The 7 Best Musical Moments of 'Mad Men' - Rolling Stone
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The 7 Best Musical Moments of ‘Mad Men’

How songs by Simon and Garfunkel, the Decemberists, the Rolling Stones and more have helped set the mood of the critically acclaimed show

Now that Season Five of Mad Men might not see the light of day until early 2012, fans can at least take solace in reliving the intense drama of life thus far at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: Season Four of Mad Men will be available on DVD starting March 29th. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

Last season left its mark with plot lines like Don Draper’s out-of-left-field engagement to his French-Canadian secretary, Megan Calvet, and Joan Harris’ unplanned pregnancy (with Roger Sterling’s baby), yet it was the music that helped make it the most evocative and poignant season to date. There’s been a slow, subtle move from the more stodgy music of Season One (1960) – in which you can taste the martinis and smell the cigarette smoke from the moment you hear Rosemary Clooney sing – toward a more rock & roll and pot-scented soundtrack by Season Four (1964-1965). This shift is thanks entirely to the savvy of Mad Men’s music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas.

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Patsavas, who has served as music supervisor for TV shows such as The O.C., Gossip Girl and Grey’s Anatomy, is responsible for pioneering the art of meticulously fusing songs with scenes in order to produce the most dramatic effect for the viewer. Without her, we wouldn’t have these unforgettable musical moments from the past four seasons.

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1. “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker. Season One, Episode Eight: “The Hobo Code”

One of the few instances of rock & roll music in the first season, it’s the song that comes on the jukebox during an after-work party at P.J. Clarke’s. Peggy Olson, full of confidence now that her ad campaign for Belle Jolie lipstick has been accepted, seductively Twists over to Pete Campbell and invites him onto the dance floor. He rejects her brusquely, refusing to get up. By doing so, he firmly establishes his place among the old-guard “suits” (despite his young age), whereas Peggy, taking one of her many steps toward breaking down walls for women in the workplace, resumes dancing with the other members of the Sterling Cooper typing pool – and subsequently Twists her way into a new job as copywriter.

2. “The Infanta,” by the Decemberists. Season Two, Episode Six: “Maidenform”

This is one of those rare moments on Mad Men when a contemporary (that is, 2005) song was used instead of a period-correct one. Despite the driving guitars and thundering drumbeats that would have probably scared the pearl necklace off of Betty Draper’s neck back in 1962, this Decemberists track fits seamlessly into a montage featuring the three main female characters. Betty, Peggy and Joan are performing the mundane daily routine of getting dressed, but with “The Infanta” as the backdrop, it’s as if they’re putting on their battle armor – which, given the subverted roles of women in early 1960s culture, they are.

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3. “Early in the Morning,” Colin Hanks and Peter, Paul and Mary. Season Two, Episode Eight: “A Night to Remember”

One of the major story arcs of Season Two was the aftermath of Peggy Olson’s pregnancy. The introduction of a visiting priest, Father John Gill (Colin Hanks), forces Peggy to come to terms with her decision to give her child up for adoption. After Peggy’s sister informs Father Gill of Peggy’s circumstances, the priest makes it his mission to help Peggy “confess her sins.” One night, before bed, Father Gill removes his collar and takes out an acoustic guitar. In just a T-shirt and slacks, he begins to sing the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Early in the Morning.” Although it’s a song that heavily references God (“I ask the Lord, ‘Help me find the way!'”), with the lyrics mirroring Father Gill’s desires for the “misguided” Peggy, it’s an ingenious way to establish how popular music was starting to creep its way into everyone’s lifestyle – including that of the clergy. 

4. “Tobacco Road,” Nashville Teens. Season Four, Episode One: “Public Relations”

This track by English band Nashville Teens provided two essential components to Season Four as it closed out the first episode. First, it ushered in the new era that had emerged since we last left Don Draper and Company at the end of Season Three. It’s late 1964, and British Invasion bands are dominating American radio stations – a harbinger of the social upheaval that’s to come. Second, the lyrics closely resemble the story of Don’s (a.k.a. Dick Whitman’s) impoverished Midwestern childhood: “Growin’ up, rusty shack/All I had was hangin’ on my back.” The question on everyone’s mind is, will Don be able to survive in this fast-paced world where the rules are constantly changing?


5. “Bleecker Street,” Simon and Garfunkel. Season Four, Episode Seven: “The Suitcase”

“The Suitcase” focuses almost entirely on the complex yet tender working relationship between Don and Peggy as they work all night on a Samsonite campaign. This elegiac song off of Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., is a stinging reminder that while Don gives off an aura of success and power at the office, when he goes home at night, it’s no longer to his wife and children but to an empty apartment in Greenwich Village. This loneliness is punctuated even more when Don learns the news that Anna Draper, the one person in the world who truly knew him, has succumbed to cancer.

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6. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the Rolling Stones. Season Four, Episode Eight: “The Summer Man”

One of the more brilliant facets of Patsavas’ music selections on Mad Men is she tends to avoid going for the obvious choices (the only Beatles song reference the entire season is an instrumental cover of “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”). That doesn’t happen in “The Summer Man,” where she chose to open the episode with one of the most indelible riffs of 1965, if not the entire decade. But it works perfectly, even though conservative Don is probably the last character that comes to mind when thinking of the Rolling Stones. After a swim at the New York Athletic Club – in his attempt to lead a healthier, more sober lifestyle – Don hears Keith Richards’ fuzz guitar quietly emanating from a nearby transistor radio. As Don exits the club, the song is at full volume, punctuating Mick Jagger’s lament over not getting any satisfaction – which the buttoned-up Don can certainly relate to, as he gazes at the younger, cooler masses gliding by him.

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7. “I Got You Babe,” Sonny and Cher. Season Four, Episode 13: “Tomorrowland”

It’s the song that left us hanging and clamoring for more, as Season Four concluded with Sonny and Cher’s simplistic ode to their love. We all know how well that relationship turned out, making the song choice an ironic one: “I Got You Babe” plays over an awake, pensive Don while his brand-new fiancee (and his children’s preferred source of maternal comfort), Megan, sleeps nearby. Given the abrupt and unexpected nature of the proposal – and Don’s track record with women – the odds aren’t good for the supposedly happy couple. After all, the last time a SCDP man married his secretary, it only drove him straight back into the arms of his faithful office manager.


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