The 70 Best Musical Moments on TV

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Thomas Golubi?. Alex Patsavas. Andrew Charles Kahn. Gary Calamar. These are the people who helped craft the Don Drapers and Tony Sopranos of our golden TV age, but they don’t often get their due. Music Supervisors are the men and women behind the curtains; they are the reason you go to explain that perfect scene to a friend, but give up describing it after a few details because, “you just have to see it.” Often, what we really mean is “you just have to hear it.” And even before the golden age, there was excellent TV with strong themes, poignant messages, and unforgettable dance moves highlighted by the great music that made some of our favorite scenes so memorable. Here are our picks for the 70 Greatest Musical Moments in Television. This list does not include theme songs (except for one major exception, because we just had to), or performances by musicians on TV shows. (Warning: some of these blurbs contain spoilers.)

70. New Girl: “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley/Zooey Deschanel cover (“Chicago”)

Zooey Deschanel  has done many funny, delightful things over the course of starring in New Girl. However, nothing has ever been better than the time she took it upon herself to perform as an Elvis impersonator at Nick’s dad’s funeral. “In the Ghetto” has never been more amusing. This is mostly because it’s a pretty somber song in typical situations, but Jess dressed as Elvis at a funeral clearly qualifies as atypical.—Chris Morgan

69. Power: “Two Weeks,” by FKA twigs (“Why Her?”)


The new Starz series had a dark and twisted second season that officially brought it into the ranks of must-watch, prestige TV. Holly’s character played a key role in this, as her loyalty to Tommy was continuously tested, especially once she became a target for prosecutors looking to nail him for drug trafficking. When Ghost hands her a stack of money and drops her off at the train station, we hold our breath wondering if this is the last we’ll see of Lucy Walters’ wild character. As the beat to FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks” drops, Holly takes a look at the ring Tommy put on her finger and smiles. In a series with many great musical moments from the likes of Pusha T and 50 Cent, this one stands out because the wonderfully odd sounds and stylings of twigs reflects the strangeness of Holly’s character. Bold, unhinged and unpredictable—we don’t know if we can trust her, but like the artist whose voice we hear as she decides to go back home to Tommy, we can’t stop looking away.—Shannon Houston

68. WKRP In Cincinnati: “Dogs” by Pink Floyd (“Turkeys Away”)

Though the full series of this ‘70s sitcom is available on DVD, the minutiae of music licensing means that it can’t feature many of the original songs that they played during the show’s original run. That includes Pink Floyd’s “Dogs,” a track from Animals, that was memorably used in this scene that finds the stodgy station manager Arthur Carlson trying to relate to their star DJ and in-house burnout Dr. Johnny Fever.—Robert Ham

67. Weeds: “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” by Regina Spektor (“Five Miles From Yetzer Hara”)

Oh, the strangeness of Weeds, Season Eight. This particular montage shows all the odd stories that furrowed our brows (i.e. Doug’s homeless shelter charity fiasco), but they come together well with Spektor’s unique take on an old favorite. A fun and bouncy take on Nina Simone’s powerful ballad, as the scene comes to a close, we finally get to see one of those incredibly rare moments where Nancy, after a lot of drama and window-smashing, is totally carefree and dancing around way-too-young boys. Most importantly, she has a moment of triumph working with little Stevie on his geography. It may turn out to be short-lived, but at the moment, everything seems to be going her way.—Shannon Houston

66. Freaks and Geeks: “Gonna Raise Hell” by Cheap Trick (“Tricks and Treats”)


Halloween episodes tend to feature the same handful of overplayed songs, but the only time we hear “The Monster Mash” on Freaks and Geeks’s “Tricks and Treats,” it’s being sung in a goofy accent by Mrs. Weir while her teenaged kids look on in horror at the sheer corniness of it all. “Gonna Raise Hell” stands in contrast to that as something Lindsay and her friends might actually listen to on the other 364 days of the year. It starts out being used for comedic effect, playing under a montage of the geeks trying on their costumes for their last year trick-or-treating; those sinister cries of “gonna raise hellllllllllllllllll” just add a whole new level of greatness to Bill talking to the mirror as the Bionic Woman. Later on in the episode, though, it’s reprised as the freaks drive around aimlessly before eventually deciding to smash some mailboxes and throw a few eggs. Again, way more fitting than that Transylvanian Twist.—Bonnie Stiernberg

65. The Game: “Take Bow” by Rihanna/Wendy Raquel Robinson cover (“Take a Bow”)

The first two seasons of The Game were incomparable to anything else on TV at the time. This was a show with strong, flawed and hilarious women characters planted firmly at the center of, oddly enough, a series about the world of professional football. Wendy Raquel Robinson’s Tasha Mack delivered countless great performances in her compelling, comedic role as mother to young NFL star Malik Wright, but her rendition of Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” put the cap on one of the best scenes of the show. In breaking up with Rick Fox (played by The Rick Fox), Tasha and fan-favorite Irv (P.J. Byrne) create this moving, infuriating (because she was wrong, and Rick really was The One!) and hilarious office scene. Tasha gets fired and blames Rick for scamming her, just like she always knew he would (although he really didn’t, because he was practically perfect in every way). And when Irv jumps in and starts singing along with her/at her, it becomes a perfect scene, indicative of everything that The Game was good for—heavy drama, heavy laughs and timely musical references.—Shannon Houston

64. Mr. Show with Bob and David: “Rap: The Musical” (“Now Who Wants Ice Cream?”)

With the aid of the multi-talented Eban Schletter, Mr. Show churned out an incredible number of musical parodies, including the Andrew Lloyd Webber-mocking Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star and the hypersexual R&B duo Three Times One Minus One. For this writer, though, no musical moment was funnier than the show’s satirical take on the “rock musical,” with “Rap: The Musical!” a West End show that, despite its name, contains no rap music at all.—Robert Ham

63. The Kids in the Hall: “The Daves I Know” (“Episode 4”)

This inspired silliness is one of those sketches that’s funny for reasons it’s difficult to put your finger on. Is it the repetitions, or the refusal to come up with good rhymes, or just the insane idea of making a song about people named Dave? In any case, it feels like a direct predecessor to The Lonely Island’s musical segments on SNL, and like so much else from Kids it hasn’t aged at all in 25 years. —Sean Gandert

62. Scrubs: “Poison” by Bel Biv Devoe (“My Half-Acre”)

Scrubs made frequent use of Donald Faison’s triple-threat talents, but Google the phrase “Turk dance” and one scene rises to the top: his spot-on lip-sync of Bell Biv Devoe’s 1990 hit “Poison.” Eavesdropping on Ted and the Janitor’s auditions for their new air band, the Cool Cats, Turk decides to show them how it’s done, nailing his Running-Man moves with surgical precision. As the Janitor wisely observes, “I don’t know what ‘it’ is, but he’s got it.’”—Christine Moore

61. A Different World: “Special Look” by Debbie Allen (“Strangers on a Plane”)

One of the greatest will they/won’t they TV romances of our time belongs to Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) and Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) of A Different World. In the Season Three premiere, Whitley finally gets introduced to a different, more suave version of the guy she’s given little thought to on the Hillman campus, and she likes what she sees. All of that seems to fall away when she shows up at his dorm and sees a more familiar Dwayne—celebrating his return to campus, rocking those signature glasses, a tie around his head, and damn-near dutty wining on tables (some folks call that “twerking” now) to Debbie Allen’s Soul Train favorite. When Whitley says, “I just came by to see a friend of mine… but I don’t think he’s here,” things quickly transition back to “won’t they” for her and Dwayne, but these things have a way of working themselves out. —Shannon Houston

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