We’ve been blessed with some bomb soundtracks throughout many years of cinema, like The Lord of the Rings’s beautifully iconic score and the immediately recognizable theme tracks from the Harry Potter films. There are a few songs out there, though, that we probably wouldn’t have heard if they hadn’t appeared in television shows. Some of the entries on this list were written specifically for TV shows and others were licensed. All of them gained quite a bit of popularity and exposure from their debuts on some of our most loved shows.
From classic television dramas to popular series still popping out new seasons today, there’s bound to be at least a few songs on this list that you remember hearing for the first time on your favorite show.
Read on to get reacquainted with 15 Songs Made Famous By TV Shows.
15. Make Your Own Kind Of Music by Mama Cass Elliot (Lost)
After season one of one the most popular drama series ever, Lost came back for season two with an opening that featured a man going about his morning routine while “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot played on a turntable. That man turned out to be Desmond, a scotsman who became one of the most beloved characters from Lost. This single from Mama Cass Elliot of The Mamas and the Papas fame was an awesome choice for introducing Desmond.
Not only was Desmond David Hume named after Scottish philosopher David Hume, who wrote extensively on concepts of past choices and free will, but Desmond as a character reflected those concepts through his timeline and character development. Desmond truly made his own kind of music. If you didn’t get a chance to jump on the Lost bandwagon in the early 2000’s, you should definitely do it now.
14. Hold On by Tom Waits (The Walking Dead)
Emily Kinney, who plays Beth Greene on the zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead, blessed our ears with her rendition of Tom Waits’ inspiring “Hold On” during season three of the show.
Morale is at an all time low for the group as they wait in the prison while the Governor and Woodbury’s citizens are preparing to launch a full-on attack and overtake the prison. Beth sings “Hold On” for the group as they sit together silently, followed by Rick stating that he is going on a weapons run. At the very end of the episode, Andrea comes close to killing the Governor in his sleep but is unable to do so. As avid followers of the show know, this is the biggest mistake she’s made.
13. Baby Blue by Badfinger (Breaking Bad)
In the widely loved crime show Breaking Bad, the final moments of the series close with Badfinger’s “Baby Blue”. The beginning lyrics “Guess I got what I deserved” really paint a picture of Walter White’s journey through the show.
Walter White’s send-off song was very deliberate, according to show creator Vince Gilligan. Breaking Bad‘s music supervisor Thomas Golubić said himself, “This is a love-affair story of Walt and his love of science, and this was his greatest product – his greatest triumph as a chemist. It wasn’t about Walter White as a criminal or a murderer or an awful person. It was him ending on his own terms. It felt creatively right.”
12. Light of the Seven by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones)
The fantasy drama series Game of Thrones has a beautiful soundtrack for each of its seasons, but the passionate piano and vocal track “Light of the Seven” by Ramin Djawadi has been praised as a fan-favorite above all.
In season six of the show’s finale, Cersei reclaims her place as queen after her plan to unleash the cache of wildfire beneath the Sept unfolds and everyone awaiting her trial is burned alive. “Light of the Seven” plays throughout the scene. This specific scene is so engaging and emotional, and proof of how crazy good the writing is for Game of Thrones.
German-Iranian composer Ramin Djawadi is the mastermind behind the beautiful track. He’s known for creating soundtracks for blockbusters like Iron Man and Pacific Rim. Djawadi was chosen to work on the score for Game of Thrones after proving his talent through his work on Medal of Honor and Clash of the Titans. Djawadi won a few awards for his work on Game of Thrones, and they are more than well deserved.
11. Hide And Seek by Imogen Heap (The OC)
In the season two episode titled “The Dearly Beloved”, The OC gave us a dramatic scene that grew to internet infamy very quickly. During an altercation between Trey and Ryan in which Ryan finds out the truth about Marissa and Trey’s relationship, Trey comes close to murdering Ryan. Marissa stops the fight by shooting Trey in the shoulder as “Hide And Seek” plays. Trey suffers from a coma as a result.
The song’s appearance during The OC sparked a ton of prime meme material. It became so popular that Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, and Shia LaBeouf did a skit about the scene and the song.
Imogen Heap deserves much more than having one of her awesome tracks reserved for solely meme status. She’s made fantastic organic-electronic tracks and has been performing breathtaking live performances for a while now. Her 2014 album Sparks is her most recent contribution to our listening pleasure, and it is definitely worth listening to.
10. Oats in the Water by Ben Howard (The Walking Dead)
The hit show The Walking Dead has no shortage of great borrowed songs for the show’s soundtrack, and Ben Howard’s “Oats in the Water“ is one of the best.
“Oats in the Water” is truly Hershel Greene’s theme song if he had one. The song plays during episode five in the fourth season of The Walking Dead. Hershel is desperately trying to treat the inhabitants of the prison who have contracted a contagious disease that, when left untreated, is deadly. The sick have to be quarantined, and Hershel is left with the responsibility of putting down those who have died and will reanimate. Hershel is morally torn when it comes time to put someone down. Near the end of the episode, Hershel sits in the cell of his deceased friend, Dr. Subramanian, and reads from his bible while in tears.
9. Special Death by Mirah (American Horror Story)
Fans of American Horror Story would probably rate the scene in which “Special Death” plays as one of the most iconic scenes of the Murder House season, even if it is a very small scene. “Special Death” plays as Violet is walking while smoking, with a wide-brimmed hat and tired eyes, to her first day of school. This visual of Violet is immediately recognizable to fans of the show as part of the pilot of the first season of American Horror Story. The gentle xylophone playing at the song’s introduction audibly illustrates Violet’s chronic sadness and reluctance to start a new life in a new town after all the terrible things that happened to her family. The song “Special Death” also plays later on when Tate and Violet are in her room together, comparing their self-harm scars.
“Special Death” was featured on Mirah’s 2002 album Advisory Committee. Mirah originally blessed our ears with her collaborations with American rock band The Microphones, but her solo albums are also a treat.
8. Sugar Water by Cibo Matto (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Cibo Matto is one of several deeply underrated acts led by talented Japanese women, in the vein of BUGY CRAXONE and Deerhoof. The duo was based in New York City in the early nineties, and a lot of their music is simply about food. The words Cibo Matto actually mean Crazy Food in Italian. While the band didn’t have a ton of hits, their music did reflect the carefree attitude of the early nineties in a very college radio-y, fun way. John Lennon’s son Sean Lennon joined Cibo Matto in 1997
The scene where the very glittery Cibo Matto (including Sean Lennon) perform their song “Sugar Water” in a bar where Buffy and the gang are hanging out isn’t short on Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s signature campiness. Buffy, traumatized and resentful after her brief death in the season one finale, dances with Xander while a brooding Angel watches.
7. It Never Rains in Southern California by Albert Hammond (Veronica Mars)
Veronica Mars follows its eponymous character as she moonlights as a private eye. In the series finale of the show, Veronica is caught in a sex tape scandal that she must solve. Supporting characters, including a man running for sheriff re-election named Keith, help her solve the mystery and have justice served. Keith covers up evidence of Veronica illegally obtaining information, and is then charged for breaking the law. This greatly affects his campaign. At the final scene of the show where “It Never Rains in Southern California” plays, Veronica is placing a vote for sheriff at a voting booth, then walks away in the rain.
While fan opinions on the wrap up of the series was very mixed at the time of its release, “It Never Rains in Southern California” was a very good song for the California crime drama to end on.
6. You’ve Got The Love by Candi Staton (Sex and the City)
Candi Staton’s hit “You’ve Got The Love” was the absolute best song to end the romantic comedy series Sex and the City. The lyrics “You’ve got the love I need to see me through” ring out after Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda step out of a shop together with big smiles after reuniting. The four remain close, and the lyrics impose the idea that as long as they have each other they will survive. But Carrie’s monologue towards the end really solidifies why “You’ve Got The Love” was chosen as a send off song– she reminisces about the different things her friends have taught her, and how ultimately the most important person you can learn to love is yourself. It seems like just yesterday that Sex and the City ended, and it is hard to hear this track without thinking of four independent women strutting side-by-side down a New York City sidewalk.
5. Breathe Me by Sia (Six Feet Under)
The series finale of Six Feet Under, appropriately titled “Everyone’s Waiting”, is praised for being one of the best finales of a television show ever. It managed to be comical, sad, and uplifting all at once.
After Nate’s death and a wrap-up of loose ends within the family, Claire sets out from Los Angeles to begin her new live in New York. As she drives she sees a vision of Nate running after the car, and she breaks into tears. What follows is a montage of significant events in each character’s future and their subsequent deaths. The montage scenes are woven between shots of Claire driving and Sia’s
Breathe Me” plays along. There were a couple of silly moments weaved in (Really? Keith just gets shot? Are you serious?) but overall the ending, paired with Sia’s beautifully written track, was an emotional rollercoaster.
4. When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die by Moby (The Sopranos)
The second episode of the sixth season of the HBO drama series The Sopranos featured quite a memorable ending. After Tony Soprano is shot, he experiences a comatose dream sequence in which he lives a life without involvement in the Mafia. These sequences are mixed between scenes of his family anxiously waiting in a hospital for word of his progress after being shot. Dream Tony is a soft spoken traveling salesman who befriends some business folk in California. After talking about his life, he says “I mean, who am I? Where am I going?” which he also says upon temporarily waking from his coma and pulling out his breathing tube. When Dream Tony resumes his life, a fall down a flight of stairs lands him in the hospital where he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The episode ends with “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die “playing over a scene of Dream Tony arriving back at his hotel, taking off his shoes, and sitting silently on his bed.
“When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” is part of Moby’s 1995 album Everything is Wrong. The song is also featured in the 2016 Netflix Original series Stranger Things.
3. Teardrop by Massive Attack (House M.D.)
“Teardrop” is the theme song of popular medical drama series House M.D. The song is featured on Massive Attack’s 1998 album Mezzanine and remains a popular track to this day.
House follows an arrogant drug addicted medical doctor named Gregory House and his medical team as they work to cure various patients at a hospital in New Jersey. The misanthropic doctor is considered a genius, but often butts heads with other doctors and his team over his controversial medical diagnoses. The titular House has often been compared to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes. House has remained beloved even after the closing of the series in 2012.
While trip-hop band Massive Attack experienced a lot of success in England and the US during the nineties and presently, many people today learned of the group through their contribution to House M.D. Their 1991 release Blue Lines is another great album by the duo.
2. Overkill by Colin Hay (Scrubs)
“Overkill” is a tune by Australian pop rock band Men at Work that was written by the band’s lead singer Colin Hay. In the first episode of the second season of popular medical comedy series Scrubs, Colin Hay appeared in the episode and performed “Overkill” throughout the show on an acoustic guitar. Hay follows lead character JD around as he performs the song, appearing as a man on a bench, a patient at Sacred Heart Hospital, a dead man in the hospital morgue, and then beside JD as he sits outside the hospital contemplatively. This annoys JD and the chief physician Dr. Perry Cox to no end.
Scrubs has been known for borrowing quite a few awesome songs during the show, such as tracks from John Cale, Butthole Surfers, The Shins, Guided by Voices, and Eels. “Overkill” is featured on Men at Work’s 1983 album Cargo and on Colin Hay’s 2000 album Going Somewhere.
1. In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins (Miami Vice)
In the 1984 pilot episode of classic crime drama series Miami Vice, “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins plays as Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs drive through the streets of Miami at night, the wind in their hair, their guns loaded and cocked. They arrive at a phone booth in front of Bernay’s Cafe in all of its pink and blue neon glory, where Sonny makes a call. The two then take off down the glowing streets once again, all while the Phil Collins classic plays.
Miami Vice is remembered for the sharp outfits and distinct visual experience of the eighties, but the soundtrack to the show was equally as awesome. The show ended in 1990, but if you want to get nostalgic and enjoy some fairly good writing that can get very dark, you should check out Miami Vice.
“In the Air Tonight” is featured on Phil Collin’s 1981 album Face Value.
What TV shows have introduced you to your favorite songs or artists?
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