Music and television go together like music and weddings, or music and long road trips, or music and…just about anything. Between TV opening themes, songs playing behind dramatic climaxes and the topic I’m covering today, TV has wowed me with music too many times to count.
One unique thing I’ve really come to appreciate from my thousands of hours of TV watching over 40 years is when a TV show doesn’t simply rely on an already popular song to help advance a plotline, but they actually write from scratch and perform it as part of the episodes’ plot. This organic approach makes TV more real to me. Today I want to discuss some of my favorites.
Just to set the criteria clearly, I am not speaking to the aforementioned TV theme songs, though there are dozens of those that are awesome and you can read our take on the Top 10 ever here. Also, I will be writing about songs that have lyrics, to help narrow it down (if I only did music and not lyrics, LOST would dominate this list). So without further ado, here are five amazing songs that were written especially for TV episode plots:
“The Pit” [Mouse Rat, Parks and Rec]
“Bye-Bye, Lil’ Sebastian (5,000 Candles in the Wind)” is probably the better song and the standard for all other songs in this odd category, but there is something special about this Andy Dwyer original. First, it’s quintessential Andy. Pure, unadulterated, lovable idiot Andy. Second, I think the fact it ties into a huge PnR storyline makes it memorable. Additionally, it’s lyrically simple but that is part of the appeal I think. Lastly, it got a huge bump in my mind when April played it for Andy as an apology for not respecting his band. But I can’t lie, a huge reason above all others that I love this song is because its guitar music takes me back to 1991. Back when I cared a lot more about music and riffs than lyrics and content. I could listen to this 90 seconds on repeat many days.
“If I Didn’t Have You (Bernadette’s Song)” [Howard Wolowitz, The Big Bang Theory]
Originally written by the modern comedic musical duo Garfunkel and Oates (both of whom you probably have seen in multiple TV shows or movies, including The Big Bang Theory), Simon Helberg used his real world talent to kill this scene as Howard playing and singing an A+ romantic number to his wife. It is perfectly written for the show’s quirky, nerdy-yet-cool personality, summing up the committed relationship between the two scientists by referencing everything from binary code to isotopes to Doctor Who and the TARDIS. And it has a line in Klingon! LOL. It is a song that touches the brain and the heart at the same time, supremely endearing and deeply emotive. BBT will never be my favorite sitcom but this original song is among the best ever on TV to me.
“That’s An Adventure” (Main Cast, Community)
In all of Community’s outrageous episode premises, having a muppet episode did my heart good, having been a huge fan of Kermit, Miss Piggy, et. al growing up, and feeling a deep kinship to Gonzo especially. Even to adulthood.
But what really brought this episode home was that it was, like the Jim Henson Muppet movies, a musical. And the magnum opus of the cast was a jolly, joyful jaunt of a tune called “That’s An Adventure,” that I affectionately refer to as “The Hot Air Balloon Song”. My wife can testify that no song originally written for a TV has gotten to me like this one.
The gang feels like they’re in a rut and they need something original to do together to shake up the doldrums. They need an expedition. They go through some ideas that they disagree about as the song begins before Annie satisfies all of their criteria by suggesting a hot air balloon ride. “Yes! That’s an adventure!” And so one of the most lyrically hilarious, musically magical songs I’ve ever heard takes off.
I’ve actually listened to this song many times while working out and I doubt I have gone more than a month of time without listening to it since I first heard it in August 2017. That’s how much I love this song. It never, ever fails to put me in a good mood.
“White Lie” (Eli Loker, Lie To Me)
Unlike the rest of the songs on this list, this one was from a drama and not a comedy. Yet the song is amusing and compliments the show extremely well.
Loker had to take care of some visiting kids during a crisis at the Lightman Group HQ and he entertains them with a song that goes along with what his company is about yet is suitable for children: white lies. It’s quite charming and always brings a smile to my face.
I confess I liked this show and was disappointed that FOX cancelled it after three seasons and that it never got picked up elsewhere. This simple song is just a small piece of evidence of its originality that I enjoyed.
“Semi-Weirdo” (Gonzo, Muppet Babies)
The Muppets in their various variations dealt frequently with Gonzo’s uniqueness. The movie Muppets from Space chronicles Gonzo trying to get in touch with his kind, who are from another planet. A book called “What’s a Gonzo?” deals with Gonzo’s confusion over not being a regular animal like Kermit or Piggy and trying to figure out what he is, and ends with him realizing ‘You’re a Gonzo” and “Isn’t that enough?”. They always dealt with this in a clever and healthy way.
This Muppet Babies episode is no different. They did plenty of musical type episodes and characters would break into song frequently. Here, Gonzo bemoans the fact he’s odd with a contemplative song that starts melancholy but ends upbeat and, well, weird. It’s a perfect way for Gonzo to express himself, starting off with self-doubt and ending with self-realization. If you think I’m reaching too deep with that, you’re probably not a Gonzo.
So there is my list. Do you have any you like? Please share below!
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