On March 15th, 1972, “The Godfather” was released in theaters. The film was a turning point in cinema, not just in its portrayal of gangsters—which up to that point were seen in films typically as heartless, one dimensional bad guys—but its style and unique form of storytelling was an unofficial kickoff to a great new era in cinema. 40 years later, it’s still one of the most venerated, respected, and quotable movies ever, cited by many as the greatest film of all time.
For this week’s edition of Mixtape Madness, we compiled a set of songs honoring the love-hate relationship the world has with the archetypal gangster, as for many, the film signified the start of a fascination with the crime world lifestyle, which subsequently influenced not only films, but literature and music in the years that followed. Here are some of our favorites.
Dr. Dre – “Nuthin But a G Thang”
Gangsta rap had been brewing heavily since the late ’80s, and much like alternative rock, it exploded big in 1992. The song that best captured this movement was “Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” that played out like a Black “Goodfellas,” starting with a hydrolic popping afternoon party that stretches into the wee hours of the morning, with a young Snoop Dogg stumbling into his house as the sun rises. You can almost picture Karen Hill’s mom busting out the door to start screaming at him in the last scene.
Morrissey – “The Last of the Famous of the International Playboys”
Morrissey has always had a fascination with the crime world, which he openly admits in a lyric on the song “Sister, I’m a Poet.” On “The Last of the Famous International Playboys,” Moz chronicles the Kray twins, a pair of London based gangsters who flexed a hold over the city in the 1960s.
tUnE-yArDs – “Gangsta”
A D&T favorite from last year, tUnE-yArDs‘ “Gangsta” is Merrill Garbus’ address of the wannabe thugs. “What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a gangsta,” she asks, drawing attention to the idea of crime giving an otherwise directionless life meaning, or as Garbus puts it, “a freedom in violence.”
The Who – “The Punk and the Godfather”
For The Who’s second rock opera, “Quadrophenia,” Pete Townshend tells the story of a mod kid from mid ’60s England, desperately trying to fit into a world of gang violence. “The Punk and the Godfather” is actually not mob related, but is a point in the story where the lead character, Jimmy, meets his favorite band and becomes disillusioned by their rude behavior and disregard for him — the punk meeting the godfather(s).
Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise”
There was nothing very threatening about Coolio. Shortly after releasing “Gangsta’s Paradise” for the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack, he recorded the theme song to “Keanan and Kel,” the Nickelodeon sitcom staring two of “All That!”s favorite cast members. Thug or not, “Gangsta’s Paradise” is a pop/hip-hop classic, even if it became a flagship for the commercialization of gansta rap.
The Special AKA – “Gangsters”
Before they were known as the Specials, The Special AKA released their debut single, “Gangsters,” on Two Tone Records in 1979. The Specials had many songs that spoke of the rough life in certain areas in England, such as the dissolving of the club scene in “Ghost Town,” due to repeated bar fights. “Gangsters” seems to be addressing the problems with neighborhood corruption, when front man Terry Hall speaks of the fear of living in “gangster time,” but its title also may be in reference to the Prince Buster song, “Al Capone,” to which the tune borrows most of its melody from.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Stagger Lee”
The tale of Stagger Lee has been chronicled by numerous singers and songwriters over the years, dating back as early as 1910, but none portrayed the famous gangster more gruesomely than Nick Cave on a track that earned “Murder Ballads” its Parental Advisory sticker. In Cave’s version, Stagger Lee enters a bar, kills the bartender after a minor quip, then forces a man to perform fellatio on him before murdering him as well in front of his promiscuous girlfriend. The song itself is one of the Bad Seeds’ best, which concludes with a series of brilliantly blood curdling screams by guitarist, Blixa Bargeld.
Pavement – “Gangsters & Pranksters”
In a brief stay over coinciding with an Australian tour in support of “Wowee Zowee,” Pavement recorded a quick four song EP, released in January of 1996, called “Pacific Trim.” Featuring only Stephen Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich, and Steve West, the session was originally intended for the Silver Jews, but was switched to Pavement when David Berman couldn’t make the scheduled time. It was a fruitful session which produced the gem, “Give it a Day,” and this little ditty championing a life of crime over a life of practical jokes.
Bob Dylan – “Joey”
Bob Dylan got a lot of flack for his undisguised admiration for gangster Joey Gallo, in the “Desire” ballad “Joey” — Lester Bangs for one, called the song “repellent romanticist bullshit.” In actuality, Dylan only wrote the music — the words were penned by collaborator, Jacques Levy, who co-wrote most of the album, but Dylan regardless, always considered Gallo to be an extremely noble and heroic gangster, much in the vein of the public’s love of Vito Corleone. (Due to copyright issues, we can’t post the original song here, so do enjoy this live version from 1997).
Geto Boys – “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta”
If “The Godfather” has taught us anything, it’s that crime doesn’t pay…in the long run, but when listening to the Geto Boys’ ode to thug life in “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta,” it doesn’t sound like that repugnant of a profession, especially with all the feeding the poor and helping out with their bills. Popularized by its appearance in the film, “Office Space,” “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” might be the feel-good gangsta anthem of all time. Likewise, “The Godfather” enjoys a similiar sentiment in the field of cinema, so do yourself a favor and throw some peppers and sausage on the pan and and pop it on, “for old time’s sake” as Tessio would say.