When David Chase, the mastermind behind The Sopranos, spoke to Vice in 2015 about the show’s music, he explained that “you can’t just have cool songs. The songs can’t all be good, because life isn’t like that.” For Chase, music was essential to the storytelling, but it was also a way to gain insight to his characters. This was never more evident than with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the chronically depressed gangster who was the heart of the show. Over six seasons, Chase used the lyrics and melody of his (mostly) hand-picked soundtrack to help round out the nuances of Tony’s complicated personality on The Sopranos (which you can stream on HBO Now). Here’s a look at some of the songs that helped describe Tony in a way that words alone never could.
Alabama 3 – “Woke Up This Mornin’”
While Chase originally wanted a different theme song for each episode, “Woke Up This Mornin’” would end up immortalized as the soundtrack to The Sopranos‘ opening credits, which chronicles Tony’s drive from New York to his home in New Jersey. Visually, the opening showcases everything that comprises Tony’s world, from the massive industrial buildings, to the brick-and-mortar shops of his old neighborhood, to his home buried deep in an affluent suburb. Sonically, Alabama 3’s vocalist Rob Spragg drops perennial blues phrases in his rough, gravelly delivery, and repeats the line “Woke up this mornin’/Got yourself a gun,” underscoring the violent reality of Tony’s day-to-day world.
Nick Lowe – “The Beast in Me”
Closing out the show’s pilot episode is Nick Lowe’s storied, remorseful ballad, which was originally written for Lowe’s father-in-law, Johnny Cash. Here, in Lowe’s version, his baritone delivery speaks woefully to a man’s savage, untamed id, which seems to be custom made for Tony Soprano, who despite his aspirations to do what he felt was right, he often fell victim to the tantrum-prone sociopath that dwelled within him.