“I Feel Alright” (1996) by Steve Earle
“I Feel Alright” (1996) by Steve Earle
12 Great Uses of Popular Music in Television
There are a hundred reasons why Tarantino, Scorsese and Fincher are three of the greatest Cinemaphiles working today – so I'll just cut to the chase to one: the way they edit Music.
* You can mute the scene when the “Reservoir Dogs” leave that restaurant. But it just ain't the same without the Dutch funk of Little Green Bag.
* Remember how scared witless DiCaprio was in the back of Jack Nicholson's car? The thumping Gaelic punk of the Dropkick Murphys only intensified his fears.
* In that humiliating final scene, Zuckerberg had created the greatest social network of all time, but at the cost of friendships lost. It didn't help with the Beatles sarcastically singing, Baby, you're a Rich Man.
And now Television is stealing such tricks from Cinema. Here's some of Small Screen's best examples:
12. “Miami Vice”, Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight
Right off the bat, we gotta include what could be T.V. history's first example. And it still works.
As the iconic 80's cop duo drive into the untrusting night, the tension is exacerbated by the lonely electro-beat and buzzsaw guitar of Collins' anthem.
11. “The West Wing”, Steve Miller Band, Jet Airliner
This show stunningly predicted the penultimate election, two years before it. On one side, a 70 year-old maverick who hardly toted the Republican Party line. On the other, a fresh, witty, and cultured … non-white. This clip encapsulates all the Obamania experienced during those years.
Thank God we've still seen instances that the President's still got it. Because there's no way Romney could prove to as much a Rock star.
10. “House”, Journey, Any Way You Want It
(“The Sopranos” wasn't the only show to use this boring band to close out an episode.)
I don't know what it is with male lead characters today, but most of them are absolute pricks and Dr. House is A-Hole Excelsis. So why do we watch these guys? Because they're tragic figures. On the facade, they have horrible communication and emotional inequalities. But buried beneath all that, rarely seen, are true shining qualities.
Dr. Wilson finds out he has Cancer and, while under chemo, House makes a tacky video of his unconscious body with two hookers and some wigs. It's a gaudy thing to do. But that's the only way House is able to show his love for his near-dead friend. That's why we, and Wilson, can't help but laugh at its crudeness.
9. “Shameless”, Take That, Never Forget
One of the strangest but successful things Bollywood can do, is have to have characters move the audience with a seminal, heart-breaking dramatic scene … onto to break the fourth wall and suddenly burst into singing and dancing seconds later. The first time I saw it, I didn’t understand what the hell just happened. But as I’ve learnt Indian Cinema, I’ve realised that’s an expected convention of theirs … and I had learnt to like it!
This particular example wasn’t supposed to work, for the Gallagher Family are, by no measure whatsoever, exotic, opulent Maharajas – They’re rather loud, abrasive … and so Chav. But somehow, it works all because of those reasons. It’s as unexpected as the convention itself and why I haven’t seen any other Western version of it work as spectacularly as this.
8. “Outrageous Fortune”, Th' Dudes, Be Mine Tonight
(Speaking of white-trash.)
If male leads are pricks, in contrast, female leads have only been superb demonstrations of strength, independence, intellect and power: “Nurse Betty”; “Weeds”; “The Closer”; “Damages”; and our leopard-skinned matriarch is no exception.
The final scene was a gorgeous farewell, to what could be the greatest TV production this country has ever made – Dobbyn and Ian Morris duelling guitars, while Cheryl surveys her clan and her monarchy of West Auckland. It will be sorely missed.
7. “Skins”, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Believer
I'm really sorry but I love lesbian scenes.
6. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, Johnny Cash, When the Man Comes Around
Of all the musicians that could amplify this franchise's fascination with Armageddon, the Man in Black seems appropriate. His baritone sounds like the biblical apocalypse Skynet had been prophesising. His whithered fingers rap on the guitar each clock beat. Listen to him declare, “Hundred Million Angels singing”, while cops are reverse-baptized. It's an excellent scene.
5. “Mad Men”, The Rolling Stones, Satisfaction
A mate of mine used to have confidence issues at work. He'd always agree with his colleague's bad advice. He'd always sit at his desk, sipping tea, wrists right up to the keyboard. He thought this was how his office life was gonna have to be.
Then he started watching “Mad Men” and instantly I saw a change in him. Now, just like in the clip, he's straightened his stand and strides into rooms like a bausss. He now has a girlfriend. When I asked him what had changed, he said he'd always ask himself, “What would Don Draper do?”
Of course, Draper can also be a prick, but never has one cultural icon re-taught modern man how to be confident again.
4. “Breaking Bad”, TV on the Radio, DLZ
Like many people, I couldn't buy Malcolm in the Middle's lovable Dad turning into a psychopathic, selfish P-dealing prick. But thankfully all doubts were cleared by Bryan Cranston's incredible performance.
Watch how he changes from doting nice guy into certified Badass, while Tunde Adebimpe encourages his evil conscious: “Never you mind / Death professor”!
3. “Lost”, Damien Rice, Delicate
This show knew how sacred Popular Music was, in a setting where it represented luxury and convenience. Consequently, it was featured only at a primitive minimum (the show didn't even have a theme song, for goodness sake!)
So when Hurley's walkman died during the first season; so did using music as a source for inspiration; so did having any form of luxury or convenience; so did the need for any uplifting “Grey's Anatomy” Chasing Cars montages. All happy hopes of leaving this island, pretty much went downhill, after that.
2. “The Sopranos”, Van Morrison, Glad Tidings
Tony Blundetto was gonna have to get whacked.
He was loose, the Lupertazzi's wanted him dead and Tony Soprano would look weak if he let his cousin live. So it was obvious he was gonna die within this episode. It was just a matter of how they were gonna cushion my grief, over the loss of another brilliant Steve Buscemi character. But, graciously, they sent him out on Van Morrison – who was hinting clues:
“So believe no lies / Dry your eyes and realize by surprise”
- Yip, he's gonna die … maybe soon.
“La, la, la / la, la, la / la, la, la / la, la, la”
- We've had good times with this guy.
“And we'll send you glad tidings from New York”
- Someone from the City's coming.
“Open up your eyes so you may see”
- Wait for it!
“Ask you not to read between the lines”
- In fact, don't listen to me.
“Hope that you will come right in on time”
- Sorry, I lied.
The lyrics were no coincidence. This is calculated drama at its finest.
1. “The Wire”, Steve Earle, I Feel Alright
Firstly, I gotta say “The Wire” is the greatest TV show ever. Secondly, like “Lost”, it hardly used music (making it as depressing as “Lost”.) Only in its season finales did it have music montages, summing up where characters were, by the end of our 12 episode journey with them.
And when watching this video again, I'm still amazed at the scope and magnitude of this courageous series – cops, wharfies, politicians, peddlers, Ziggy!, junkies, white people, black people, lawyers, gangsters. Only Charles Dickens comes closer in dissecting an entire society so vividly. Each episode even read like a chapter. It really is an achievement in Television, when it can come off as expansive and complex as Literature.
Hence, I was disheartened that my favourite season ended, and in retrospect, the entire series (man, what a great fuckin' show!) But Earle provides faith – it's alright.
Television is only getting better. Instead of a two hour film, it can tell stories on a much larger canvas – just like a novel would. And it's constantly stealing other tricks from Cinema too. It's becoming a comfortable, creative haven for innovative storytelling.
Thus, it's no wonder movie stars are flocking over: Alec Baldwin to “30 Rock”, Sean Bean to “Game of Thrones”, Keifer to “24”, Zoey to “New Girl”, Claire Danes to “Homeland” and … Tarantino to “C.S.I.”, Scorsese to “Boardwalk Empire” and recently Fincher to “House of Cards”.