While overshadowed by the stunt casting of Whoopi Goldberg, and several actors from The Wire, the real story in this episode was the music. As we've opined before, the year 1973 is a gold mine for cultural references, and Life on Mars has done a good job of digging through that treasure trove. I just wish these episodes lived up to the riches it unveils. Take for example the use of the Garland Jeffreys song "Wild in the Streets."
A Puerto Rican superintendent appears to have thrown a nine-year old black girl off a roof, causing a race riot led by the Black Liberation Army. As Captain Hunt opines, "it's like my sister eating a cheesecake -- it's gonna get real ugly, real fast." This all sets up "Wild in the Streets" to be the perfect song. As Garland Jeffreys writes in his blog, he was "inspired to write the song that summer after reading about a murder in the Bronx -- two boys, twelve and thirteen, threw a girl off a roof." That this lines up perfectly with this week's murder investigation is one thing, but when you also throw in the fact that Jeffreys himself is half Puerto Rican, half African-American, you have the perfect song choice -- possibly ever.
Of course, there's still plenty of other music in this episode, and so much of it is beautifully obscure, like the pure funk of Marion Black's "Come on and Gettit" or the bottom-heavy grooves of Boscoe's "He Keeps You", just the kind of raw sound you'd expect from an underground DJ (played by a gender-bending Whoopi Goldberg). Meanwhile, to signal that there is a truce in the race war, we get the interracial sounds of Sly & the Family Stone ("Everybody is a Star") and Three Dog Night ("Black and White"). Finally, only in 1973 would laying down the rhymes of Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" be considered cool.
I don't know about you, but I was so happy to see all The Wire cameos, first Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer) as a priest, then Cutty (Chad Coleman) as the leader of the BLA, and finally, Lester (Clarke Peters) as Clams, whom we haven't really seen since the first episode (and sadly, in all likelihood, we won't see again).
Life on Mars - Episode 1.05
3. "I'm Gonna Keep on Loving You" - Cool Blues
6. "Anywhere in Glory" - The Mighty Indiana Travelers
Previously: Mother and Child Reunion (Episode 1.04)