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.


mimo-chan said...

i usually have the opposite reaction to songs i like being played on t.v. shows, but this is mostly due to a stupid indie-music mindset that i've never been able to shake, in which i feel irritated when music that i like becomes overplayed on t.v. and the radio.

one particular example is that i was into phantom planet since, like, forever, and then the oc (which i've never watched) started using one of their songs as it's theme song, and then everyone and their dog started liking that song.

but otherwise, i know what you mean about associating the first time you heard a song with the context in which you heard it. this happens to me all the time.

t said...

You'll already be familiar with this one, but it might be one of my all time favorites, as far as using music in a t.v. show is concerned:

The whole thing is so brilliantly put together - it just about knocked my heart out of my chest hearing it later.

Dubs said...

Yeah, I actually downloaded that one too, t.

wb said...

I can't hear Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" without getting really tense, due to its (surprisingly effective, IMHO) application in a popular organized-crime drama.

lagirl said...

Dubs! Love this post after pouring over a blog I just found. It's Bear McCreary's BSG blog and it's pretty rad. Especially his latest posts about the most recent BSG episode that is all about music and the pianist character that they based on him. Hope you've seen it. Anyways, check it out:

Right now the only pop song examples I can think of are from the early seasons of Grey's but that show is so lame now that I won't even go into it.

Quantum said...

West Wing used the song "New York Minute" to great effect, even naming the episode from the lyrics.

"Homicide, Life on the Street" probably used music better than any show I have ever seen. Another great use of Watchtower.

mimo-chan said...


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