Words: Ryan Waring
Art: Steph Holm
For all the reform The Sopranos would usher into the television medium at the turn of the century, one of its more minor but still substantial influences was its scrupulously manicured and diverse soundtrack. The series’ closers particularly struck its most potent chords. Showrunner David Chase and his team of music consultants, which included cast member Steve Van Zandt more famously known for his membership in something called the E Street Band, drew upon what seemed like the gamut of Western song in order to tailor the most appropriate selection for each episode’s emotional gravitas.
Humans are competitive by nature, and so the natural next step each of our agonistic ids would unfiltered ask is, “So which were the best?” Glad you are humans, for I am too and I’ve taken a shot at ranking The Sopranos‘ top ten closing songs according to some tangible scale comprising intangibles like context, significance, song quality, etc., all in unspecified amounts. This stuff isn’t rocket science, of course, but that’s what makes its absolute goal all the more elusive. All debates on cultural and humanistic relativism notwithstanding, let’s just talk about the songs of the show we love (after the necessary disclaimer).
Disclaimer: It is physically, theoretically, anatomically, and subatomically impossible to discuss these songs in the context of the show in a way wholly devoid of spoilers, of which the mere mention that any given character simply still exists constitutes. Wiseguys get whacked frequently. I’ll take special heed not to reveal plot points, because if you’ve ever even considered picking the series up for a moment (you should), I don’t want to arm you with another reason not to. But if you’re the kind of viewer who needs to tune in blind, deaf, and dumb, then stay under your rock but at least listen to the songs and maybe discover some new music, with the exception of the first song on the list. Because you’ve definitely heard that one before. Unless you literally live under a rock.
10. “Don’t Stop Believing” – Journey
From S06E21: “Made in America”
There might honestly be thousands of reasons to exclude it, especially when close to 80 other well-deserved songs won’t be mentioned in this article. Most conveniently, “Don’t Stop Believing” technically doesn’t qualify as an end credit song; it cuts out before the acknowledgments begin to roll. But as much an irritant as it has become, despite the Glee cover, all the ballpark PA plays, the wasted karaoke renditions, the hapless air guitar solos, and however else our culture has worn it to a nub, “Don’t Stop Believing” still played out the grandest and most influential series in television. Even more, it captured all the American kitsch of Holsten’s set design and its schmaltzy and plastic optimism makes a fitting sendoff for a man so nostalgic for the mob’s glory days he couldn’t be bothered to recognize all the lives around him he was ruining.
9. “The Beast in Me” – Nick Lowe
From S01E01: “The Sopranos (Pilot)”
For the song that best represents our antihero, look no further than the pilot’s closing sequence. David Chase opened the books for us, so to speak, with a series premiere that was an instant hook, a delightful antipasto for what looked to be a hell of an entree. But for a show that would still run for another 85 hours, the pilot holds up remarkably well as a microcosm for the series as a whole. On second viewing it’s amazing to see that all the themes and motifs were there from square one: What happened to Gary Cooper? Lately I’m getting the feeling like I came in at the end. I have to be the sad clown: laughing on the outside, crying on the inside. Lincoln and Kennedy. So what, no fucking ziti now? Likewise, Lowe’s original (maybe more famously covered by The Man in Black) uncannily pronounces all we’ll tackle in learning who Tony Soprano really is.
8. “I Saved the World Today” – Eurythmics
From S02E12: “The Knight in White Satin Armor”
“Poor you!” Tony likely hears his mother’s catchphrase ringing in his ears as if she were sitting on the couch with him. Burdened with his unstable goomah, his justifiably resentful wife, his parasitic sister, his power-hungry future brother-in-law/chief rival, and, of course, his narcissistic mother, Tony spends the entirety of “The Knight in White Satin Armor” deftly but unrepentantly whisking away the sources of his stresses. And after a laborious night of “waste management” duty, just as he finally anticipates a moment of respite, Carmela drops her spontaneous and unconditional vacation plans on him. Cue Annie Lennox, like some selfish inner-monologue, wondering when someone will appreciate his salve for wounds he himself played a large part in inflicting.
7. “Glad Tidings” – Van Morrison
From S05E13: “All Due Respect”
This Van the Man Moondance cut most memorably serves up the titular line, “And We’ll send you glad tidings from New York,” in perfect tongue-in-cheek, as Tony Soprano finally takes “responsible” decisive action to save his credibility with the Empire State. But its replay to close out the episode, and Season Five altogether, resonates almost as vividly. After a close call with feds forces him to flee ingloriously through blankets of white Jersey forest bed and numbing creeks, Tony pointedly emerges from the woods exactly where the black bear had at the season’s other bookend, bumbling into the family’s backyard and let in through the back door while “Glad Tidings” plays out his homecoming with more Yuletide irony.
6. “Evidently Chickentown” – John Cooper Clarke
From S06E14: “Stage 5″
“Evidently Chickentown” certainly bears a stark “War is Coming” type tension to it. And when it comes in promptly on the heels of Phil Leotardo’s magnificent monologue, as the camera pans over framed portraits of New Yorkers dead and gone, friends and family lost amid an inveterate quarrel with New Jersey, and the new kingpin of the Big Apple regrettably reflects on his disgraced legacy and vows, “No more, Butchie. No more of this,” a chilling sense of doom carries into the church transept where Tony stands in as literal Godfather to Chris’ baby daughter. The two mobsters embrace for what feels like an eternity and their stolid faces and Clarke’s restless voice provide a frightening sense of imminent destruction.
Come back tomorrow for Songs 5-1.
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