By: Bob Thiele Jr.
“Coal War” by Joshua James: I introduced the music of Joshua James to [Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter] at the beginning of season 3. We were looking for an artist to sing “No Milk Today” (season 3 opening montage) and I thought JJ ideal. There is an inherent yearning quality in his voice, very emotive without the sentimentality. A kind of stoic resignation to the human condition if I want to really over-analyze. Kurt became a fan so when he had finished writing episode 401, he knew he wanted powerful music to underscore the action. Obviously, the opening line, “Ain’t cutting my hair to the good Lord comes…” speaks directly to Jax’s new haircut. But more important, I think that same quality of non-sentimentality in JJ’s voice spoke to the narrative. SAMCRO is back, out of jail. They’ve served their time. It’s only mildly celebratory. Which strikes me as being totally in character with our guys….
“What a Wonderful World” by Alison Mosshart and the Forest Rangers: My father actually co-wrote this song. Obviously, it’s a classic song for a wedding. Or funeral for that matter. Kurt wrote it into the script as follows:
We hear a Bob Thiele Junior cover of Bob Thiele Senior’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD. We begin our MUSIC MONTAGE as Opie and Lyla slow dance, sweethearts —
The fun part for me was trying to conceptualize the song in a context that was true to the song but original without becoming over sentimental. Look, no one is ever going to beat Louis Armstrong. But if you’re going to take on the song, best to stay as far away from Satchmo as possible, and that is what I tried to do. I was so blown away by Alison Mosshart’s vocal. It was one of the high points of the season, and I told her in all honesty that I think my father would’ve really dug how she took it on.
“Los Tiempos Van Cambiando (The Times They Are a-Changin’)” by Franky Perez and los Guardianes del Bosque (a.k.a. the Forest Rangers): Kurt wrote this into the script. Again, big changes for our guys. And so the times are a-changin’ as the core biz of SAMCRO — guns — is going to be taking a backseat to drug muling for the cartel. The fact that the song is rendered in Spanish takes us out of the old “on the nose” musical use. For most people, it was not an instantaneous connection that the song was in fact Bob Dylan’s. It was oddly familiar. Soothing. (Again, Kurt’s sense of irony … some bad shit would be coming as a result of this choice.) And of course, the use of the traditional Mexican instrumentation just adds to the richness of the scene.
“Family” by Noah Gundersen: This is all Kurt. He found Noah on one of his weekly iTunes searches. Apparently, Kurt goes on iTunes and looks into all the new releases by singer-songwriters. He listens to samples and if he likes, he buys. Noah really touched Kurt, and we used a couple of his songs this season. There is a fantastic line at the end of the song… “The men who watch them like hungry black eels…” This fell on the scene in which Unser is sneaking on to Tara and Jax’s driveway to put the note on Tara’s car. Slithering would be a better way to describe his approach…
“House of the Rising Sun” by the White Buffalo and the Forest Rangers: Where to begin? Speaks on so many levels to what has been going on over the first four seasons. There’s a sense of finality inherent in this song. But it is not the actual end. Just the realization that this is the place where our protagonist(s) will spend the rest of their days. The final act has begun.
Also, when considered with “Coal War” (which began the season) you have great bookends. “Coal War” has the determined defiance. “House of the Rising Sun” has the stoic acceptance of one’s fate. There’s not a lot of sentimental longing in any of this. Also of note, Kurt wrote specific lyrics. Here the music is no longer an implied character doing its part to serve the narrative. The music becomes a character every bit as much as the actors we see on the screen.
“What a Wonderful World,” “Los Tiempos Van Cambiando (The Times They Are a-Changin’),” and “House of the Rising Sun” are available on the recently released soundtrack Songs of Anarchy: Music from Sons of Anarchy Season 1-4. For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.