The Rolling Stones cost a pretty penny to license.
Unlike The Fab Four, though, the Stones have managed to carve out a considerable section of cinematic history for themselves, spicing up hundreds upon hundreds of iconic scenes over the last half-century. It’s a marriage that has informed both the band’s evolving mythology and the way their millions of fans have approached their blockbuster brand of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll — and that last part’s crucial.
Between Martin Scorsese’s sexy crime dramas and Wes Anderson’s delicate indie portraits, Mick Jagger’s band of jangly misfits have shimmied their way through a number of films and genres that have impacted a wide range of generations. Because of this, they’ve had the rare luxury of being a ubiquitous force in pop culture, enjoying a career that, at least for now, has no real shelf life. They’ve just always been there.
Of course, none of that would have happened without the actual music. Part of the reason why they’ve fascinated so many people over time is that they seemingly have a song for every moment; they can win over a sports arena filled with raving lunatics just as easily as they can warm up a tucked-away coffee shop on a rainy day. Who would have thought a bunch of filmmakers would pick up on that?
Alas, here are 10 songs from 10 films that will undoubtedly get yer ya-ya’s out.
10. “Paint It Black”
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Okay, this one just barely counts; “Paint It Black” actually plays over the end credits of Stanley Kubrick’s horrifying 1987 meditation on the psychological trauma left by Vietnam on so many ill-trained American soldiers. But it’s as instantly memorable a use of the song as any, the opening sitar notes serving as punctuation to the climactic death march, the shell-shocked warriors moaning along to the Mickey Mouse Club theme, with nothing left to give in the face of an unforgiving world. And as edits go, Kubrick’s name popping up in perfect time with Charlie Watts’ first beats is pretty damn effective. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
09. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
The Fighter (2010)
Hot take: David O. Russell’s most accomplished film in his canon of immaculately drawn characters yelling over each other might just be The Fighter, Russell’s portrait of Micky Ward and his decidedly American Northeastern family. The jagged riffs of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” score one of Micky’s cruicial training montages, and it’s also a functional bridge between the family drama that underscores so much of the film and Micky’s eventual rise to the London fight where he stands to atone for so many of his family’s sins. In a film that’s very much a family affair, Jagger’s need for a more intimate kind of assistance (“Help me baby, ain’t no stranger”) takes on a broader meaning. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
08. “Jumpin Jack Flash”
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
As anthemic declarations about the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson go, the opening line of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” just about says it all: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.” Thompson was born of, created through, and eventually torn asunder by the polemics of mid-1900s America, but Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas sees (in a way only Terry Gilliam could manage) the writer at the peak of his powers, whether artistic or in his remarkable ability to abuse more substances than any human being should be able to. And it’s the Stones’ 1968 single that sees Thompson out the same way he came into the city: speeding down the highway, bound for everywhere and nowhere. The world was going to hell, but come on. It’s alright now. In fact… –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer