If you ask me, good music can make almost any visual medium better, even if the visuals are mediocre. I mean, hearing a Radiohead song at the end of the first Twilight movie almost made me forget that that entire movie was ridiculous. That’s why soundtracks have a special place in my heart, and while we usually think of movies when we see the world soundtracks–from the Harry Potter score to the tracks on Clueless—I believe that some of the best soundtracks have come from TV shows. In fact, there are some TV shows that have such good soundtracks during the original airing that when the rights to the songs don’t pass on for streaming, I find it hard to watch the shows…yes, all because the original music is gone and it just feels off.
Unfortunately, a lot of shows don’t utilize music the way they should. Maybe they believe it would distract from the show, maybe it’s just too much of an afterthought to dedicate much money to. But there are plenty of standout TV shows that have memorable soundtracks that pretty much make the show what is is. So without further ado, check out these nine TV shows with the best soundtracks of all time.
DariaWhen I was watching MTV's Daria as a kid, one of the things I loved about it was that it was playing the same stuff that MTV and the radio played all the time. Unlike a lot of other TV shows, the songs on this show really hit every genre--from saccharine pop, to hip hop, to alternative--which really helped make the show feel like an authentic program about high schoolers. Sure, we have our genres of choice, but we hear a little of everything. Any show that has no qualms with playing Destiny's Child, Jay Z, Fiona Apple, Blur, Mazzy Star, J Lo, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, and Dr. Dre is cool in my book.
The OCIt wasn't rare for TV shows to put a lot of effort into its musical selection, but The OC really kicked this concept up a notch when it came out with soundtracks season after season. The show creator believed that the music should pretty much be another character on the show, and honestly...the music remains more memorable than a lot of the characters from this quintessential 2000s teen soap opera. The OC might have been a show about a bunch of rich snobs and outsiders in the most posh parts of Orange County, California, but the soundtrack turned everyone into an indie rock snob. With artists like Death Cab For Cutie, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Imogen Heap, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, and--of course--Phantom Planet (who sang its iconic intro song), The OC soundtrack perfectly captured the changing sound of rock and alternative music in the 2000s.
One Tree HillFor a CW show full of characters who look like they were made in a secret lab that produced conventionally attractive humans, the music on the show pretty much resembled any emo, alt, or indie music snob from the 2000s. From Jimmy Eat World, to Band of Horses, to Gym Class Heroes, to Kooks, to Fall Out Boy (WHO MADE A CAMEO ON THE SHOW), One Tree Hill's soundtrack rivals The OC's in terms of notoriety.
SkinsIf you're a Brit or an Anglophile, you might think that the music from shows like The OC and One Tree Hill were...alright. But there's only one show with amazing music that really mattered to you: Skins. I'm not kidding, people have damn near written odes to the way that the music from Skins was almost as formative as the show itself. Skins' soundtrack ranged from pop to hip hop; it can't be held down to any genre. But where it really thrived was in the indie and electro-pop categories. I mean, I honestly think that Skins helped put Bon Iver and Crystal Castles on the map. Hell, the only reason why I know and have willingly paid to see a little known California indie band called Craft Spells is because I heard one of their songs on this show. Skins incorporated music, new and old, into its universe and managed to create some of the most affective scenes because of them...that's the power of music.
My Mad Fat DiarySet in northern England in 1996, the music from My Mad Fat Diary is so setting appropriate. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most of the music from the show was of British origin, like Oasis, The Smiths, Blur, Pulp, etc. The use of '90s brit pop on this show is awesome and it's cool knowing that this show didn't dare throw in anything anachronistic.
Hey ArnoldOkay, so Hey Arnold wasn't playing pop songs, but it did happen to have a really stellar score, especially for an effing kid's cartoon on Nickelodeon. From the intro to interludes between scenes, the show's use of jazz gives the show such a unique flow and compliments Hey Arnold's underrated cleverness.
My So-Called LifeIf you want to check out a soundtrack that epitomizes grunge and alt rock from the early and mid-'90s, then you need to check out the soundtrack for My Mad Fat Diary. Off the top of my head I remember some pretty iconic scenes set to songs from bands like The Cranberries and Violent Femmes...and that alone makes me want to wear a plaid flannel.
Mad MenSet in the 1960s, Mad Men absolutely delivers with its musical selection. Bob Dylan, The Crystals, Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, sometimes stole entire scenes because they were just so perfectly applied. For a show about a decade marked by changing times, it's cool to see the music perfectly reflect just that as it features everything from an old school crooner like Frank Sinatra to a political poet like Bob Dylan, or a bubblegum girl group like The Crystals to the dreamy folk of Joni Mitchell. If you're a fan of vintage aesthetic and music, uh, why haven't you watched this show already?
MisfitsMusic isn't exactly what Misfits is known for, but when you pay attention you realize that the music selection for the show is pretty damn sweet. From '80s post-punk rock groups like Echo and the Bunnymen to trip hop acts like Portishead, to dream pop like Lykke Li, this show really showcases a lot of killer music, all with a hint of darkness to match the show's black comedic tone.
Which of these shows has the best soundtrack in your opinion? What other shows should be on this list? Tell us in the comments!