Ranking the Best Musical Moments on ‘Mad Men’
The series finale of Mad Men is this Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Right now I’m going through the seven stages of grief, landing somewhere in between bargaining and depression. In an effort to keep this show alive, I’ve been re-watching old episodes (my favorite? season 5, episode 5, “Signal 30“), recounting classic scenes, and reading every single thing on the internet that I can find. I binged through the first season on DVD (remember those?) back in July 2008 and have watched every subsequent episode in real-time over the course of the final six seasons. I don’t know what I’m going to do without this show, but I figure I may as well play some small part in trying to keep it alive.
One of the many virtues of Mad Men is its commitment to finding distinct, credible, and compelling musical moments to accentuate many aspects of the wide-ranging territory that it covers. The 1960’s produced some of the most memorable music of the 20th century, but creator Matthew Weiner and his team found ways to capture the songs of that decade as they happened. This comprehensive guide shows how the vast majority of the song choices fit the timeline of the series, with a mixture of classic cuts and forgotten one-hit wonders sprinkled throughout each season.
Here are my ten favorite musical moments during the eight years of Mad Men. A few disclaimers: I didn’t include any songs that were not recorded. That leaves out “Zou Bisou Bisou,” Bert Cooper’s touching farewell, and an unfortunate moment from Roger Sterling. I also left out music from this final part of season 7, which include some very fine tracks.
Oh and just for kicks, here’s my prediction for Sunday’s final ending credits song.
10. Frank Sinatra, “My Way” (season 7, episode 6, “The Strategy”)
Let’s begin with arguably the most famous artist to be featured on Mad Men. One of Ol’ Blue Eye’s last hits, “My Way” is used here to wrap up a moving conversation between the show’s primary characters. Their intimate dance doesn’t just symbolize the importance of their relationship; it also represents a passing of the torch from master to protege as Peggy crafts the perfect pitch to the Burger Chef.
9. Nashville Teens, “Tobacco Road” (season 4, episode 1, “Public Relations”)
Mad Men goes electric as Don recounts SCDP’s heist-like departure from PPL at the end of season three. The brash, pulsating guitar hook ushers the British invasion into the show and echoes Don’s public display of swagger and confidence.
8. Vic Damone, “On the Street Where You Live” (season 1, episode 1, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)
The first ending credits song of the series shows Don kneeling in between his sleeping children’s beds as Betty looks lovingly from the doorway. This syrupy Vic Damone cover is a classic from My Fair Lady, the most popular Broadway musical of the late 50’s and early 60’s. It’s the first glimpse into the home of this seemingly happy American family in the Ossining suburbs, blissfully unaware of the secrets and lies of their patriarch.
7. Chubby Checker, “The Twist” (season 1, episode 8 “The Hobo Code”)
This song comes during a pivotal moment in the relationship between Pete and Peggy. After a long day at the office, which included their second and final sexual encounter, she playfully twists her way over to him and invites him to join. He squashes her enthusiasm with icy control. Sitting alone and quietly judging her, he replies “I don’t like you like this.”
6. The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year” (season 7, episode 2 “A Day’s Work”)
I’m a bit biased since The Zombies are one of my favorite 60’s bands. Still, there aren’t many better songs you could ask for to end this episode, which features Sally quickly telling her father “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” as she heads back to boarding school. Don’s stunned, poignant reaction is followed by the affirming piano introduction. It gives us hope that the wayward protagonist just might be on his way to finally turning his life around.
5. Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart” (season 6, episode 10, “A Tale of Two Cities”)
Pete Campbell smokes a joint and, if only for a brief moment, joins the counterculture. Need I say more?
4. Jack Jones, “Lollipops and Roses” (season 2, episode 3, “The Benefactor”)
While Weiner often inserts songs that tie into the action of each episode, he will occasionally choose music that contradicts or subverts theme and mood. This episode concludes with a tense but ultimately successful dinner between Don, Betty, the seedy Barrett’s and clients from Utz. On their drive home, the alienated Betty begins to cry as this soft, charming ballad begins to underscore the tension in their relationship. “When I said I wanted to be a part of your life, this is what I meant. We make a great team,” she says, still largely ignorant of Don’s many infidelities.
3. The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (season 5, episode 8 “Lady Lazarus”)
Procuring this song cost Lionsgate, the studio that produces Mad Men, $250,000. This may have been a power play by Matthew Weiner to show that he would let nothing derail his creative vision. Regardless, the song thoroughly represents Don’s growing disconnect with the latter half of the 1960’s. He’s never been one to “surrender to the void.”
2. Judy Collins, “Both Sides Now” (season 6, episode 13 “In Care Of”)
I’ve always felt that this scene could easily have been the final moment of the entire series (especially given the discovery in last week’s penultimate episode). What could be more profound than Don, for one of the first times ever, having an honest moment with his children as he shows them the tattered home where he grew up? The knowing glance that Sally exchanges with her father solidifies, to me, the most interesting and touching relationship of the entire series. The song perfectly accentuates Don’s ambivalent quest to sort through the “illusions” and realities of his past.
1. Nancy Sinatra, “You Only Live Twice” (season 5, episode 13, “The Phantom”)
From one Sinatra to another. This single was written for the 1967 James Bond film of the same title and it’s use here is fitting as Don Draper and Bond share many qualities — drinking, womanizing, and persuasiveness are a few that come to mind. This closing scene, which caps off the series’ strongest season, is structured perfectly with this full but quiet song from the very beginning as Don walks away from Megan and into the darkness. Shots of Peggy, Pete, and Roger show their own diverging paths before settling back on Don at a bar. He has “one life for himself and one for his dreams.” He is asked a pointed question but we don’t need to hear his response. We know that, like Bond, he is perpetually alone.
And here’s ten more that just missed the cut:
Rosemary Clooney, “Botch-A-Me” (season 1, episode 7, “Red in the Face)
Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (season 1, episode 13, “The Wheel”)
Kyo Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki” (season 2, episode 2 “Flight 1”)
Peter, Paul & Mary, “Early in the Morning” (season 2, episode 8, “A Night to Remember”)
George Jones, “Cup of Loneliness” (season 2, episode 12, “The Mountain King”)
Simon & Garfunkel, “Bleecker Street” (season 4, episode 7, “The Suitcase”)
The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (season 4, episode 8 “The Summer Man”)
Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe” (season 4, episode 13, “Tomorrowland”)
The Kinks, “You Really Got Me” (season 5, episode 11, “The Other Woman”)
Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra, “Love is Blue” (season 6, episode 5, “The Flood”)