Exploring Soundtracks: Casino

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We’re back this week with another installment of Exploring Soundtracks. For the past few weeks, we’ve been making our way through Martin Scorsese’s filmography. While we’ve skipped quite a few of his earlier films, we may end up working our way back around to them in time. But for today, we’ll be looking at Scorsese’s 1995 crime drama, “Casino”.

Last week, we looked at Martin Scorsese’s 1991 mystery/thriller “Cape Fear”, which was a remake of the original 1962 version. We talked a lot about how Elmer Bernstein adapted Bernard Herrmann’s original score for Scorsese’s darker take on the classic film.

Much like the soundtrack for “Goodfellas”, the music in “Casino” consists mainly of pop songs, true to Scorsese’s aesthetic preferences.

But before we get into the soundtrack itself, here’s a quick synopsis of “Casino”, for those who aren’t familiar with the film.

Synopsis

An adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s nonfiction book, “Casino: Love and Horror in Las Vegas”. Set in early 1970’s Las Vegas, low-level mobster Same “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) gets assigned by his bosses to head the Tangiers Casino. Initially, he finds success at his new position, but over the years, he begins to have problems with his loose-cannon enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), wife Ginger (Sharon Stone), and corrupt politicians.

Screenplay written by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi.

Casino Soundtrack

As we saw in “Goodfellas”, Martin Scorsese likes to use the music in his films to underscore messages coming through the scene. Sometimes this is on the nose, like in the scene where Rothstein takes Ginger to the bank to “I’ll Take You There”. Or, when we get our first look at Rothstein’s backstory to Muddy Waters’ bluesy “Hoochie Coochie Man”. The lyrics, “He was born for good luck”, underscore how unbelievably good at gambling Rothstein was.

Other times, a particular song choice draws our attention to details we might otherwise overlook. One scene that takes advantage of this is when Rothstein catches two men cheating at the blackjack tables. While we don’t hear the lyrics of Jeff Beck’s “I Ain’t Superstitious”, if you know the title of the song, the message rings clear. Rothstein’s job doesn’t allow him to believe in hot streaks.

There are more than a few golden moments in “Casino” when the perfect song sets the tone for a scene. One of these moments happens after the whole operation falls apart. As all of the witnesses are being killed by mobsters, Eric Burden and The Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun” plays as the punctuation mark on this long, epic sentence of a film. And what else could be more appropriate than a song about a gambling house that was the ruin of every soul who visited it?

Final Thoughts

Although the soundtrack for “Casino” boasts over thirty songs, it still doesn’t cover all of the music heard in the film. Along with that, the fact that a good chunk of the movie includes voice-over narration can make it difficult to pay attention to how much weight the music pulls. But even if you don’t notice it, your subconscious does, and somewhere in the back of your mind, every choice makes perfect sense, so that you understand what’s being said without even realizing.

That about does it for our discussion of Martin Scorsese’s “Casino”. Next time, we’ll take a look at Scorsese’s 2002 film, “Gangs of New York”.

Track List

CD 1
1. Contempt; Theme de Camille – Georges Delerue
2. Angelina / Zooma, Zooma Medley – Louis Prima
3. Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters
4. I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers
5. Nights In White Satin – The Moody Blues
6. How High The Moon – Les Paul & Mary Ford
7. Hurt – Timi Yuro
8. Ain’t Got No Home – Clarence Henry
9. Without You – Harry Nilsson
10. Love Is The Drug – Roxy Music
11. I’m Sorry – Brenda Lee
12. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
13. The Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King
14. Love Is Strange – Mickey & Sylvia
15. The ‘In’ Crowd – Ramsey Lewis
16. Stardust – Hoagy Carmichael
CD 2
1. Walk On The Wild Side – Jimmy Smith
2. Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding
3. I Ain’t Superstitious – Jeff Beck / Rod Stewart
4. The Glory Of Love – The Velvetones
5. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Devo
6. What A Difference A Day Makes – Dinah Washington
7. Working In A Coalmine – Lee Dorsey
8. House Of The Rising Sun – Eric Burdon
9. Those Were The Days – Cream
10. Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me) – Tony Bennett
11. Slippin’ And Slidin’ – Little Richard
12. You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You – Dean Martin
13. Compared To What – Les McCann / Eddie Harris
14. Basin Street Blues / When It’s Sleepy Time Down South Medley – Louis Prima
15. Matthaus Passion – The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
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