The best musical soundtracks are usually the ones you don’t even hear. Music should help convey the emotions of a scene, not call attention to itself. In some cases, though, the music for a TV show is so excellent you not only can’t help hearing it but it becomes a part of your active enjoyment of the show. We aren’t talking about musical shows or shows about the music industry, where the songs are very much a part of the story. These are shows where the soundtracks exist in the background, outside of the characters’ awareness, but are still crucial to the show. These are six non-musical shows with amazing soundtracks.
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Grey’s Anatomy is far from the only current TV series that will use popular songs in its episodes. Nearly every show on MTV, in an effort to still be seen as Music Television, will use popular songs and have the artist’s name and song title pop up during the scene. Grey’s Anatomy, though, has perfected the art of using the exact right pop song for the exact right emotional moment.
Some songs were used so well on Grey’s Anatomy that they are now forever linked with the medical drama. Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” will always bring up Izzy and Denny’s ill-fated romance. The use of “Chasing Cars” was so amazing that Grey’s Anatomy used it again, albeit sung by a different band, when Meredith said goodbye to Derek after his fatal accident.
In recent years the show has shied away very slightly from its classic rock roots. When the monster mystery CW drama began, classic rock was as important to Supernatural as brotherly love. Some of the songs occurred in episodes (and still do) as a part of Dean’s cassette collection in the iconic Impala. More often than not, though, the classic rock tunes play over big scenes. They convey the feeling of the Winchesters’ journey and their status as modern knights errant who save people and hunt things. It’s hard to watch the montage set to “Carry On Wayward Son” that begins each season finale and not get emotional.
Game of Thrones
Each season of Game of Thrones feels very much like an epic fantasy movie broken up into 10 installments. Part of that feeling of grandeur is due to the series’ original scoring and music. The composers, mainly Ramin Djawadi, have brought the world of Westeros alive. Whether it is the stirring theme, tense moments illustrated through music or the effort that has gone into actually creating folk songs from the world, Westeros feels more real because of the music.
“Rains of Castamere” and “Bear and the Maiden Fair” started as tuneless words from the books of George R.R. Martin. Now they are actual songs with fantastic arrangements and scoring that have been performed by professional and popular bands. This is not even to mention the excellent background scoring that goes into big battle episodes like “Battle of the Bastards” and “Blackwater.” The crowning achievement of Game of Thrones’ musical prowess is easily the haunting piano Hitchcock-esque arrangement that underscores Cersei’s big move in the opening of the “Winds of Winter.”
Unlike some of the other shows on this list, the scoring of one of The CW’s superhero shows, The Flash, is a bit of an unsung hero. If you think about it, however, it is evident how important and excellent the music is to the scarlet speedster’s story. It is the main theme by Blake Neely that really stands out, specifically the chilling choral stinger that opens it. The reason the theme is used so often, though, is because it versatile and incredibly effective. It can convey Barry’s sense of speed and wonder when running as well the softer and more emotional moments of his life.
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Barry isn’t the only character who had his own theme, though. Villains like Reverse Flash and Killer Frost have also received fantastically chilling scores. While not a original composition, nothing will beat the pure cheesy genius of Barry and Captain Cold having an ice-pun-laden conversation in season 2 with Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” playing faintly in the background.
The Leftovers is probably HBO’s most divisive and confusing show. The series about life after a mysterious Rapture-like event is plodding, metaphysical and emotional. The one thing that can’t be denied is how amazing the soundtrack is at conveying those emotions.
Some of the scoring is original but the most famous and evocative track is from an already established instrumental artist. “November” by Max Richter is the haunting instrumental that will play during the series’ tensest and most emotional moments. It perfectly conveys the grief that The Leftovers is exploring and tapping into with its story. After listening to it for just a few seconds you will feel the need to contemplate your entire life.
Of any of Netflix’s Marvel shows, Luke Cage probably has the best idea of what kind of show it wants to be and what its central message is. A big part of Luke Cage‘s strong identity is the way it uses hip-hop and rap to create its version of Harlem. Some of this verged into the realm of a musical, as real artists would perform in the central club of Luke Cage. Most often, though, the music was inserted into scenes to create a certain mood or aesthetic. Sometimes it was the old-school rap used in some of the flashback scenes to give a sense of history. Other times it would be used as backing to Luke doing something dangerous and heroic. The most famous and popular example is the Wu-Tang Clan sequence, used in the trailers, that scored Luke’s climatic storming of villain Cottonmouth’s HQ.
So what do you think? Which of these shows has the best music? Have you even noticed the music in any of them? Which of the music in these shows are you most likely to listen to outside the show?
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(Images courtesy of The CW, HBO and Neflix. Videos courtesy of YouTube)