Breaking Bad: The Music (No Spoilers)


no bb spoilers

The only Breaking Bad spoiler in this post!

Lights were dimmed, dinner was eaten, drinks were poured,  and we were ready for “Felina,” the last episode of TVs greatest drama: Breaking Bad. It was a fantastic episode. All the loose ends were tied up, and some have even called it the best finale ever (I wholeheartedly agree). But while most tv critics are writing about the amazing episode Creator and Executive Producer Vince Gilligan wrote and directed, I want to take a moment to talk about another aspect of this show: the music.

Since the first season, Breaking Bad has used music perfectly to give further depth and meaning to each scene. Gilligan and the rest of the writers on Breaking Bad made sure every shot, down to the framing of the shot and the color of the clothing the

The Krystal Ship is graced by Los Cuartes de Sinaloa

The Krystal Ship is graced by Los Cuartes de Sinaloa

characters were wearing, matched the mood of the scene and what was happening in the show at that point. The music selection was no different.

The first sounds we hear after the cold open is the slow twang on a guitar, that gives way to the sound of a hand drum, and the eerie sound of a rattlesnake. Though short, the song is already iconic, and was used to great effect in the last moments of “Granite State,” the episode proceeding the finale when viewers were treated to an extended version of the song. To use that song, the iconic opener, at the end of that episode, was to signal the beginning of the end in music form. The writers were also masterminds of using montages without overdoing them, and this is mainly because of the music they use.

 

cb persuasion 2

Homer and Marge are getting into the business, too.

Breaking Bad montages are usually noted for their striking visuals and quick framing- particularly in my favorite montage, where Walt is teaching Todd how to cook meth. The song the writers chose was perfect, and one wonders if the writers heard the song and wrote the scene specifically for it. The song, of course, is “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondalls. Another memorable montage is when viewers are taken through a day of the life of Wendy the prostitute, to the jaunty tune of “Windy” by The Association. The writers used music to create a perfect sense of dissonance, and the twice when this was most apparent occurred in earlier seasons.

By season 2, Walt was making a name for himself as Heisenberg, and was beginning to draw the attraction of Mexican cartels. His moniker was so popular in the drug world, that a Mexican band, Los Cuates de Sinaloa has written a song about him, “Negro y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg.” The song tells the story of a man named Heisenberg who cooks blue meth. The show cold-opens with the music video, and the song itself is upbeat, especially considering what the lyrics are saying. America’s “Horse with No Name”  is used in an episode of the same name (but in Spanish- El Caballo Sin Nombre) when Walt is puilled over by a state trooper. At this point in the series, he is in full-Heisenberg, and nothing scares him. America’s song is on the radio as he is pulled over, and Walt is so into the song at that moment, that he doesn’t turn it down all the way when the trooper approaches his window. When the trooper asks him to turn it down, Walt does so, but it the song is still audible. “Down means off,” the trooper tells a annoyed Walt. A potentially tense situation, contrasted with the slow, melodic beats of “Horse with No Name.” Another great use of music in this epic series.

Last night, in “Felina,” one of my favorite uses of music was a small, but notable one. When Lydia was calling Todd, his cell phone ring tone was the Marx Brother’s “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.” Todd, the “Opie, dead-eyed motherfucker” sociopath, has feelings

Jesse and Heisenberg

Jesse and Heisenberg

for one person, and that is Lydia, the robotic transportation director whom Todd and his Nazi Uncle’s group cook meth for, and this point is driven home when his phone goes off to reveal this song. Though it seems unlikely Todd would know about this song at all (we really don’t know much about Todd other than his child-murdering and meth cooking, but maybe he’s also really into the Marx Brothers? He probably just googled “songs about Lydia” and that’s what came up. Todd is so unoriginal!), it was a nice touch.

The fact that there are now soundtracks for every season of this amazing show is testament to the importance of music in the series. It goes to show that even with the best writers and the best actors, the series would have been completely different if such careful attention wasn’t paid to the music. Breaking Bad was a brilliant show, made all the better by music.

If you like this post, then you would definitely like my radio show on kssu.com, Technical Difficulties! Tune in Wednesdays 5pm-6pm weekly to hear great music and commentary on recent events and popular culture on Sacramento State’s Student Run Radio!

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