From the moment we saw Leonard DiCaprio bust a move in the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street (creating one of the best gifs of 2013), it was clear the movie knew how to party. Martin Scorsese’s latest tells the provocative true story of former Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio) – a man who did not hold back when it came to his ambition, drug addiction, insatiable greed, and throwing some of the wildest parties both inside and outside of the office. The Kanye West beat that pulsates throughout that trailer (making it one of our favorites of last year) set the tone for this non-stop party atmosphere, but the musical choices throughout the movie itself (and those highlighted on the film’s soundtrack) are as unpredictable as Belfort after downing multiple handfuls of Quaaludes.
The Wolf of Wall Street takes audiences back to the early 1990s where, in the wake of the stock market crash of 1987, ambitious Belfort sets his sights on exploiting penny stocks and begins to make a name (and buckets of cash) for himself. Despite the setting, the film isn’t jam packed with tunes from the decade (not to say they aren’t there) opting to instead focus on the blues with songs from artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Cannonball Adderley.
The reflective and sorrowful nature of the blues may seem like an odd choice for an in-your-face tale about a man who makes no excuses or apologies for his behavior, but The Wolf of Wall Street’s music supervisor, Randall Poster, explained, “Marty knows where to go back further in time, to reveal a certain character element – all these classic R&B and blues tracks with that rebel spirit that are inspirations to rock and roll.”
And Belfort is certainly a rebel spirit. Plus, seeing as how The Wolf of Wall Street chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of Belfort, it makes emotional sense to echo the blues as his world starts to fall apart around him. While Belfort never feels sorry for himself as his life starts speeding toward a destructive end he cannot prevent, an underlying feeling of regret starts to seep into the narrative which is perfectly reflected in this music. As the lavish lifestyle he crated for himself is stripped away and Belfort finds himself sober, he comes across as sad and the unexpected blues music plays to this truth without exploiting it.
Now that is not to say The Wolf of Wall Street is a story of a man we should feel sorry for. Belfort is ambitious to his core and songs like Romeo Void‘s “Never Say Never” which sings, “I might like you better if we slept together,” pretty much sums up his worldview where every moment is an opportunity to make people and events work to your own benefit. Belfort is almost a chameleon in that way, constantly adapting to his surroundings, going from leading a yacht full of people in a dance along to Naughty by Nature‘s “Hip Hip Hooray” to having the James Bond classic “Goldfinger” played at his wedding.
But there is a unifying beat that ties all this music together whether it be ‘90s hip-hop or ‘60s blues.
Before falling down this rabbit hole of excess, Belfort is taken to lunch by fellow stockbroker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) where Hanna tells him that all he needs to succeed is drugs, prostitutes, and daily manual relief. Belfort certainly heeds this advice, but it is the chant Hanna ends their lunch with, appropriately named “The Money Chant,” that seems to become the beat constantly driving Belfort from that moment forward.
This primal, chest-pounding chant reflects the feeling and sound that is The Wolf of Wall Street – relentless, catchy, and slightly unhinged. This pulse is what drives all the various types of music throughout the film and keeps Belfort ever moving forward, no matter what obstacles are put in his path. Whether Belfort is screaming along to this beat or it is heard bubbling beneath the surface in the background, it is always there. And in the end, this beat is still vibrating we watch Belfort, a relentless, charming businessman, still rebelling against expectation, refusing to fold.
1. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” – Cannonball Adderley
2. “Dust My Broom” – Elmore James
3. “Bang! Bang!” – Joe Cuba
4. “Movin’ On Out (Anthony’s Song)” – Billy Joel
5. “C’est Si Bon” – Eartha Kitt
6. “Goldfinger” – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
7. “Pretty Thing” – Bo Diddley
8. “Moonlight in Vermont (Live At The Pershing Lounge/1958)” – Ahmad Jamal
9. “Smokestack Lightning” – Howlin’ Wolf
10. “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You” – The Jimmy Castor Bunch
11. “Double Dutch” – Malcolm McLaren
12. “Never Say Never” – Romeo Void
13. “Meth Lab Zoso Sticker” – 7Horse
14. “Road Runner (Single Version)” – Bo Diddley
15. “Mrs. Robinson (LP Version)” – The Lemonheads
16. “Cast Your Fate To the Wind” – Allen Toussaint