We live in a golden age of television and television soundtracks. As a fan of both, here are the top ten times those soundtrack-makers totally nailed it.
1. “Truth” by Alexander – in “Box Cutter” (the Season 4 Ep. 1 of Breaking Bad). This is honestly just a crazy episode, and Alexander Ebert’s haunting whistle sets the tone as we see Gale’s corpse on the floor of his apartment, a bullet wound in his forehead. I can’t listen to this song anymore without the haunting memory of Gale’s crying plea: “You don’t have to do this.”
2. “Bite Hard” by Franz Ferdinand – in “Chuck Versus The Broken Heart” (Season 2 Ep. 18 of Chuck). This show is full of magical musical moments, but this one takes the cake because I’m a sucker for synchronicity. It starts out with a sad slow piano tune and Sarah driving on a highway out of L.A. – Sarah’s always driving away from Chuck, and it’s tragic every time – but when she realizes she needs to go back, that Chuck isn’t safe without her, she turns around, and the tune immediately picks up the pace. It’s amazing and whoever chose that song for that particular moment deserves a raise and a lovely seafood dinner.
3. “Paint the Silence” by South – in “The Heights” (Season 1 Ep. 9 of The O.C.). This is the song that plays during Marissa and Ryan’s first kiss, up on the Ferris Wheel. This was a really big deal for me, and I know it was a big deal for you. It was also a big deal for Ryan, because he had a crippling fear of heights.
4. “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John – in “Burn, Witch, Burn” (Season 3 Ep. 5 of American Horror Story: Coven). This is the song that plays as Myrtle Snow walks to her death a la funeral pyre, but it’s weirdly upbeat and funky – which is probably why Zoe asks, “This is just a joke, right? They’re not actually burning her?” And even you, the viewer, don’t expect them to burn her, but (spoiler alert) they do. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27Ivs45gmeo
5. “My Heart With You” by The Rescues – in “Blond Leading The Blind” (Season 2 Ep. 17 Of Pretty Little Liars). This particular song plays when Ezra finally meets up with Aria after she’s been waiting at a bus stop for, like, ever, and they kiss in the rain, and they stop traffic, and it’s beautiful. And you almost forget that she’s in high school and he’s her English teacher.
6. “No Language In Our Lungs” by XTC – in “The Diary” (Season 1 Ep. 10 of Freaks and Geeks). XTC and Freaks and Geeks were obviously the best parts of the 80’s/90’s, so it’s hard not to get stoked when they get paired together. This is the song that plays when everyone’s choosing teams for dodgeball and literally everyone gets chosen but Bill. I can’t really explain why, but it’s one of the funniest moments of the show.
Update: Bill’s face. That’s why.
7. “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng” by Yellowman – in “Naked” (Season 1 Ep. 4 of New Girl). Nick, trying to gain body confidence, dances in the nude to this song in his room. Jess accidentally walks in on him, scream-laughs, and runs out, leading to one of the greatest lines in the whole episode: “I think it’s great you dance naked to Jamaican music! It’s really cool, you should explore your sexuality!”
8. “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band – in “Afternoon Delight” (Season 2 Ep. 6 of Arrested Development). This song is an unfortunate karaoke choice for Michael and his niece Maeby at the Bluth company Christmas party. This show does a great job with musical motifs and making incest funny, and this song does both. “And the thought of rubbin’ you is getting so exciting…”
9. “Kill For Love” by Chromatics – in “Midnight” (Season 1 Episode 10 of Bates Motel). This is the song that plays as Emma and Norman dance together at their high school formal. Besides being a gorgeous lo-fi anthem, it’s also a purposefully ironic selection, since love and bloodlust are intertwined throughout the show.
10. “Gangsta” by tUnE-yArDs – in “Lesbian Request Denied” (Season 1 Ep. 3 of Orange Is The New Black). Piper is assigned a bunk in “the ghetto” part of the prison, and this song plays as she walks past the bunks of its veteran inmates (all of whom give her nasty looks). I don’t know if it’s the glorious growl of singer Merrill Garbus that makes this song selection so great, or the hilarious claim it makes that Piper “will never be a gangsta,” but at any rate, it’s golden.
You made it to the end! Four for you, Glen Coco. You go, Glen Coco.