What qualifies Martin Scorsese to be the executive producer of a drama about the record industry? How about everything. In addition to peppering his films with classic pop and rock tracks, the legendary auteur was one of the editors on the concert movie Woodstock and has directed a slew of other rock documentaries and live films, including 1978’s The Band-starring The Last Waltz (regarded by many as the best concert film ever made) and 2008’s Rolling Stones showcase Shine a Light.
All of which brings us to the music biz-centric Vinyl, which is based on an idea from Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who also executive-produces the series set to debut Feb. 14 on HBO with a two-hour Scorsese-directed premiere episode. Set in ’70s New York, the show stars Bobby Cannavale as the founder of a fictional label named American Century Records, Olivia Wilde as his former “It Girl” wife, Ray Romano as an American Century executive, and Juno Temple as an ambitious A&R assistant. Also exec-produced by showrunner Terence Winter — who worked with both Scorsese and Cannavale on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — the result is a love letter to both ’70s music and to the crumbling, but highly creative, New York of the era.
“New York in the 70s was at an all-time economic low point,” Scorsese tells EW. “Nothing worked. The subways were falling apart. The crime rate was sky-high. But then, at the same time, culturally speaking, it was a high point. It’s amazing to think about. You had all that great theater. You had the whole downtown scene of musicians and painters, artists of every stripe — this is when you could live here cheaply, when everyone was taking over the old factories and converting them into loft apartments and studios. You had a great avant-garde film scene. It was very exciting.
WANT MORE EW? Subscribe now to keep up with the latest in movies, television, and music.
“Mick actually approached me, quite a few years back, with the idea of making a film about the music business,” Scorsese continues. “We kept meeting, talking about it and worked on it, and as time went by the project kept growing in scope. At a certain point, we realized that we didn’t want to cut the material down, and that it needed to be not a film but a television series. What appealed to me was the music. Music has always inspired me. When I hear the music, I see the movie. It’s always worked that way. And then, there’s a been a kind of parallel course of documentaries about music and musicians — about Dylan (No Direction Home), George Harrison (Living in the Material World), and the Stones. So, I suppose that I’ve always been working toward a film about how the music is made, packaged, sold, and how it all keeps changing so rapidly. The early 1970s, and 1973 in particular, was a time of great change in the music industry, and it all started in New York City — punk, disco, hip-hop, they all began that year right here in this city. So we decided to start there and see where it would take us.”
Fair enough. But what are Scorsese’s favorite records which he actually owns on vinyl?
“I own so much vinyl,” he says. “78s that I collected and that my uncle had, and 45s and LPs. I think I probably have some very rare 45s that I bought when I was young. A lot of doo wop — songs like ‘Ling Ting Tong’ by The [Five] Keys, ‘Gloria’ by Vito and the Salutations, ‘Could This Be Magic’ by the Dubs, ‘Desirie’ by The Charts, ‘Ship of Love’ by the Nutmegs, and so many others. I’ve used a lot of them in my movies. And I love the sound of those 45s. Every scratch. I also have a very special record. Eric Clapton sent it to me. ‘I found this in my closet and I thought you might like to have it,’ he said. It was the gold record for ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ framed. I’m not sure if that counts — it’s gold, so can it be vinyl? — and I can’t play it, but I certainly treasure it.”
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1399, on newsstands now