It may have gotten lost in all the meeting-the-mother mythology, catchphrases, slaps and recurring gags, but How I Met Your Mother was an incredibly musically-minded sitcom. Look no farther than its stupidly catchy theme song, a 12-second excerpt of “Hey Beautiful,” written and performed by the Solids a.k.a. the band of HIMYM creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. Not only did the show feature a bevy of pop stars — Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Enrique Iglesias, to name a few — the show had some truly catchy original tunes, ranging from teen pop (“Lets Go to the Mall”), to show tunes (“Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit”) to death metal (“Murder Train”). If that weren’t enough, HIMYM has also been incredibly adept at matching great scenes with great songs. Here are but a few:
“Prophets” by A.C. Newman
The season 4 finale opens and closes with A.C. Newman’s “Prophets,” but it’s really the closing scene, after Ted has been getting beaten down all episode (and really, all year) that the song really shines. “Prophets” starts with a few quiet piano chords and builds repeatedly to mini guitar crescendos, giving off a sense of hopeful melancholy with brief bursts of utter triumph. It works to great effect here, as each member of the gang steps up hesitantly to the edge of the roof, then leaps triumphantly to the adjacent building at each crescendo. When it’s Ted’s turn to jump, Future Ted narrates everything terrible that happened to him that year — getting left at the alter, getting knocked out by a crazy bartender, getting fired, getting beaten up by a goat (“and a girl goat at that”) — but still concludes “and dammit if it wasn’t the best year of my life,” because it all led him to the Mother. “Prophets” is a song of triumph, but it’s a transitional kind of triumph, like emerging from a bad situation into an unknown future, albeit with an unfettered optimism. And that pretty much sums up Ted in a nutshell.
“Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend
The Season Five premiere, “Definitions,” opens with the first notes of “Oxford Comma,” as Ted begins teaching his first class at Columbia (also alma mater to Vampire Weekend). The song’s opening line, “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma,” provides a good contrast as Ted obsesses over every bit of minutiae about what kind of professor he’s going to be while missing out on the bigger details, like how to correctly spell “professor,” for example. Even worse, it’s not until well into his lecture that he finds out that he’s not in Architecture 101, but in Economics 305. It’s a surprising bit of carelessness from the normally meticulous Ted, who is undoubtedly the kind of person who would give a fuck about an Oxford comma (and probably mention that it’s also called a serial comma and a Harvard comma). But’s there’s also something bigger he doesn’t know, and won’t for years to come: The Mother was in that class.
“Victoria” by the Kinks
This one is a bit on the nose in retrospect, but that’s what makes it unique among HIMYM musical choices. Seeing Victoria at the end of Season Seven’s “The Naked Truth” was a big surprise and — depending on how you felt about Ted’s ex — either a little thrilling or terrifying. At first, it seems like your standard HIMYM closing scene, with Future Ted narrating over a peppy song. Even when you eventually recognize the song as the Kinks’ “Victoria,” the significance still isn’t obvious. After all, it’s been five-plus years since Victoria was even seen or heard from. Plus, one never really expects the subject of a 40-year-old song used as non-diegetic music to foretell an actual plot development in a contemporary TV show. That weird syncing actually has a jarring, incongruous effect, which makes Victoria’s appearance in the final seconds all the more surprising.
“The Funeral” by Band of Horses
While Ted won’t meet the Mother until the final season, the circumstances of their first meeting are revealed back in the Season Eight premiere, “Farhampton.” The scene starts off a year prior to Ted meeting the Mother, as he’s running off with his ex-girlfriend Victoria on her wedding day. But first, he doubles back to the Farhampton train station to ask Victoria’s fiancé, Klaus, why he didn’t want to marry her. Klaus explains that while Victoria is “wunderbar,” she is not his “lifelong treasure of destiny,” or “lebenslanger schicksalsschatz.” The distant, haunting first notes of “The Funeral” play as Klaus explains his romantic notions that he’ll one day meet his true lebenslanger schicksalsschatz, and the song hits the first pounding crescendo as the episode jumps to a year later, during a thunderstorm at the same Farhampton train station, to the moment right before Ted meets the Mother for the first time. It’s a fantastically cinematic moment, and in retrospect, with (now-confirmed) rumors that the Mother is dead in the future, it’s even more haunting that Ted’s first meeting with his future wife is set to “The Funeral.”
“Simple Song” by the Shins
It had already been a twisting, turning road that led to the end of Season Eight of HIMYM. What was largely expected to be the final year of the show turned into the penultimate, with the announcement of a nineth season met with a collective groan by a large portion of loyal buy weary viewers. So with a little over three minutes to go in Season Eight, it looked like we were in for a season full of stalling until Ted finally met the Mother. It looked even worse in a here-we-go-again sense when Ted realized he knew the location of Robin’s long-lost locket, and immediately plotted to blow her mind with the best wedding present ever. Cue the Shins’ “Simple Song.” The 15 seconds of eerie droning and chanting set a startlingly ominous contrast to Ted’s giddy enthusiasm, and it takes an even more foreboding turn when Lily warns, “Ted… be careful,” looking almost frightened at the prospect of Ted going after Robin (even platonically) yet again. Then the song takes an upbeat, poppy turn, and “Friday. 10 AM. 56 hours before the wedding” pops onscreen, pretty much assuring that the final season will take place over a single weekend. It was a bold and surprising move by Bays and Thomas, as was the final shot of the season: As all the members of the gang head to the wedding, hopefulness on their faces and in the minor key swell of “Simple Song,” the long-awaited Mother appears, buying her train ticket to Farhampton, and to her first meeting with Ted. Creating excitement for a ninth season of a sitcom is no simple feat, but it worked remarkably well, thanks in large part to “Simple Song.”