Monday, March 02, 2009

He Can See No Reason, Cause There Are No Reasons

Today's blog post is more of an invitation for comments following a brief meditation. Lately I've been thinking a lot about the ways tv shows use music, particularly actual songs, not just the vaguely ominous scoring that most dramas have nowadays. We all, I'm sure, have favorite moments in movies where music plays a particularly effective role; for me, that usually means Cameron Crowe movies ("Mona Lisas and Madhatters" in Almost Famous always comes to mind immediately), but there are tons of others: the club entry scene in Goodfellas, "There Goes My Hero" in Varsity Blues, "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, and so forth. Movies can use soundtracks particularly well, so naturally pop music lends itself to that format.

But I'm more intrigued lately by the ways tv shows use songs. And not just using very famous songs to underscore moments, but rather the ways that, songs I've either never heard of before or never cared for that much can take on new meaning or new levels of enjoyment because I associate them with specific television moments. For instance, The Fray's "How to Save a Life" has been misused/overused by every medical tv show known to man, and I believe it's a song that really only caught on because the slavering fans of Grey's Anatomy took to it. But I still listen to it on the radio, practically every time it comes on, because it makes me think of a specific Scrubs episode that closed with it particularly well. Scrubs does this quite well on a regular basis, and I've found that a lot of the previously unknown (by me) music on my iPod comes from there (Colin Hay's "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin," Joseph Arthur's "In the Sun" are two examples).

Similarly, I've found that Aaron Sorkin shows tend to use music sparingly enough that when it pops up, I always take note in some way. There's an episode of Sports Night that closes with "Sloop John B," which made me go and download it immediately. And more recently, thanks to CryptoJew's loaner of all seven seasons of The West Wing, I've developed an overzealous interest in Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" and Tori Amos' cover of "I Don't Like Mondays," which also led me back to the original version (which, in turn, I enjoy more because the clip I found of it on youtube opens with Hugh Laurie playing the opening piano riff). These particularly intrigue me, because while I like the songs, I also realize I never would have actually downloaded them if I hadn't seen them in a context that predisposed me to enjoy them.

And then, of course, there's the way Battlestar has completely changed the meaning of "All Along the Watchtower" for me. But that's another point altogether.

I recognize a lot of television uses music to illustrate its point, to provide background to ending scenes or ending narration, to structure a montage, etc. And most television does this quite badly, often making me dislike songs that I previously liked quite a bit. (Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" serves as an excellent example, given that practically every drama of the last five years has seen fit to sample it.) Most often, I just tune out whatever background song is playing.

So I guess I'm just curious, what are the songs that you associate not just with their own singers/bands, but with specific tv shows? Or, more specifically, with particular episodes of shows? What are the songs that you never would have listened to, never downloaded, never even heard were it not for specific shows? Feel free to provide links, clips, etc., as I am bored and grading papers, and can use the distraction.

p.s. Sorry this post isn't particularly amusing. Funny stories of drunkenness coming in the future.