Exploring Soundtracks: The Wolf of Wall Street

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This week in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be continuing our journey through the films of Martin Scorsese by looking at the soundtrack to his 2013 film, “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

So far, we’ve looked at seven other soundtracks from Martin Scorsese films. Even so, we’ve barely scratched the surface of his entire filmography. While we’ve skipped past most of his early career, we’ve still managed to cover a lot of his recent releases of the past three decades. After “The Wolf of Wall Street”, we may dip back into some of these earlier films until the release of “The Irishman” this September.

Like many of Martin Scorsese’s films, the soundtrack for “The Wolf of Wall Street” mainly features pop songs, albeit an eclectic mix. While the soundtrack only includes some sixteen tracks, they’re only a fraction of the number of songs that are heard in the film.

But before we get too far into the soundtrack itself, here’s a brief synopsis of the plot to “The Wolf of Wall Street”, for those who haven’t seen it, or just need a quick refresher.

Synopsis

“The Wolf of Wall Street” depicts the true story of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street broker in the the late ’80s, who founds his own firm, Stratton Oakmont in the early ’90s, while he’s still in his early twenties. Belfort and his company make a fortune by defrauding wealthy investors, and use it to partake in excessive hedonism. But while they’re busy having as good of a time as money can buy, the SEC and the FBI build their case, and close in on Belfort’s empire.

The Wolf of Wall Street

While the soundtrack to “The Wolf of Wall Street” only contains about a fraction of the music heard in the film, that fraction is made up of a carefully selected group of tracks that captures the hectic, drug-fueled energy of Belfort’s life. But more than any other genre, “The Wolf of Wall Street” uses the blues to highlight the crazy, outlaw nature of the wall street environment in the ’80s.

One of the first songs heard in the film is “Dust My Broom”, by Elmore James, which comes in during the first scene, where Jordan Belfort introduces himself with a boastful narration on his material possessions, estate, and trophy wife. “Dust My Broom” also plays as Belfort shakily lands a helicopter on his front lawn in a drug-fueled state.

Another old blues number, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”, captures a transition point about a quarter of the way into the film, when we cut to Stratton Oakmont in its new offices, thriving in mayhem, debauchery, and money during an office celebration. The hectic, rock and roll lifestyle of wall street fits surprisingly well with old school blues. As, of course, does the drug use.

Along with the heavy use of blues, “The Wolf of Wall Street” also contains a lot of period music that fits right in with the ’80s and ’90s. A lot of these tracks didn’t make the album, of course, including songs by The Beastie Boys and Sir Mix-A-Lot, to name a few.

Final Thoughts

Once again, Martin Scorsese delivers a film with a soundtrack that hits all the right notes without the use of a traditional score. It’s a tall order, but one Scorsese has proven time and time again that he is quite capable of dishing out.

It is interesting that, unlike his other period films, in “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Scorsese draws on more songs that predate the historical setting of the film. It’s a stylistic choice that I think the film benefits from, as it derives from the need to strike the right tone, rather than the historical accuracy of radio hits.

That about wraps up our discussion of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Next week, we’ll be back with another soundtrack from Scorsese’s filmography before we move on to the works of other directors.

Track List

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