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The Departed: Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
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The Departed: Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Here’s something that’s been rolling around in my head for a while. The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” and the fact that it’s used in a lot of movies and TV shows, as well as video games and “Rock Band.”

The song was included on the album “Let It Bleed,” released on Dec. 5, 1969, and every time I hear it on the big or small screen, I automatically think, “Ok, this is something. I need to pay attention here.”

You immediately feel cool when you’re listening to this song, thanks in large part to the historic times during which the song was written (Vietnam war, race riots, violence in the streets), not to mention gospel singer Merry Clayton’s spine-tingling vocals.

According to the song’s wiki page, Clayton’s voice cracks twice from the strain of her powerful singing; once during the second refrain, on the word “shot” from the last line, and then again during the first line of the third and final refrain, on the word “murder,” after which Jagger can be heard saying “Yeah!” in response to Clayton’s emotional delivery.

She suffered a miscarriage upon returning home, attributed by some sources to the strain involved in reaching the highest notes.

Here’s a nice long “live” version of the song:

The 1970 documentary film, “Gimme Shelter,” which was directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, and which chronicled the final weeks of the Stones’ 1969 U.S. tour, which culminated in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, took its name from the song.

A live version of the song played over the credits.

The song has been a favorite of Martin Scorsese, who used it as a signature theme in several of his crime films, including “Casino” (1995) (I can’t find a good video of this – let me know if you know of one, and I’ll add it in), as well as:

“Goodfellas” (1990):

“The Departed” (2006):

Surprisingly, Scorsese did not include the song in his documentary about the Stones, “Shine a Light.” See, I wasn’t crazy about that film, and if he’d used “Gimme Shelter,” I might have had a better reaction to it.

It was also used in the films “Adventures in Babysitting” (1987), “The Fan” (1996), “Layer Cake” (2004) and “Air America” (1990).

“Gimme Shelter” was used in the trailer for the game “Call of Duty: Black Ops”:

“Gimme Shelter” was used in the Showtime series “Dexter,” in season two, episode five titled “The Dark Defender.” Dexter (Michael C. Hall) goes to to a bar to find the man who killed his mother years ago.

The song is also used in the 2012 Robert Zemeckis film, “Flight,” as well as its trailer:

“Person of Interest,” season two, episode 10, titled “Shadow Box”:

“Children of Men” Trailer (sort of, faintly):

The song was used in the trailer for the Discovery Channel’s “When We Left Earth,” which chronicled the NASA space missions.

And, I didn’t realize this, but Grand Funk Railroad did a cover of “Gimme Shelter.” Here’s where I get to name-drop and say that the bass player, Mel Schacher, is a friend of ours.

Did I miss any? Tell me in the comments below.

6 COMMENTS

  1. According to Mick Jagger The Rolling Stones deliberately left Gimme Shelter out of Shine A Light precisely because the song had been used in so many Scorcese films. Incidentally, Albert Maysles Brothers, directors of the film Gimme Shelter appears in the film Shine A Light holding a camera, and although there’s nothing in IMDB I am reasonably sure that Scorcese gets a credit on Gimme Shelter.

    • Interesting! In one way, I can see not wanting to include the song in Shine a Light. On the other hand, it almost seems sacrilege to leave it out.

      Also interesting on the credit. Wonder what’s up with that.

  2. […] The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter in Movies, TV and Video Games Here's something that's been rolling around in my head for a while. The Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter,” and the fact that it's used in a lot of movies and TV shows, as well as video games and “Rock Band.” The song was included on the album “Let It … Read more on Reel Life With Jane […]

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