Sharps & Flats

"The Sopranos" features the best songs on TV. How come none of them made it to the soundtrack?

Topics: Music, Bruce Springsteen,

Sharps & Flats

When it debuted a year ago, HBO’s “The Sopranos” featured one of the most extraordinary soundtracks mob-flick geeks had ever heard. Every song on the program seemed delicately selected for maximum impact. There was timeless menace in Link Wray’s “Rumble” and omnisexual heartbreak in Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s.” Tony Soprano beat a man senseless to the absurdly catchy big beat pounder “Battleflag,” by the Lo-Fidelity All Stars and Pigeonhed. And there was that unbelievable theme song, a tightly edited mix of the relentless “Woke Up This Morning” by the semi-obscure British band A3.



It’s really too bad that, save an extended version of the still-great theme, none of the above songs show up on the soundtrack album. The set, which includes material from both the first season and the upcoming No. 2, is embarrassingly tame, favoring ’60s rockers like Cream (“I Feel Free,” still irritating after all these years) and Them (“Mystic Eyes,” still as badass as it is derivative) over the contemporary atmospherics that lend the show its end-of-the-century vibe. Some of it connects, but fans will weep for the wasted potential. Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” (included here) was the perfect choice to close out last season’s chaotic closer, the Boss’ sketchy mumbling and scratchy screams refocusing the tenuous nature of The Life. But just because E Street Band guitarist Steve “Little Steven” Van Zandt is a star on the show, it doesnt mean that the soundtrack needs his solo band’s Spring-soul. (Of course, “The Sopranos” is a TV show about protection and graft, so maybe it did.)

And who needs to hear Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” on a mob soundtrack? Besides the obviousness, the Chairman would surely have objected — possibly with his fists. English cult-throb Nick Lowe’s plainspoken “The Beast in Me” delivers the show’s sublimated energy and perpetual melancholy, but where’s the Tindersticks’ gloriously mopey “Tiny Tears” or Xzibit’s massive “Paparazzi” or Lhasa De Sela’s gently odd “De Cara a La Pared,” all from the show?

The music in “The Sopranos” has performed its function as well or better than any pop-driven show in TV history, translating Tony and crew’s sturm-und-drang angst with pitch-perfect clarity. The shortsighted soundtrack collection doesn’t reflect the program’s attention to emotional detail — and that’s a crime.

Joe Gross is a Washington writer.

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