‘Fargo’ Uses Pop Songs Better Than Any Show On Video

FX / Warner Bros..

As prestige TV proceeds to ape the conventions of theatre, a growing number of TV shows have stepped up their match once it comes to a device near and dear to my own heart — with pop music. Many of the Very Best and most talked-about displays on television do this very well: The Americans, Big Little Lies, Better Call Saul, Mr. Robot, Legion,Halt & Catch Fire. But there is one series that really does it a bit better than the rest, FX’s Fargo.

Filmmakers and showrunners utilize pop songs. The most basic objective is to immediately set a time interval — Duran Duran for its ’80s, CCR for those ’60s, Donna Summer for the ’70s, Nirvana for its ’90s, and so forth. Considerate artistswill really incorporate the audio as either a Greek chorus signaling themes that are significant or simply as a window to the lives of the characters. Or they’ll revel in the possibilities which arise when you choose a part of activity and mix it with a tune, which can elevate an otherwise flat sequence to the dizzying heights of a dance number.

Fargo, notably in its second season, has escalated in using tunes as storytelling devices, in addition to finding ways to create musical sequences that looked and sounded unbelievable on-screen. Throughout the show’ forthcoming season, I’ll be writing weekly columns dedicated to the way Fargo employs music in each episode, exploring the ways that tunes deepen (or perhaps detract from) the storyline. (I’ll also inquire into the obscure tracks which will inevitably pop up on the soundtrack, for people without ready access to Shazam.) Before that, here are five good moments from the first two seasons.

Season 1, Episode 2: Eden Ahbez, “Full Moon”
Scene: Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench get rid of a body in an ice-covered lake.

Fargo did not really hit its stride for a series that cinematic scenes to pop music in distinctive ways until its next season. However, this incident from early in season one shows Fargo‘s flair for digging up obscure tunes and doing something subversive together. Ahbez is a cult figure who achieved his greatest triumph in 1948 when his song “Nature Boy” has been conducted by Nat King Cole, who flipped it into a No. 1 hit. “Nature Boy” was reflective of Ahbez’s proto-hippie life — he wore his hair long and grew up a Jesus beard to choose his normal garb of sandals and white robes. (Ahbez was also living beneath the “L” at the Hollywood sign all over the time which “Nature Boy” became a hit.) On his own, Ahbez recorded profoundly strange, ethereal music including his starry-eyed, spoken-word vocals, as typified by the strangely hypnotic “Full Moon.”

On paper, “Paper Moon” shouldn’t go with a spectacle where a guy his killed by two hit men. But much like the Billy Batts sequence in Goodfellas, which uses Donovan’s similarly hippie-dippy “Atlantis” while Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci celebration Frank Marino’s head in, the mix of violence and serene audio functions in a yin-yang sort of manner, conveying the pathology of people that commit horrible acts with cool efficiency.

Season 1, Episode 9: “Green Tambourine” by the Lemon Pipers

Scene: Super-criminal Lorne Malvo, posing as a dentist at Kansas City, hosts a party at his home.

“Green Tambourine,” a likably trashy bubblegum oldie which went to No. 1 in 1967 and has been the only real hit by ersatz-psych group the Lemon Pipers, could typically be an unusual choice to score a celebration scene that happens in 2007. But it’s perfectly suited for Fargo, that informs stories which take space during hyper-specific periods of time which also somehow appear to exist slightly out of time.

Lorne Malvo, particularly, seems like he could be a commodity of every year between 1989 and 1961. It is a part of the character’s life, “there really are no rules” influence on the entire world around him, represented in a small way by reviving the outdated “Green Tambourine” at a scene which takes place 40 years following the song’s original cultural instant. For Malvo, “Green Tambourine” represents normalcy and mediocrity — it’s his way of appearing like a regular individual while slyly commenting on how boring he thinks ordinary folks are.

Season 2, Episode 1: “Children Of The Sun” with Billy Thorpe

Scene: Rye Gerhardt pushes to face a quote in a diner.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Fargo music supervisor Marguerite Phillips explained that the series’s creator Noah Hawley “wanted me to research prog rock and Krautrock” as a musical motif for the next season. Though I prefer to believe that it’s also regarding the pervasiveness of AOR this could be related to the year’s sci-fi overtones. (As a native midwesterner born in 1977, a number of my earliest memories have been scored by pomp-rock riffs and ridiculously wiggy keyboard solos.)

Apparently, Billy Thorpe’s anthemic “Children Of The Sun” was among those very few songs ever written to the script of the second-season premiere. While mostly forgotten now, Thorpe did exist around the periphery of FM radio from the late night ’70s, that gave him sufficient exposure for the Australian rocker’s 1979 concept listing Kids Of The Sun to hit the top 40 in the album chart. In addition to subtly foreshadowing the preponderance of UFOs at Fargo‘s sophomore year, “Children Of The Sun” seems like the sort of song you’d hear in the radio late at night whilst riding shotgun on a lonely street road near the edge of Minnesota and North Dakota in 1979.

Season 2, Episode 7: Lisa Hannigan, “Danny Boy”

Scene: Bear Gerhardt implements his niece, Simone

The biggest hurdle for Fargo the TV series has been overcoming comparisons to Fargo the film. A show that was confident would have worked to play down the Coens’ influence. However, Fargo has rather embraced not only its cinematic supply material but the entire Coen brothers oeuvre, though in a manner that’s more reminiscent of an inventive remix than a slavish cover. In the next season, this interpreted musically by having modern artists perform versions of classic tunes related to Coen brothers movies, such as Blitzen Trapper’s shoot the normal “I’m A Man Of Constant Sorrow” (out of O Brother Where Art Thou) and White Denim’s redux of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)” (in The Big Lebowski).

In the case of “Danny Boy,” which initially uttered the remarkable shoot-out series from Miller’s Crossing, the Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan was called on to execute a distinctively lovely rendition for arguably the most funniest scene at either season of Fargo. For a callback to the Coens, “Danny Boy” stands alone as a memorable audio queue on Fargo. It might, in fact, even top Miller’s Crossing, where the use of “Danny Boy” enrolls as marginally jokey. But on Fargo, the song’s sentimental depiction of familial love and the death of generations gets the death of Simone doubly awful.

Season 2, Episode 10: Black Sabbath, “War Pigs”

Scene: Everything goes to hell in Sioux Falls.

Here we’ve got a tune that strikes on every one of the bases for tune usage that is good. It’s a strong personality option for Hanzee — that I could easily imagine him listening to Paranoid non-stop whilst serving several tours in Vietnam. It comments on the activity. It will help to set the time and place — nothing epitomized evil in communities at the ’70s and ’80s including Black Sabbath, whose music and iconography served as shorthand for the mania from Satan worshippers that are mostly non-existentent.

But place of the and re-watch the sequence another 37 times. There’s something to be said for having a song because it seems incredible when juxtaposed against terrifying action that’s unfolding on a split screen. Much like the Scorsese-esque “Locomotive Breath” chain in the next season’s seventh episode, “War Pigs” gets over on sheer cinematic audacity. It looks cool since it looks freaking cool.