US TV viewers eagerly awaited the series finale of one of its biggest enterprises last month: the conclusion to the long running and wildly successful AMC program Mad Men.
Following TV ad executives through the 1950s and 1960s, the plot line centered around Don Drapper, a career ad man with looks, charm, and intrigue. Not all was perfect in Drapper’s world, but he seemed to find a way to pull it off without a hitch, or at least give the appearance that he had it under control. Viewers knew it was only a matter of time before the house of cards would come crashing down.
There was something more intriguing to the show than just the plot line or characters. The time period on display in a way it hadn’t been presented before added a new means of depth that TV fans had longed for. And the soundtrack musical pairing did more than remind us of a time past, it taught us new things as well.
The soundtrack to the show provided more than a historical backdrop. It reflected the irony in each episode’s plot. The central theme being that all of the glamor of Madison Avenue would lose its shimmer when the light of day changed is matched with music that mirrors the internal conflict of the characters as they change and adapt to the worlds they’ve created. This reflection starts in the early seasons with artists like Don Cherry and continues on with perfectly placed songs from The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and others.
Rarely is a musical soundtrack with rock songs used to tell the underlying story to an ongoing series, especially in American TV where ratings are determined by what is trending in the moment, not centered around music from an era gone by. The curation of this ongoing soundtrack, the selection of specific arrangements and the cultivation of an entire experience that centers around an evolving theme is brilliantly executed through the entire series of Mad Men.
And if you weren’t really listening in, you might have just missed it.