HBO’s hit series, The Sopranos, changed the world of television forever with its impeccable writing and stunning performances, and today, it ranks as one of the greatest dramas of all time. Created by David Chase, James Gandolfini stars in his breakthrough role as New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, who struggles with the overwhelming stress and anxiety that comes with his unconventional career choice and being the patriarch of the Soprano family.
The show is undoubtedly noted for its lengthy list of memorable characters and controversial series finale; The Sopranos is also credited for its wide variety of songs and epic needle drops. The Sopranos features some of the greatest needle drops in television and musical moments, including the show’s opening theme. Out of the show’s dozens of popular songs set to signature scenes, these 10 needle drops in The Sopranos are the best.
The following article contains spoilers for The Sopranos.
1 “Wheel in the Sky” — Season 2, Episode 10
In the episode, ‘Bust Out,’ Paulie (Tony Sirico) finds out that an eyewitness has come forward who can supposedly identify Tony leaving the scene of Matt’s murder. While Tony prepares to be arrested potentially, he and the guys run Davey’s (Robert Patrick) store into bankruptcy while Richie (David Proval), who isn’t happy with his cut, approaches Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) about eliminating Tony.
Journey’s hit song, “Wheel in the Sky” is featured twice in the episode. The first is when Carmela (Edie Falco) is having the house wallpapered, and again in the episode’s final scene of Tony and AJ out on the boat. Both Tony and Carmela find themselves at a crossroads in “Bust Out,” that could change their lives forever, but the song serves as a reminder that life goes on no matter what someone does today or chooses to do tomorrow.
2 “Tiny Tears” — Season 1, Episode 12
With Big Pussy (Vincent Pastore) nowhere to be found, Tony falls into a deep depression while Uncle Junior figures out that his nephew has not only been calling the shots behind his back but also seeing a psychiatrist. Junior takes advantage of Tony’s vulnerable state and puts a hit out on him, but his plan backfires as the near-death experience jolts Tony back to life.
In the episode “Isabella,” Tony’s been experiencing some side effects of his new medication and has almost been living in a distant daze, but everything switches into high gear when two gunmen ambush him. The slow-motion shootout is perfectly paired with the song “Tiny Tears” by Tindersticks, which highlights the moment Tony snaps back to reality and fights off both assassins.
3 “This Magic Moment” — Season 6, Episode 13
Tony and Carmela travel to Bobby’s (Steve Schirripa) family cabin in upstate New York for the weekend to celebrate Janice’s (Aida Turturro) birthday, but what starts as a fun family get-together is quickly ruined after Tony instigates a fight with Bobby and gets beaten. As an unspoken form of punishment, Tony asks Bobby to take care of a guy for him in Montreal, changing Bobby and his simple life forever.
When Bobby returns from Montreal in “Sopranos Home Movies,” the picturesque setting of his family and his father’s cabin, set a nostalgic tone accompanied by the classic song “This Magic Moment” by The Drifters. The moment is painfully bittersweet as Bobby happily picks up his daughter moments after just taking away a life with the same hands. While staring out into the lake, he clutches her close in his arms and takes a moment to know that the days of his simple family life and innocence are over.
4 “Glad Tidings” — Season 5, Episode 13
When Tony’s cousin, Tony B (Steve Buscemi), kills the brother of New York capo, Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent), Tony is caught in the middle. The stressful situation begins to weigh on him as New York boss Johnny Sack (Vincent Curtola) pressures him to reveal where Tony B is hiding out. Tony knows what needs to be done, and to keep his cousin from suffering, he decides to make an unexpected house call on behalf of New York instead.
In the show’s Season 5 finale, “All Due Respect,” the upbeat song “Glad Tidings” by Van Morrison plays as Tony B returns to Uncle Pat’s farm where he’s been lying low. As he approaches the front door, the song is cut short by Tony, who fires a shotgun at his cousin and kills him instantly. Morrison’s cheerful song also provides an ominous greeting to the moment with the lyrics, “And we’ll send you glad tidings from New York, Open your eyes so that you may see.”
5 “White Rabbit” — Season 1, Episode 7
When AJ gets in trouble at school, Tony starts to worry about his behavior and if he knows the truth about his job in waste management. The incident leads to Tony sharing stories from his childhood with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), including when he secretly discovered what his father did for a living, and his mother threatened to stick a fork in his eye. One morning, he’s suddenly awakened by Carmela and the kids shouting.
As Tony drags himself to the bathroom sink in the episode “Down Neck,” he reaches for his medication, and the song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane begins to build. As he stares into the mirror, the scene shifts to the 1960s, much like Alice going through the Looking-Glass into another world and time. At the end of the episode, ‘White Rabbit’ plays again as Tony and AJ make ice cream sundaes together, symbolizing the similarities between Tony and his son.
6 “Thru and Thru” — Season 2, Episode 13
After confirming his suspicions of Big Pussy talking to the F.B.I., Tony, Paulie, and Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) take him out on a boat to confront him. He tearfully admits the truth, but despite coming clean, he and his friends know he’s finally getting that waterfront property he always wanted. After disposing of his body in the ocean, the guys return to shore and go about their day as usual.
At the end of the episode “Funhouse,” everyone has gathered at the Soprano house for Meadow’s graduation party. As people cheerfully converse with each other, the happy occasion is paired with the somber song “Thru and Thru” by The Rolling Stones. No one seems to notice Big Pussy’s absence. As the camera gradually pans through the crowd, the frame stops on Tony, who appears at ease while casually lighting a cigar and capturing a phenomenal close-up shot of Gandolfini.
7 “Comfortably Numb” — Season 6, Episode 18
After meeting with Phil over disposing of construction waste, Tony and Christopher (Michael Imperioli) discuss the situation on the drive home, but Tony’s attention soon turns to Christopher as he notices his restless behavior. While Christopher obsesses over the radio station and drifts into the other lane, Tony realizes that he’s high on drugs, and his past concerns and doubts about his nephew resurface.
In the episode “Kennedy and Heidi,” Christopher finally settles on the song “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, performed by Roger Waters, Van Morrison, and The Band. Chris doesn’t notice Tony sizing him up, realizing he’s driving under the influence. The title, of course, speaks to Christopher’s current state of mind and Tony’s inability to reach him, but the lyrics, “The child has grown, The dream is gone,” eerily correlates with Christopher’s unfortunate demise as well as the inevitable fate that awaits him.
8 “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” — Season 4, Episode 5
When Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) buys a racehorse, Pie-O-My, Tony realizes he has a knack for betting on the ponies and even takes a liking to Pie-O-My. Tony’s involvement with Pie starts to irritate Ralphie. When he receives a call in the middle of the night about Pie needing medical treatment, he decides to let Tony handle the situation and pick up the veterinary’s bill after kicking up a bigger portion of Pie’s winning to him.
In the premiere of Season 4, “For All Debts Public and Private,” Tony is seen watching the classic Western, Rio Bravo, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson. The Western is known for the mellow duet between Martin and Nelson, “My Rifle, My Pony and Me,” which begins to play at the end of the episode “Pie-O-My.” The song gradually sets the tranquil scene as Tony comforts Pie with her goat friend, hoping his presence will put her at ease.
9 “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” — Season 5, Episode 10
When Janice gets arrested, she’s ordered by the courts to attend anger management which surprisingly helps Janice control her temper. Tony isn’t fully convinced of his sister turning over a new leaf, and during family dinner at Bobby and Janice’s house, he decides to test Janice. Nothing gets to her until Tony brings up her son, Harpo, who was raised by his father, and when Tony starts impersonating his nephew crying for his mom, Janice snaps and launches across the table at Tony.
Tony can’t help himself in the episode “Cold Cuts,” as he leaves Janice and her family in hysterics, the song “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” by The Kinks begins to play, signing towards Tony’s misplaced sense of pride. The scene is hilarious and disheartening as Bobby and his kids watch the altercation around the dinner table. Tony leaves with a grin and appears unphased by the destruction he unleashed for his personal amusement.
10 ‘It Was a Very Good Year’ — Season 2, Episode 1
Several months after Uncle Junior’s arrest and Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) being hospitalized, Tony thinks the source of his problems is gone and is no longer seeing Dr. Melfi. Now officially acting boss, nothing seems to have drastically changed in Tony’s life, but when his youngest sister, Janice, shows up to care for their mother, Tony’s pleasant mood begins sour.
The premiere episode of Season 2, “Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office,” opens with a poetic montage set to Frank Sinatra’s famous tune, “It Was a Very Good Year,” while showing the current status of each character at a new phase in their lives. According to The Sopranos creator David Chase, the song was also chosen as a humorous nod to the show’s surprisingly popular first season and is one of the few times the show uses music as a meta-commentary.
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