Long before Don Draper’s sexually liberated wife Megan made me want to download the breezily catchy “Zou Bisou Bisou” on “Mad Men”, I discovered other songs on shows that have since become some of my all-time favorite tunes. I am constantly amazed by shows that use music in ways that turn around the emotion of a scene, move me to tears or change my opinion about a character. I’ve become addicted to that moment when a song from the scene grabs me so forcefully I have to stop everything to seek it out online.
From the baby dancing to Barry White on “Ally McBeal” to the awesome power of songs on “Friday Night Lights” making me yearn for my own Texan sunset, what follows are some of my most beloved tunes from TV.
“My First, My Last, My Everything” by Barry White — “Ally McBeal”
The thing I loved most about Ally McBeal, the character, was that she was hopelessly weird. She had this bizarre imagination that kicked into weirdness overdrive at the drop of a hat — or at the tiny wave of the baby’s hand in the air as it swiveled in a circle to the dulcet tones of Barry White’s baritone voice singing “my first my last my everything”. Suffice to say I related to Ally (I may actually relate now more than ever) and I took great comfort in the fanciful interludes on the show. I also just loved that Barry White song and now it brings me joy whenever I hear it.
“People C’mon” by Delta Spirit — “Gossip Girl”
“Gossip Girl”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The OC” all have more than melodrama in common: music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas has overseen the musical selections for these shows (remember “How to Save a Life” on “Grey’s”?) which has made for some good drama and even better soundtracks. I own a few of these mixes because they’re so reliably great, though I recall the specific moment on “Gossip Girl” when “People C’mon” played and I had to download the individual track right away. In the scene, Jenny Humphrey turns a corner with her identity, rips her carefully fashioned designs from her closet and shifts from being Innocent Jenny to Raccoon Eyes Jenny. She’s suddenly angry, sullen, frustrated. Not a girl, not yet a woman. “People C’mon” was perfect for this scene with its rebellion-fueled tone and lyrics declaring a wandering search for identity and the singer’s determination to live and die by his own rules. I liked the sound of the song so much, I downloaded it before the credits were rolling moments later.
“I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones — “My So-Called Life”
Remember when Rayanne was invited to be in Jordan’s band but then couldn’t sing “I Wanna Be Sedated” once she was onstage? It all seemed so Significant to me when I watched that episode, and I later sought out the Ramones song because of it. I was struck by this anthem to ambivalence, a desperate and high-strung pleading just to not feel so damn much. My teen self — sensitive and full of ennui — could relate. It’s also just a totally kickass tune for dancing.
“Devil Town” sung by Tony Lucca — “Friday Night Lights”
Music is used as emotional weaponry on this show, and I mean that in the best way possible. As soon as the characters and stories bring me to the edge of heartache, a song will fade in that sends me straight over the edge. It’s usually so effective because the song is not obvious or overt but just tonally spot-on. Rather than bludgeon you over the head with SUBTEXT, it gently roots around in your heart until it finds a tiny hollow space and then nudges at the edges for a while, making the hollow feel wider. It sounds wretched and sometimes it is (hello, crazy Matt Saracen episode titled “The Son”) but often it’s just enough to make you feel weirdly alive and connected to the human race. “Devil Town” is one such song in that it’s not the most depressing song ever but it is softly sorrowful and carries a sense of resignation. Lyrics like “All my friends were vampires/ I didn’t know they were vampires/ It turns out I was a vampire myself in the devil town” paired with bleak footage of a Texan town where high school football is the main source of hope is a combination that haunts you long after the TV has gone cold.
“We Used to Be Friends” by Dandy Warhols — “Veronica Mars”
I’ve discovered many new songs and bands from opening credits music (I love looking up the different artists covering “Little Boxes” at the start of “Weeds”, for example) but my favorite is definitely “We Used to Be Friends” which jump starts every episode of “Veronica Mars”. More for the driving tune and high-pitched vocals than the lyrics, it somehow perfectly complements the opening credits of a series about an acerbic teenage private eye. “A long time ago we used to be friends/ but I haven’t thought of you lately at all.” It’s a little bit snide (not unlike our beloved protagonist) and yet that melody means business (not unlike our beloved protagonist). Whenever I hear it now, I think of Veronica and feel strangely emboldened.