From Your Eyes To Your Ears
What I added to my playlist after hours of binging these shows.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
The last few months of binge watching has brought me many a range of viewing experiences from disappointed to content to absolute awe. Reader, we can quibble over whether my opinion is justified or accurate. I won’t debate you. What I will cage fight you on is my unsolicited opinion regarding the music that came from these shows as I binged their current seasons.
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As I wrote this piece, my intent was to focus on the songs and not the shows. I broke that promise almost immediately because it meant treating these songs as just…songs. They’re good to great but that alone isn’t a compelling enough reason to write a few thousand words on them. What made the songs compelling is that they’re not just background noise. They’re like another character, almost like the lead at least in those scenes.
The final season (yes both halves) of Ozark were a bit disappointing. There didn’t seem to be that magic I felt like when I had watched the previous seasons where I would stay up to an unheard of hour to finish one more episode even though I had to work the next day. It wasn’t just one more hour. It was an additional hour after the episode where I would be awake re-living the episode. I’d look over at my iPad and debate whether to watch another episode. And sometimes I did!
The shocking death of lawyer Helen Pierce (a personal fav of mine) at the end of Season 3 had me setting the bar for Season 4 really high. Unfortunately, at times it felt like an attempt to just simply submit a science project in order to get a participation ribbon. Sometimes it felt like a very spirited limp to the finish line, trying to really finish strong. Other times (and these were very few) you would get glimpses of that person or (in this case) that show that you fell in love with. Julia Garner as Ruth did all she could to keep this thing interesting. And the fact that Ruth didn’t live was an even greater shock to me than Wyatt and Darlene getting offed. Frankly, I was hoping she’d ride off in her pick-up truck a la Jesse Pinkman at the end of Breaking Bad.
But aside from the end of the first half of the season where Ruth told the Byrdes—look, if you know, you know—the one other memorable scene in a season akin to a laundry pile of whites was at the end of Episode 11 when Marty snaps and unleashed his road rage on a deserving driver. I felt relief for Marty. He got to do what many (myself included) have wanted to do when faced with rude drivers and that’s unleash a hail of fists.
But Marty was like an uncoordinated version of John Wick. I actually expected Wendy to start swinging after her own exchange with the driver (also hilarious).
As the frustration, fear, and anger over their narrowing window of escape boils, the thread running through it all is Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light”. Such a seemingly odd choice for that entire scene. But perhaps the ridiculousness of the song with that moment was what made it work.
Personally, I don’t think it’s as horrible a song as Wendy notes. I like “I Saw The Light”. It’s one of the songs that I feel everyone knows and everyone hears, but nobody ever knows the name until something like this episode comes along and we run to the browser on our phones and Google it. Then we do nothing but listen to it on what feels like an endless loop. It’s like every popular song by the group Bread. Don’t know them? Look them up and play one of their songs and you’ll know.
I love Oscar Isaac as an actor so to see him take on a Marvel character was exciting. I was a comic book collector, but never of Moon Knight. So this series was of great interest to me. Overall, it was a really unique approach akin to WandaVision and Loki with some pretty cool action like what you got from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with multiple personalities thrown into the MCU cocktail.
Overall, it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad. I wanted more. Not more of the hippo—again, if you know, you know—of course. Just more of Moon Knight. And I will say that Ethan Hawke is underrated as the villain, a guy who gave off cult leader vibes but someone who’d get you to think, “Eh, let’s see what he’s got to say.”
But what got me was when Steven Grant would awaken, tethered to his bed by a strap on his ankle. I was an avid comic book collector but never of Moon Knight so I don’t know if this was in the books. So I came into this series wondering, “What’s going on here? Is this some weird sex film?” And I know it’s not because it’s Disney, but what a shocking Crying Game-like twist would that have been for a Disney product?! Can you imagine Twitter alight with comments? And the subscription numbers skyrocketing would almost make it feel worth it! At the very least if you didn’t have a Disney+ subscription you’d be texting family and friends to borrow theirs. What a missed opportunity!
Playing in the Marvel opening and on through to a peek into Grant’s lonely life is Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Man Without Love”. At this point we know absolutely nothing about this character. And he’s presented as being so hilariously unlikely to be a superhero that you lay down a song released in 1968. What in the actual F? He actually makes Marty Byrde look tough.
I had never heard the song before. But being a rather old soul (my favorite band is The Beatles), it clicked with me. I immediately went into Apple Music and added it to a playlist. And it didn’t just resonate with me. Go into Tik Tok and it’s on a ton of videos! Again, like Ozark, the song felt like an odd choice but it worked.
It’s telling when the worst thing I can say about Season 4 of Stranger Things is that it was split into two and I had to wait for the season finale. Damn you Netflix for making wait as if I was in line early in the morning for one of the early iPhones, knowing anyway that I’d still be able to get one weeks later.
I will say nothing here that hasn’t been mentioned many times by many other people and that is I so love the references from the 1980s. As a child of the 80s I ate it all up. It added to what was already a really great series by The Duffer Brothers. And each season kept topping the previous one much like each episode kept exceeding the previous episode. There was no filler that just dragged things on or would curiously do weird shit to contractually satisfy the network, like what you’d see in other shows. I refuse to say here that I am taking about Lost.
Then came Season 4 of Stranger Things.
Let me say that I grew up as part of a group of friends. Always. We played sports, saw movies, rode our bikes to the beach, frequented the mall—it was like a little gang minus the violence with a little shoplifting and mild vandalism sprinkled in. Stand By Me, directed by Rob Reiner and based off of a Stephen King short story, is one of my all time favorite movies. It wasn’t just because it was good (phenomenal) for the writing and acting, but because it centered on four friends on a little adventure. It’s what largely kept me so engaged with Stranger Things, in addition to the writing and the acting.
Fast forward to Season 4. The little band of heroes expands into a super group. They make a plan to stop Vecna. You can feel the urgency. It’s a hell of an underdog story featuring high school and middle school kids going to take on a supernatural being with homemade weapons.
During the end of the season’s penultimate episode as the heroes go off to battle, Journey’s “Separate Ways” starts playing. Yes, this was a re-mixed version of the original but there was enough there that got me Jonesing for the original.
It was cool how when the camper pulled up and as the lyrics focused on the word “you”, each time it was in sync with Max, Lucas, and Erica stepping out of the camper. Chills.
I had a friend who was in the music industry and he fancied himself to be a snob. We did see eye-to-eye on many things. But he was 100 percent anti-Journey. He just hated them. Said they were corporate rock, whatever he meant by that I don’t know and never had a chance to ask him to explain. Well, I was a closeted fan of some of their songs. Yeah “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” are great. But I always had a love for “Separate Ways”. As someone who loved/loves heavier rock, the guitar riffs and drum pounding set against Steve Perry’s vocals was always an attraction. Being a fan of Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, I appreciated the heaviness of the metal laced with the melodic, near-operatic vocals of a singer who didn’t just scream every single word like he was awake during a vasectomy.
Additionally, the synths paired so well with the sci-fi+retro feel of the moment. The pounding of the drums to signal something foreboding. And then the climax at the end as the episode closes to the credits! Watch with the captions on. It even tells you “Music builds to dramatic climax” before “music halts”.
Then as if Stranger Things couldn’t possibly top that, they go to “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. How metal was it for Eddie Munson to go out with him shredding to the opening of Puppets? Like everyone, Eddie was a character I truly loved. He was nerdy, a bit goofy, and he had this metal God hair that I would’ve been envious of when I was in the 80s.
Gotta say I’m not the biggest Metallica fan in terms of knowing the intimate details of the band and their albums. But I love their music and have a great respect for them. “Puppets” (as the album was affectionately called by metal nerds like me) is widely considered their best album though I tend to squeeze “Ride the Lightning” a little bit ahead depending on the mood I’m in.
Metallica’s inclusion in the last episode was a genius one. I was so used to lengthy intros, pounding drums, guitar solos packed with as many notes that were played as fast as possible—I can feel my hair growing again. But the song was like the ones above, coming in at seemingly an odd time. So when Dustin and Eddie have to distract those demon bat things what a welcome surprise. And the only way they knew how, was for Eddie to plow into “Master of Puppets”. The song and lyrics are appropriate as well. Here was the puppet master, Vecna, revealed—pulling the strings all this time. It’s almost as if the Duffer Brothers wrote the season and this climactic point just to work the song into the series. I’m sure they didn’t. But how damn cool would that be?
Ultimately, like everyone, I wanted some sort of redemption for Eddie. He’s this guy who I personally could relate to—a bit eccentric, an outcast, cool to a handful of people, but overall a good person. And he got his moment tearing through “Master of Puppets” atop a mobile home.
Since Trainspotting I’ve always been a fan of Ewan McGregor. As a fan of Star Wars I was pulling for this ever since it was a rumor because the prequels left such a disappointing aftertaste. This series was a palate cleanser.
Obi-Wan starts off as this broken man in hiding, haunted by his past and his failings. But by the end, McGregor brings his Kenobi back to the screen. It’s not like Alec Guinness who portrayed an elderly Jedi master shuffling his way through the movies. McGregor gives off a hint of dashing hero to his Kenobi at the end and I am here for it.
But what throwback could possibly standout? More of Owen Lars? That Aunt Beru is a bad ass and wants all the Reva smoke? Ok that one I did enjoy.
The Princess Leia theme, for me, is up there with the music in the throne room scene at the end of A New Hope, which I was hoping would be the entrance song at my wedding reception. Fun-ish fact: it was “Get Ready For This” from the Jock Jams collection. Plant palm of hand to face.
Anyway, the Leia theme is utterly melodic. John Williams is a master, revered even beyond the nerds like myself who know shit about classical music but just love the way it made gives off the feels.
I think it carries (pun certainly not intended) more weight after the passing of Carrie Fisher, when the theme is played in the latest Star Wars movies. But to hear it during this series was like another level for me. It started with how well the young actress, Vivian Lyra Blair (yes I looked her up on IMDB), who did a great job of laying the foundation of the adventurous, brave, and headstrong princess. That it comes on at the end when she bids Ben Kenobi farewell is genius timing by director Deborah Chow. It feels as if this is the moment when this little princess becomes who she is destined to be. And it comes when she bids the old Jedi master farewell.
Personally I’m torn as to wanting a second season or not. This ended perfectly. But it did leave a couple of loose strands that gives Disney some openings if it chooses to go forward.
Do yourselves a favor and give these songs an extended listen. They’re well worth it!
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