What happened in Baltimore and New Jersey in the early 2000′s actually started in Twin Peaks, more than two decades ago. Before 1990, most TV shows were just a stack of brainless storyboards, some were entertaining and others were desperately lame. And then along came Twin Peaks. In 1990, a TV show with brains, a sense of auto-derision, complicated characters and an amazing soundtrack appeared on our nearly-fallen-in-a-coma screens.
Behind the soundtrack of Twin Peaks there is cinema genius David Lynch (lyrics) and composer Angelo Badalamenti (music). The Twin Peaks soundtrack mixes mellow jazz, Americana, pop and electro and supports the show’s disturbing, phantasmagoric, nostalgic and thick atmosphere. Without this background, the show wouldn’t be the same. The offsprings of Twin Peaks – so pretty much every seriously good TV drama since – learned this lesson. And the students soon surpassed their master.
Let’s start with the themes. There are the original ones, created for the show like The Wire‘s closing track “The Fall” by Blake Leyh or Sons of Anarchy’s opening song ”This Life“. And the magistrally well chosen ones such as The Sopranos’ opening ”Woke Up This Morning” by UK underground modern blues gurus Alabama 3.
Then, there is the soundtrack itself. We chose six TV dramas (they’re not the only ones) to illustrate our soundtrack revolution. Each of them usually tends to cover one genre in particular going from hard rock, blues, jazz or indie rock.
The Sopranos (premiered in 1999) mostly mixes classic rock with oldies in a very ecclectic soundtrack going from The Kinks (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”) or The Rolling Stones (“Thru And Thru”) to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles or Chuck Berry. A little blues and alt-country pointed the tip of their nose with Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Calexico.
Two years later, Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under was going to feature indie rock stars such as PJ Harvey or The Dandy Warhols. The show’s soundtrack had a more indie pop feel than its predecessor but there was no doubt that every track was carefully handpicked and justified. And the presence of Coldplay could quickly be forgotten with Nina Simone‘s Feeling Good or Death Cab For Cutie‘s “Transatlancism“.
In both these shows, the tracks reveal layers of the characters personality or depict a given situation. And we can only thank God for the deep dark world presented by HBO’s 2002 epic cop show The Wire. To our ears, no show has yet surpassed The Wire’s soundtrack. The 5 variations of the Opening theme “Way Down In The Hole“, a Tom Waits original brilliantly covered by The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Steve Earle, The Neville Brothers and Domaje. Climax 2 in The Wire comes with the seasons’ finales which include Jesse Winchester‘s “Step By Step”, “I Feel Alright“ by Steve Earle (who’s also playing a heroin addict in the show), Solomon Burke with “Fast Train“, Paul Wellers‘ “Walk On Gilded Splinters” and The Blind Boys of Alabama‘s theme version that closes the circle with the season 5′s finale.
In between, you’ll hear The Pogues over and over in McNulty’s Irish bar, Lucinda Williams (once again), Nina Simone (again, too), The Nighthawks’s dirty rock & blues and some very necessary Hip Hop. This all starts in the Baltimore ghetto, remember?
Number 3 on our podium (not including Twin Peaks, our Robespierre of the Soundtracks Revolution) has to be Vince Gilligan’s Sons of Anarchy. This story of an outlaw Californian motorcycle club is mainly supported by heavy guitars and dirty blues. Featuring The Black Keys – a few times actually - Audra Mae, Stigers & The Forest Rangers with classic folk song “John The Revelator” and many more.
Other TV Dramas that left or will leave us with a great soundtrack include Mad Men. Lions Gate 2007 show slowly compiles a more classy, jazzy and mellow soundtrack or still running and already cult Breaking Bad with its Urban meets Phil Collins background music.
So what’s our point? Dirty blues, hard rock and dark room jazz all have in common a sharp as scalpel look on masses and individuals’s pyschology, hurts and behaviours. The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Six Feet Under etc. all analyse these same schemes in all types of social classes and through realer than life (anti)heroes that are just as fucked up as the blues broke ass characters… and sometimes ourselves. So leaving the kitsch, the glam and the fake behind from the writing to the music consulting, this is how since the late 90′s, the soundtracks revolution has been televised.