Music in Supernatural and Character Theme Songs
Music in Supernatural has been an ever-present, essential part of the story telling. The pilot episode, stocked as it was with drama and Winchester history, managed to make that clear. In the iconic moment that found Sam mocking Dean’s cassette collection and the ‘mullet rock’ it contained, and Dean defiantly blaring “Back in Black” over his brother’s protests, the audience learned that “driver picks the music, and shotgun shuts his cakehole.” Music, loud, mad, or sad, has followed the brothers from that first journey in the Impala. Dozens of musician aliases later, music is still there.
Sometimes music cleverly set the mood. Dean hummed “Dueling Banjos” when he found Sam in the grips of the Benders (or at least he was supposed to). The brothers escaped from Special Agent Victor Henricksen to Styx’s “Renegade.” Sam spent a hundred Tuesdays waking up to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” and found relief twice in “Back in Time.” To complete the black and white homage to classic monster movies, complete with a Bela Lugosi loving shapeshifter and a lederhosen-clad Dean, “Toccata and Fugue in D minor,” by Johann Sebastian Bach was played on a Casio. And of course, Dean fought an ‘alien’ that turned out to be Tinkerbell to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.
Sometimes music was a warning. “Bad Moon Rising” played under John and Sam’s argument in the Impala as they drove a broken Dean toward the hospital, just before a semi-truck smashed into the car and nearly killed her occupants. The arrival of the Seven Deadly Sins was signaled by “I Shall Not Be Moved.” A soon-to-be witch victim listened to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” on his car radio, only to have it switch to “I Put a Spell on You”. And Dean bravely encouraged his brother to sing along to “Dead or Alive” a few short hours before Dean faced that horrible, unavoidable, unsuccessful fight for his life.
Sometimes music revealed emotions. Terrified of flying, Dean hummed Metallica to calm himself while hunting a demon on a plane. Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity” accompanied Sam when he found himself forced to kill Madison, the unfortunate werewolf. Dean struggled through a year of civilian life to the strains of “Beautiful Loser.”
The characters have their melodies, some they choose, and some chosen for them. Crowley listened to “Everybody Plays a Fool” while he made himself a drink and watched newsreel footage of the Nazis. Young John Winchester was first introduced to the strains of “Ramblin’ Man.” Death walked down the street to an eerie cover of “O Death” by Jennifer Titus. And Baby, newly restored, rocketed down the road to “Back in Black.”
Bobby Singer got a theme song in the sixth season, Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler,” to go along with his own episode. It’s a fine choice for the practical, weary hunter. From his worn jeans to his flannel shirts to his trucker cap, Bobby is plain, loyal, hardworking folk, and he needs a song that is straightforward and frank. He is the voice of experience in every situation and the irritable curmudgeon that has to deal with idjits.
Dean’s music choices have dominated the show. His love of rock, hard rock especially, is unquestioned. He chose “Smoke on the Water” as a ringtone, and “Rock of Ages” as a defiant battle cry. Plenty of his dreams are set to rock, if his “Cherry Pie” backed goggling is any indication. This rock devotion has come in handy, enabling Dean to discover that one particular haunting in Texas began as a fake, because the symbol for Blue Oyster Cult was used by the authors’ of the prank in question. Dean’s tolerance for pop music is nil, but he does manage an appreciation of blues. It fills the Impala while Dean and Sam are investigating crossroads deals, and contemplating their father’s own bargain.
Of all the bands out there, it is Led Zeppelin that seems to have a special place in Dean’s heart. No doubt part of that is because of Eric Kripke’s affection for it, along with all the episode title homages, but Zeppelin is the perfect choice for Dean. The edgy, blues influenced rock can be both energetic and sorrowful. Dean teaches a traumatized little boy to say “Zeppelin Rules!” The siren that targets Dean in the guise of an FBI agent wins his respect by exchanging Zeppelin trivia. When asked by the publisher of the Supernatural book series to name Dean’s favorite song (and thereby prove himself a ‘fan’), Dean is quick to answer that “It’s a tie, between “Zep’s ‘Ramble On’ and ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’.”
Leave it to Dean to pick two songs about travel, and the search for a special woman. In “Ramble On”, the object of pursuit is “the queen of all my dreams,” and in “Traveling Riverside Blues,” “she’s a kind hearted lady, she studies evil all the time.” Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam” must be a little too despairing, even for the oft saddened Dean.
Either of his favorites could be Dean’s theme. He has been seeking after a family, a partner, a home for so long, that even when he feels unworthy of what he finds, the desire defines him. In the end, “Travelling Riverside Blues,” first recorded by Robert Johnson of supposed crossroads fame, expanded and covered by Zeppelin, seems the best choice to stand for Dean.
Sam is challenging. Even on the occasions when he is the driver, he doesn’t pick the music. The only song heard from Sam’s ipod, before Dean rips it out of the Impala, is Jason Mann’s “Vision.” When Sam does show a song preference, it’s usually a bad sign. While possessed by Meg, Sam listens to Bon Jovi. Much later, when a teenager swaps bodies with Sam, he partly gives himself away by asking Dean to turn up “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.”
Sam mentioned in the pilot episode that Dean needed to “update” his music, so he may have more modern tastes. Most of Sam’s pivotal moments on Supernatural are accompanied by scored music, except of course in the THEN montages before the episodes. Memorable recap songs have included “Hells Bells,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Lonely is the Night,” “Thunderstruck,” and of course, THE recap song, “Carry on My Wayward Son.”
Though all are good songs for Supernatural, of the group, Kansas’s “Wayward Son” is the most Sam appropriate. It could also work for Dean, but it isn’t as apt for him as his own selections. Sam has struggled throughout the series with finding the right course to take, often making the wrong choice with the best intentions. He has fought against his fate for years, but only to find tragedy at every turn: Mary’s death, Sam’s estrangement from John and Dean, Jess’s death, discovering the demonic nature of his powers, Dean’s deal and death, falling prey to Ruby, unleashing Lucifer, destiny as a vessel, over a year in hell, and now confronted by the acts of a soulless self he doesn’t remember. Sam is more than due for a little peace, so until something more appropriate comes along, “Carry on My Wayward Son” is a good choice for Sam.
The only major character with even less musical preference than Sam is Castiel. Angel radio seems to have only talk programs, so most of his musical exposure comes from the humans Castiel has come to know. He has been in the Impala with Dean, so no doubt he has heard some metal. Ellen and Jo had “Oye cómo va” on while the urged the curious angel to do shots.
Rock isn’t the traditional music associated with angels. Classical music is typical, and it can be both moving and powerful. In modern music, any song about angels is usually a soft, feminine, romantic, possibly tragic, pop construction. Unless it’s a song about fallen angels, or the Angel of Death, in which case it is allowed to rock. But neither of these really fits Castiel. He became a lonely figure after his separation from heaven, and a despairing one toward the end of the fifth season, but Castiel never stopped fighting, even when there was no reasonable hope. And though he rebelled, he has not gone Dark Side like Lucifer.
However forlorn or comical his position may sometimes be, Castiel kicks ass. He deserves a song that does the same. An edgy, dark adaptation of Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly” might do. The original is a little too slow and contemplative. It isn’t something that awes. Dio’s “Holy Diver” has possibilities. It has a quiet build that transitions to a pounding beat. Demons could be fought to it. Then there is Grim Reaper’s “Fear No Evil.” The title and the ominous lyrics are a nice tie in to the series, and the rapid tempo fits the sense of urgency so often surrounding action.
Music is always an aspect to look forward to in this series. The sixth season in bound to have at least one more memorable musical moment, not to mention another instance of “Carry on My Wayward Son.” What gems other gems should the crew try to work in? What scenes that have already past should have had special songs? Should Lucifer have menaced Earth while the Guns N Roses cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” played? Should Sam have leaped into Lucifer’s cage to Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory”? Fans can always imagine.