I’m a little late to the party, but am completely obsessed with Mad Men. Of course, they had me with the homage to Hitchcock (NxNW and Vertigo) via their Saul Bass-inspired title sequence. I’ve written of my love of Mr. Bass’ work, and it’s fantastic that a whole new generation may discover the genius of his work (and see what utter crap passes for most title/poster design today).
But, to the point at hand, the Mad Men blog has a very good Q&A with music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas. The show, in my opinion, is successful because of the details. This includes not only the obvious visual details, and just unbelievably great writing and acting details, but the music as well. Ms. Patsavas just nails it every time. There has not been one episode where I’ve not thought, “I gotta find out who that is” with respect to some piece of music.
What’s interesting, of course, is that while 90% of the music is of the period, not all of it is. The RJD2 theme is the most obvious example, but others crop up. While other shows might use such devices as sort of post-modern winking-at-the-audience moments, Mad Men never does. Rather, like the themes addressed in the show, these musical moments subtly (almost subliminally – hey, it is a show about advertising) remind the viewer that the show is not nostalgia, but rather – in the way all great art is – a lens to better examine both our past and present.
I teach many students who aspire to get into the world of music supervision. To them I say, study the work of Ms. Patsavas; she’s knocking it out of the park. Here’s a question/answer exchange that sort of sums up why:
Q: Can you talk about a song from an episode and why you chose it?
A: A good example would be “Manhattan” by Ella Fitzgerald. Anytime you get a music supervision gig, you begin to delve into the world, especially if it takes place in another era. It’s an exciting research project. We focused on songs about New York and that was one of the first things that we really looked into — a song from the era about the city — and that was one of the gems that I came across. It’s the vocal performance; it’s the timelessness of Ella’s voice and the lyrics. I find that it’s about how a song feels first and then the lyrical content next. Because even if the lyrics are perfect, but the song doesn’t feel right, you never get to that point.
Here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing “Manhattan” (I could listen to her all day):