Six Innocent Songs Forever Tainted by Breaking Bad
All bad things must come to an end, or so we were told by countless teasers and promo adds for the final season of Breaking Bad. Looking back on how we got to the conclusion, it's easy to see all the fantastic attributes that made Bad so good. The writers and directors incorporated stunning visuals and storytelling into every scene, using the limitless New Mexico landscape and an intense spectrum of color to cage its brutal tale. It dared you to accept the unacceptable.
But Breaking Bad's most effective method of delivering its ruthless moments involved transforming once-innocent songs into horror themes worthy of scoring the carnage, the amorality and the destruction of people in everyday walks of life.
Counting down the top six, we can see how music was used throughout the show to enhance some of the moments that might otherwise hit a little too close to home for some.
(Warning: Every Breaking Bad article online gives some spoiler alert disclaimer, so I might as well, too. Here it is. Tread lightly.)
6. "It Is Such A Good Night" by The Charlie Steinmann Orchestra and Choir Ahhh--finally, a television show that glorifies the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine. We'd been waiting too long for this. In one of the earliest montages of season one, Jesse works diligently though the night to sell as much as possible of the new, pure product he and Mr. White had recently concocted.
The scene itself portrays one of the biggest problems in America: Uncontrollable distribution of drugs to the countless beggars looking for a fix from Jesse. The reality of the moment is suppressed by the upbeat waltzing and jazz soundtrack provided by The Charlie Steinmann Orchestra and Choir.
Before you know it, your head is bopping along to the tune as the camera moves at a choppy and inconsistent breakneck speed during Jesse's adventure--simulating the effects of the product he is slinging.
5. "Enchanted" by The Platters Every good relationship is built on a healthy balance of give and take between two partners. In Season 2 of Breaking Bad , Jesse has the idea right, but his practice is all wrong.
He gives his new girlfriend Jane meth, and takes heroin from her. Jesse shoots heroin for the first time under the watchful eye of his new soulmate, and after he feels the snakebite enter his veins for the first time, he drifts far away from reality and toward the ceiling.
Again, the creators needed scenes like this to portray their story, and they always find the perfect way to make it hurt a little less while watching a fan-favorite character continue to fuck himself up even more. This time, it was by way of a once-inspirational love song from the '50s by The Platters.
I doubt The Platters had ever conceived people would be shooting heroin for the first time to their music, but after you hear it, no other song could work. The viewer is transported on their own enchanting journey with Jesse.
4. "Pick Yourself Up" by Nat King Cole Nat King Cole: Groundbreaking musician, renowned pianist, jazz pioneer, active voice in the civil rights movement, and conspirator to 10 murders to cover Walter White's ass?
The last one might not be true, but Walter White did need to orchestrate the execution of 10 witnesses inside of three separate jails and in under two minutes. Why would you not utilize the soft baritone voice of Nat King Cole, who I'm sure overcame greater obstacles than that in his day, to provide a peaceful easy soundtrack?
The scene speaks for itself, but the soothing piano music edges it away from a realm of brutal murder. If you close your eyes--very tight--you can imagine yourself sitting peacefully by the fireplace with your family at Christmas time.
3. "Crystal Blue Persuasion" by Tommy James and the Shondells Since its release in 1969, many fans of Tommy James have associated the song "Crystal Blue Persuasion" with drug use and have speculated that James is singing an acid love ballad, his own version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".
Fitting, then, that Breaking Bad would find a way to weave the catchy song into its story--and what better time than when Heisenberg had officially gone global? We see the drug business that Walter White has created rise to the next level as he and his new partner, the child-murderer Todd, cook batch after batch of their blue product to supply their newfound international buyers.
2. "El Paso" by Marty Robbins When it was all said and done, there came a dawning realization that we had the answer all along for how Breaking Bad would end--if only we'd have known where to look. Marty Robbins spoiled the outcome of the show--in explicit detail--back in 1959.
The final episode of Breaking Bad, titled "Felina", references a country western gunfighter ballad to end all gunfighter ballads. Written and performed by Robbins, "El Paso" tells the story of a young cowboy who falls in love with a Mexican Girl named Feleena from the small Texas town. Enchanted and seduced by her wicked and evil eyes, our hero murders a man out of jealousy who is flirting with Feleena and then flees for fear of persecution.
When his lonely desire to be with Feleena overcomes the fear of death, the cowboy rides back to El Paso for one last showdown. He is shot in the chest by a gunman and dies in the arms of his beloved Feleena.
Breaking Bad puts a modern twist on this western tale--first changing "Feleena" to "Felina" for the purpose of an anagram--but the basic parallels are all too apparent. As Walter White prepares to make his escape from the snowbound recesses of New Hampshire and return to the badlands of New Mexico for one last stand, a Marty Robbins cassette falls from the glovebox of his stolen car. Our antihero's fate is sealed the moment Robbins' twanging rhythmic voice pours from the speakers.
1. "Baby Blue" by Badfinger In the waning moments of Breaking Bad , Walter White methodically ties up the loose ends he'd left in his wake, shooting Neo-Nazi worm Jack, giving Jesse one last staredown, and placing a phone call to Lydia informing her that her meticulous and twitchy patterns of carefulness were the vessel to her demise. He accomplishes all of this with a bullet lodged in his stomach. (If Reservoir Dogs taught us anything, it was that a gunshot wound to the gut may be painful, but it takes a while to die from one. And yes, I do my fact-checking according to what Tarantino says is realistic.)
As Walt wanders around a vacant meth lab, reminiscing on the legacy he has built, a well-timed and fitting series-ending song comes to life. The powerful rhythm of Badfinger's electric guitar begins echoing across the stainless steel vats once used to cook Heisenberg's famous blue meth as Walter White dies alone on the floor.
Guess I got what I deserved Kept you waiting there too long, my love All that time without a word Didn't know you'd think that I'd forget. Or I'd regret The special love I had for you My baby blue...
One of many British rock bands to emerge in the 60's, Badfinger achieved commercial success on US and UK charts. "Baby Blue" was released in 1972, written by Badfinger singer Pete Ham about ex-girlfriend Dixie Armstrong, and was the last single from the band to reach the top 20 on the US Hot 100 chart. Everything Breaking Bad touches turns to gold, and Badfinger saw the benefit of this when iTunes reported the song was downloaded over 5,000 times the night of the series finale.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan explained to Rolling Stone why he thought it was the best song to use as an ode to the love Heisenberg has for his own addictive baby blue creation.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.