Beat’s guide to the best TV soundtracks of all time
18.07.2018

Beat’s guide to the best TV soundtracks of all time

Freaks and Geeks
Photo: Chris Haston/NBC

Take a trip down memory lane.

Much of our appreciation of a TV series and its narrative stems from the quality of its soundtrack. We’re as much music lovers as we are screen enthusiasts and when ‘Hallelujah’ comes over the top of Marissa’s final words in The O.C. or ‘Chasing Cars’ sounds Denny’s demise in Grey’s Anatomy, the soundtrack precedes the show — at that moment, the screenplay is at the command of its melodies.

From the brazen, culturally erudite chimes of Breaking Bad to the quirky musical joyride of Freaks & Geeks, we’ve dug into the archives to unearth the greatest ever soundtracks to have hit our TV screens.

The O.C.

For the creator of seminal American teen drama, The O.C., the soundtrack was always intended to be an extra character — the added personality that lined a narrative of hedonism and survival. Josh Schwartz was a screenwriting genius but he also had his finger on the pulse musically and at just the right moment, the melodies would arrive to enrich and articulate beyond the characters’ acting.

The moment: Imogen Heap sings ‘Hallelujah’ as we say goodbye to Marissa.

Twin Peaks

There wouldn’t be any accuracy to this list without including an old favourite, a cult-classic that swung the television industry upon its advent. Twin Peaks was a gamechanger for its quirkiness and sheer oddity, and much of its acclaim can be attributed to its soundtrack. With ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’ at the fore, the music of Twin Peaks has ruptured its square screen boundaries and inspired music tastemakers the world over. The likes of Moby, Sky Ferreira and DJ Shadow have dipped their hands into the Twin Peaks goodie bag.

The moment: Twin Peaks’ entrancing opening theme, courtesy of genius composer Angelo Badalamenti.

Breaking Bad

Gripping as it was disconcerting, Breaking Bad will go down as one of the greatest television creations. Never have we witnessed the muscle of criminality exercised to such an extent. Walter White was a felon who induced the plights of his co-conspirators as he became a devil numb to his own sorcery. To satisfy such penetrating screenplay, the soundtrack must be carefully sculpted — and so it was, country and latin-doused hip-hop gratifying the show’s dustiness and culture.

The moment: TV on the Radio’s ‘DLZ’ intensifies a barefaced conversation between White and some delinquents.

Freaks & Geeks

Freaks & Geeks kickstarted the careers of James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen, it was the TV show you’d come home and watch after school before mum and dad stormed through the door. Across a lifespan of one season and 18 episodes, over 120 songs were sampled. It was here that punters were delighted to discover Van Halen’s ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’, Cheap Trick’s ‘Gonna Raise Hell’ and Supertramp’s ‘Take the Long Way Home’. A true rock’n’roll experience.

The moment: Joan Jett enlivens the opening credits with ‘Bad Reputation’.

Stranger Things

When The Duffer Brothers conceptualised Stranger Things, they wanted to revolutionise the modern soundtrack, hoping to create an unnerving narrative and embellish it with an apocalyptic musical partner. As the Demogorgons took control, S U R V I V E impelled their oracular command and while the soundtrack emerged dark and ominous for the most part, there were times for respite — The Clash, Joy Division and New Order facilitating their creations.

The moment: The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ rings aloud at the final Snowball dance.

Master of None

The Master of None soundtrack is moulded by a group of intellects, of people who truly know their audience and how they will react with every pull. The music could’ve been thematically dense so as to challenge their punters but creator Aziz Ansari created an atmosphere of predictability. Each scene was matched with an equally logical song. As Ansari repents the missed opportunity that is Francesca’s love, the murmurs of Soft Cell’s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ are heard. As the song plays out, there’s no dialogue and Ansari retreats further and further into his Uber passenger seat. Pure mastery.

The moment: The Vengaboys’ ‘We Like to Party!’ is mockingly revived during a closed-restaurant dance party.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Golden Globe-winning The Handmaid’s Tale tells the tale of Gilead, a totalitarian society in the United States which treats women as property of the state. As an environmental disaster and a plummeting birth rate confront the community, women become subjects of sexual slavery. In a utopian world there are moments of silence and in The Handmaid’s Tale, the music fills the void where dialogue falls short. Across two gripping seasons, punters are treated to everything from Bob Marley to Jay Reatard.

The moment: As handmaids process their impending execution, Kate Bush’s poignant ‘This Woman’s Work’ comes into the fray.

True Blood

True Blood marked a valiant shift in the soundtrack evolution. Shaping the music of a vampire drama could be perceived a simple task — juxtapose unnerving melodies with soundtracks of comfort, then repeat. But True Blood knocked pre-conceptions out of the park, fusing everything from Lucinda Williams to Eagles of Death Metal and Leona Lewis together to keep punters guessing. Truly stellar.

The moment: Billie Holiday turns a gruesome moment into something elegant as Lorena Krasiki fells her lover Bill Compton in season three.

Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy was a helipad for the next wave of indie artists. Tegan and Sara dropped in with their track ‘Where Does the Good Go’ before getting their break while the careers of Roisin Murphy and Anna Nalick also gained momentum from respective samplings. There was an element of cheese to this soundtrack that made it somewhat irksome but you can’t deny the moment everyone got teary when ‘Chasing Cars’ came to the fore or while Ed Sheeran’s ‘Kiss Me’ perfectly evoked Adele’s death.

The moment: Has to be Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ arising for Denny’s death scene.