Vince Gilligan, the showrunner for arguably the greatest series of all-time, Breaking Bad, has an impeccable eye for detail. He’s a guy who would spend hours picking the right color shirt for one of his characters. Nothing in Breaking Bad was unintentional, and every detail was given a great amount of thought. That includes, of course, the music selection, and few shows have ever managed to find songs that not only tonally fit a scene, but, frequently, match the scene with thematic perfection.
Working with music supervisor Thomas Golubic, Vince Gilligan always seemed to find just the right piece of music for each scene. Here’s a Spotify playlist of basically every song on the show, but these 11 selections represent the most perfect song selections.
11. “Black” by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, featuring Norah Jones — “Until you travel to that place you can’t come back / Where the last pain is gone and all that’s left is black,” is what Norah Jones solemnly sings, as Walter White reveals to Skyler White, “I won.” It doesn’t feel like much of a victory, however, as the camera pans to the Lily of the Valley plant that put Walter’s plan to kill Gus in motion. The plant that nearly led to a child’s death. And no: Walter never could “come back” from that.
10. “Scoobidoo Love,” by Paul Rothman — What’s more appropriate for a meth-selling montage than this happy, upbeat jangling ditty about what a “good night it is,” juxtaposed with the growing weight of what it means for Jesse to be contributing to the decaying of society? The irony in this scene borders on sarcasm.
9. “Freestyle” by The Taalbi Brothers — This spare, fast-paced guitar song basically says, “We’re getting sh*t done, quickly and efficiently,” which is exactly what Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are doing in burning down Gus’ lab with tidy expediency. “Vámonos!”
8. “We Are Born When We Die,” by Apollo Sunshine — “We are born again when we die” hints at the second-life Walter White received when he was given his death sentence with cancer. This is a perfect opening bookend to “Black” (above), where Walter White spins his gun until he concocts the plan that will eventually lead to Gus’s demise. The way the high-pitched strings coincide with Walter White’s flicker of evil brilliance is superb.
7. “If I Had a Heart” by Fever Ray — The haunting Fever Ray song perfectly encapsulates the hollowed-out feeling Jesse Pinkman cannot exercise, even while riding around in a go-cart. There’s no joy left in him. There’s an orgy/mosh pit going on in his house and Jesse Pinkman is too burned out and depressed to give a sh*t. All he can muster is another cigarette.
6. “DLZ” by TV on the Radio — The TV on the Radio song is the perfect complement to Walter White’s realization that he cannot continue on as an average suburban dad anymore. Even in the hardware store, Walter needs to exercise control. He needs to be the man. He needs to feed his ego, and stake out his claim. “Stay out of my territory!” he says with absolute confidence to a man twice his size. While the song expresses a triumphant note, the lyrics suggest that this is only the beginning: “This is beginning to feel / Like the long winded blues of the never.”
5. “Goodbye” by Apparat — You may not realize how badass and perfect this song is for the situation until you watch the scene again, knowing that it’s Gus basically walking toward his death with the confidence of someone who believes he has won. “Goodbye,” indeed!
4. “Take My True Love by the Hand” by The Limeliters — I can only imagine what music supervisor Thomas Golubic thought when Vince Gilligan came to him and said, “So, we’ve got this two-minute scene where Walter rolling a barrel through the desert. Any ideas?” To his credit, Golubic couldn’t have picked a more appropriate tune: It’s another musical juxtaposition, but the lyrics are also befitting Walter White and his true love: Money.
3. “My Baby Blue” by Badfinger — How incredible and appropriate is “Baby Blue” for the final song of a series about a man who built an empire on blue meth where the song’s opening line is, “Guess I got what I deserve.” It’s almost like Badfinger wrote it for Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan actually chose this over the objection of Golubic, who didn’t want to use it because it had already been used in an iconic scene in The Departed. Gilligan didn’t care. It was too perfect to not use.
2. “Pick Yourself Up,” by Nat King Cole — For juxtaposition’s sake, maybe no series has ever done it better: A peppy, upbeat classic playing while Walter has a dozen people stabbed to death in prison. So good.
1. “Crystal Blue Persuasion” Tommy James & The Shondells — Honestly, it’s amazing that Vince Gilligan managed to hold this song back until the midseason finale of the last season because the urge to use it must have begun as soon as they knew they were making blue crystal meth. It was the kind of perfect song for that montage that all you could really do was sit back and marvel and the genius selection. “Yep. Nailed it.”