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
07. “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”
Apocalypse Now (1979)
“Satisfaction” is one of those songs that’s been around for so long and used in so many different corners of pop culture that it’s hard to land on one definitive use in a film. Having said that, the most thematically appropriate and memorable might just be the brief moment early in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece about the futility of the Vietnam War, when Captain Willard’s modest squadron sails up the Nung River to Colonel Kurtz’s fatalistic terminal point. While they’re still capable of getting radio to the boat, the men are given a moment of reprieve courtesy of the Stones’ classic, able to dance and chuckle. Yet even as they enjoy a second of respite from the horrors of the war thanks to Jagger’s fevered insistence (“But I try, and I try”), Willard is left to gaze over the reports regarding Kurtz and wonder how and why any of them ever ended up there in the first place. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
06. “Tell Me”
Mean Streets (1973)
Spoiler: You’re not going to find Goodfellas on this list. ::ducks from the rotten fruit and vegetables:: We’re not saying it isn’t a classic, but there are far more things going on in that film than the Stones. Besides, Martin Scorsese’s electrifying and enduring relationship with the English rockers began long before Ray Liotta ever put on a suit and whined about ketchup and noodles. No, it only makes sense to look way, way back to 1973’s Mean Streets, the veteran filmmaker’s first crime drama and third film. Two Stones songs are employed for Harvey Keitel’s Mafioso tale — “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Tell Me” — but it’s the use of the latter that offers a fundamental lesson on Scorsese. Watch for the long takes, the snap cuts, the shifting perspectives, the voice-over … it’s all a brilliant blueprint for what would come later down the line. It also helps that the film’s fucking great. –Michael Roffman
05. Play With Fire”
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The first of two appearances by Wes Anderson on this list, “Play With Fire” encapsulates so much of the emotional angst that wraps around the filmmaker’s 2007 comedy drama, The Darjeeling Limited. At this point in the story, we’ve watched the three brothers trek across India for over an hour, searching not only for their mother, but for a sense of purpose in their lives. They finally find her, and the four attempt to reconcile their differences in silence as we’re drawn away to a dreamy montage. Anderson’s always been smart with regards to music in that he doesn’t just cherry-pick songs; he uses them to express deeper feelings within any given scene, and he’s leaned upon the Stones for just about every film in his ouevre. For Darjeeling, Jagger’s poetry certainly informs the proceedings, what with the torn family and the singer’s own contemptuous feelings, but it’s really the thumbing acoustics that allow the meditative climax to fully sink in. Fuck the itinerary. –Michael Roffman
04. “Gimme Shelter”
The Departed (2006)
“I want my environment to be a product of me.” For all the time Scorsese has spent chronicling the ritualistic behaviors of powerful (and formerly powerful) men, rarely has his eye for the iconic cool of intimidation been as singularly confident as it is in The Departed, the film that finally got him over the Best Director hump. (Seriously, though, it’s a great film, but how goddamn funny would it have been if they had all those ‘70s directors get together to announce the winner and it wasn’t him?) This isn’t even the only time the director has used “Gimme Shelter”, to obviously say nothing of his career-long relationship with the Stones, but the film’s sweeping introduction manages an iconic marriage of song and scene and introduces an entire Boston criminal ecosystem in just a few short minutes. It’s the rare musical cue so good that other uses of the same song will be judged against it for years to come. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
03. “Time Is on My Side”
The Stones can be creepy — “Paint It Black”? “Sympathy for the Devil”? The cover of Voodoo Lounge? — but they tend to glaze any of their palpable darkness with a not-so-subtle layer of cool. In other words, you’re never running for the hills; you’re actually kind of embracing it. Screenwriter Nicholas Kazan picked up on that wiry juxtaposition when he turned their 12×5 ditty “Time Is on My Side” into an ominous callback for his 1998 supernatural thriller Fallen. At the very beginning, Denzel Washington’s Detective John Hobbes watches the execution of Elias Koteas’ possessed serial killer, Edgar Reese, who keeps singing the song as he’s put out of his misery. Eventually, the evil spirit starts hopping from one victim to the next, singing their respective hearts out to the maddening chorus as a way to prod an unsuspecting Hobbes. Traditionally, these types of cues tend to be cloying, but it actually works out well here, mostly because of the mood director Gregory Hoblit conveys. Oh, and you know, Denzel. –Michael Roffman