Friday, January 28, 2011

"Rock Box" Track of the Day: Harry Nilsson, "Jump Into the Fire"

Never have the words 'I gotta go home and get my hat' sounded so ominous.
Song: "Jump Into the Fire" by Harry Nilsson
Released: 1971
Why's it part of the "Rock Box" playlist?: It's featured in GoodFellas. Some IMDb research revealed that the track is also part of Bottle Shock, The Girl Next Door, A Good Year and a CSI: NY episode.
Which moment in GoodFellas does it appear?: It's one of six (!) existing songs in the unforgettable nine-minute "May 11, 1980" sequence that reportedly cost Martin Scorsese an arm and a leg... and a wing.

Last week, the music of Harry Nilsson--from his cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" that was made famous by Midnight Cowboy to the charming original songs he penned for Robert Altman's Popeye--was the subject of an A.V. Club "Gateways to Geekery" piece. Below the article, several commenters cited "Jump Into the Fire" from Nilsson Schmilsson as the best part of GoodFellas.

The epic and apocalyptic-sounding "Jump Into the Fire" drum solo by Derek and the Dominos member and Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon is a great match with the cocaine-fueled descent of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). In the frenetic sequence (hey look, it's a young Kevin Corrigan as Henry's wheelchair-bound brother--and there's Isiah Whitlock Jr. not saying sheeeeeeeeeiiiiit!), GoodFellas music editor Christopher Brooks mashed up the kickass Nilsson track with The Stones' "Memo from Turner," a live version of The Who's "Magic Bus," The Stones' "Monkey Man," Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" and George Harrison's "What Is Life?" ("Ooh, that was an expensive scene," recalled Brooks in a fascinating GoodFellas oral history that GQ published last year). But the best piece of music during that sequence is silence. I'm referring to the ominous silence that surrounds Lois (Welker White), the smug and perpetually stoned babysitter/drug mule, as she pesters Henry about driving her home to pick up a lucky hat she can't fly on planes without, which leads him to his arrest. I love how Scorsese chose to leave that moment--the moment right before Henry gets pinched--unscored.

"He's one of the few people who knows how to match music and picture. It's not just about taking a great record and just slapping it up in there," said Scorsese fan Spike Lee in GQ's oral history. "That scene is directed, obviously, by someone who's used cocaine! Simple as that. And used it a lot. And if you've never tried cocaine, which I haven't, now I know what it feels like, after watching that scene."


All the other "Rock Box" Tracks of the Day from this week:
Aloe Blacc, "I Need a Dollar"
Spandau Ballet, "Gold"
Brother Noland, "Coconut Girl"
A Flock of Seagulls, "Space Age Love Song"

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