The 20 Best ‘Sopranos’ Musical Moments
When The Sopranos debuted in January 1999, the HBO series kicked off what since has been called a “new golden age” for television. Tony Soprano, along with his family and his “family,” heralded this era of anti-heroes, long-game plot arcs and cinematic storytelling – multi-layered pleasures for both the eyes and the ears. More specifically, the New Jersey-set mob drama had its way with music, skipping an original score for existing pop, rock and R&B songs. In honor of The Sopranos’ clever and impactful use of music, we’re exploring some of the show’s best musical moments.
Now, it’s not like The Sopranos invented using previously recorded music on TV. Earlier series including WKRP in Cincinnati, Miami Vice and The Wonder Years had made serviceable-to-brilliant use of pop music. But movies had done it first and often better – think The Graduate, Easy Rider and just about anything helmed by Martin Scorsese. The films of Scorsese had an enormous influence on many facets of The Sopranos, but their deployment of rock and pop tunes (which frequently offer commentary or serve as a counter-balance to the harrowing onscreen action) was as important as anything else mob-related in Mean Streets, Casino or Goodfellas.
But Sopranos creator David Chase knew that while a movie-maker could pack a two-to-three-hour feature film with pop classic after classic, his television series would exhaust its soundtrack (not to mention its budget) if the great songs were too densely packed. Besides, he wanted the music to bring an extra sense of reality to the episodes.
“The songs can’t all be good, because life isn’t like that,” Chase told Noisey in 2015. “You listen to the radio and there’s a lot of shit. You go to your friends’ house and they put on something or you hear music from upstairs and go, ‘Oh, God, I can’t stand that!’ I’ve seen people do this, where every song is a cool song. It takes you out of the moment.”
Chase, a former garage band drummer and lifelong pop music fan, handpicked most of the music on The Sopranos with the help of producer Martin Bruestle and music editor Kathryn Dayak (and sometimes input from rock ’n’ roll consigliere Steven Van Zandt, who plays guitar on E Street and starred as Silvio Dante on the show). Chase and his collaborators wanted the soundtrack to feel authentic to the action, the places and – most importantly – the characters.
So, as a Baby Boomer, Tony is largely a classic rock guy, with the Eagles or Pink Floyd on the radio or haphazardly singing “Whiter Shade of Pale” in his kitchen. His daughter Meadow watches a video by Morphine, his son A.J. blasts Slipknot and his wife Carmella dreams beyond the less-pleasant portions of her everyday life to the soaring vocals of Andrea Bocelli. His mom likes Connie Francis (not that you could tell that Livia Soprano enjoyed anything). Uncle Junior has a soft spot for the old Italian ballads, while Paulie Walnuts’s “song” is, hilariously, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).”
But amidst those character-building soundtrack choices, Chase and his creative team sought to underscore and enhance the developments of The Sopranos with the perfectly chosen song. Their batting average was incredible. Some tracks set the tone for an episode, a subplot or even an entire season. Others closed the book on a character’s arc (and, sometimes, life). If a well-worn rock nugget was placed in an episode, its use was often radically different from the way it might have been previously dispatched on screen. If a lesser-known tune was earmarked, devoted viewers could never hear it again without recalling of any number of fateful Sopranos plot points.
Come to think of it, that pretty much goes for the well-known songs too. And it certainly pertains to all 20 of the tracks below.
“The Beast in Me,” Nick Lowe (Season 1, “The Sopranos”)
British songwriter extraordinaire Nick Lowe didn’t begin writing this spare tune with Johnny Cash in mind, but he finished it for his one-time stepfather-in-law (Lowe was married to Carlene Carter for 11 years). This 1994 song about the monster within helped launch Cash’s Rick Rubin-produced resurgence, then – five years later – helped launch The Sopranos. Lowe’s earnest voice is heard at the end of the pilot, as the shot pans away from the barbecue to Tony’s duck-less pool and fades into the credits. “The beast in me is caged and fragile bars,” Lowe sings, echoing the mob capo’s barely contained fits of violent anger that have already been glimpsed in this first episode and will continue to be a presence (to Tony’s benefit and detriment) throughout the series.
“When there’s pop music or there’s rock ’n’ roll that’s worked into the story and into the scenes, into the thread of the film itself, and it’s working, that’s my greatest moment of satisfaction,” Chase said in a DVD commentary track about the use of “The Beast in Me.” “If that’s working, then I feel we’ve got it.”
“I Feel Free,” Cream (Season 1, “Isabella”)
Cream’s 1966 single (the power trio’s second) features lyrics by poet Pete Brown, music by bassist-singer Jack Bruce and the first appearance of the sustained, rounded sound of Eric Clapton’s guitar, which he called the “woman tone.” But it’s the song’s distinctive intro (crashing chord, bouncy bum-bum-bums and Bruce’s satisfied humming) that makes it a fitting closer for the penultimate episode of The Sopranos’ first season.
After being stuck in the depths of depression and hallucinating a maternal figure (the titular apparition), Tony gets a “jolt to the system” when he has to fight to survive a hit job. Coming away with minor injuries, he feels better. Feels better not gets better. He will continue to wrestle with all manner of problems for the duration of the series, but the gliding sounds of Cream provides insight into his state of mind at this moment. “When the opening chants of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ play at the end of ‘Isabella,’ it’s hard not to feel an electric charge,” wrote TV critics Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall in The Sopranos Sessions. “It’s the perfect coda for one of the series’ best and most memorable episodes, capturing not only Tony’s elation and confidence … but also our joy at watching this show soar so high.”
“Tiny Tears,” Tindersticks (Season 1, “Isabella”)
Earlier in the same episode, “Tiny Tears” provides the soundtrack to Tony’s less-than-ebullient state of mind. The sad-sack song – which describes lying in bed in a funk of depression, just as Tony is doing – is the work of Tindersticks, an indie rock group from Nottingham, England. Although the group, led by the foghorn baritone of Stuart Staples, has done lots of soundtrack work, The Sopranos crew plucked “Tiny Tears” from the band’s second self-titled album from 1995. The song is put to work twice in “Isabella,” emphasizing how Tony is drained of vitality. That is until, his orange juice bottle is shot to shards, the music cuts out and our (anti)hero springs to life in order to save his skin.
“State Trooper,” Bruce Springsteen (Season 1, “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano”)
What an extraordinary display of restraint that a show set in Jersey, filmed in Jersey, created by a guy raised in Jersey and featuring Jersey rock royalty in its cast took almost 13 episodes to slap Bruce Springsteen on the soundtrack. The Boss had the idea for “State Trooper” while driving home from New York – a journey similar to the one Tony Soprano made in the opening credits. The sparse Nebraska track’s mention of the New Jersey Turnpike is apt, and so is its sinister mood and criminal mindset. A natural fit for The Sopranos, “State Trooper” closed the season one finale, its chugging acoustic riff intruding on Tony’s family and friends as they tried to “enjoy the little moments that were good” at the new Vesuvio.
According to producer Martin Bruestle, the song was a non-negotiable addition to the series for Chase, it was just a matter of when. “We tried it before, at the end of episode 10 or 11,” he said in Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music in Film and On Your Screen, suggesting that the fit wasn't quite right. “It came into the last episode.”
“It Was a Very Good Year,” Frank Sinatra (Season 2, “Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist’s Office…”)
The Sopranos ended its first season with music from a guy from Jersey and began its second season with another: Frank Sinatra. “It Was a Very Good Year” actually began life as a folk song, written by Ervin Drake and first recorded in 1961 by Bob Shane and the Kingston Trio. But it was Ol’ Blue Eyes’s lush, elegiac rendition that became a classic when he recorded the song in 1965. The reflective nature of the lyrics suits a slow re-introduction of the show’s main characters, who are (in their own ways) taking stock of where they are now.
“The whole show was about aging, time and mortality,” Chase told Noisey in 2015. “And that was one of the first instances of presenting that theme musically. That’s why we had people by themselves looking in mirrors off into space. They’re reflecting.” The show’s creator was also doing a little stock-taking of his own with the Sinatra ballad. “‘It Was a Very Good Year’ was the one time in which we used music to comment on … the fact that the show had been so successful,” Chase admitted. “That was part of the joke: season one had been ‘a very good year.'”
“My Lover’s Prayer,” Otis Redding (Season 2, “From Where to Eternity”)
Only a few songs were given the honor of “bookending” a Sopranos episode – that is, being heard over both the opening and closing scenes. Otis Redding’s anguished and patient “My Lover’s Prayer,” from 1966, was given such a prominent spot in “From Where to Eternity,” in which Christopher lies in a coma after a (somewhat) botched hit. Regarding the song’s use – which prompted hordes of fans to seek out Redding’s work – then-Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker wrote, “Redding’s raw, ravaged voice serves as a metaphor for Christopher’s agony.”
But Redding’s wearied pleading also highlighted the heartbreak to be found in the show’s relationships, specifically those of Tony and Carmela along with Christopher and Adriana. The horns of “My Lover’s Prayer,” heard three times in the installment, punctuate scenes of worry, anger and lovemaking. Redding roars about “wanting, waiting and wishing” on a track he had written with the hopes of crossover success.
“Otis thought of ‘My Lover’s Prayer’ as his answer to ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’,” Jonathan Gold wrote in Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life. That didn’t happen in ’66, when no one could have foreseen a different kind of crossover attention that the late singer would garner in 2000 because of an HBO drama.
“You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” Johnny Thunders (Season 2, “House Arrest”)
It was long rumored that former New York Doll and notorious punk rock junkie Johnny Thunders wrote his signature song about his heroin addiction. But his biographer discovered that he penned the song (from his 1978 solo disc, So Alone) about his lover, before he was a Doll and prior to getting on smack.
Either way, with its girl-group beat and jagged guitars, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” is about trying not to love something that’s not really there. That makes it a fitting counter-weight to the streak of nostalgia that runs deep in The Sopranos' mob guys, who are obsessed with tradition, the way things used to be and (to borrow a phrase from another New Jersey institution) “boring stories of glory days.”
When he’s feeling heavy-hearted, Tony seems to agree with Johnny Thunders. In the series’ first episode, he tells Dr. Melfi, “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” And in the show’s final season, he abruptly ends a reminiscing session with, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” At the end of “House Arrest,” we see Tony chatting with the feds and the rest of the guys doing their usual thing outside the pork store. The camera dollies up and away, and Thunders wails his insouciant lyrics, “It doesn’t pay to try...”
“Thru and Thru,” The Rolling Stones (Season 2, “Funhouse”)
Keith Richards sings lead on this slow-building Rolling Stones tune, the second-to-last track on 1994’s Voodoo Lounge. Written in a drunken stupor then given the pile-driver treatment by Charlie Watts’ stairwell drum sound, “Thru and Thru” wasn’t a particularly well-known song by the standards of one of the most legendary acts in rock history. “I thought it was dead and gone,” Richards said in 2002. “[But] if it’s a good song, it doesn’t matter whether it immediately comes out of the starting gate.”
David Chase remembered the track well, even writing it into his script for the second-season finale. The series creator probably liked the widescreen sound of the recording, but the lyrics mattered too. “It also goes back to David thinking of the use of music as something like a Greek chorus in our storytelling,” said producer Martin Bruestle. “Music tells a story.”
The story of “Thru and Thru” is love described as a service. The song appears twice in “Funhouse,” most notably over the five-minute montage that closes the episode, in which scenes of the Soprano family (crime and actual) enjoying Meadow’s graduation party are intercut with examples of the types of “services” the Jersey mob provides. Before the credits roll, Tony smokes a cigar and his thoughts appear to drift to a friend that required servicing, and now sleeps with the fishes.
“Dirty Work,” Steely Dan (Season 3, “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood”)
The Sopranos rarely enlisted pop music for mere comedic purposes, but the few seconds we catch of Tony Soprano happily singing along to Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” while driving his SUV are pretty funny. A mob boss singing, “I’m a fool to do your dirty work” – a sentiment common among his underlings, especially Patsy Parisi in this episode – is a clever idea, but the context and execution make the quick scene even better. Because while an entire squadron of FBI agents are working their tails off just to place a bug in the Sopranos’ McMansion, Tony’s only too happy to flip them the bird as he rolls by the surveillance team and casually sing with the radio. James Gandolfini’s half-absent-minded belting suggest a mundanity to a situation that, for any normal person, is anything but routine.
It’s been said that Steely Dan songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen actually thought “Dirty Work” was too mundane and didn’t want to even include it on their 1972 debut LP – which is why fleeting member David Palmer sang it instead of usual vocalist Fagen. Palmer was a fool to do their dirty work; he was gone from the group the following year.
“Peter Gunn Theme”/“Every Breath You Take,” Henry Mancini/The Police (Season 3, “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood”)
Just after Tony sings Steely Dan in the first episode of the series’ third season, the theme from Peter Gunn sidles in, just as the FBI operation kicks into high gear. Relying on soundtrack material from previous films and TV shows wasn’t anything new for The Sopranos, who had put a tune from The Wizard of Oz to use in Season 2 and would pluck a gem from Rio Bravo in Season 4. But things got more interesting when the “Peter Gunn Theme” partially gives way to the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” with the mash-up being perhaps the most audacious soundtrack trick the show ever pulled.
“My wife said, ‘You know that 'Every Breath You Take' and the Peter Gunn theme are the same song?’ And we played them and I said, ‘Oh, they sort of are’,” Chase told The Star-Ledger in 2006. “She has songwriting credit on that episode. ‘Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you’ was interesting for that sequence, and 'Peter Gunn’ is the feds’ gangbuster music.”
The combination of the stalking momentum found in each tune makes sense, as the normally jazz-oriented Henry Mancini was inspired by rock music when he wrote the spy show theme in the late ’50s. It works on a thematic level too. Although the Police’s No. 1 smash single from 1983 is often perceived as a love song, Sting has always maintained that it was a darker piece about surveillance. So, as the feds try to close in on Tony Soprano, this mash-up mirrors both their determination and obsession.
“Living on a Thin Line,” The Kinks (Season 3, “University”)
Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies, brother to the band’s frontman and primary songwriter Ray, wrote this brooding rock tune about the crumbling of England’s once-vaunted empire for 1984’s Word of Mouth. Embraced by Kinks fans, but hardly a hit, “Living on a Thin Line” got a big re-introduction when it was used three times in the third season’s “University” – each time at the Bada Bing.
While this dark song barely makes sense as strip club music, its placement is perfect as the theme song for Tracee, whose tragic arc takes place in the episode. But “Living on a Thin Line” doesn’t just mourn her, it’s a dirge dedicated to being stuck between a storied past and an uncertain future. “There is this lyric, ‘There’s no England now,'” Chase said in 2006. “I get chills thinking about that now.” Fans felt similarly. With The Sopranos at its zeitgeisty height in 2001, Davies’ old tune became a minor sensation – so much so that his next solo tour was promoted with mention of the series’ use of the song. “I’ve got more e-mails and questions from friends about what that song was than anything else we’ve used in the show’s history,” writer-producer Terence Winter told The Star-Ledger.
“World Destruction,” Time Zone featuring John Lydon (Season 4, “For All Debts Public and Private”)
The fourth-season premiere was the first Sopranos episode to be created (and air) after 9/11, and Chase wanted to acknowledge that the country had changed both in the contents of “For All Debts Public and Private” and with its soundtrack. So, as Tony waddles down his driveway for the season-starting ritual of picking up the newspaper, we hear the defiant, aggressive sound of “World Destruction.” The 1984 rap-rock hybrid – which also closed the episode – was the collaboration of pioneering music figures Afrika Bambaataa (of “Planet Rock” fame) and John Lydon (of Sex Pistols notoriety), who rail against the evils of the world in the track.
“It has the feeling that this is the atmosphere in which Tony Soprano lives – that feeling of end times, a feeling of ‘Where are we going, how did we get here?’” Chase told Noisey in 2015. “Tony reflects on all that stuff, and everything going on in the world has a deep effect on him. And, I can’t stress this enough: it’s just a motherfuckking kick-ass song. If you want to lead off your TV season with something where people [laughs] are gonna sit up and listen, you can’t get better than that.”
“Oh Girl,” The Chi-Lites (Season 4, “Watching Too Much Television”)
When Chi-Lites singer Eugene Record gave Carl Davis a tape of seven songs, “Oh Girl” was the last one that he thought would catch the ear of the Brunswick Records producer. But Davis, who thought the song was a No. 1, was proven correct when the harmonica-led R&B ballad took the Chicago soul group to the top of the charts in 1972.
In The Sopranos, “Oh Girl” also surprises Tony, who is driving in his car at night and rocking out to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, when the classic tune about a broken relationship comes on the radio. He immediately gets sentimental, thinking of his former comare Irina, who is now in a relationship with one of Tony’s business partners, Congressman Ronald Zellman.
“Certain people who really run from their emotions are very sentimental. It's hard for them to acknowledge true emotions, but they wallow in sentimentality,” Chase told The Star-Ledger. “And that kind of a song, if you’re driving along, late at night and that song comes on, it gets you.” Of course, for Tony, “it gets you” means that your sentimentality turns to rage at your ex-lover’s new boyfriend. He drives over to his old mistress’s house, finds Zellman and beats him with his belt in front of Irina. “Oh Girl,” no longer playing on the car radio, but over the entire scene, continues through the violence and into the credits.
“Rock the Casbah,” The Clash (Season 5, “In Camelot”)
The 1982 Clash hit is another song heard via Tony Soprano’s car stereo. In this fifth-season episode, in which the mob boss tries to settle an old dispute between his father’s mistress and some of his associates, Tony gets into a vehicle-aided altercation with one of the parties – Phil Leotardo, a seemingly constant thorn in Soprano’s side. When Phil tries to weasel out of talking to Tony by quickly driving away, Tony gets back in his car to run him down – blaring “Rock the Casbah,” as he taunts him, “Where you gonna go, huh?”
The frenetic scene is matched by the most rhythmic of Clash songs, a rare one that was instigated by drummer Topper Headon (and not frontman Joe Strummer or guitarist Mick Jones). Strummer, however, was responsible for the song’s Middle East-set tale. The song’s mentions of minarets and muezzins are appropriate for a scene involving Phil, nicknamed “the Shah” by the Soprano crew because of Leotardo’s apparent likeness to the last Shah of Iran.
“I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” The Kinks (Season 5, “Cold Cuts”)
This is the series’ second great use of a Kinks song. Back in the mid-’60s, Ray Davies wrote “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” for… somebody else. But when the Animals rejected his ode to non-conformity, Davies had his own band record it as a b-side (for 1966’s “Sunny Afternoon”). The version heard at the end of “Cold Cuts” isn’t the ’60s version, but a heavier, grittier live recording from 1996’s To the Bone. The song plays after Tony relentlessly needles the newly calm Janice at a family dinner until her anger management strategies no longer work, and she tries to attack him with cutlery. Satisfied with his ability to bring his sister down to his level, he smugly walks out of the house as Ray sings, “Once I get started, I go to town.” “This one’s pretty self-explanatory,” Chase laughed to The Star-Ledger. “My favorite thing about that song is it’s a live version, and Ray Davies is singing, and then he says, ‘What are ya?’ and 10,000 people say in unison, ‘I’m not like everybody else!’”
“Glad Tidings,” Van Morrison (Season 5, “All Due Respect”)
The last track on Van Morrison’s 1970 LP Moondance is also the last song heard in the fifth season of The Sopranos, as the bouncing shimmy of “Glad Tidings” recurs throughout the season finale and is heard over the end credits. But it’s most significant moment comes as Tony Blundetto (season-long guest star Steve Buscemi) arrives at the family farm to find cousin Tony Soprano waiting for him with a shotgun. “And they’ll lay you down, low and easy” is the first line of Van’s song – and the first one heard in the sequence.
If a shotgun blast to the face isn’t most people’s idea of being laid down easy, it might qualify in the world of The Sopranos. After all, Soprano is saving Blundetto from a torturous end at the hand of Phil Leotardo as he sacrifices his blood relative to appease one of the New York families. “The use of ‘Glad Tidings,’ one of Van Morrison’s saddest songs, yet one that’s set to a perky, happy beat, is terrific,” critic Todd Van Der Werff wrote in a review of the episode. Indeed, the giddy-sounding song – with its rubber-bullet bassline – serves as a smart contrast to the abrupt violence. And the lyric about “glad tidings from New York,” heard just before Tony B. meets his end, is almost too perfect. Nothing gets by David Chase.
“This Magic Moment,” The Drifters (Season 6, “Soprano Home Movies”)
Another Drifters song is central to the conflict in “Soprano Home Movies,” the mid-season episode that began The Sopranos’ final run of shows. While playing a “friendly” game of Monopoly, Tony humiliates his sister Janice – something of a favorite pastime – by slut-shaming her with a blue rendition of “Under the Boardwalk.” Her husband, and Soprano subordinate, Bobby Bacala protects Janice’s honor by pummeling Tony. His pride, and face, bruised, the boss retaliates by making Bobby kill someone for the first time in his Mafia career. Bacala does as he’s told, but returns to his family a little colder, a little more distant.
If Tony’s version of “Boardwalk” was perverse, so is the episode’s use of “This Magic Moment” – recorded with Ben E. King on lead vocals during his short-but-fruitful 1959-60 tenure with the Drifters. If you had only tuned in for this closing scene, you might think it was a depiction of family bliss – a summer’s evening on the lake, Bobby’s wife waving to him in the golden haze, his daughter running into his arms and King singing about the magic of love. But a closer look at dead-eyed Bobby reveals that this is not the moment it might have been. Devastating.
“Evidently Chickentown,” John Cooper Clarke (Season 6, “Stage Five”)
A few times in this series – heck, a few times on this list – David Chase employed a song that was distinctively English on The Sopranos and yet made it seem unquestioningly germane to the lives of East Coast mobsters. Chief among those examples is punk poet John Cooper Clarke’s 1980 diatribe “Evidently Chickentown,” in which he rages about all the things that are “bloody” wrong. Chase’s interest in the song and its hypnotic repetition predated the series, when he heard “Chickentown” late at night on KCRW in Los Angeles. “...And I said, ‘Someday, someday! Someday that’s going in something!’” Chase recalled in 2015. “That music took the curse off of something in that episode. I have only myself to blame, but we were flirting a little bit too much with The Godfather: going from the church, to this, to back to the church, to the baptism. Then I re-read the script, and I thought the use of that song was so counterpoint to that Godfather, operatic thing that it helped a lot.” Yes, instead of something operatic, the end of “Stage Five” is drenched in tension, with Clarke’s churning complaints especially mirroring the never-ending irritation of Phil Leotardo.
“Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey (Season 6, “Made in America”)
The instantly iconic Sopranos finale left viewers with unanswered questions: Does Tony survive going out to dinner with his family? Is the guy in the Members Only jacket a hired assassin? And who taught Meadow how to parallel park?
Chase has always resisted explaining away the abrupt cut to black that ended the series, although he has pointed to clues about its meaning – most importantly the choice of having Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” play over the tightly edited sequence. “The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing,” Chase told DGA Quarterly in 2015. “It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. … Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.”
The title phrase of Journey’s 1981 hit (which has since become the band’s signature song) came from keyboardist Jonathan Cain; it’s something his father would tell him when Cain was a down-and-out musician on Sunset Boulevard. Lead singer Steve Perry, who co-wrote the song with Cain and guitarist Neal Schon, almost prevented “Don’t Stop Believin’” from being the last song heard on the series because he was worried it would be the soundtrack to something gruesome. Ironically, that’s exactly what some disappointed Sopranos fans were looking for. But Perry signed off just days before the finale aired, and Chase and the show’s creative team walked away happy. Whether Tony walked away at all is left to your imagination.
“Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix)," Alabama 3 (Main Theme)
Finally, we circle back to the show’s opening credits music – the one song that appeared in every one of The Sopranos’ 86 episodes. It almost wasn’t that way. “Earlier we had thought of having revolving main title songs,” said producer Martin Bruestle, “with the concept of every song from Tony’s car radio.” But HBO insisted on a consistent theme and after some experimentation (Elvis Costello’s “Complicated Shadows” nearly got the gig), it was determined that “Woke Up This Morning” was best-suited to the footage of Tony Soprano making the drive from the city to Jersey.
As the show became a success, the electronic-pop-rock song became a pop culture touchstone and brought some extra attention to Alabama 3 – who are neither from Alabama nor a trio. The English collective, who recorded “Woke Up This Morning” for their 1997 debut album, remain fascinated by combining American country and blues music with techno. That mix of new and old sounds appealed to Chase, who had heard Alabama 3 on NPR. The song (with the rap portion edited out) was tried with the existing credits footage and it seemed to capture the perfect tone. Never again would viewers hear this song and not think of the tunnel, the turnpike, the towers (for the first three seasons) and Tony.