Although there are many elements that make a TV show stand out, there is no doubt that a well-crafted soundtrack is a fundamental component — it creates emotion, accentuates its intensity, and sets the tone of a dramatic scene.
Many series feature background scores that beautifully capture a character’s feelings; others, on the other hand, are masters at needle-dropping, which means they use pre-existing, usually popular songs in a scene, making it twice as memorable. From “Welcome to the Machine” in Person of Interest to “In the Air Tonight” in Miami Vice, Reddit looks back at some of television’s most iconic needle drops.
10 ‘Person of Interest’ (2011-2016) — “Welcome to the Machine” by Pink Floyd
In this intriguing sci-fi action series created by Jonathan Nolan, an ex-CIA agent teams up with a billionaire software engineer utilizing an artificial intelligence called “The Machine” to stop threats before they happen while simultaneously escaping the Government’s pursuit.
When asked about their all-time favorite needle drop in a TV series, inkista picked a scene in the 22nd episode of the fourth season of Person of Interest. “Person of Interest and Pink Floyd’s ‘Welcome to the Machine’ in the Season 4 finale, ‘YWHW.’ (that clip, btw, is major spoilers if you haven’t watched POI),” the user explained.
9 ‘Six Feet Under’ (2001-2005) — “Breathe Me” by Sia
A charming, satirical, dark, and at times highly emotional comedy-drama by the brilliant mind of Alan Ball, Six Feet Under invites viewers to take a look inside the lives of a dysfunctional family who owns an independent funeral home in Los Angeles.
“Everyone’s Waiting,” the last episode in the series, lives rent-free in the heads of many Redditors, and that is also thanks to a heartwrenching scene that remains the show’s most memorable. “‘Breathe Me’ by Sia during the closing montage of Six Feet Under,” Sam_Snead_My_God wrote, to which a now-deleted account replied, “That closing montage. I didn’t expect the onions.”
8 ‘The Americans’ (2013 – 2018) — “With or Without You” by U2
Created by Joe Weisberg, The Americans is a critically acclaimed series set in the 1980s, centering around the professional and personal lives of a married couple of Russian deep-cover agents placed in Washington, D.C., posing as the average American family alongside their two American-born children.
While Fleetwood Mac‘s “Tusk” playing right at the beginning of the series (severely mentioned on the platform as well) was also a top-notch needle drop, the perfect usage of U2‘s “With or Without You” stands undefeated, making for a very touching moment. “The Americans’ series finale use of With or Without You in the train scene and everything that happens while it’s still playing. Fantastic,” LineLiar remarked.
7 ‘The Leftovers’ (2014-2017) — “Retrograde” by James Blake
A widely popular supernatural drama television series HBO original show, The Leftovers takes place in the aftermath of the disappearance of 2% of the global human population, depicting a group of people in a New York community as they attempt to cope with such disastrous events.
“The Leftovers has a bunch of these,” blinkincontenst wrote when asked about their favorite needle drop, proceeding to highlight the “S1E1 scene with the Guilty Remnant arriving at the parade with James Blake – Retrograde.” The Damon Lindelof series is among the best of its genre, and its incredible soundtrack just makes it even better. On the same thread, a user couldn’t help praising the usage of A-ha‘s “Take on Me” in another episode.
6 ‘Stranger Things’ (2016-2024) — “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash
Netflix hit Stranger Things premiered back in 2016 to amazing viewership numbers, becoming one of the most popular series streaming on the platform. Set in the 1980s and featuring amazing set and costume design, impeccable acting, and a totally tubular soundtrack, the Duffer Brothers‘ sci-fi show centers around the residents of the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, and the underlying mysteries and supernatural forces that haunt it.
Although Stranger Things deals with many different topics ranging from terrifying D&D demogorgons to 1980s nostalgia, meaningful connections are always at its center. That said, the scene in which Charlie Heaton‘s Jonathan introduces Noah Schnapp‘s Will to one of his favorite songs makes for quite a thoughtful sibling moment. “Should I Stay or Should I Go in Stranger Things season 1 was remarkable. But I’m sure there’s many others,” DarrenRand commented.
5 ‘The Umbrella Academy’ (2019-2023) — “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany
A family of six former child heroes — now grown apart and almost thirty years old — reunite upon the news of their seventh sibling’s passing. They must work together in order to solve a mystery surrounding their father’s death and a global apocalypse that threatens to destroy the world.
American singer and comic book writer Gerard Way is the mind behind the quirky, highly entertaining Netflix show The Umbrella Academy. On Reddit, a user couldn’t help mentioning the unforgettable song usages in the series. “Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Umbrella Academy yet,” dmar2 said. “Istanbul or ‘I think we’re alone now’ are both iconic to that series now. Every needle drop in that show really.”
4 ‘Black Mirror’ (2011 – 2019) — “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle
While the British anthology sci-fi series Black Mirror is known for delivering disturbingly mind-bending episodes, “San Junipero” was a pleasant surprise. Set in 1987, the episode narrates a socially awkward Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and extrovert Kelly’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) heartwarming love affair after visiting the beach town.
A deeply moving love story that transcends time is only worthy of songs that are just as memorable, and users on Reddit seem to agree. “San Junipero: “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” Can’t not think about that episode whenever I hear that song,” cherbearblue said.
3 ‘Breaking Bad’ (2008-2013) — “Baby Blue” by Badfinger
One of HBO’s finest original shows to date, the critically praised crime drama series Breaking Bad narrates the life of Bryan Cranston‘s iconic protagonist, chemistry teacher Walter White, as he is diagnosed with advanced and inoperable lung cancer and turns to manufacture drugs with a student to guarantee his family’s future.
Although the beloved show’s soundtrack features tons of unforgettable hits like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells, as mentioned by a user, the track that stands out the most is arguably “Baby Blue” by Badfinger. According to UnitedFiberMachines, “the lyrics lined up so well with each frame. With the last high note on ‘Executive Producer Vince Gilligan’ too.”
2 ‘Scrubs’ (2001 – 2010) — “How To Save a Life” by The Fray
With the fictional teaching hospital Sacred Heart at its center, the comedy-drama Scrubs, created by Bill Lawrence, chronicles the days in the lives of employees and interns (including Zach Braff‘s John “J.D.” Dorian) as they learn the ways of medicine and life.
Users on Reddit, including tregorman, believe that The Fray’s “How To Save a Life” made for a remarkable needle drop in the series, and for good reason. Counting more than two million views on Youtube, the scene in which the song is featured is very touching and thus likely to stay with the viewers for a long time.
1 ‘Miami Vice’ (1984-1989) — “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
Starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, Anthony Yerkovich‘s Miami Vice centers around two undercover detectives and the rest of their team as they wander through the streets of Miami, Florida. According to many, the series holds up pretty well almost 39 years later.
When it comes to first-class needle drops, Phil Collins‘ classic soft rock ’80s hit “In the Air Tonight” comes to mind. “Goose bumps everytime I rewatch it,” a user commented regarding the moment in the series in which it plays. Currently, the scene sums up more than 4 million views on Youtube.
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