It's not like this is the first time this has happened. Let's just get that out of the way. But I am about to make an argument--one that some people may be tired of--that certain musical hits--especially works important to the course of music history--should be sacred. That is, you shouldn't be able to easily buy the rights to certain songs and then use them as the theme to your middling HBO dramedy, for instance, even if the composer of the song is OK with it and wants the money. The public should get to weigh in. Or at least take the producers of said show to task for such behavior if it's a blatantly atrocious move.
Here's my jumping off point: Now that the current season is about to end, I think it's high time to rake over the coals executive producer Tom Hanks and his use of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" as the theme song to the show "Big Love."
"God Only Knows" doesn't just mean a lot to music history--it's arguably the Beach Boys's most inventive but popular composition, save from a few other "Pet Sounds" tracks. And it just so happens to mean a lot to me and my fiance. (There; we said it. We're cheeseballs who also love harmonic analysis. Got it?) Anyway, "God Only Knows" is a song that we have (privately) made ours for personal reasons. (Though, God isn't part of those reasons; let me say that, too.) This may all sound lame, but that's the power of pop music, and that's why songwriters create tunes like this. The goal is to create something universally personal.
But by attaching a song like this to a manipulative soap opera like "Big Love"--to the entirety of the multi-season series, whose titles begin with a bizarrely stupid scene showing a polygamist and his sister wives skating on thin ice--the producers of the show have attached fictional scenes and pictures and characters and themes to this song. When we hear "God Only Knows" now, it's hard for watchers of the show to separate it from "Big Love." It's just too famous and so-called "absolute" a song for it to be victimized by such semantic manipulation. And yet no one pipes up.
Look: We (fans) don't own the song any more than "Big Love" does--in fact, we own it less because "Big Love" likely paid Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys a princely sum to use the music. I know that. But we also don't broadcast to the world images of our lives--or worse, our lame narratives--with "God Only Knows" in the background. We don't rape the song of its absolute brilliance--of its ability to mean something different to different people--and render it a semiotic aid for one particular narrative that needs a lot of help.
If "God Only Knows" means something to us, the meaning is private. But "Big Love" has made it a public statement--an anthem that some people may now attach to religious fanatacism, polygamy, silly dramedys, Bill Paxton, Chloe Sevigny, Utah, ice-skating, etc. (I've just begun to associate it with mediocre TV, and that's a lot worse than all of the above.)
Frankly, I don't mind "Big Love." I think it's a middling show--watchable but not terrible.
But I also think that the producers should be publicly reprimanded for using a popular and meaningful and important song like this to draw in an audience. "The Sopranos" didn't need to abuse music this way--David Chase used an obscure song as his series theme; his show stood on its own two feet. So, too, David Milch for John from Cincinnati; though his show was terribly confusing and at times unwatchable, the Joe Strummer-song "Johnny Appleseed" was the best part and never had the ability to help it along.
Not only are there lots of songs to be used for TV that might never win popularity without a creative music supervisor's suggestion; there are great composers around to write original music for such shows.
The egregious kicker? "Big Love" even has the gall to keep innovator David Byrne on as the show's fulltime composer but the producers don't use his music for its theme. It's not just cheap but sad. The decision trivializes a song that means everything to many music lovers and pop historians. That's how nervous the producers were about finding an audience and making money. All I can wonder is: What's next? An edgy, button-pushing dramedy about yoga teachers in LA who use their Los Feliz studio as a front for a terrorist cell introduced every week by John Lennon's "Instant Karma?"
Why Glass Shallot?
Because we've now opened the music supervision division of the company, and can actually suggest songs that aren't on everyone's favorite mixtape.