All TV shows vary in popularity, as well as in genre, from the drama-filled soaps to the thrills of action series. Sometimes they all run together in a muck of sameness, while a few have the ability to stand out through top musical selections. These are a list of the shows that stand out through the hits they play or the songs that become hits shortly afterwards. Some of these shows are mainly marketed towards women, or men, while others appeal to a wider demographic. What all of them have in common is a soundtrack that will expand your playlist and leave you listening to the music rather than watching the actual show.
Growing up, I listened to some questionable music. I pretty much just kept the NOW volumes going on repeat or bopped around Warped Tour for some fresh emo jams. But then my life was changed (trust me, for the better) because The OC started its first season. The show started off on the right foot with Phantom Planet’s “California” as the theme song, and then the first soundtrack alone included both Spoon and the Dandy Warhols.
The OC continued on a strong musical note, as even the Christmas album had the Raveonettes and Ron Sexsmith. As the show flew through seasons, the drama grew stale and the characters started to lose their spark. In what may have been a drug-induced decision, Mischa Barton decided she could do better and left the show. Season four left the show scrambling without her, but the music stayed on par with its past perfection. All the way up until the end when the show was finally canceled, the final OC album, Mix Six, featured top alternative bands such as Band of Horses and Mates of State, among others.
If Adam Brody’s adorable character, Seth Cohen, and Rachel Bilson’s beautifully ditsy Summer don’t draw you into watching the show, then check out the soundtracks. After all, it saved me from a life of listening to the likes of Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. -Maisie Sackett
Entourage, the hit 2004 HBO series, can be considered most notable because of the extensive guest appearances and cameos that occur throughout the eight seasons. However, it is also known for its exceptional soundtrack, playing great music both during each episode as well as every single credit roll at each one’s end.
The greatest thing about the music on Entourage is the wide range of styles. For example, Season One features Outkast and several songs from the Black Eyed Peas, but then this same season also includes The Allman Brothers Band and Kings Of Leon (we’re talking early KoL, before they decided they were “Southern Coldplay”). Entourage also had several episodes that were based around music. For example, in season two, Turtle and Drama discover the rapper Saigon, and one of the episodes features a number of tracks from this particular artist. Season two also has an episode based around U2, and the episode is concluded with the characters attending a U2 show.
Several universally respected artists such as Jay-Z, Jurassic 5, The Ramones, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn can be heard multiple times throughout the entirety of the series, but there are also bands used on the soundtrack that audience members may have never heard of, such as Slim Thug and Nate Greenberg. Entourage gives people the opportunity to enjoy a fantastic show that can hook you for eight years straight as well as find out about new bands. The music on the show is always perfectly placed for the mood, and the credits’ song always somehow seems relevant. Who can forget the hilarious Kanye West cameo at the end of Season Four, Episode 11, “No Cannes Do,” with Kanye and T-Pain’s “Good Life” playing as the credits roll? -Kaitlyn Henaghan
How to Make it in America
The hopeful replacement for Entourage, HBO’s How to Make it in America only lasted two seasons but still matched the urban soundtrack of its predecessor. During promotion of the show, Kid Cudi (who has a supporting role on the show) and DJ Green Lantern co-hosted a How to Make it in America mixtape. It included the soulful theme song “I Need a Dollar” as well as tracks by Kid Cudi, Nipsey Hussle, Chromeo, Freddie Gibbs, Florence + The Machine, Lupe Fiasco, and more. The follow-up mixtape for the second season included Theophilus London, M83 and Meek Mill. The actual show was immediately musically relevant, starring a big-name rapper. Producers wanted to match the mid-20’s New York City culture, fashion and music as much as possible. Music from the actual show covers most genres such as indie and alternative rock, pop and hip-hop. Producers often used hip-hop tracks like Talib Kweli’s “Get By” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” to describe the Brooklyn-rooted lifestyle while upbeat tracks matched the nightlife adventures of Cam and Ben. As a fan of the show, it was sad to see it come to an end last year. -Mitesh Bhatt
When one watches Zach Braff act, it is a natural response to expect some quality music to be playing in the background. The soundtrack to his film Garden State has earned its place in pop culture, but over its nine-season run, the TV show Scrubs, starring Braff, has featured several great songs as well.
One of my personal favorite moments is the use of Say Anything’s “Alive With the Glory of Love” in the final episode of the sixth season of the show. The song interrupts a conversation between Braff’s character, JD, and his colleague and former lover, Elliot, played by Sarah Chalke. Braff’s narration expresses his confusion over love as a montage of other relationships that took place during that season are shown in their various states.
Other uses that point out the show’s great attention to how lyrics can add to theme is the use of “Hold On Hope” by Guided By Voices to frame the announcement of friend/patient Ben Sullivan, played by Brendan Fraser, having leukemia. “Hold on hope/it’s the last thing that’s holding me,” are the closing lyrics as the episode ends with a “To be continued.”
Perhaps the best and most unique musical element of the show, however, is the barbershop quartet led by Sam Lloyd, who plays the accountant Ted Buckland. The a cappella group exists outside of Scrubs as well and is called The Blanks. They usually add a comedic element to the show, but generally the music on Scrubs adds not only to the humor but also the deeper meaning of each episode. -Maddie Rehayem
When Gossip Girl made its television debut in 2007, it garnered attention for the incredible fashion, the annoyingly attractive cast, and the show’s scandalous ad campaign. Who could forget those racy ads featuring screenshots from the show’s most jaw dropping moments with quotes from its most scathing reviews (i.e. “A nasty piece of work,” “Every parent’s worst nightmare”)? Gossip Girl wanted to earn the “omg” tagline it adopted. Over time, after three disappointing later seasons, the show’s buzz wore off and it began to settle into its current state of self-parody. Despite the plummeting quality in writing, one thing has remained consistent, and that is the music.
Let’s start with the long line of musical guests that have appeared on Gossip Girl — artists and bands like Lady Gaga, Robyn, Sonic Youth, Cyndi Lauper and Florence + the Machine. No Doubt reunited to make a cameo during the show’s second season. Then there is the soundtrack which features songs from bands like The Kills and The Kooks.
What Gossip Girl does best, like The O.C. before it, is the mix of current chart toppers and upcoming bands. Gossip Girl’s music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, has managed to make sure the music reflects the storylines and the characters on screen by having the music match the trendy, guilty pleasure tone of the show. -Joyce Famakinwa
If there were one tv show that should need to rely on music to properly tell its story, it would be Mad Men. The sixties counterculture is at the forefront of the show’s plot, and with that comes the legendary music of the sixties. It would almost be impossible to properly display the ‘60s without mentioning The Rolling Stones or The Beatles.
While Matthew Weiner and the writers of Mad Men dedicated an episode to The Rolling Stones this past season, The Beatles are notoriously fickle when it comes to licensing their music. Luckily for Matthew Weiner, Paul McCartney is an enormous fan of the show. After receiving a letter from Weiner detailing the Beatles song he wanted to use (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) and the scene in which he wanted to use it, Paul McCartney obliged and allowed Weiner to use the song.
In the scene, ad man Don Draper sits alone in his house playing the song, trying to understand why people like The Beatles so much. They certainly didn’t sound like the music he listened to as a teenager. They didn’t sing about the same things. Don’s young wife Megan seems to understand The Beatles much more than he does, and as an ad man, he needs to be much more in tune with what the younger generation likes. There is a clear disconnection between Don and the ‘60s generation, and that is a problem for Don.
The song “Tomorrow Never Knows” is perfect for that scene; taken from the album Revolver, it is arguably one of the first times The Beatles showed their artistic potential and their penchant for the psychedelic. During the song, the camera shows different members of Don’s family, all in seemingly introspective moments. The camera pans back to Don, and he can’t stand to listen to this music and be with his own thoughts. He promptly turns it off.
Hear those dirty jazz trumpets! Cowboy Bebop, an adult anime from 1999, follows the adventures of intergalactic bounty hunter Spike and seamlessly blends sci-fi, noir, comedy, horror and pretty much any other badass genre of 20th century fiction. What links together this pastiche is Japan’s most eclectic jazz band, The Seatbelts, musicians with an encyclopedic knowledge of American music — including, of course, bebop, freeform, experimental, New Orleans jazz, blues, country, swing, soul, psychedelic, funk, electronic, world, and even hard rock and hip-hop for good measure. The music perfectly complements Spike’s fluid fist fights, high-speed rocket-ship space chases, sexy femme fatales, climactic gunfights, and profound existential crises (prompted by the limitless emptiness of space). From the first note of the iconic (for nerds, anyway) theme song, “Tank!” it’s clear the soundtrack itself is an important character within the show. Fun fact: the band calls themselves The Seatbelts because, allegedly, they wear seat belts during jam sessions so they don’t fall out of their chairs. It’s also worth calling attention to the band’s harmonica player, who’s the best I’ve ever heard (Youtube “Spokey Donkey” right now). It’s no coincidence that the coolest cartoon ever drawn also has the coolest music ever played! If you can’t find 13 hours to devote to this seminal series, do yourself a favor and download the soundtrack: I promise it will be strangest surprise of any music you hear this year. -Nick Martin
Friday Night Lights
Just like the film version, NBC’s Friday Night Lights pulled out all the stops to perfect its soundtrack. Whether it was an emotionally charged moment backed by Explosions in the Sky (or the show’s soundalike theme song) or just a discussion between Julie Taylor and boyfriend Matt Seracen about getting Decemberists tickets, FNL knew exactly what they were doing from a musical standpoint.
In Season 4, Episode 6, Julie plans a weekend getaway with Matt to Austin, but gets shut down by her mom. As a teenager on a television show, Julie obviously can’t let that stop her; she sneaks awayy with Matt for the chance to see The Heartless Bastards in concert. Other noteworthy musical acts featured in the show include Drive-By Truckers, Band of Skulls, The Avett Brothers, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon, Whiskeytown and even Outkast.
Throughout the show’s run, the most perfect coupling of song and scene may have been at the end of its first season. As the Dillon Panthers parade through town after winning the state championship, Tony Lucca’s “Devil Town” plays over the montage of cheerful, smiling Dillon citizens. The use of “Devil Town,” with its haunting lyrics (“All my friends were vampires”), changes the scene from a celebration to a lament as the viewer is forced to realize that a community so deeply and unhealthily invested in the lives of teenage boys may as well be filled with vampires in the end. -Evan Lyman