing the epic final moments of The Band in The Last Waltz, it’s easy to draw the connection between Martin Scorsese and music, and that’s without mentioning Woodstock from 1970 — arguably the greatest music documentary of all time. When you add that to Shine A Light, it provides some iron-clad thinking that Scorsese rates music just as highly as he does the art of cinema. But there’s no band he likes more than the Stones.
Scorsese has used countless Rolling Stones songs in his films; in fact, it would be strange to watch a Scorsese picture without hearing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at some point. But there’s one song that has featured more often than not and could, arguably, therefore be considered his favourite Stones song of all time. Of course, we’re talking about the death rattle of the sixties, ‘Gimme Shelter’.
From 1968’s album Let It Bleed, ‘Gimme Shelter’ is one song that remains as scintillating today as it was when it was released. The song was a searing indictment of the world around the band. “Well, it’s a very rough, very violent era. The Vietnam War,” Mick Jagger said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Violence on the screens, pillage and burning. And Vietnam was not war as we knew it in the conventional sense. The thing about Vietnam was that it wasn’t like World War II, and it wasn’t like Korea, and it wasn’t like the Gulf War.”
Adding: “It was a real nasty war, and people didn’t like it. People objected, and people didn’t want to fight it … That’s a kind of end-of-the-world song, really. It’s apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.”
The song, therefore, works perfectly as a landmark moment in some of Martin Scorsese’s greatest films. Featuring in four of those films, ‘Gimme Shelter’ is utilised in Mean Streets, his blistering Harvey Keitel film, in Goodfellas as the world around Henry Hill begins to crumble, in Casino the song soundtracks the spilling of blood and finally in 2006’s The Departed it acts as the perfect way to introduce the demented character of Frank Costello.
Having used the song in four different films across three different decades, it’s fair to assume that, at the very least, he considers the song the most impactful. But, judging by his utilisation of the band, in general, and with so many other songs available, one would imagine that ‘Gimme Shelter’ is certainly in the running for Martin Scorsese’s favourite Rolling Stones song.