Last week’s installment of Game of Thrones capped off its cliffhanger ending with a rollicking Hold Steady cover of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” the medieval drinking song debuted earlier in the episode. The track, along with its Season 2 predecessor “The Rains of Castamere,” was a reminder that while film traditionally gets the lion’s share of star-powered soundtracks (“Skyfall,” anyone?) a number of prominent artists have lent their talents to crafting quality tunes for the small screen — and not just theme songs, either. Here are some of the best original tracks written and recorded by some of our favorite artists for some of our favorite shows, from Girls to SNL.
Girls: “Girls,” by Santigold
Of course TV’s buzziest show needs a buzzy single to grace its soundtrack, and given the series’ title, of course it’s by a female artist. Feisty Philly MC Santigold recorded this track for Lena Dunham’s controversial HBO comedy Girls, and despite the inevitable comparisons to a certain monster single by one Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, it actually stands on its own. It’s a catchy girl power anthem, and although there’s not much more substance to the track than “ladies are awesome,” there doesn’t really need to be when a song’s this danceable. Added bonus: the music video is chock-full of the diversity the show is often harshly criticized for lacking.
Saturday Night Live: “Dick in a Box,” by The Lonely Island feat. Justin Timberlake
Speaking of Girls, Jorma Taccone, the man behind Marnie’s insufferable love interest Booth Jonathan, is better known for his role in The Lonely Island, the SNL parody group behind iconic anthems from “I’m on a Boat” to “Lazy Sunday.” Though the competition for best Lonely Island single is fierce, the most iconic are the R&B parodies recorded with five time host Justin Timberlake. “Dick in a Box” kicks off one of the most beloved collaborations in primetime television that’s still going strong five years later, providing boyfriends everywhere with easy-to-follow instructions for the perfect Valentine’s, Kwanzaa, or general special occasion gift. We’d tell you what the gift is, but we don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Boss: “Ceiba” by Oneohtrix Point Never
Starz’s canceled Boss may not have left much of an impression on viewers, but the Kelsey Grammer vehicle’s second season included a treasure troves of unique tracks from a number of indie and electro heavy hitters, including My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and French electronic duo Air. Interestingly, none of the singles are showpieces, but rather unassuming instrumentals that sound like unusually good excerpts from a regular television score. The best of the bunch is “Ceiba,” from Brooklyn producer Oneohtrix Point Never. It’s a little creepy and a little abstract, but if you’re a Daniel Lopatin fan, that’s likely your thing anyway. Unfortunately, the track can’t be embedded, but you can listen to it on Starz’s website here.
Flight of the Conchords: “Fashion Is Danger” by Flight of the Conchords
New Zealand musical comedy act Flight of the Conchords are pretty fantastic on their own, but give them a budget and a TV show of their own and you’ll have a cult hit series on your hands. For two short seasons in 2007 and 2009, Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement gave viewers a taste of the absurdist, British-influenced humor that makes comedy geeks obsess over shows like The Mighty Boosh. Flight of the Conchords didn’t last long, but it did grace us with this amazing spoof of the fashion industry’s self-importance. Most of the series’ songs predate the show, but “Fashion Is Danger” was an original track, allowing McKenzie and Clement to incorporate physical comedy and visual gags to their typically music-only humor. Look out for 30 Rock‘s Kristen Schaal as the group’s video vixen.
Treme: “This City,” by Steve Earle
HBO apparently has a penchant for dubbing over the ending credits of its dramas. Nominated for an Emmy, this somber, powerful anthem capped off the second season of the network’s Treme, the David Simon-helmed show that aims to do for New Orleans what the ex-journalist’s legendary first show The Wire did for Baltimore. An ode to the resilience of the Big Easy four years after Katrina, Steve Earle takes it slow and steady, using his gravelly voice and a spare guitar accompaniment to close out Treme with a real tear-jerker. It’s also a reminder in the wake of “Accidental Racist” that country is not as universally awful as some media outlets can make it seem.
True Blood: “Boot and Rally,” by Iggy Pop and Bethany Consentino
It sounds like a punchline, but it’s real life: a legendary punk performer and twee California beach rocker collaborated on a song about throwing up while partying for a show about sexy vampires. Although it’s certainly catchy, this track makes our list less for its objective quality and more for its novelty factor. With charming lyrics like, “What goes down must come up,” Pop and Consentino produced a rugged ode to party rocking that doesn’t appear to be actually connected with True Blood’s sex-and-gore main plotline. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a metaphor for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps when the going gets tough. Or something.
30 Rock: “Mr. Templeton,” by Michael Bublé
As far as 30 Rock original songs go, the finale-closing “Rural Juror” probably carries the most emotional impact (who knew a song with the word “flurm” in it could make you cry like Liz Lemon after her off-brand eye surgery?), but “Mr. Templeton” merits inclusion for its out-of-nowhere Michael Bublé guest appearance. The song sounds like any generic romantic ballad you’d hear piping out of the speakers in your neighborhood Starbucks, but it’s actually a two-part ode to taking the catatonic charge of Jack Donaghy’s nurse girlfriend out on dates with them. After all, there’s no reason Mr. Templeton can’t go to a show with the happy couple… as long as he looks away when they’re making out.