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It is common knowledge to never judge a book by its cover. But how about judging a television series by its soundtrack?
Whatever people think of the state of television and its many streaming services, I have to admit the soundtrack and music game is getting much better. Three streaming series we’ve binged recently on three different, competing services have all had notable soundtracks that not only fit the series, but actually improve them.
Whether or not you've seen these shows, here are three soundtracks which on their own are highly entertaining:
Catch 22: Hulu
It is hard not to hold this latest interpretation of Joseph Heller’s novel up to comparison of the book, particularly if you remember the original movie. But one thing they really did right with this one is create the atmosphere. The set and costume design were beautifully done, but the soundtrack didn’t skimp on the 1940s standards.
Many movies set in this era take advantage of using the big band sounds of the greatest generation, but Catch 22 was just flooded with them from the often used “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “We’ll Meet Again,” as well as “Americano,” and “Then I’ll Be Happy.”
The original soundtrack music isn't really a standout, but if you love the sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Nat “King” Cole, the Andrew Sisters and more, this dark comedy doesn’t disappoint.
Here's one from the show that might be a thorn in side of the reluctant bombardier, Capt. John Yossarian.
Umbrella Academy: Netflix
There are plenty of "compare and contrast" stories people have been making between Umbrella Academy and DC Network’s Doom Patrol.
Both are based on comics. Both feature a dysfunctional group of would-be heroes under the unconventional leadership of an eccentric genius. Both have been influenced by comic writer and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.
Way not only created Umbrella Academy, he has written story arcs for Doom Patrol. However, since Umbrella Academy was Way’s own creation from the beginning, his musical influence may have seeped in.
This soundtrack is a lively look at quirky fun pop through the decades: “Saturday Night” by Bay City Rollers, “Istanbul” by They Might Be Giants, “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant, as well as newer hits like Fitz and the Tantrums’ “The Walker,” and Woodkid’s “Run Boy Run.”
There are also some remakes that really work well, like “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Toploader, plus a couple by Gerard Way himself featuring Ray Toro.
Here’s Way and Toro’s take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter.”
Good Omens: Amazon Prime
For fans of the satirical apocalyptic fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, it seems to have taken a near eternity for Good Omens to get a good live action adaptation. As the story’s central focus is the bromance between two Earth-loving supernatural beings, the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale, even some of the music commentary in this series is funny.
At one point, Aziraphale notices a CD of Velvet Underground in Crowley’s car, prompting the demon to say, “You wouldn’t like them.” Aziraphale then scoffs dismissively, “Oh yes. Bebop.”
In a later scene the first thing Crowley says upon seeing Aziraphale is, “If you lined up every person on this planet and asked them to describe the Velvet Underground, not one of the would say ‘bebop.’”
That’s a good assessment of the contrast between Crowley and Aziraphale, as well as a good example of how this soundtrack was approached. Crowley’s musical taste is heavy on Queen (you'll know this if you've read the novel), plus I've read Pratchett and Gaiman shared a joke that if you leave any CD in a car long enough, it turns into Queen's Greatest Hits.
However, it's the original lively and sinister soundtrack from the opening title sequence, and music of Grammy and Emmy winner David Arnold, to the closing rendition of the standard “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” by close friend of Gaiman’s Tori Amos that give this show its unique, otherworldly aura.
Take a listen to Amos’s beautiful, straightforward version of the closing song.
Header images © Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime