Turn it up. That’s enough. So you know it’s got soul.

July 17, 2009

Surely one of the greatest purchases I ever made in my life was the complete box set of “The West Wing,” which I know I’m not the only fan of. If you haven’t watched the show, I can only say spend the pretty penny and get into the series now, or at the very least, fill up your Netflix queue. 

As far as the debate goes about which direction the show headed after Aaron Sorkin left following the 4th season, yeah a lot of the humor was traded for heavy drama, but don’t tell me you weren’t loving following the Santos campaign. 

Of course, the one thing that kind of stunk following Sorkin’s departure was the flair for really good music to back comedic and dramatic moments. Sorkin’s always seemed to boast a good ear for a tune — it was “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” that introduced me to Corinne Bailey Rae and has forever implanted “Trouble Sleeping” deep in my psychosis. 

With “The West Wing,” Sorkin had a good go-to guy in “Snuffy” Walden (who wrote the show’s majestic theme song) to provide proper musical accompaniment to tense or funny moments. But that didn’t mean he shied away from dipping into his own CD collection to make things just a bit more salient, either. 

Usually I hate the use of “contemporary” pop music in television and movies (particularly the way people like Cameron Crowe use it in things such as “Vanilla Sky” as if to say, “Look what great taste I have in music!”). Maybe that’s the same thing that Sorkin does, really… but I love Aaron Sorkin, so there.

For this month’s Friday Five, we look at five of the best musical moments from “The West Wing.”


The Friday Five
Rocking the West Wing

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
Song can be heard on: Season 2, Episode 22: “Two Cathedrals”
Song can be found on: Brothers in Arms

Poignant as all hell. Bartlet has just lost his faithful friend and secretary Delores Landingham in a car accident. He also just disclosed to the country that he’s suffered from multiple sclerosis for years, but never let the American people know while on campaign or in the White House. Staff is trying to perform damage control, but all the press wants to know is if he’s going to have the stones to try running for re-election. C.J. plants a doctor in the audience to try to get the first question to be a medical one and try to control the press conference. Bartlet brushes off the plant and takes the re-election question instead. And the second season ends. What you don’t get from this clip is a flashback from earlier in Bartlet’s life — where Landingham points out that whenever he puts his hands in his pockets and smirks, it means he’s made up his mind to do something. Mark Knopfler’s poor man Bob Dylan impression blends in perfectly. 
Best exchange:
Bartlet: “I’m sorry, Sandy, there was a bit of noise there. Could you repeat the question?”
Reporter: “Can you tell us right now if you’ll be seeking a second term?”
Leo: “Watch this.”

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
Song can be heard on: Season 3, Episode 22: “Posse Comitatus”
Song can be found on: Grace

Yes, I know, Buckley’s reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has become a staple for almost every quasi-emotional season finale out there, and maybe it’s my preference for both Jeff and “The West Wing” that led me to include it in this list, but it’s hard to argue with the emotional weight the song adds to the scene. After learning that her stalker has been apprehended, C.J. realizes she can finally start seeing the special agent assigned to her, Simon Donovan, socially. C.J. has to join the President and staff to see a performance of the “The War of Roses,” and Donovan patiently waits outside, then drops by a convenience store to buy her flowers. What he thinks is an unlucky twist of fate for a mugger ends up being an unlucky twist of fate for him as the mugger’s partner jumps out from hiding. C.J. is told the news, Shakespearean dialogue reverberates, Josh costs Amy her job and Bartlet is pressed to make a decision on whether or not to covertly kill a known terrorist. “Hallelujah” somehow makes beautiful sense.
Best exchange: 
Josh: “You can’t win the White House while the middle class thinks you disdain work and responsibility!”
Amy: “I would hope not. And I congratulate you for punishing poor women as a symbol of the strength of mainstream values!” 

Massive Attack – Angel
Song can be heard on: Season 4, Episode 22: “Commencement”
Song can be found on: Mezzanine

The Britpop outsiders (don’t even tell Massive Attack they were Britpop) provide the perfect atmospheric backdrop as tension mounts between Josh’s girlfriend and his long devoted secretary, Donna. Bartlet’s youngest daughter Zoey celebrates her Georgetown graduation with her slimeball of a French boyfriend, Jean-Paul, who dopes her up on ecstasy. Danny Kincannon grills C.J. to find out if the White House covertly killed a terrorist. And then all hell breaks loose as Zoey goes kidnapped in the exact way her father predicted in Season 1. It’s chilling and it makes you glad to have the DVDs, because I can only imagine waiting weeks and months to find out what happened next at this point of the story was veritable torture. 
Best exchange:
Donna: “His sister died in a fire while she was babysitting him. She tried to put it out, he ran outside. He went off campaigning, his father died. He wakes up in the hospital and discovers the President’s been shot. He goes through everyday worried that someone he likes is gonna die, and it’s gonna be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast? Anyway, when you looked at the list of replacements, and said, ‘That’s a windfall,’ what he heard was, ‘Thank you, Josh, you did it again. More for us.'”
Amy: “You said, ‘You have to get Josh…'”
Donna: “Yeah. That was — I didn’t mean to say that you don’t … get him.”
Amy: “Are you in love with Josh?”

Ronny Jordan (feat. Dana Bryant) – The Jackal
Song can be heard on: Season 1, Episode 18: “Six Meetings Before Lunch”
Song can be found on: The Quiet Revolution

Perhaps one of the show’s most defining moments — to celebrate the confirmation of Mendoza as the Bartlet administration’s first appointment to the Supreme Court, C.J. breaks out an old lip-synching act she used to do on the campaign trail, much to the delight of the rest of the West Wing — particularly her male counterparts. The cut was originally pulled from Ronny Jordan’s 1993 album The Quiet Revolution, and apparently both Allison Janney and Richard Schiff used to lip-synch and air-guitar (respectively) to this song in Janney’s trailer. Sorkin popped in on them once during a performance and got such a kick out of it, he wrote it into the show. Millions were gratified.
Best exchange:
Josh: “There’s a little speed bump with Jeff Breckenridge. Leo gave it to me ’cause he thinks you’re burned out on Mendoza. I told him I thought that was ridiculous. What do you think?”
Toby: “You’re talking to me during ‘The Jackal’?”
Josh:  “I was just –”
Toby: “Never talk to me during ‘The Jackal’!” 

Van Morrison – Caravan
Song can be heard on: Season 3, Episode 21: “We Killed Yamamoto”
Song can be found on: Moondance

The chemistry between Josh and Amy Gardner is almost there — they’re all set to spend Sunday together, but as always, a snafu gets in the way of Josh’s romantic happiness and Donna tells him he has to get back to the office for a meeting. “Caravan” has always been one of the best things in the Van man’s arsenal, so it was nice to get to see it appreciated. For what it’s worth, Mary-Louise Parker has never looked sexier than she does in this scene. Well, almost never. And yes, I kind of dance like she does to this song.
Best exchange:
Donna: “How does a person get to Bismarck?”
Josh: “The Iditarod, Donna. They have an airport. It’s the capitol.”


Have a good weekend, all.


  1. Oh yes, one of the best TV shows ever. The Jackal… my goodness, that was HOT HOT HOT. I’ve read that Janney had to tone it DOWN because it was too sexy for prime time TV.

  2. […] Photo via […]

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