Since its very first episode, music has played as integral a role in “The
Sopranos” as Tony Soprano’s right-hand man Silvio Dante (who just happens to be
played by Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist “Little” Steven Van Zandt.)
From the by-now-iconic opening credits, featuring Alabama 3’s thumping “Woke
Up This Morning,” to the tunes that blare at the Bada Bing! strip club, music
and pop references are never far from the tongues and minds of the New Jersey
crime family on the HBO series.
Tossed-off shout-outs to the Dave Clark Five and crooner Duncan Sheik are
woven directly into the fabric of the show’s plots, and it’s not unusual to
see Frank Sinatra Jr. sitting in for a round of cards.
And who could forget the lowbrow dash and grab for the proceeds at a Jewel
benefit concert from last season aimed at helping Christopher get out from
under a growing mountain of debt?
Even the show’s cast members can’t help but slip their musical taste into the
frame. Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) loves metal, which is why you’ll often see
him wearing T-shirts for bands like Slipknot, Pantera and Fear Factory on the
“I don’t get to watch many of the shows because we’re on the road so much,
but when I get home I watch them,” Slipknot guitarist Jim Root said. “It tripped me out when I saw [Anthony Jr. wearing our shirt]. I think it’s really cool.”
The masked band got another plug when Anthony Jr. blasted “Eyeless” while trying to do some math problems last season. “Him and a group of friends have come to a bunch of our shows and hung out,” Root added. “He’s definitely into the music. I think it’s cool that they let him work a part of his real life into that character.”
Root said the exposure certainly can’t hurt the band. “There are millions of people out there who have no idea who Slipknot is. I don’t care about being elite and underground, I want as many people as possible to hear my music.”
The show’s principal actors also couldn’t help getting whacked by the music
bug. Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler stepped out of her role of mob princess Meadow
Soprano last year to release her debut pop album, Here to Heaven (see “Young ’Sopranos’ Star Wrapping Up Latin-Flavored Pop Album” ), while Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) provided a dramatic ending to last
year’s season finale by crooning the opera song “Core ’Ngrato” (“Ungrateful
Heart”). Chianese followed with an album of standards entitled Hits (see “’The Sopranos’ Uncle Junior Gets Musical Revenge” ). Then there’s Tony’s scheming sister, Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro). She’s still dreaming of a career as a religious folk music icon, even if, as she said in this week’s episode, Sony boss Tommy Mottola isn’t interested in her album.
Over the course of its 40-episode run, the show’s producers have always shown
a flair for choosing diverse, dramatic music. Among the artists whose songs
have appeared on the show are Morcheeba, Jefferson Airplane, Dio, Damon &
Naomi, Perry Como, Tipsy, Rocket From the Crypt, Dropkick Murphys, Xzibit,
the Hollies, Garbage, Frankie Valli, R.L. Burnside, Skeleton Key, Ja Rule,
Ella Fitzgerald, Andrea Bocelli, STP, Arling & Cameron, Metallica, Shania
Twain, Led Zeppelin, Britney Spears, Black Rob and Aphex Twin.
Indie rock soul singer Shawn Smith (Brad) has had two of his songs used
during integral dramatic moments on “The Sopranos,” and he can’t believe his
luck. His electronic soul song “Battle Flag” (as Pigeonhed) was used in
season one, and his solo song “Shake It (Like You Just Made Bail)” was in last
season’s opener. “I don’t know what to say about it except that I love the
show so much, I can’t believe I’m involved with it,” he said.
The show’s producers love picking music so much they’ve released two
soundtracks. The first, in 1999, featured A3’s signature song, as
well as tracks by Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen and
Wyclef Jean. A two-CD sequel was released in 2001, with songs from Pigeonhed,
Otis Redding, Cake, the Rolling Stones, Tindersticks and Van Morrison. It
also featured a remix created for season three’s premiere episode, which was
one of the series’ all-time musical highlights. As feds planted a bug in
Tony’s house, a seamless mix of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and
Henry Mancini’s “Theme From Peter Gunn” throbbed in the background.
And the hits keep coming. Last season, Adriana, Christopher’s girlfriend, ran
a rock club, Crazy Horse, which featured a set from New York band Scout on
opening night. In the interest of keeping it in the family, last week’s
episode saw Trenton, New Jersey’s Swingin’ Neckbreakers rocking the stage
with a song called “You” from their 1993 debut album. Drummer John Jorgenson said he’s
sure the band’s name didn’t hurt, but he thinks they ended up on the show
because of their, um, “family” connections.
“I never really found out how we got on there,” said Jorgensen, who started
the band with his brother, singer/bassist Tom, in 1992. “I’m sure being from
Jersey played a part in it, but we’ve played a couple of garage rock shows
promoted by Little Steven [Van Zandt].” Jorgensen said his favorite part of
the whole experience was being invited to the premiere of the season’s first
two episodes at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. “I don’t know how we can capitalize on it, or if it will give us more recognition, but I’ll never forget it,” he said.
One of last season’s most memorable musical moments occurred when Meadow gave
Tony the musical Christmas gift that kept on giving. Dredging up his former
nightmares about talking fish, the agita-inducing singing Big Mouth Billy
Bass tormented the mob boss with a constant reminder of Big Pussy, a former
confidant he had whacked.
Just like playing the Crazy Horse was like a dream for Jorgensen, the
placement of Billy was a dream come true for the “100% Italian” creator of
the novelty item, Gemmy Industry’s vice president of products, Joe
Pellettieri. “When they opened their Christmas presents and Billy popped out
…” Pellettieri said wistfully. “We knew it would be in the show, but we
didn’t know which show and how they wanted to use it. It was funny to see a
singing fish up there in this heavy drama.” Pellettieri, who also invented
the equally hot Kung Fu Hamster novelty item, said he sent the show’s producers a
version of the new standup Billy for use in this season’s episodes, but has
not yet heard back from them.
Given the ominous tone of the first few shows, Billy’s new song, a cover of
the disco anthem “I Will Survive,” might prove prescient.