‘Mad Men’: Matthew Weiner’s Music, Method, And Madness

Mad Men fans will remember the AMC period drama for many things, most notably for its performances, writing, production design, and remarkable historical authenticity. But most fans will also remember Mad Men for its music and for its choice of relatively lesser-known songs from the soapy 60s, that decade in the human condition which has only appeared to privilege a few, and unfortunately for us music fans, simply forget the others.

Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, did not intend for the phenomena to repeat itself. As NPR Music reports, it would have been easy for him to get tempted by classics, to sprinkle his episodes with a generous dose of 60s music — a little bit of Bob Dylan here, some Rolling Stones there — and that could have been that. But Weiner is smarter than that and is almost undoubtedly the primary reason behind Mad Men’s far-reaching success. So while he depended on David Carbonara’s orchestral soundtrack for much of the music on the show, he made sure to embed scenes with several megahits of yesteryears, albeit forgotten numbers now — sometimes for lesser than a minute — to add to the feel of staginess that Mad Men radiates with such vigor.

Consider the pilot episode of Mad Men. As Bustle noted, even before we catch a glimpse of Don Draper’s head, we hear Don Cherry’s “Band of Gold” — a song about purpose, possession, and happiness. Almost instantly, we are immersed into the world that the characters of the original Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency inhabit, while at the same time, subconsciously directed to their future. As alluring as the booze-guzzling world of Madison Avenue may appear to be, we are gripped by a vague feeling that it will all come crashing down.

This approach to the music of Mad Men meant that Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” or the Beatles’ “Yesterday” or even Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” did not appear on the show even once.

Instead “I Got You Babe” by 1960s pop duo Sonny and Cher plays in Season 4 when Don proposes marriage to his secretary Megan. When the instrumental piece “Telstar” by The Tornados plays for the first time in Season 2, it reflects the rapidly-changing world around the characters and their struggles in dealing with it.

All of this is not to say that Weiner omitted the classics altogether in Mad Men. When Weiner does use them, like he did in Season 4 when Don hears “Satisfaction” by Rolling Stones blurting out on somebody’s radio, he makes them work.

The song makes complete sense for the time, and the success of Mad Men owes hugely to Weiner for his quirky, yet vigorous use of music from the past. As music fans, we can only hope that other TV creators take a lesson from Weiner’s notebook, and for those who don’t, we can at least continue immersing ourselves in the magically rewarding music of Mad Men.

[Photo: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images]