From ‘The OC’ to ‘One Tree Hill’: the naff noughties shows with improbably cool soundtracks

A tribute to the sublime songs of 'Sons of Anarchy', 'Friday Night Lights', 'Gilmore Girls' and more

Turns out that sometimes the Devil really does has the best tunes; especially if the devil in question is naff American telly dramas from the noughties. Here are some of the best.

‘One Tree Hill’ (2003-2012)

What? Where ‘Dawson’s Creek’ left off, ‘One Tree Hill’ followed with its angst-ridden American teen drama. In the seemingly sleepy town of Tree Hill in North Carolina there was a disproportionately high amount of murders, affairs, twenty-something millionaires and puke-worthy one-liners. Despite some terrible musical interludes (one of the characters, Hayley James, is a singer songwriter of utterly cringe-worthy proportions) the sonics are saved by her friend Peyton Sawyer, a punk rock kid disguised as a cheerleader. The soundtrack takes its cues from her musical tastes, and at one point in her senior year, she even dates Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy. Incredible. Oh and let’s not forget Gavin DeGraw’s iconic Aerosmith-style theme tune.

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Coolest songs: In the pilot alone there’s Dashboard Confessional, Finch and The Ataris; remember, this was the decade where emo reigned. In Season One there’s a scene where Peyton learns to box with her new-found biological brother who is also a Marine and the producers use AFI’s ‘Prelude 12/21’ as her fight music. Slacker rockers Nada Surf’s ‘Always Love’ also makes a welcome appearance and Welsh punks Mclusky’s ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’ works wonders as Peyton pouts over her webcam. Other joys include emo stalwarts The Get Up Kids‘ ‘Overdue’, the soundtrack to many a teenage heartbreak.

Most emoshe musical moment: Led Zeppelin’s ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ frames a high-speed limo crash on Hayley’s wedding day. It’s seriously one of the best TV soundtracks out there, very unexpectedly.

‘Sons of Anarchy’ (2008-2014)

What? Parts of ‘SOA’ are pretty cool, after all it’s full of Harleys, giant biker dudes and the all the drama you’d expect with an edgy motorcycle club. But Jax Teller (played Brit actor Charlie Hunnam) has such a terrible American accent and awful John Wayne-esque walk that it veers into WTF territory on waaay too many occasions. Not to mention the fact that a lot happens in every episode; we’re talking multiple murders that seem effortless to cover up, strippers galore, drug cartels run-ins, regular prison time (actual Marilyn Manson plays an inmate during later seasons) and the intricacies of maintaining a code of conduct when you’re just, y’know, trying to be bros. But the soundtrack and the drama are perfectly intertwined – it’s full of bluesy country-tinged riffs and some truly brilliant covers.

Coolest songs: Nineties pop-saxophonist crooner Curtis Stigers’ cover of gospel classic ‘John The Revelator’ is a dark bluegrass delight. Katey Segal (who plays Teller’s mother, Gemma) sings a few cracking covers like ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Greensleeves’, her gravelly tones ensuring they never sound saccharine and The White Buffalo’s cover of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ is eerily haunting and exquisite.

Most emoshe musical moment: ‘Gimme Shelter’ by Paul Brady and The Forest Rangers plays whilst Jax’s baby son is kidnapped by the IRA at the end of season two. It’s dramatic AF and the gentle bluesy guitars suit it to perfection.

‘The OC’ (2003-2007)

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What? Like ‘One Tree Hill’, ‘The OC’ came along to fill a post-‘Dawson’s Creek’ TV world where teenagers had a lot of feelings. Protagonist and troubled teen Ryan Atwood gets involved with wealthy, upper-class types in Orange County, California and all kinds of mainly romantic drama begins to escalate. But it also provided some apt pop culture commentary on class and status along the way. ‘The OC’ quickly became cult viewing, even though it was pretty unbelievable and poorly acted. But, the soundtrack was pretty darn good and The Killers, The Subways and Death Cab For Cutie even made live appearances.

Coolest songs: The theme tune by Phantom Planet ‘California’ is linked to this show for eternity thanks to those sun-tinged surf-town vibes. The rest of the soundtrack has a few surprises in store too, namely US alt-rockers Eels ‘Christmas Is Going To The Dogs’ and indie-weirdo Beck’s ‘Scarecrow’ adding a little palatable noise. The eclectic sounds of Imogen Heap’s ‘Goodnight And Go’ sets the scene for teenage emo drama perfectly with the prettiest of melodies.

Most emoshe musical moment: ‘Forever Young’ by Youth Group provided a gentle alt soundtrack to Ryan and next-door neighbour Marissa’s break-up. ‘The OC’ soundtrack always cradles the drama and never surpasses the action – it was done very well indeed.

‘Gilmore Girls’ (2000-2007)

What? Something of an American classic, ‘Gilmore Girls’ has twee dialogue and annoying characters by the bucketloads; it’s also seriously un-PC, looking back. It focuses around single mum Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory, mostly escaping from their overbearing grandparents and trying to just, well, function. Nothing much happens in Stars Hollow, the fictional town they live in, but the show does get some great cameos from Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach who plays deadbeat dad rocker Gil, plus a performance from Sonic Youth.

Coolest songs: The iconic theme tune to this show was first released on US singer-songwriter Carole King on her album ‘Tapestry’ in 1971 but was re-recorded as a duet between King and her daughter Louise Goffin for Gilmore Girls. It’s pretty cheesy and nostalgic, but Britpop tracks like Elastica’s ‘Car Song’ and Ash’s ‘Girl From Mars’ (and even German Industrial noisemakers Rammstein and ska-punks Rancid) make things much better.

Most emoshe musical moment: When a teenage Rory first kisses bad-boy Jess whilst XTC’s indie stylings on ‘Then She Appeared’ sway in the background. It was a magical moment. Truly. Honestly.

‘Nashville’ (2012-2018)

What? This show tells the tale of singer-songwriters trying to make it big in the country music capital of the world. Some of the acting is dire, some of the cheese is next-level, but some of the music is incredible. Think beautiful heartfelt country melodies that stay with you and some epic hip-slapping duets to boot. Cowboy boots that is, and they’re in abundance.

Coolest songs: Much of the show’s musical greatness comes down to the stars of the show. Singer-songwriter Lennon Stella plays Maddie Conrad alongside her real-life little sister Maisie Stella (who plays Daphne Conrad) and musically they steal the show. Their duet of ‘A Life That’s Good’ is earnest, honest country music at its best. Juliette Barnes (played by Hayden Panettiere) is pretty decent, with country pop songs like ‘Love Like Mine’ that make you cringe and stomp your foot at the same time. ‘Black Roses’, performed by Australian singer Clare Bowen, who plays the oh-so-annoying Scarlett O’Connor is breathy, lilting and haunting in the best way.

Most emoshe moment: ‘No One Will Ever Love You’, sung by Connie Britton (who plays country star Rayna James) and Charles Esten (her long-time guitarist and love interest), is a genuinely beautiful, sleepy 1970s-style country love song.

‘Friday Night Lights’ (2006-2011)

What? By all accounts ‘Friday Night Lights’ – the story of American high school football wars – should be terrible. But weirdly, it’s not. It has cheesy moments and is often ridiculous, but the tenderness and moments of reality elevate it to the point of being cult perfection. The soundtrack delivers by way of being just about noticeable to compliment the action without ever being obtrusive.

Coolest songs: What’s interesting is the softness of the soundtrack – they could have gone down the whole jock-rock vibe or rammed it full of emo teenage melodies, but they held back. US singer-songwriter Tony Lucca’s cover of Daniel Johnston‘s ‘Devil Town’ feels eerily poignant.

Most emoshe moment: Weirdly, it’s the show’s instrumental theme tune by Explosions In The Sky; ‘Your Hand In Mine.’ Its elegant melodies feels as emotionally complex as the show itself often is.

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