NEW YORK (Billboard) - The final nine of what will be the Big 86 begins. And on June 10, when HBO eighty-sixes “The Sopranos” forever, it will be remembered as the series that had the best music in the history of TV.
There are a few directors as musically savvy as David Chase, but not many. You have to begin with Martin Scorsese, the King of Rock in Movieland. George Lucas would have given him a run for the throne — “American Graffiti” came out around the same time as “Mean Streets” and was wall-to-wall cool songs, but he abdicated when he blasted into space.
Chris Columbus has a great ear, as does Jonathan Demme. Michael Mann is more a score guy these days, although he’s usually not too far away from his sweet home Chicago blue. And let’s not forget, “Miami Vice” brought rock songs to TV. But the scores for “Thief” and “The Last of the Mohicans” are as important as the script and are as good as it gets.
Before 1973 there was Jack Nietzsche’s classic soundtrack to “Performance.” Roger Corman was hip enough to use the Electric Flag for “The Trip,” and there was always a fabulous Davie Allan & the Arrows instrumental for things like the super cool “Wild Angels” or Dick Dale for beach movies.
Before that Alan Freed’s flicks carried the good news, and the Rock Messiah brought his best missionaries with him. Most notably Little Richard, who explained quite eloquently why “Jayne Mansfield Couldn’t Help It.”
Richard Brooks started it all in 1955 with Bill Haley & the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” opening “Blackboard Jungle.” The kids didn’t rip the seats out of theaters because it was the first time they heard rock ‘n’ roll. They went berserk because it was the first time in history they heard it at the correct volume. Like, loud, Daddy-O.
Well, Chase has carried on this proud tradition and taken it to TV, where he had 86 hours to let his imagination work instead of a movie’s 90-120 minutes.
Here’s a taste of Chase’s School of Rock on “The Sopranos”:
British Invasion: The Rolling Stones (five times), the Kinks, the Animals, the Hollies, Cream, Them.
Doo-wop: Dion & the Belmonts, the Elegants, the Cadillacs, the Drifters.
The Pioneers: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbinson.
The Americans: Bob Dylan, the Rascals, the Four Seasons, Bruce Springsteen.
Soul and R&B: The Miracles, Otis Redding, Irma Thomas, Marvin Gaye.
Punk and new wave: The Clash, Johnny Thunders, Elvis Costello, Blondie.
Of course there were the popular standards with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Jerry Vale. And just cool choices like “Sally Go Round the Roses” by the Jaynetts.
Quite a range of coolness, and that’s only scratching the surface.
There’s one more critically important fact that proves indisputably former drummer Chase’s dedication to music: Without it, me and Frankie Valli would have never been on the show. So on behalf of all those drooling degenerate denizens of the Bada Bing, thank you, David.
(Actor and guitarist “Little” Steven Van Zandt, a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and host of the syndicated radio show “Underground Garage,” plays Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos,” which begins its final season Sunday.)