'Mad Men': 25 Best Musical Moments - Rolling Stone
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25 Best ‘Mad Men’ Musical Moments

From Sinatra to Stones, Bowie to ‘Zou Bisou Bisou’ — the show’s choicest song selections

Mad Men

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) - Mad Men - Season 5, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Ron Jaffe/AMC

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Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner is famously precise about every single aspect of the show, particularly when it comes to getting the the tumultuous 1960s correct. So it’s no surprise that the music used throughout the show’s seven seasons represents some of the era’s best — and, truth be told, the oddest — rock and pop songs, including quirky one-hit-wonders, deep cuts by the likes of the Zombies and Simon & Garfunkel, and iconic tunes by Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. Alas, a comprehensive soundtrack for the show has never been released (get on that, people!) — but you can relive some of the series’ best musical moments with our list of the 25 best Mad Men musical moments, covering everything from Chubby Checker to David Bowie.

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Judy Collins, ‘Both Sides, Now’ (Season 6, Episode 12)

Joni Mitchell's elegiac rumination on lost youth and disillusionment is especially appropriate at the end of the sixth season. Don, unmoored and shaking from DTs, unloads about his tragic past in a meeting with Hershey rather than selling another lie. His honesty costs him his job, but it's so freeing for him that he's willing to open up about his past with his family. Don takes his kids on a cheery Thanksgiving jaunt to see the whorehouse where he grew up, revealing at least a part of his true self. His whole life has been an illusion, but maybe — like Mitchell — he's willing to admit it, and look at the facade from both sides. 

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The Spencer Davis Group, ‘I’m a Man’ (Season 7, Episode 1)

It's the beginning of the end, and Don seems like his old self: clean-shaven and strolling out of an airport in his fedora, a smart suit, and slick shades. But when he meets Megan at the airport in Los Angeles, it's immediately clear that something isn't right: She won't let him drive her car and has her own routine without him, even getting mad when he buys a TV for her house. Meanwhile, this 1967 song by the Spencer Davis Group ("I've got to keep my image while suspended on a throne/That looks out upon a kingdom filled with people all unknown") speaks more to Don's actual situation: He's jobless, practically homeless, and deeply, profoundly lonely.

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Vanilla Fudge, ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ (Season 7, Episode 1)

Speaking of Don's loneliness, the season seven premiere ends on a pretty bleak note — and not just for the show's hero. (Although the image of him sitting on his balcony in the freezing cold, seemingly in the middle of a breakdown, is pretty bad.) After butting heads with SC&P's new creative director, Lou Avery, and being reminded of her disastrous affair with Ted Chaough, Peggy breaks down sobbing on the floor of her Upper West Side fixer-upper. Vanilla Fudge's plaintive cover of the Supremes hit song, plays the episode out, and damned if it doesn't speaks volumes. "Why don't you get out of my life/And let me make a new start?" could just as easily apply to Don and SC&P, or Peggy and Ted, or Peggy and Lou. Take your pick.

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Frank Sinatra, ‘My Way’ (Season 7, Episode 6)

Women may come and go in Don's life, but there will always be one constant: Peggy Olson, his protege-turned-peer. And much like the landmark Season Four episode "The Suitcase," this episode focused on their relationship, as they find their way back to each other and work their magic as a team once more (for Burger Chef, of all things). They open up to each other — with Peggy admitting her anxiety about turning 30 — and realize that they are, in a way, family. Sinatra's "My Way" comes on the radio, and the two share a dance; it’s a sweet moment for Don and Peggy, who've always had a bond that skirts the line between mentor-mentee and father-daughter. In this moment, it certainly felt like the latter.

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Robert Morse, ‘The Best Things in Life Are Free’ (Season 7, Episode 7)

The death of Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) was not a surprise, per se, but sad all the same; luckily, Weiner and the show gave the character, and the actor who played him, a lovely send-off. Before Mad Men, Morse was best known for playing the conniving J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Cooper's exit was a nod to the actor's Broadway past. After his death is announced at SC&P's office, the late co-founder appears to Don in a dream-like sequence, singing the old standard with a chorus line of secretaries behind him. In an interview with Rolling Stone after the episode aired, Morse explained it this way: "It was Bert telling Don: What are you doing? All this shit that you're doing, cut it out. The best things in life are free." Whether Don get Bert's message from the beyond is harder to parse.

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Peggy Lee, ‘Is That All There Is?’ (Season 7, Episode 8)

Matthew Weiner recently admitted that he had considered using Peggy Lee's forlorn tune as the theme to Mad Men — the main reason held back, he claimed, was because it was released in 1969. But the song is a perfect coda for this episode, in which everything and nothing has changed for the show's central characters. Even though they're now part of McCann Erickson and extremely wealthy, it's the same as it ever was: Peggy and Joan battle sexism in the workplace; Pete feels underappreciated; and Don and Roger are drinking heavily and womanizing. They've gotten what they thought they wanted — respect, money, freedom — but it's not enough. And like the song says, if that's all there is, may as well break out the booze and have a ball.

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David Bowie, ‘Space Oddity’ (Season 7, Episode 12)

As Mad Men wraps up, Don has all but ditched his real life — his job at SC&P, now absorbed by McCann; his wife, who got out of their relationship with $1 million; and even his children — in favor of some kind of soul-searching journey out west. His self-isolation parallels Bowie's Major Tom, who, at the end of the Thin White Duke's 1969 hit, has asked Ground Control to send a message to his wife and trusts his life to his spaceship. He's leaving the world as he knows it behind. So will we see a new beginning for Don, or will he simply float along in his own little tin can, far above the world? Only time — and the series finale — will tell. 

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