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Goodfellas finds coked-up paranoia in “Jump Into The Fire”

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of our best films of 2013: songs we discovered through movies.

Prior to hearing “Jump Into The Fire” in Goodfellas—the cumulative repeated viewing of which probably accounts for an estimated seven-and-a-half days of my life—I was only vaguely aware of Harry Nilsson as “that guy in the bathrobe” who had something to do with John Lennon. My dad’s copy of Nilsson Schmilsson got little attention from me, even in the deepest throes of my early Beatles fandom, but then came the third act of Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic, when Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill spirals out of control to the propulsive thrum of “Jump Into The Fire.” The raucous, seven-minute song sounds like a coke binge, starting with that strutting bass and those cocky guitar flourishes, then wigging out into a freeform mania of drums, while Nilsson’s reverbed, repetitive vocals about how “you can never be free” devolve into shrieks of pure abandon—and maybe even terror.

Hearing Nilsson’s tropical goof “Coconut” on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack only a few years later—and realizing the same guy was responsible for two vastly different contributions to my favorite films at the time—convinced me I needed to give that Schmilsson album a chance, thus beginning a love of his music that’s far outlasted its connection with the gangster movies I loved as an angry young man. Though I have to admit, even when I play “Jump Into The Fire” today, I keep seeing that same helicopter.