The 70 Best Musical Moments on TV

TV Lists

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

60. Veronica Mars: “I Hear the Bells” by Mike Doughty (“Look Who’s Stalking”)

No romantic relationship dominates Veronica Mars’s three seasons (and its singular movie) quite like the complex interplay between the titular girl sleuth and reformed bad boy Logan Echolls. After a series of ups and downs, the second season finale ends with yet another wrench being thrown into their dynamic. In the midst of celebrating prom at Logan’s penthouse, Veronica approaches her on-again-off-again lover who drunkenly confesses his love for her. “I thought our story was epic, you know, you and me… expanding years and continents, lives ruined and blood shed,” he explains.  As the emotions of the scene build, Mike Doughty’s lovely “I Hear the Bells” perfectly augments this bittersweet moment. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good love confession scene, and it doesn’t get much better than this.—Mark Rozeman

59. Mad Men: “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan (“The Wheel”)

After delivering his most memorable pitch to date (in which he waxes poetic on the nature of nostalgia to sell Kodak’s Carousel), Don hops on a train home just in time to join his adoring family for Thanksgiving—or so we think. After that alternate reality in which Don isn’t completely married to his work plays out, we see what really happened: our hero returns home to an empty house, plops himself down on the staircase and, consumed by guilt, stares longingly into the distance as this Dylan classic helps close out season one. The scene is Don in a nutshell: he wants to be better, but he just can’t, and it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why.—Bonnie Stiernberg

58. The Office: “Forever” by Chris Brown (“Niagara”)

The Office was a show about how your work associates became sort of a surrogate family. Of course, all families are embarrassing, so it made sense for Jim and Pam to have one private wedding for themselves and another for their real/work families. Inspired by the viral video of a wedding party dancing down the aisle to Chris Brown’s “Forever,” Michael Scott leads Jim and Pam’s work associates in a dance-off before the impending nuptials. While the sequence is one of Scott’s many attempts to be amusing, it’s also a wedding gift to his two favorite employees—who he is directly responsible for getting together—a way to show that he loves them more than they can imagine and give them something they’ll never forget.—Ross Bonaime

57. The Wonder Years: “Long May You Run” by The Stills-Young Band  (“The Family Car”)


A car is not something, in theory, we should shed tears over. It’s really just a big hunk of metal, when it comes down to it, yet like a family home or anywhere else we spend a significant amount of time growing up, it contains memories, and so it’s sad when we have to let it go. So when the Arnolds’ car finally gives out and we’re treated to a montage of old home movies of them smiling and waving inside it while Neil Young warbles “we’ve been through some things together,” it’s surprisingly effective, and all of a sudden, there you are, crying over a fictional old car like an idiot.—Bonnie Stiernberg

56. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory (“The Big Four-Oh”)

The only thing more ‘90s than C+C Music Factory’s gigantic hit is the finger snap Aunt Vivian gives at the end of this scene. In the episode, she’s suffering from a pesky mid-life crisis, and wants to revisit the idea of becoming a dancer. She shows up at an important audition, nervous as hell because she’s 40 and everyone else isn’t. But when that beat drops, Aunt Viv—who is in horrifyingly immaculate shape—busts out those moves and slays the entire room. In the end, she decides to stick with being a professor, but this scene showed us that Vivian Banks probably could have done any damn thing she wanted to. Also: that leotard.—Shannon Houston

55. The Office: “Only You” by Yaz (“Christmas Special, Part 2”)

All of the original Office is one big waiting game for the moment when Dawn finally realizes how she feels about Tim—which is the way he’s felt about her for the entire series. The show has so many moments that deflect from this ever happening, until the Christmas special, where the entire viewing audience let out on extended sigh of relief and happiness as Tim and Dawn finally share their first kiss. While the American series followed the whole Jim and Pam relationship for arguably too long, the original British series is perfect for its ability to make the smallest moments feel monumental—and a great song like “Only You” worked to heighten this moment. This was also the perfect end to end a love story and to the series—a glimpse at the true beginning of something special.—Ross Bonaime

54. Mad Men: “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks (“The Other Woman”)

When Peggy finally gives Don her notice in Season Five, it’s an incredibly emotional moment; after all, these two have a lot of history—not just as protege and mentor, but as friends. Don’s genuinely hurt by the decision, and he slowly shifts from bemused to desperate as Peggy stands her ground and turns down his offer to beat whatever number Cutler, Gleason and Chaough has put on the table. That kiss on the hand stands as one of the best Peggy/Don moments of the series, but it’s not until after Peggy’s on her way out that we truly get a sense that this is the best move for her, that great things lie ahead. That grin as the opening riff to “You Really Got Me” kicks in and she boards the elevator one last time is a precursor to her badass stroll into McCann a few seasons later. Everything’s coming up Peggy.—Bonnie Stiernberg

53. Glee: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey/New Directions cover (“Pilot”)

In a show whose very premise is built on musical moments, how do we pick just one? Let’s start at the very beginning. Or rather, the end of the beginning. The Glee pilot offers a rare example of a show that found its voice right away, culminating with the New Directions’ simple, stirring rendition of the Journey classic. It inspired Mr. Schue to turn around and stick with the glee club, and it made the rest of us want to stick with Glee.—Christine Moore

52. Sister, Sister “I’m Goin’ Down” by Rose Royce/Tamera Mowry cover (“The Audition”)

If you were a young black girl growing up in the ‘90s and your mom was a professor who rarely let you watch television, Sister, Sister was your jam. And if you weren’t any of those things, there’s still a good chance you remember enjoying the antics of identical twin sisters (played by Tia and Tamera Mowry), separated at birth, then reunited as teens. In “The Audition,” Tamera’s having some love troubles, which is always a good thing when you have to go on stage and sing a soulful ‘70s song. It was the first time we’d witnessed the vocal prowesses of Mowry, and although it’s not exactly a Mary J. Blige cover, her version is a beautiful, stripped down homage to one of the greatest heartbreak tracks of all time.—Shannon Houston

51. Boardwalk Empire “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” by Margot Bingham (“The Devil You Know”)

The music in this moment is brief, but as powerful as anything else on this list. Resigned to his fate—gunned down in an alley by Narcisse’s goons—Chalky closes his eyes and sets his mind on the sound of his daughter singing “Dream A Little Dream Of Me.” A small smile plays on his lips before the guns ring out and the scene cuts to black. Boardwalk Empire was never short on memorable scenes, but this has to rank near the top of that particular list.—Robert Ham

50. Scandal: “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations (“The Price of Free and Fair Elections”)

“He took my child, so I took his.” Rowan Pope/Eli Pope/Command/Papa Pope (Joe Morton) may be one of the greatest TV villains of more recent years. As father to the formidable Olivia Pope and head of the CIA (and, more importantly super-secret and terrifying B613), he wins elections, he kills and he monologues like no other. In the Season Three finale, he confesses to killing the President’s child (among other things), and Shonda Rhimes and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas chose another ‘70s hit as the perfect backdrop. This choice may seem a bit on the nose, but when Papa Pope is breaking down the price of free and fair elections in America, there really isn’t a better song.—Shannon Houston

49. Parenthood: “Forever Young,” Iron & Wine ft. Rhiannon Giddens (“May God Bless and Keep You Always”)

Look, we knew the Parenthood finale was going to turn us all into weepy messes; that’s what every episode of Parenthood is designed to do. Zeek’s death had been teased all season, so when it finally happened in the last five minutes of the series, it wasn’t a surprise—but woof, was it effective. We start with Camille finding him dead in a chair (are you kidding me, Jason Katims?), and then it gets even more cry-tacular: scenes of the Braverman clan spreading Zeek’s ashes on a baseball field and joyfully playing a game over his remains per his wishes are intercut with flashes forward as Rhiannon Giddens and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam sing Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (which also served as the show’s theme song). The song is so good and the scenes are so much like catnip for your tear ducts that it’s easy to miss some of the crazy details they throw in: Extra babies! A puppy! Amber is married to Jason Street from Friday Night Lights! In many ways, I hate Parenthood for putting me through this, and there’s no greater indication that a poignant song’s been put to good use than that.—Bonnie Stiernberg

48. Parks and Recreation: “Buddy” by Willie Nelson (“Leslie and Ron”/”One Last Ride”)


Parks and Rec is not a show I typically expect to make me cry, but its final season really did a number on me, particularly with the way it used Willie Nelson’s “Buddy” to highlight Leslie and Ron’s relationship. It starts in “Leslie and Ron,” when the pair rekindles their friendship after a long fight, when Ron admits he misses his friends in the Parks Department and had tried to go to Leslie to get a job. We’re treated to a montage of the two horsing around in the old office, drinking Scotch and re-hanging Ron’s precious eggs and bacon painting as Nelson sings, “Laugh with me, buddy/jest with me, buddy.” Then it’s reprised in the series finale, when Leslie gifts Ron with his dream job—supervisor of a national park, where his main duties include walking the land and “talking to bears”—and we watch a grinning Ron paddle off into the sunset in a canoe that, aptly, reads “Lucky Boy” as we bid farewell to one of the great TV friendships.—Bonnie Stiernberg

47. Freaks and Geeks: “Rosalinda’s Eyes” by Billy Joel (“Carded and Discarded”)


Montage music can be hit-or-miss, but what makes “Rosalinda’s Eyes” so on-the-nose here is the way it underscores the innocence these kids still have. While their classmates are making out to Led Zeppelin, they’re setting off rockets with their dream girl to a song Billy Joel wrote about his mom.—Bonnie Stiernberg

46. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air: “I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations (“To Thine Own Self be Blue… And Gold”)

When an old friend of Uncle Phil’s comes to town and asks Will to do him a favor of an illegal nature, things get tense in the Banks household. As he often does, Will uses the power of old school music to appeal to the softer side of Uncle Phil, and the results are incredibly sweet. This was always a fun moment to watch, but since we lost actor James Avery in 2013, there’s something especially poignant about this clip. Will cranks up The Temptations’ “I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Phil busts out that epic grown man swag, and all feels right with the world.—Shannon Houston

45. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: “I’m Walkin,’” by Fats Domino/Rick Nelson cover

This was a symbolic passing of the torch as the father of the Nelson clan, himself a renowned jazz musician, finally acknowledged the growing audience for rock music by providing a spotlight to his budding teen idol son Rick. With one performance of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin,’” the pouty-lipped youngster went from a bit player to a superstar, kicking off a long and storied career in rock and country.—Robert Ham

44. Freaks and Geeks: “Lady” by Styx (“Girlfriends and Boyfriends”)

Fun fact: when I first watched this Freaks and Geeks episode when it originally aired, I was in junior high and thought this scene was super romantic. Now I’m older and wiser and I can see that there are way, way too many candles in that basement. The creep factor is what makes this moment between Nick and Lindsay so great; we don’t know whether to laugh or bury our faces in our hands, or both. Nick’s rendition of “Lady” is awkward and clunky, but it’s coming from a genuine place, and even though Lindsay’s sufficiently weirded out, that tiny smile lets us know she’s touched by this goober’s grand gesture.—Bonnie Stiernberg

43. Bob’s Burgers: “Electric Love” by Gener Belcher (“Topsy”)

Bob’s Burgers is one of those shows that loves throwing out a new song with nearly every episode, and it has a knack for creating melodies that won’t get out of your head. The absolute most ear wormiest the show ever managed came from the Belcher family’s factually inaccurate yet wildly catchy song, “Electric Love,” focused on Thomas Edison’s love for Topsy the elephant, who in reality he filmed being electrocuted. Here, though, he can’t resist the “curve of her trunk” and she can’t resist his, umm, “electric junk.” It’ll have you singing, “Aww, Topsy” at her autopsy—now good luck getting that line out of your head during the next week. —Sean Gandert

42. The Wonder Years: “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Judy Collins (“Daddy’s Little Girl”)


Part of what made The Wonder Years feel so authentic and unlike any family sitcom that came before it, was the fact that it never shied away from showing real dysfunction. The fights on the show are emotional—and not always resolved cleanly by the episode’s end. Karen’s clashes with her father as she shifted from daddy’s little girl to rebellious teenager were a recurring theme, and it all comes to a head in an episode about her 18th birthday. Things get tense at the table when Karen wants to ditch her family and go out with her friends, but when Jack gives her a peace offering of sorts—his old Army bag—and finally lets her go, it’s the very definition of bittersweet. And when Judy Collins sings “Across the morning sky, all the birds are leaving/Ah, how can they know it’s time for them to go?” we know exactly what she’s talking about.—Bonnie Stiernberg

41.Weeds: “With Arms Outstretched” by Rilo Kiley (“It’s Time”)

Many were displeased with the series finale of Weeds. Between the time jump, Doug’s cult and Shane’s mustache, there was plenty to be confused about when “It’s Time” came to a close. Still, after eight seasons, we’d also grown to love these characters, and it felt right to seem them all (minus Celia, why not Celia?!) gathered together one last time. After all they’d been through—all the weeds they’d sold and people they killed, sometimes with mallets, sometimes not (“Shane, get mommy a pillow”)—Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched,” gave us the perfect tones to bid farewell to this strange, strange family one last time.—Shannon Houston

40. Sons of Anarchy: “Hey Hey My My” by Battleme (“NS”)

I’m always a little scared when a show like Sons of Anarchy tries to bring a thousand plot points together and wrap them up neatly in a big concluding scene, because most of the time there are a lot of loose threads left dangling, and it feels like a giant disaster. Smart, tight, and conclusive almost always beats epic, ambitious, and frantic. The final scene of Season Three was one of the most notable exceptions I’ve ever seen, and Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My” played a critical role in pacing the delirious string of reversals instigated by the Charming MC. It was the steady beat behind the chaos, the drum behind the savagery, and the rhythm guiding the plot along its path to a stunning conclusion.—Shane Ryan

39. The Wonder Years: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”  by Otis Redding (“Dance With Me”)


When you’re in junior high, you’re basically one giant, walking raw nerve. Even the slightest look or or most innocent comment can, depending on how your hormones are warping your brain on any given day, seem like The Biggest Deal in the World. On the surface, a song like Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” may seem too mature for The Wonder Years’ Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper, too weary and full of yearning for two kids who are still a few years away from being done with puberty. But that’s exactly why it’s perfect. Junior high kids love hard and fast—days seem like weeks, months seem like years, a year feels like a lifetime—and those little moments, like slow-dancing with the guy who put a jacket over your shoulders and kissed you a few months ago, are treated with the utmost importance, because everything is a huge deal when you’re 12.—Bonnie Stiernberg

38. Flight of the Conchords: “Robots” (“Sally”)


“It doesn’t look like Daft Punk. We wanted ones like Daft Punk,” says Jermaine Clement, moments before the Flight of the Conchords begin playing. Instead, he and Bret McKenzie look like they’re wearing robot costumes your mom would’ve made for you on Halloween if she started working on them maybe a half hour or so before you went out trick-or-treating. But that’s a perfect fit for Flight’s lo-fi sensibility, and meshes with their hilarious mess of a song. The essential joke of the show, that its band’s lyrics and production values are both startlingly low rent, would be repeated again and again throughout its run, but it never had more impact than here, the first time we see these men singing with complete seriousness on the subject of the “distant future,” i.e. the year 2000, when robots have killed all the humans. —Sean Gandert

37. Mad Men: “The Best Things In Life are Free” Robert Morse cover (“Waterloo”)

With the exception of The Sopranos (where creator Matthew Weiner cut his teeth as a writer), no show has handled dream sequences and visions so artfully as Mad Men. This memorable moment comes on the heels of the moon landing, Bert Cooper’s death and the McCann deal that would leave our favorite (now obscenely rich) Sterling Cooper employees pondering “is that all there is?” Bert appears to Don—who has just netted himself millions of dollars—to remind him that “the moon belongs to everyone” and “the best things in life are free.” It escalates into a full-blown number, complete with dancing secretaries, and it’s a fitting send-off for actor Robert Morse, who spent much of his career on Broadway.—Bonnie Stiernberg

36. How I Met Your Mother: “La Vie en rose” by Édith Piaf/Cristin Milioti cover (“How Your Mother Met Me”)

The last season of How I Met Your Mother was obviously divisive, largely because of the presentation of Cristin Milioti’s Tracy, who was snatched away far too quickly. After nine seasons of (wrongly) wondering who the mother would be, with one simple ukulele iteration of “La Vie en Rose,” not only did Ted Mosby immediately fall in love with Tracy, but so did the rest of us.—Ross Bonaime

35. American Horror Story: Asylum: “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis/Jessica Lange cover (“The Name Game”)

Nothing could be more twisted than a few minutes of forced, saccharine bliss when everything else is bleak beyond measure. That’s the formula Asylum uses when it offers us this strange interlude of Jessica Lange’s now imprisoned Sister Jude Martin singing the ‘50s novelty hit “The Name Game.” Suddenly washed out colors become overexposed, and for a couple of minutes we’re inside Jude’s head, where everything is still strange beyond measure but at least it’s a happy strange. Then, when we jumped back into reality again, we witness just how far removed Jude really is from reality. The combination of joy and lament coming together make this the perfect setpiece for American Horror Story, and a much more fitting use of song than anything the show has done since.—Sean Gandert

34. The Sopranos: “American Girl” by Tom Petty (“Join the Club”)


This hospital scene ranks right up with the explosive fight in “Whitecaps” as one of Edie Falco’s best performances as Carmela Soprano—though it’s far more subdued. When this Tom Petty classic comes on as she’s visiting a comatose Tony, it sends her into a fit of nostalgia, at first laughing at memories of a time before infidelity and a life of crime drove some pretty huge wedges between them, and then slowly losing her composure as she apologizes to him, assures him (but really, herself) that he’s not going to die and tells him she loves him. A stunning showcase scene for this American girl, raised on promises.—Bonnie Stiernberg

33. Mad Men: “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” by the Beach Boys (“Far Away Places”)

“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” might seem almost too on-the-nose for a scene in which Roger Sterling drops acid in an attempt to appease his much-younger wife—and then sees half his hair return to black to match a magazine ad he’d been staring at. But sometimes the most obvious soundtracking choice is the right one, and this Beach Boys classic highlights the scene’s trippiness while driving home Roger’s feelings about aging.—Bonnie Stiernberg

32. Caesar’s Hour: “Symphony No. 5” by Beethoven (“Argument to Beethoven’s 5th”)

Caesar’s Hour may not be as fondly remembered as Sid Caesar’s previous groundbreaking comedy showcase Your Show of Shows, but it still featured the early writing of icons like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart. And then there were inspired pieces like this: a couple’s argument silently acted out to the tune of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5.” This hilarious and poignant set piece, featuring the great Broadway actress Nanette Fabray, is even more impressive when you realize that the filmed version you’re seeing was captured live.—Robert Ham

31. Lost: “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass (“Man of Science, Man of Faith”)

Many viewers of Lost were disappointed that after half a season of build up, the first season never told us what was in the hatch. However the second season premiere “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” jumps right into the hatch, explaining so much with a simple montage of the hatch’s only inhabitant’s life. As we see Desmond getting prepared with the same daily routine he has performed for years, to the warm Mama Cass tune, we quickly realize something isn’t all that normal. After exercise and breakfast, we watch Desmond inject himself with a mystery substance, then when the record screeches to a halt due to an explosion, he mans a gun, only for the camera to pull out and show us that we’ve been inside the hatch all along. Lost was always able to subvert expectations and through this perfect blending of surprise and song, started its second season off with a literal and metaphorical bang.—Ross Bonaime

30. Arrested Development: “The Final Countdown” by Europe (“Sad Sack”)

It’s only fitting that Arrested Development’s best musical moment isn’t just one simple occurrence, but rather a running gag. Europe’s cheesy ‘80s hair metal song “The Final Countdown” serves as essentially Gob’s personal theme, cropping up in more than half a dozen episodes after it first appears at Gob’s “redemption” magic show. Our favorite appearance occurs when we find out it’s not only the theme to Gob’s magic shows, it’s also his ringtone—but there’s no such thing as a bad joke when those first four synthesized notes hit. Arrested Development is careful not to overplay this for laughs, so every time it appears it’s another wonderful reminder of Gob’s ridiculousness, rather than just a cheap bit of self-referential humor. —Sean Gandert

29. ER: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” by Israel Kamakawiwo?ole (“On the Beach”)

In a time before Israel Kamakawiwo?ole’s whimsical, yet melancholy ukulele medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” became a shorthand for heart-tugging poignancy, one of its earliest and best uses was in sending ER’s Dr. Mark Greene into the afterlife. In the context of the show, this is the song Mark is listening to as he slowly slips away due to the effects of a brain tumor. His impending death is preceded by a montage depicting his last days in Hawaii (hence, the tropical feel of the song), coupled with a few stylized shots of him wandering the empty halls of County General. All in all, a wonderful elegy for one of the show’s most essential characters.—Mark Rozeman

28. Rectify: “Flume” by Bon Iver (“Always There”)

The right song can do so much to characterize and establish the tone of a show. Rarely was this more impactful than in one of the opening scenes of Sundance’s tragically underrated Rectify. As convict Daniel Holden finds himself released from death row after nearly twenty years behind bars, his drive back home is soundtracked by Bon Iver’s low-key, yet unquestionably emotive “Flume.” Not only does the song perfectly characterize Daniel’s view of the Georgia landscapes as something both iconic and foreign, but it also firmly establishes that we are in the hands of an assured creative team who can expertly sum up the interior life of a character with little more than a well-chosen song and a few beautifully orchestrated shots.—Mark Rozeman

27. True Detective: “Holy Mountain” by Sleep (“Who Goes There”)


True Detective’s vaunted first season is all about manly men behaving in manly ways and doing manly things. It’s also about major doses of portent with a slathering of atmosphere. The fourth episode in the series’ cardinal go-’round, “Who Goes There,” is short on none of these things, but reviewers (rightfully) went especially nuts over its final sequence—a six-minute tracking shot that turns the echoing mayhem of cacophonic gunfire into such elegant, ordered chaos that everything else in between wound up getting overlooked. For fans of Sleep, though, the installment’s signature moment comes during Marty Hart’s ill-advised jaunt into a backwoods biker hangout, where the stoner metal band’s sonorous, hypnotic song “Holy Mountain” can be heard grinding out in the background. You can’t ask for a better harbinger of Impending Doom™ than that. —Andy Crump

26. Friday Night Lights: “If It’s the Beaches” by The Avett Brothers (“Leave No One Behind”)

Sometimes, a song can actually make a scene. When we were first compiling this list, the “Beaches” episode of Friday Night Lights immediately came to mind. I remember it being powerful, moving, and somehow perfect. What I didn’t remember was what had actually happened in the show. As you see from the clip above, it was Landry kissing Tyra toward the tail end of a pretty mediocre second season (don’t get me started on the murder subplot). That particular relationship never felt believable, but it speaks to how unbelievably perfect the song was that it stuck with me, and that when I watch it again, it still gives me goosebumps.—Shane Ryan

25. The Walking Dead: “Hold On,” Tom Waits/Emily Kinney cover (“I Ain’t a Judas”)

We can attribute Tom Waits’ musical renown to a whole smorgasbord of varying factors: His unabashed experimental inclinations, his fluency in styles ranging from blues to vaudeville, his distinctive, pork pie hat-topped look, and, most of all, his inimitable, gravelly croon. But if you strip the songs of his voice and replace them with lighter, more dulcet tones—say, those of Emily Kinney, formerly Beth on AMC’s The Walking Dead—you get just as affecting a result, but in a totally different direction. Toward the end of Season Three’s “I Ain’t a Judas,” everybody’s having a rough time with the threat of the Governor and Woodbury hanging over their heads, and so Beth breaks out this ditty a cappella to soothe the group’s nerves. It isn’t the last time she pulls out her own spin on Waits’ sound (see: Season Four’s “Infected”), but her impromptu performance of “Hold On” casts a spell like no other.—Andy Crump

24. Breaking Bad: “Baby Blue” by Badfinger (“Felina”)

The Breaking Bad creative team made no shortage of excellent decisions in the series’ final stretch of episodes. Among the most inspired, however, was creator Vince Gilligan’s decision to use this somewhat obscure Badfinger power pop number (granted, it was a decent-sized hit back in the day) to score the show’s final moments. And, boy, was “Baby Blue” the perfect note to go out on. Aside from the obvious double meaning of the title (which could easily be referencing Walt’s famed blue meth), the song’s content perfectly reflects Walt’s mindset—there’s the opening line (“guess I got what I deserved”) as well as the fact that the song’s melancholy content is propelled by uplifting and catchy power pop chords just as the tragedy of Walt’s death is somewhat countered by his triumphant, bullet-riddled victory over the neo-Nazis.—Mark Rozeman

23. The Good Wife: “Thicky Trick” by Matthew Lillard/Rebel Kane (“Goliath and David”)

Season Five of The Good Wife was unforgettable for a lot of reasons, and the “Goliath and David” episode is one of them. Former lovers Alicia and Will go up against each other in the courtroom and their case involves the hilarious and horrifyingly catchy tune “Thicky Trick.” A rap song remixed by two corny but talented white dudes who made their music video in a bowling alley, Alicia fights to find proof that Will’s Goliath-sized clients stole the song for a popular Glee-style TV show. Anyone who watches this excellent show knows that the drama is almost always in the smallest details, and this meant the lawyers had to listen to and play the song over and over looking for the proof they needed. The result was that everyone watching couldn’t get the song out of their head. For weeks. Which is partly why the creators of the show had to publicly apologize for the song. The ridiculous tune was such a big hit that The Good Wife team recorded this awful music video in which Diane Lockhart is actually wearing hair rollers whilst booty poppin’ on stage. On a personal note, my three children ages 2-7 all know the hook to this song, a true sign of the lasting impression these unforgettable lyrics have left on generations old and young. Other lyrical highlights include “Her babydaddy still tryna come around/tryna get a piece of that round and brown.”—Shannon Houston

22. The Cosby Show: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder (“A Touch of Wonder”)

An element of The Cosby Show that isn’t talked about nearly enough was the sitcom’s efforts to bring African-American icons into the fold for at least one episode every season. A sterling example of this is when the Huxtable kids got to spend a little time in Stevie Wonder’s studio after Denise accidentally hits his limo. The R&B legend decides to show off his new sampler, using little snippets of the kids’ voices send through his Synclavier. This scene has gained added resonance as The Roots’ drummer Questlove has marked it as the moment when many famed hip-hop producers were introduced to sampling culture.—Robert Ham

21. The Office: “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes/Ricky Gervais cover (“Christmas Special, Part 1”)

The two-part Christmas special edition of The Office gave creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant a chance to gently mock reality show celebs who try to squeeze every last drop out of their ignominious fame. Poor David Brent does so by taking the money he earned from successfully suing his former employers at Wernham-Hogg and recording a painful version of the Harold Melvin & The Blue-Tones classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” complete with a glossy, dramatic, and absolutely hilarious music video.—Robert Ham

20. Mad Men: “Zou Bisou Bisou” by Gillian Hills/Jessica Paré cover (“A Little Kiss”)

The fact that it’s one of the greatest TV dramas of all time often causes people to overlook the fact that Mad Men could be really funny. The inherent humor is what makes “Zou Bisou Bisou” such a memorable scene—we laugh because we know that Don is hating this. It’s the first episode we get to see his married life with Megan, and it’s our first indication that there’s perhaps a bit of a disconnect between the two. Anyone who knows the first thing about Don Draper knows that surprise parties and silly, public displays of affection are not his style, and yet here’s Megan, singing in French and hiking up her skirt in front of all their coworkers. But hey, anything that got Roger to shimmy down the hallway singing ‘Frere Jaques’ can’t be all bad, right?—Bonnie Stiernberg

19. The Sopranos: “This Magic Moment” by The Drifters (“Soprano Home Movies”)


Dear, sweet Bobby Bacala. Whether he was caring for Junior Soprano or playing with his kids, Bobby always stuck out among his more sinister peers on The Sopranos for being a nice guy—a little dim, maybe, but goodhearted overall. And, as his brother-in-law Tony points out in “Soprano Home Movies,” he’s never whacked a guy. Bobby and Tony spend much of the episode’s first half bonding at a lake house, but after some typical Soprano family dysfunction leads a drunken Tony to make some rude comments about Janice, Bobby’s forced to defend her honor, and the two wind up having a fistfight. And when business dictates that someone needs to be “taken care of” in a laundromat, Tony coldly assigns the task to Bobby, knowing full well it’ll be his first kill. As he returns to the lake house after losing his murder virginity, The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment” plays, and we’re met with an idyllic family scene—Janice waving and smiling, the sun shining, his daughter gleefully running into his arms. But as the cheery music swells and Bobby holds onto his innocent little girl tightly, we can tell that something has changed in him, and the juxtaposition between the song and the underlying darkness makes for one of The Sopranos’ best moments.—Bonnie Stiernberg

18. Cowboy Bebop: “Tank!” by Seatbelts (Opening song)

From the moment its staccato horns blast into the frame, it’s clear that Cowboy Bebop plans on offering music just as distinctive and stylized as the animation that accompanies it. The show’s explosive opening credits have plenty of competition for best musical moment in the show, with nearly every episode getting its own anthemic song by the frighteningly talented Yoko Kanno and her band The Seatbelts. In fact, there’s no such thing as an episode of Cowboy Bebop without spectacular music, to the point that the show’s soundtrack is one of, if not the greatest, in all of television. But as moving as “Green Bird” or “Space Lion” may be in context, there’s no song that better defines the show as a whole, with its combination of French New Wave style, American jazz music, and patently Japanese science-fiction, than the opening.—Sean Gandert

17. Mad Men: “My Special Angel” by Bobby Helms (“Shoot”)

One of the series’ most striking images is that of Betty Draper, with a cigarette dangling from her lips and a dead look in her eyes, shooting her neighbor’s pigeons out of the sky as this 1957 track plays. After her attempts to revive her modeling career (and get out of the house) are unsuccessful, she grins and bears it, plastering on a fake smile, warning the kids not to run in the house and emptying the washing machine before stepping outside to jealously take down some creatures who—unlike her—are not caged. The song, like Betty herself, is left over from the ‘50s, and here it helps to illustrate the plight of the suburban housewife.—Bonnie Stiernberg

16. Breaking Bad “DLZ” by TV on the Radio (“Over”)

One of the unsung heroes of Breaking Bad’s epic five-season run was music supervisor Thomas Golubi?, who always found the exact song to punctuate the show’s numerous memorable sequences. One of the prime examples of this comes late in the second season. After learning that his cancer is in remission, Walter White finds his reasoning for going into the meth business suddenly null and void. As he picks up supplies from a hardware store, he suddenly notices a particularly sketchy man buying up materials that he recognizes as being components for meth cooking. As the ominous sounds of TV on the Radio’s “DLZ” begin creeping into the background, Walt confronts the man and his partner in the parking lot. “Stay out of my territory,” he barks, as the song builds to a crescendo.  In one fell swoop, this scene pivots the entire course of the series—namely, it becomes abundantly clear that Walt’s meth enterprise is less about securing financial support for his family and more about feeding his own megalomania. Between the song and Bryan Cranston’s performance, this moment remains one of the most subtly powerful in the series’ history.—Mark Rozeman

15. The Sopranos: “It Was a Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra (“Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office”)


Arguably one of the best uses of montage on TV, this opening scene from the Season Two premiere of The Sopranos brings us up to speed on what the characters have been up to since we last saw them—Junior’s in jail, Tony’s the new boss, Livia’s in the hospital, Carmela’s still at home making dinner. The irony, of course, is that this was not a very good year for Tony Soprano; his uncle tried to kill him, he tried to smother his own controlling mother with a pillow, he started having the panic attacks that led him to seek treatment from Dr. Melfi. But there’s also a meta wink here—The Sopranos had one hell of a first year any way you slice it (ratings, awards, critical reception…1999 was very good to David Chase).—Bonnie Stiernberg

14. Miami Vice “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins (“Pilot”)

Miami Vice was a “cool” show. All these years later, that’s the main takeaway from it. There was a slickness to it that really clicked with people at the time. This is especially exemplified by its use of Phil Collins’ hit song “In the Air Tonight” in the pilot episode. Two cool cops, cruising down the street in a convertible while that big drum solo kicks in? That’s one way to hook the masses.—Chris Morgan

13. Mad Men: “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles (“Lady Lazarus”)

“When did the music become so important?” If Don Draper could see what we saw each year, he’d know that music, in the Mad Men universe, has always been very important. No song that appears on the show is an accident. The lyrics match perfectly with the message of each episode, often hammering home facts or feelings left unsaid by the characters. That’s certainly the case when the song in question is a Beatles track. From a purely economic standpoint, those babies aren’t cheap. We’re even reminded of this earlier in the episode when Don and his team meet with a client who wants an ad to be a shot-for-shot remake of the opening to A Hard Day’s Night, but can’t afford to buy the rights to a Beatles song. Don can’t understand why clients are so fixated on music these days, but later, during the episode’s brilliant final scene, when he puts on Revolver and it’s, you know, actually The Beatles, any viewers who wouldn’t have otherwise appreciated what a big deal this is probably heard a tiny little Matthew Weiner sitting on their shoulders whispering, “Psst! I paid a lot of money for this! Listen closely because it’s important!” On her way out for an acting class, Megan gives Don a copy of Revolver, telling him she knows he’s trying to keep up with the latest trends and that he should check out “Tomorrow Never Knows.” As John Lennon (yes, the realJohn Lennon) sings, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream,” we see Don sitting pensively with a drink, followed by Peggy smoking a joint in the office. Then we see Pete run into Howard and Beth in the parking lot. She draws a heart in the condensation on her window, but then she rolls down the window to erase it. What a tease. We also see Megan lying blissfully on the floor in her acting class. Finally, we get back to Don, who has apparently decided that, like Roger, he just wasn’t made for these times. He gets up and turns off the album mid-song before getting up and silently leaving the room. He seems to be the only one refusing to lay down all thoughts and surrender to the void—but maybe that’s because he doesn’t understand that the music has become very, very important.—Bonnie Stiernberg

12. Transparent: “Somebody that I Used to Know” by Gotye ft. Kimbra (“Symbolic Exemplar”)


As with many moments in this excellent Amazon season, you don’t know how to feel watching Jeffrey Tambor as Maura singing Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” First of all, these are grown people performing at a Trans Got Talent show. Second of all, those wigs. Thirdly, all Moppa needed was this one night—one night where she could be (and perform) herself, with the support of her children, and it’s painful to watch her be denied this seemingly small pleasure. As the Pfefferman kids walk out on their mother, and the lyrics ring out, with Maura nervously, desperately trying to finish the song as her more confident co-star Davina (Alexandra Billings) carrying her through, your heart just breaks. This family may be Jewish, but you can’t help but liken this scene to a New Testament-style betrayal. Davina had warned Maura that, as a transitioning older woman, she’d soon find herself standing alone. And before the cock crowed three times (in this case, before the end of the track), she’d been deserted. This incredible scene breathed new life into a love song that went so pop it almost became a cliché. Thanks to music supervisor Bruce Gilbert (husband to Transparent creator Jill Soloway), it transitions into a heartbreaking anthem for anyone who’s ever looked around a room for just one familiar face, and realized that—in spite of having family, friends and a seemingly big moment where they should rally around you—sometimes you’re all you’ve got.—Shannon Houston

11. The West Wing: “Hallelujiah” by Jeff Buckley (“Posse Comitatus”)

Mark Harmon’s Secret Service agent Simon Donovon is in such a great mood when he walks into the Korean grocery store to get a Milky Way bar. He’s buying flowers for C.J. Craig after deciding that his feeling for her are more important than his career. His mood only gets better when he arrests an armed robber in the act. Unfortunately, he didn’t know about the second gunman. After he’s shot and killed, Jeff Buckley’s haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—not yet overused in 2002—plays as C.J. and the rest of her colleagues learn about the shooting. One of the saddest pieces of music ever recorded lends an emotional heft to the Season Three finale. Manipulatively tear-jerking? Sure. Effective? Absolutely.—Josh Jackson

10. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” (“The Rains of Castamere”)


Just when it seemed like things might finally be going right for the beleaguered Stark family, a solo cello melodiously sounds through the room. The song startles Catelyn, as she recognizes it as one of the darkest songs in all of Westeros, a ballad about the complete decimation of a noble house by the Lannisters, and what’s worse, for some reason the musicians all seem to be wearing full armor. Her premonitions are unfortunately correct; “The Rains of Castamere” is not in fact a song for the bride and groom at all, rather it’s a signal for the betrayal of the Starks, and what follows is perhaps the single most traumatic scene of the entire Game of Thrones series—well, so far.

And while it’s not actually in the episode, it doesn’t hurt that The National recorded the soundtrack version of “Rains,” either.—Sean Gandert

9. The Venture Bros.: “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” by Aqugen (“Powerless in the Face of Death”)

As the second season of this brilliant animated series kicks off, everyone is reeling from the “deaths” of Dean & Hank Venture. No one more so than their father, Dr. Venture, who uses the opportunity to go on a kind of quasi-spiritual quest. Set to the tune of Aqugen’s rousing house tune “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” we watch as the famed scientist imbibes ayahuasca, smokes opium, re-enacts a scene from a Duran Duran video, and avoids the grip of his right hand man Brock. Like every episode of the series, it’s ridiculous and inspired in equal measures.—Robert Ham

8. Friday Night Lights: “Devil Town” by Tony Lucca (“State”)

Friday Night Lights’ classic first season ends with the Dillon Panthers triumphantly winning the State Championship.  In typical FNL fashion, however, a montage of them being paraded through town as local heroes is presented not as an inspirational Rocky-esque celebration but, rather, a muted, slightly somber critique of Dillon’s whole football culture. And what better song to reflect this than a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town”? As the Panthers are met with admiring cheers (none of which are audible) the song’s biting lyrics (“all my friends were vampires/I didn’t know they were vampires”) underscores the slight menace inherent in the town’s narrow-minded obsession with the sport. Apparently, the show’s creative team initially wanted to use the more popular Bright Eyes version of Johnston’s composition but, after they were denied, turned to former Mickey Mouse Club member Tony Lucca for a new version. The results speak for themselves—Lucca’s version is so powerful that the creative team would go on to use it several times throughout the series. In fact, this finale was actually the second time it was employed, with the first being in the show’s second episode. Still, this finale moment marks, for me at least, the most powerful use of the song.—Mark Rozeman

7. Freaks and Geeks: “I’m One” by The Who (“Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers”)

Bill Haverchuck, on the surface, has a lot he could be upset about. He gets made fun of at school. His mom is dating his gym teacher. A kid once almost killed him by exploiting his peanut allergy. But, more so than any of the other main characters on Freaks and Geeks, Bill is totally comfortable with who he is. Unlike his fellow geeks Sam and Neil, he has no aspirations of climbing the high-school social ladder; he likes who he is—give him a grilled cheese and a Garry Shandling standup set on TV, and he’s golden. That’s what makes this scene, silent save for The Who’s “I’m One,” so lovely. At first it looks like we’re supposed to pity Bill as Pete Townshend sings “Every year is the same, and I feel it again/I’m a loser, no chance to win,” but then that bold, fitting chorus (“I can see that this is me/And I will be/You’ll all see, I’m the one”) kicks in right as Bill starts laughing, and it’s pure joy. We’re literally just watching a kid with an enormous wad of chewed food open-mouth laugh at a TV screen, but somehow, thanks to Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, we’re seeing something beautiful.—Bonnie Stiernberg

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Once More with Feeling” (The entire episode)


Okay, we admit we’re cheating here. That being said, while “Once More with Feeling” is loaded with memorable and beautiful songs, what makes the episode so wonderful is that it works as a whole. Each song leads to the next, and it’s impossible to isolate just one great moment in such a unified 40 minutes of television. Every song is a pastiche of a different musical theater style, and with this Joss Whedon manages to evoke the feeling of a big studio musical from the 40s or 50s, without ever falling into the genre’s pitfalls. And while the episode certainly stands up on its own merits (to the point that it was screened theatrically for sing-alongs until legal problems thwarted fans), it also plays a seminal role in Buffy’s continuity. “Once More with Feeling” may be the most beloved episode of the entire series, and for a good reason; it features the perfect Buffy mixture of emotions, humor, and the supernatural, only here, all of these are matched with a nearly flawless soundtrack. —Sean Gandert

5. The Cosby Show: “The Night Time Is The Right Time” by Ray Charles (“Happy Anniversary”)

The paterfamilias of the fictional Huxtable family has completely tarnished his reputation, but it’s hard to let that entirely diminish the greatness of his comedy albums and his work on his first titular half-hour sitcom. One of the many standout moments of the early years of The Cosby Show is this lip sync performance of Ray Charles’ “The Night Time Is The Right Time,” set up to honor the anniversary of Cliff’s parents, which gave families around the world pause as they wondered why they weren’t as playful and joyous.—Robert Ham

4. Mad Men: “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” by The Hillside Singers (“Person to Person”)

As we approached one of most highly-anticipated series finales of our time, Mad Men fans everywhere (and especially here at Paste) speculated on which 1970s song would close out the show forever. And while the Coke ad seemingly pointed to the life awaiting Don Draper, our final recap interpreted the iconic tune as presenting just as many new questions: That smile we see on Don’s face before closing with the most iconic ad of the ‘70s—is it one of peace and clarity, or one more like the one we see from Don at the beginning of Season Four, when he talks himself up to a reporter and then slips into darkness for the remainder of the year? Are we supposed to assume that Don returns to McCann (as Peggy said, they’ll let him come back) and creates one of the most well-known ads of all time? Probably, yes. Does he return to New York to make amends with his loved ones and just happen to achieve his greatest success after straightening out his personal life, or is Coca-Cola just another sign that “what you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons,” that Don will always be who he is at his core—a slick ad man who knows how to manipulate people to get what he wants? Is he changed for good, or is Coke a band-aid slapped over a fatal wound? (After all, the ‘70s were all about trying to forget the ‘60s, and like Joan says after she tries a bump of a different kind of coke, “I feel like someone just gave me very good news.”)  Either way, life, like Don Draper, keeps on moving. That Kodak Carousel keeps spinning. We can put on as many masks as we want, dress it up however we please, but as those hippies shilling for Coca-Cola from atop a mountain sang, “what the world wants today is the real thing.”—Bonnie Stiernberg and Shannon Houston

3. The Sopranos: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey (“Made in America”)


Look, I don’t have enough space here to explain why the controversial, iconic final scene of The Sopranos is one of the best of all time, or swap theories about whether or not Tony is dead. There are plenty of corners of the internet, books and college theses devoted to that. We’re here to talk about the music, however, and how “Don’t Stop Believin’” drove that diner scene. Just a few months ago, David Chase wrote a lengthy explanation of the scene where he discussed why the song worked so well: “Tony’s flipping through the jukebox; it’s almost like the soundtrack of his life, because he sees various songs. No matter what song we picked, I wanted it to be a song that would have been from Tony’s high school years, or his youth. That’s what he would have played. When I wrote it, there were three songs in contention for this last song, and ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ was the one that seemed to work the best. I think it’s a really good rock ‘n’ roll song. The music is very important to me in terms of the timing of the scene, the rhythm of the scene. The song dictates part of the pace. And having certain lyrics of the song, and certain instrumental flourishes happen in certain places, dictates what the cuts will be. I directed the scene to fit the song. The singing gets more and more strident and more invested as the song goes along. Musically, it starts to build and build into something as it’s just about to release. And when you look at the scene, you get that feeling. I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: ‘Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ Then it talks about Tony: ‘Just a city boy,’ and we had to dim down the music so you didn’t hear the line, ‘born and raised in South Detroit.’ The music cuts out a little bit there, and they’re speaking over it. ‘He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn’t find. I mean, they didn’t become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.”—Bonnie Stiernberg

2. The Wonder Years: “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge (“Pilot”)

The first episode of The Wonder Years stands as one of the best TV pilots of all time, and that final scene is nothing short of iconic. The narration lays out the show’s mission statement and almost becomes another part of the song, while the hum of the organ on this Percy Sledge classic takes us to church and reminds us that something as seemingly insignificant as a letterman jacket over the shoulders and two kids in some random suburb sharing a first kiss on a rock is, to them in that moment, monumental and world-changing. It’s nostalgic to the point where if it doesn’t make you feel things, you’re probably a heartless monster—yet somehow it never feels saccharine. As the voice of adult Kevin Arnold reminds us, it’s a moment “of sorrow and wonder”—one of the all-time best.—Bonnie Stiernberg

1. Six Feet Under: “Breathe Me” by Sia (“Everyone’s Waiting”)

In what is probably the greatest television series finale, ever, Six Feet Under focused on the beauty in death by showing us the wonderful lives of its characters in its final moments. With no dialogue—only the perfect use of Sia’s “Breathe Me”—we are given over 90 years of experiences in about six minutes. There are tiny hints as to what happens to the Fischer family hidden throughout, as we see marriages, get-togethers and of course, deaths. Much of Six Feet Under centered on finding the humor in death, and this was a series that didn’t even spare some of its main characters. But what’s overwhelming in these final moments is this great sensation of lives lived, all expressed in such a short period of time. After five years with these characters, by the end, it’s almost as if we’ve been a part of their entire lives—excited by their successes, destroyed by their failures and then sharing in their final moments. With this finale, Alan Ball and music supervisors Gary Calamar (who actually brought the song in to Ball) and Thomas Golubi? created one of the best and most beautiful conclusions in television history.—Ross Bonaime

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