The Top Ten Soundtracks from Television Shows

With a mix of music from artists both new and old, TV soundtracks can be gold mines for music junkies who need a better fix than what radio has to offer. Here is my input on ten television soundtracks that you should own (help keep record stores afloat!) At the very least, do your ears a favor and check out some of the artists featured.

Number Ten: My So-Called Life. Besides being one of the coolest shows ever that someone was stupid enough to take off the air, My So-Called Life had an awesome soundtrack, with 90s written all over it. This album opens up with the beautifully acoustic “Make it Home” by the underrated Juliana Hatfield, along with the rocking “Soda Jerk” by Buffalo Tom, whose addicting song, “Late at Night,” was spotlighted on the show (in episode “Self-Esteem” where Jordan finally takes Angela’s hand), but never made the soundtrack. Tracks by The Afghan Whigs and Archers of Loaf will leave you searching for more of their work, and if Sonic Youth, The Lemonheads and Daniel Johnston do not ring any bells, stop whatever you are doing now and check out these artists. I urge you.

Number Nine: The Sopranos. Although there are a few music compilations from this show, I felt the original soundtrack best embodied this great HBO series. As far as oldies and classics go, this soundtrack is packed. You can’t go wrong with Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and Cream on the same disc, as well as rare/unknown gems like “State Trooper” by Bruce Springsteen and “I’ve Tried Everything” by the Eurythmics. Although it is now available on his album Secret, Profane and Sugar Cane, “Complicated Shadows” by the great Elvis Costello was first available on this soundtrack in 1999, while my favorite track on this soundtrack has to go to Little Steven (aka Springsteen’s guitarist andThe Sopranos’ own Silvio) and the Disciples of Soul, for “Inside of Me.”

Number Eight: Californication. Titled, Temptation: Music From the Showtime Series Californication, this soundtrack is the most recent on this list. The Californication soundtrack packs an equally hard punch in terms of old classics and new favorites. Hits and rare classics from Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, The Rolling Stones and Elton John make this soundtrack worthwhile, while the latter two artists have their songs covered within My Morning Jacket’s take on “Rocket Man” and Tommy Stinson’s version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Stinson contributes another notable track with “Light of Day,” while Madeleine Martin (Californication‘s Becca) offers three tracks as well. My favorite track on the album has to go to Gus Black for his unique cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.”

Number Seven: Veronica Mars. Never having watched this show, I assumed the soundtrack was a cheesy teeny-bopper’s dream. Luckily, the soundtrack was surprisingly fresh, containing fourteen tracks of indie goodness. Opening up the album is the upbeat “We Used to be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols, along with “I Know I Know I Know” by Tegan and Sara, and the hip “I Turn My Camera On” by Spoon. The Faders, The Perishers, Ivy and Cotton Mather contribute tracks, while my personal favorites are “Momentary Thing” by Something Happens and “Dakota” by Stereophonics.

Number Six: Scrubs. Zach Braff seems to have a big influence on the music that goes into his acting gigs. Besides featuring artists like Colin Hay and The Shins on the Garden State soundtrack, he highlights them again on the soundtrack for Scrubs. The former frontman of Men at Work (Hay) indeed shines strong within solo songs like “Overkill” and “Beautiful World,” while The Shins’ “New Slang” is easily the calmest and most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Other track contributors include the Butthole Surfers, Guided by Voices and John Cale, along with the original and uplifting “Fresh Feeling” by The Eels.

Number Five: The O.C, Mixes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6. For a show that I never considered watching, it definitely blew me away with its great selection of indie music. There are technically six soundtracks available from this show, but in this article, I’ll be focusing on mixes one, two, four, five and six (mix three is comprised of Christmas songs, and I didn’t feel the need to include that).

Mix One features the show’s theme, “California” by Phantom Planet, along with tracks by Jet and Spoon. “Honey and the Moon” has made me a huge Joseph Arthur fan, while South’s “Paint the Silence” is easily my favorite track on this album.

Mix Two opens up with songs by The Eels and Super Furry Animals, followed by stellar songs from The Killers, Interpol, Keane and The Walkmen. Nada Surf contributes their OMD cover of “If You Leave,” while perhaps the best track on this album is the beautiful “A Lack of Color” by Death Cab for Cutie.

Mix Four includes tracks by Imogen Heap, Beck, Modest Mouse, Pinback and Sufjan Stevens. A.C. Newman’s “On the Table” and Aqueduct’s “Hardcore Days and Softcore Nights” will have your head bobbing, while Flunk’s soothing “Play” will leave you wanting more from her.

Mix Five features a line-up of songs by Kasabian, LCD Soundsystem, Of Montreal, The Subways, and Gorillaz. The best songs on this mix are Rogue Wave’s “Publish my Love” and the beautiful “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap.

Mix Six is different in that it features all cover songs, and while the rest of the mixes featured indie songs, this mix features songs from decades past, covered by indie artists. Lady Sovereign covers the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” John Paul White covers ELO’s “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” and Ashtar Command covers Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust.” The best covers on the album, however, belong to Pinback’s mellow cover of “Wasted” by Black Flag and Band of Horses’ poignant cover of “The End’s Not Here” by The New Year.

Number Four: Six Feet Under, Volume 2: Everything Ends. What I love about this soundtrack is that it mirrors perfectly the surrealistic uncertainty contained in the show. The album opens up with the awesome “Feelin’ Good” by Nina Simone, along with tracks by Jem, Phoenix, Interpol and The Caesars.

Best of all, this soundtrack takes popular yet not annoyingly mainstream songs and puts them on one disc. “A Rush of Cold Blood to the Head” by Coldplay, “Lucky” by Radiohead and “Cold Wind” by Arcade Fire are all present, along with the show’s ending theme, “Breathe Me” by Sia. It even includes the melancholic yet beautiful “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie.

Number Three: Glee: The Music, Volumes 1-7. Glee is one of my favorite shows to watch, because essentially it’s all about music. Glee: The Music features songs from the show sung by our favorite characters like Rachel, Kurt, Santana, Mercedes, Finn, Blaine and more (of course, all the songs are covers). So far there are seven volumes of Glee music, probably with at least one more to come as the show is in its last, sixth season.

Glee: The Music, Volume 1 features memorable tracks like “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, “Keep Holding On” (Avril Lavigne), “Somebody to Love” (Queen,) “Alone” (Heart,) “Gold Digger” (Kanye West), and the show’s most popular song, “Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey). This soundtrack features two guest appearances by singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth (aka April Rhodes).

Glee: The Music, Volume 2 contains classics like “Don’t Rain on my Parade” from Funny Girl, “True Colors” (Cyndi Lauper), “Imagine” (John Lennon), “Lean on Me” (by Bill Withers), “I’ll Stand by You” (The Pretenders), and “Proud  Mary” (Creedance Clearwater Revival). This disc also contains the mash-up of “Don’t Stand So Close To Me/Young Girl” (The Police/Gary Puckett & the Union Gap).

Glee: The Music, Volume 3 features a mix of oldies and modern tracks, like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk,” Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” It also features a cover of U2’s “One,” which is from episode 18 of season 1 (“Laryngitis”). In this particular episode, Rachel sings this song with a boy who’s been paralyzed, which fades into the whole glee club singing; it brought me to tears the first time I watched it.

Glee: The Music, Volume 4 contains more recent radio hits like “Toxic” by Britney Spears, “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, “Forget You” by Cee Lo Green and “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. It also features classic tunes like “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, “One Love (People Get Ready)” by Bob Marley, “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. The best track on the album, made popular by the show, is “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse (sung by Santana.)

Glee: The Music, Volume 5 features songs like “Sing” by My Chemical Romance, “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum and the mash-up “Thriller/Heads Will Roll” by Michael Jackson/Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It also contains three songs featuring Gwyneth Paltrow aka Holly Holliday: “Kiss” by Prince, “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks (but the Dixie Chicks version) and “Do You Wanna Touch Me” by Gary Glitter (but the Joan Jett version). However, the best part of this soundtrack are the two featured original songs; “Get it Right,” sung by Lea Michele and “Loser Like Me,” sung by the entire glee club.

Glee: The Music, Volume 6 features three original songs, four Fleetwood Mac songs and five tracks from plays/movies. Other songs include Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and the mash-up “I Feel Pretty/Unpretty” from West Side Story/TLC. The best tracks on this album are beautiful ballads “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac (sung by Santana) and “Turning Tables” by Adele (sung by Gwyneth Paltrow).

Glee: The Music, Volume 7 contains three songs from Broadway plays, three songs from the talented Jackson family catalogue, and covers of songs by Coldplay, Van Halen and Billy Joel. Highlights on this album include the Adele mash-up “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (but the slow, stripped-down version by Greg Laswell).

Number Two: Roswell. Roswell was one of my favorite shows growing up as a young adult. Essentially this album is filled with love songs and ballads from both popular and indie artists. This soundtrack opens up with the show’s theme, “Here With Me” by Dido (and closes with a remix of the track). Beautiful, chilling tracks that one might remember are Sarah McLachlan’s “Fear” (found in the pilot episode when Max heals Liz) and Sheryl Crow’s “I Shall Believe” (found in the scene where Max and Liz dance on the balcony). Other highlights include “Shining Light” by Ash, “Destiny” by Zero 7, “More Than Us” by Travis, and the ethereal “Edge of the Ocean” by Ivy. Perhaps the most noteworthy track on the album is Coldplay’s “Brothers and Sisters,” which was released in 1999 as the band’s first single.

Number One: The Wonder Years, Box Set (Discs 1-5). Running from 1988-1993, The Wonders Years was a wonderful show about the life of a young boy growing up in the sixties. As one can imagine, the soundtrack to this show is filled with oldies and classic rock. In 1994, a 5-disc box set of music was released, so I’m going to include highlights from all five albums.

Disc One features songs by Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Joe Cocker and Diana Ross & The Supremes. Disc Two includes hits like “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, “Catch the Wind” by Donovan and the show’s theme song, “With a Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker. Disc Three features music from the Everly Brothers, Edwin Starr and the Cowsills, along with Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues” (original by Eddie Cochran) and the upbeat “Judy in Disguise” by John Fred and His Playboy Band.

Disc Four and Five perhaps contain the best music of all five soundtracks. Disc Four includes hits like “ABC” by the Jackson 5, “It’s My Party” by Leslie Gore, “Sky Pilot” by Eric Burdon & The Animals and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross & the Supremes. Disc Five features songs like “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “Tears of a Clown” and “Tracks of my Tears” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, “Walk Away Renee” by The Four Tops and “Tuesday Afternoon” by the Four Tops.