The music-loving world was sad to see the passing of 80-year-old Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts on August 24, 2021, which happened to coincide with the release just days before of a new “Ted Lasso” Apple+ television episode that centered around a Stones’ song from 1967. The band’s music has been used in countless TV shows and movies over the years, and in memory of the drumming gentleman that for so long provided the heartbeat of the band, I offer the below as the five best uses of a Rolling Stones song in a TV show or movie. These are the times when the song was as integral to the scene as the writing, director, or actors who brought it to life.
5. “Moonlight Mile” (Sticky Fingers, 1971) in “The Sopranos”
This song was featured in the season six episode, “Kaisha,” of the HBO series “The Sopranos” — in both the opening and closing scenes — and was so impactful to me that I remember even 15 years later watching the episode in Afghanistan on a DVD, and then searching out the song afterward to listen to it over and over. As the episode opens, the song plays while one of Tony’s henchmen disposes of a severed head in a sewer, and a gambling establishment explodes. Then it plays again as the final scene fades out in the Sopranos’ living room, at a small Christmas gathering, before the credits play. It is a masterful use of the song to juxtapose the violence and mayhem that play out alongside moments of family contentment and warmth in Tony Soprano’s world.
4. “Gimme Shelter” (Let it Bleed, 1969) in “The Departed”
This song from the album Let it Bleed opens up the 2006 film “The Departed,” playing in the background while scenes of mayhem play out in Boston “some time ago.” Jack Nicholson’s character Frank Costello (based on real-life gangster Whitey Bulger) enlightens the viewer regarding his vision of how to operate in the world of an Irish gangster: “No one gives it to ya. You have to take it.” We see Costello shake down a local restaurant owner and get his hooks into an adolescent boy who will later grow up to be a key player in his network. The song has always had a sense of seedy danger about it, and it plays perfectly in setting the tone for what will play out in this absolute dynamite film.
3. “She’s a Rainbow” (Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967) in “Ted Lasso”
Completely and utterly diametrically opposed to the tone set by “Gimme Shelter” is the sense of sheer joy and uplift conveyed in the 1967 song “She’s a Rainbow.” It is used to exuberant effect throughout the fifth episode of Season two of “Ted Lasso” (titled “Rainbow”), from the ring tone on Higgins’ phone (for when his beloved wife calls him), to the climactic final scene where Roy “Reba McIntyre” Kent makes a fateful decision about his future, conveyed perfectly in the words, “Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at coach.” Again, the song has a starring role throughout, especially in the final scene, and the episode would lose its hefty emotional punch without it.
2. “Paint it Black” (Aftermath, 1966) in “Full Metal Jacket”
Along with “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, this song has cemented its place in popular culture as one of the sonic hallmarks of anything Vietnam War-related. That is thanks largely to its use in the end credits of the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film, “Full Metal Jacket.” The opening guitar licks and follow-on Charlie Watts machine gun drum into are iconic and cannot help but place one in that era. The song’s marking of the end of the film — after the haunting Mickey Mouse inferno sing-along of the American GI’s — acts as a sort of permission slip for the viewer to take a deep breath and start digesting what they just experienced. It is musically chaotic, grim, and dark, just as Kubrick intended to portray the era with the movie’s final spoken dialogue: “I am in a world of shit, yes. But I am alive, and I am not afraid.”
1. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (Let It Bleed, 1969) in “The Big Chill”
Watching the 1983 movie “The Big Chill” when I was a young teenager of maybe 13 (years after it was released) was the first time that I can recall a song that was used on-screen that made me stop in my tracks, find the song, and play it over and over and over again. The funeral and post-funeral procession scene in which the song is used and which kicks off the reunion of a group of old friends of the deceased is imbued with perfectly portrayed nostalgia, warmth, and melancholy wistfulness — all of which is heightened and accentuated by the inclusion of the song. In fact, without the song, the scene would undoubtedly have been far less powerful, such is its central role in the drama. It is a classic scene in a classic movie, and the song adds to the emotional investment in a way that makes its inclusion essential to its impact. It is the benchmark for how a song can add depth, emotion, and texture to movies and television shows.
Charlie Watts and his band have contributed over a half-century of cultural richness to the world, and the Stones’ man on the sticks will be missed.
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Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube/ ABC News