One word that could best describe “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner is “obsessive.”
Throughout the entire run of “Mad Men,” he made sure to get all the period details right and went as far as to model a kitchen after the year 1957 instead of 1960 in order to ensure continuity.
Outside of the sets, costumes, and cigarettes one of the most memorable features on all of “Mad Men” is the music. Weiner handpicked many of the songs used throughout the series by hand.
The most surprising part, though, is that he was planning the show’s soundtrack years before he even knew what “Mad Men” would become.
A plaque displayed at the “Mad Men” exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image reads: “I chose most of the non-scored music on the series. I was open to suggestions and in many key moments they have worked well for the show.”
“But I have a very personal relationship with music and am a delusional person to the degree that before the show existed, I kept a file in my iTunes of all the songs that could go one day in the show. Over seven years I used most of them — in fact many stories were actually constructed to serve specific songs.” Weiner added.
At the exhibit, you can hear some of Weiner’s explanations for why he chose certain songs to accompany certain episodes.
Here are excerpts of recordings from the Museum of the Moving Image in which Weiner discusses some of the many highlights from the “Mad Men” soundtrack:
“A Beautiful Mine” (RJD2), Opening Credits Song
Inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. Weiner first heard “A Beautiful Mine” on the radio and thought it perfectly matched the now famous falling man in the show’s opening credits.
“The theme song, ‘A Beautiful Mine,’ was something I heard on NPR…on ‘Marketplace’ as transitional music right as we were making the title sequence, and I loved that it had this sort of falling sound to it.” Weiner said.
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (Bob Dylan), “The Wheel” (season 1, episode 13)
“Mad Men” season finales usually contained some of the show’s best musical moments.
Weiner felt that the end of season one, in which Don chooses work over family, was the best time to play a Bob Dylan tune.
“At the time, I didn’t know if there was gonna be another season of the show,” Weiner said, “And it was important for me to not only use Bob Dylan, because I love the idea of the central premise of the show that someone like Don, who lived in that world and dressed like that and had that job was going to be listening to this music…I also just love the words to this song because it’s a moment of Don in deep regret about losing his family…”
“The Infanta” (The Decemberists), “Maidenform” (season 2, episode 6)
Matthew Weiner is very particular about the show’s historical accuracy, and will go as far as getting rid of a dish if it isn’t from the time period. The same usually applies for music, but every once in a while, he’ll bend the rules for a tune that’s not from the time period.
“…It’s a very original sounding song with a great beat and incredible lyrics and what I loved about it is that it is a regal entrance of a princess and about her being adorned and about her being carried on elephants…and the rhythm of it was just this presentation of royalty and I liked it because it was an introduction of our female characters getting ready for the day with their underwear which was the story of the show about how you are seen by other people, and this presentation of woman as queen when they are basically sort of being judged in the most surface way through the rest of the episode.” Weiner explained.
“Shahdoroba” (Roy Orbison), “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” (season 3, episode 13)
This song played during a transitional moment at the end of season three. As Don and Betty’s marriage comes to end, Don moves out on his own and starts a new agency.
“[‘Shahdoroba’] is a song that I’ve always wanted to use in the show and I had a list on my iPod of music that could be for the show even before the show existed,” Weiner said, “And the thing about ‘Shahdoroba’ is, besides the fact that its talking about a time that’s gone by, it emotionally captures this longing and adventure, it has this almost Egyptian sound to it that suggested a world that had disappeared.”
“Stranger on the Shore” (Acker Bilk), “Meditations in an Emergency” (season 2, episode 13); “Favours” (season 6, episode 11)
A rarity for the show, Weiner actually used this song in two different episodes. He used this tune not just because it worked well with the scenes, but because it plays with our perception of the time period.
While the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Beatles are linked most to the 1960s, they are not necessarily what was playing on the radio.
“I wanted a piece of music that I thought would be being played because it was a hit at that time and that wouldn’t distract from the mood,” Weiner said, “It was also important to me that in the midst of this musical revolution that’s going on as rock n roll is becoming more and more prominent, that there are two soundtracks going on. There are two parts of the culture that are competing, and this song is a throwback to a simpler time.”
In 1962, when this episode takes place, “Stranger on the Shore” was Billboard’s number one song of the year.
“You Only Live Twice” (Nancy Sinatra), “The Phantom” (season 5, episode 13)
“‘You Only Live Twice,’ by Nancy Sinatra, is from a James Bond film and was something that I had on my iPod because I had a collection of music that would go for this imaginary TV show that I had that I was always collecting.” Weiner said. “And to me, it thematically summed up the story of someone who had two different lives and because this show was about this secret identity, and the words are very poetic…”
Things changed since Weiner first began planning for his theoretical TV series, and the song almost ended up in another part of the series.
“…for a time I was thinking about using it as the theme song for the show, or certainly for the ending of the first episode, but then I really wanted to tie it to the period. And by the time we got to season five, where it’s featured heavily in the ending of the entire season, we really built that [final] sequence around this song.” Weiner said.
You can hear Weiner’s thoughts on many more of the songs from the series at the “Mad Men” exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. The exhibit runs through June 14.
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