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Top Five Uses of Music in TV Series

We all know that dialogue, story arcs, thrilling ideas, and memorable characters can make a TV series stand out; however, one component usually goes unnoticed: Music – it can truly elevate a scene of intensity or emotion to another level. Making the song one you would want to listen to again and again even though you may have never liked it in the past. So what pieces of music in TV series have elevated a scene to legendary status?

Check out my top five list below:


5. The Sopranos, Season 6, Episode 2.  Song: When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die (by Moby)

This powerful scene shows Tony Soprano battling to stay alive inside a coma, after being shot by Uncle June. He dreams of himself stranded in a hotel which represents purgatory, the state he subconsciously sees his life in (between heaven and hell.) In purgatory he tries to reach home, but the dream won’t let him get there as forest fires are all over the news, which are blocking his path back to where he lives (the fires represent that Hell is close).

David Chase, the show’s creator, has always been a lover of using music to evoke emotion from scenes, and what better way to do it than with this sad and poetic song from Moby. It really gives the feeling of a life (Tony’s) about to run out, and that death is knocking at the door.

4. The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 10. Song: Civilian (by Wye Oak)

Due to poor video quality, click on the link for the scene. Thank you.

Season 2 of The Walking Dead received a lot of criticism for being too ‘slow’; however, the character arcs of Shane and Rick are both so intriguing to watch; as two former best friends slowly slip away from each other as outside forces cause ripples in their relationship. For starters they love the same women and secondly they both have different views of how the group of survivors should go about surviving. These both combine for great drama which ultimately gets in the way of their old friendship. We see the aftermath of a fight between Rick and Shane as they get back in the car and head home. At this point the viewer knows full well that in the near future someone is going to die.

R.I.P Shane.

The song (Civilian) is a perfect choice for a climax of an episode where nothing is said but a lot is seen in the two characters’ body language.

3. Twin Peaks, Season 2, Episode 14. Song: Rockin Back Inside My Heart  (by Julee Cruise)

Only the genius composer of Twin Peaks, Angelo Badalamenti could have thought to use this song which would not probably fit many edgy scenes in film or TV, but in this case Rockin Back Inside My Heart sums up the scene.

It is in one half about the uncertain love between James and Donna as she tries to make him smile by lip syncing, and the other half is about the very close reveal of the Laura Palmer killer. The bar atmosphere with Julee Cruise actually performing on the stage just holds the series in motion for those beautiful moments, as the song still sheds a tear for fans of the cult classic series.

2. Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 13. Song: Goodbye (by Sascha Ring)

Every great TV series has a moment you know it is building to, and in Breaking Bad’s case it’s Season 4’s finale which holds audiences’ gaze as the showdown between drug lord Gus Fring and drug king Walter White is drawing towards a conclusion. It seems, for the most part, that Gus has the upper hand on Walter.

Well – never underestimate Heisenberg, and never underestimate Breaking Bad’s musical score of Goodbye to say a farewell to Gus Fring as he meets his demise as Walter White hatches a plan we never see coming. BOOM.

The song, a great choice as it helps build the scene’s tension as we watch Gus walk through the old folks’ home car park as he is heading over there to kill Tio Salamanca. Only Vince Gilligan (the show’s creator) can make such imaginative endings for characters.

Honourable mentions

Before we get to number one, it would be unfair to not mention these great TV scenes’ music choices in the list, even though they didn’t quite make the top five.

First is the Breaking Bad series finale, where Walter White has finally ended his journey of revenge against the neo Nazi group who killed his dear brother-in-law Hank. His crime partner Jesse has ridden off, and all that is left is him and the Blue Meth factory that made him the Heisenberg we know him for. So what better choice of song than Baby Blue by Badfinger for Walter White to go out on?

The next honourable mention is The Sopranos ending scene when Tony Soprano and his family are arriving in a restaurant for a family meal. It sounds like a fairly standard ending but with the track of Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, and the nail biting suspense of the camera showing shady-looking customers entering, we are left in suspense all the way through to the final shot, where most of us are still asking the question: Was Tony Shot? Or was it how the show’s creator David Chase wanted us to think: that whatever happened in the future, good or bad, Tony Soprano will always be in danger.

The final honourable mention is of the series finale of Six Feet Under, the show where each episode revolved around a funeral home where someone was always killed off. So many could have guessed what was coming in this emotional scene, all backed by a superb choice of song, Breathe Me by Sia. The emotional lyrics have caught the attention of many TV series over time, but this one is still the greatest use of Breathe Me.

1 The Sopranos, Season 6, Episode 14. Song: Evidently Chickentown (by John Clarke)

Who would have thought it? An English song in the style of a poem being read to a musical backdrop would be the perfect fit for the climactic scene in the great mafia drama, The Sopranos.

The reason this music choice and scene surpass all the others is because this was the scene that foreshadowed the climax of the show with Phil, the new head of the New York crime outfit, not wanting to compromise in his life any more, as he says he has given too much for his family – and for what? Nothing. We see the final shot of the scene pan over the Soprano family, leaving us with the horrible feeling that a war is coming.

Evidently Chickentown is so left-field it just fits perfectly with the scene. So with that, TV series now should try and come up with fresh and unique scores to carry a tense moment instead of re-using old songs that have been played to death.

If you think a great music piece has been left out of this list, let me know below what your favourite TV music choices are.