Guest Post: Music for Chuck

We’ve offered this forum from time to time to guest writers.  And now seems like a great time to make that offer again.  Many readers may already be aware of Anthropocene from his regular comments here, and his outstanding hypothetical Season 6 of Chuck at fanfiction.net.  So many of you may realize how big a role music plays for him as a fan.  With no further ado, Anthropocene on Chuck Music.

Do You Still Hear Them?

Music was a defining characteristic of Chuck, right from the iconic opening credits sequence set to an instrumental sample of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake. The complex soundtrack by Tim Jones—finally released to eager fans just a little more than a year ago—fit the dramedic nature of the series like a glove: at times playful, at times deadly serious—always authentically “spy,” with just the right hints of Bondian chords. Over the course of 91 episodes, the Tim Jones soundtrack was skillfully interwoven with hundreds of eclectic musical cues, selected by the celebrated musical director Alexandra (Alex) Patsavas. The playlist leaned heavily on alternative/indie rock songs, frequently by artists somewhat out of the mainstream, but once in a while we’d hear a classic Neil Diamond or Journey ballad, a Western-movie showdown theme by Ennio Morricone, or a rowdy Oingo Boingo tune. Episode 2.5, “Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer,” was essentially plotted around the eponymous hit by Rush.

And then, of course, we have the sundry covers of late-20th-century hits by Jeffster!—fun accompaniments to pivotal plot moments such as Ellie and Devon’s initial attempt at a wedding, or the birth of Clara Woodcomb, or the series-bookending bomb threat at the Pacific Concert Hall. The music of Jeffster! was quintessentially Chuck (…although personally, I think that these covers sounded just a little better in the moment, on screen, than they do today on the soundtrack album).

Thanks to Chuck I listen to alt/indie rock a lot more than I used to, and as other fans have done, I’ve assembled my own playlist of selections from the series and listen to it often. More than four years after the show ended, that music brings me right back. I always feel a little bit of melancholy whenever I listen to “Your Hands,” by Ghost Society—but a segue into “Three Rounds and a Sound” by Blind Pilot (which gets my vote for the most romantic Chuck & Sarah tune in the whole series playlist) perks me right up again. And just from the conversation threads on this blog over the years, I’m aware that many other fans also continue to listen and to accrue similar emotional responses. Chuck set a musical mood that is still very much with us.

Do you still hear a song for the first time and think, “That sounds like something from a Chuck episode?” Maybe it was—but if not, I would put it in one of two categories based on the images that it evokes.

Chuck adjacent music
For every song that was used as a cue in an actual episode of Chuck, there were others that could have been used to similar effect, owing to their melodies or lyrics or both. ChuckThis! principal joe, who for years gifted readers of this blog with thoughtful recaps and reviews of the musical elements of Chuck on an episode-by-episode basis, applied the term “Chuck adjacent” to describe such songs: although not actually heard on the show, they could have been because they fit a scene or a plot theme just as well.

A “Chuck adjacent” song may predate the series, just as many of the songs on the actual playlist did. I also think that evocative “Chuck adjacent” songs continue to appear regularly. For example: the first time I heard “Taking Chances,” by Sharon Van Etten, which was released in 2014, my immediate response was that it could have been used in a Chuck episode if it had been around then. If you’re not familiar with this song, have a listen, and see if you agree:

In the dark
On the way out
It’s even enough sounds
It’s the combination that takes
Emotions
Why don’t we go now?
No need to think on our own now about it
Even I’ve taken my chances
Even I’ve taken my chances on you

I can vividly visualize a specific moment in the series where this song would have worked well, involving Sarah struggling with her feelings for Chuck. Suppose we’d seen a little more of Sarah and Chuck’s night flight from the Buy More after her decision to run with him away from the CIA (ep 2.20, “Chuck Versus the First Kill”). I could definitely hear this song playing as Sarah silently wrestles with her feelings behind the wheel of her Porsche, with Chuck sitting quietly beside her. Or it might have fit somewhere in mid-season 3, as the “misery arc” ends and Sarah and Chuck finally come to the realization that they love and need each other. Hence: “Chuck adjacent.”

What songs would you consider to be “Chuck adjacent?” What foreground or background events in the canon series do they complement? I’d love to see (and listen to) your nominations. Let’s start a thread!

Chuck subsequent music
Expanding on joe’s terminology, I’ll use “Chuck subsequent” to describe music that evokes scenes or plotlines in Chuck that never actually transpired—except possibly somewhere in the pages of post-series or AU fan fiction, or in a fan’s homemade tribute video. Hearing a “Chuck subsequent” song would hopefully cause a devoted fan to imagine some event in the happy, fulfilled, and still exciting post-series life of a reconciled post-“Goodbye” Chuck and Sarah (and possibly their progeny) or other members of the cast. (No alternatives to that scenario will be brooked here.) A “Chuck subsequent” song is one that might have been used if new episodes of Chuck were still being produced today, or one that still could be used in a series revival or miniseries or movie.

Some of us who’ve written post-series Chuck fan fiction have tried to channel a little Alex Patsavas and suggested musical cues for readers to listen to while immersed in our imagined future scenes. I would consider all such music to be “Chuck subsequent” as well.

As an example of this second category, here’s “Fix You,” by Coldplay, released in 2005: one of the cues I embedded in a fan-fiction piece a few years ago. The same song has also been used in several Chuck fan tribute videos that can be found online, so I think it’s an appropriate example. Coldplay lead Chris Martin wrote the song for then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow to console her on the death of her father, and the song was critically acclaimed. No doubt Lester and Jeff would have sneered at it (possibly many Chuck fans, too). But I thought it evoked a post-finale Sarah, back together with Chuck, but tormented by guilt and nightmares over having been brainwashed to reject and nearly murder her own husband. Chuck, of course, sees what happened very differently, and—standing with Sarah at the front door of their tainted “dream home”—he offers gentle reassurance and comfort to his wife until her guilt finally subsides for good….and they buy the house!

Have you heard music you find to be “Chuck subsequent?” What scenes involving our favorite characters play out in your mind as you listen? Hopefully we can get a fun thread going on this category as well. It also seems quite possible that some songs could be so broadly evocative, or evocative in different ways to different people, that they could be both “Chuck adjacent” and “Chuck subsequent” at the same time. Any suggestions?

Since the series ended, we’ve spent a great deal of enjoyable time, thought, and discussion on alternatives and sequels to the plot of Chuck, and herein I propose that we spend a bit of the same on alternatives and sequels to the music of Chuck! Hope to hear from you. My sincere thanks to atcDave for the opportunity to play in this sandbox. And it probably goes without saying that the opinions I’ve expressed in this guest post don’t necessarily correspond to those of the principals of the Chuck This! Blog.

~Anthropocene 

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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27 Responses to Guest Post: Music for Chuck

  1. atcDave says:

    It really is amazing how often music makes me think of Chuck. Exactly as Anthro says, it isn’t even always music from the show itself.
    But the one obvious thing I’ll add, I always liked “The Sound of Music”. Long before I started reading fan fiction it was a favorite. But I didn’t actually own the soundtrack until Quistie64 wrote “Chuck vs The Sound of Music“. In gamer terminology, the two stack. Both are greater because of their association with the other. It is amazing the strength of favorite music. So now it is on my playlist; and I smile and think of a computer nerd and beautiful spy every time I hear it.

  2. AgentInWaiting says:

    “Why is Chuck your favourite T.V. show?” Lots of easy answers, right? Actors, characters, stories… However many series of have great actors, memorable characters, and interesting stories. A (very) few even have a leading couple as compelling as Charah. But none of them have such a brilliant selection of songs and original instrumental pieces as what was put together for Chuck by Patsavas and Jones. I spent hours hunting down exactly what was played and updating playlists after each episode (most seasons were pre-Spotify so the wallet also took a hit). The result is five complete season-based playlists, Chuck and Sarah Part I and II playlists (divided by “Honeymooners”), Chuck’s Playlist by Sarah which appeared on the NBC site, a Collide playlist based upon the very excellent songfic by brickroad16, and a Chuck Favourites (Expanded) playlist which contains music from the show and some Chuck adjacent tracks.

    Every one of these playlists is listened to on a regular basis (although I confess to skipping over “Rivers and Roads” if I’m in a public place). A loop of “Short Skirt / Long Jacket” has been my mobile’s ringtone ever since I got my first iPhone. I’ve fallen asleep to the last four songs of Honeymooner’s more times than I can count (“Holiday” is a bit too upbeat for late at night). Well, okay, last.fm tells me I’ve scrobbled “Feeling Good” 729 times so the count is probably 500+ times. Admiral Fallow’s “Squealing Pigs” from Sarah’s wedding dress scene in “First Bank of Evil” has become my favourite song (aside: serious Sarah looking through wedding dresses, comically struggling with a train, showing her utter joy at getting married, finding out the dress has bloodstained bullet holes – perfect, perfect Chuck scene). And like Anthropocene, I find myself listening to alternative/indie songs a lot more than I used to. So much so, that I can put together a playlist that won’t embarrass my teenage nieces 🙂

    Songs also acquire emotional heft when paired with scenes and become favourites. I know I’d heard “Feeling Good” before Chuck came along and it didn’t really make an impression. Afterwards, though… Same thing happens with current songs. “She Brings Me the Music” (Coup D’etat), “We Don’t Eat” (First Fight), and “Down River” (American Hero), “Don’t Give Up On Us Now” (Subway) to name a few. And not every song needed to be paired with a “heavy” scene to become a favourite. Songs like “Foux du Fafa” (First Date), “Flaunt It” (Suitcase), “Kiss With a Fist” (First Fight) for example.

    To end this post, I’ll throw out a couple of Chuck adjacent songs which appear on my Chuck Favourites (Expanded) playlist.

    Long Goodbye by India.Arie – Season 3 Misery Arc

    I say I love you
    You say that’s kind
    You don’t wanna get too close
    You loved me crazy
    I lost my mind

    Listen…

    You’re everything I never wanted
    And all the things I didn’t need
    This ain’t who I wanna be
    You don’t have to stay forever
    I’ll take passion over pride
    Full moon, high tide
    Let’s make it a long goodbye
    Tomorrow we’ll pick up the pieces
    Try to mend our broken lives
    Soft kiss, sweet lies
    Let’s make it a long goodbye

    Take You Home by Emily Smith – After Sarah rescues Chuck in Phase Three. Definitely doesn’t fit the mould of a “Chuck song” as it’s by a Scottish folk singer but I instantly flash back to that scene whenever the chorus and last verse come on.

    Chorus:
    Put your hand in mine love, I won’t let you walk alone
    Put your hand in mine love, and I will take you home

    I’ll scale the highest peak, listen for the eagle’s cry
    Into her nest I’d peek, oh if only I could fly

    A feather I would take, craft into a quill
    And a present it would make, until I come home to you

    These places I would go, I’d travel without rest
    Just to let you know, that I would do my best
    To cast your fears aside, shelter you from every storm
    And I look for no return, but to come back home to you

    • Martin Traynor says:

      I very much like the Emily Smith song and will add it to my collection – thanks! Sounds like it would have worked well with Chuck, but I really could hear it in Firefly…

      • AgentInWaiting says:

        You’re welcome! The entire Traiveller’s Joy album is great and you’re right, that song would have fit right in on Firefly. I’ve also added Cocker’s version of “Have a Little Faith in Me” to my favourites – thanks for highlighting it.

  3. Martin Traynor says:

    Nice post. Like bad golfers (like me) tend to look for golf balls everywhere, even where they couldn’t possibly be, I see Chuck songs everywhere. One of my new favorites is an older song, but I just discovered it from a long forgotten favorite show of mine that lasted only one season in 2003, “I’m With Her,” about a movie star who dates a school teacher. It was loosely based on the real-life romance of Brooke Shields and her husband, who created the show. Anyway, the song is “Have a Little Faith in Me.” I prefer the John Hiatt version, my wife prefers the slightly more upbeat version by Joe Cocker. But either way, every time I listen to it, I see a montage of Chuck/Sarah moments of bliss…and I smile. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aYxMuLb3h8

  4. thinkling says:

    Thanks, Anthro. It’s amazing how often I hear Chuck music out and about or in other shows. It always perks me up.

  5. joe says:

    Great write-up, Anthro.
    Alright – confession time. I haven’t read your fanfic Season 6 of Chuck, but here’s the good news. I’m gonna. That’s your doing.

    I’ll eagerly co-sign what you wrote about Tim Jones’ music and your opinion about Patsavas’ selections. Wonderful stuff. I repeat myself, but the music has always been powerful and meaningful – enough to instantly transport me to Echo Park every time the ol’ mp3 player gets around to it. Heh. The lasting effect is that when advertisers use any of it, I want to shout “THAT’S FROM CHUCK!!!”, which drives Mrs. Joe crazy. What were they selling? Couldn’t tell you; too distracted (and too bad for them).

    That was a great selection for “Chuck Adjacent”, Anthro. I hadn’t heard of Sharon Van Etten before, but after that tune, I’ll be looking for her music. Sad to say, I haven’t kept up with new stuff so I can’t offer anything more recent. Us old folk still depend on the “Top 40” lists played every Saturday on your local Top 40 Radio Station (You know. WOLD). Other than that, I still recommend almost anything by Oasis (especially Wonderwall, which seems to have gotten more relavent with the passage of time) as Chuck Adjacent and always, Band of Horses. Oh – one more. REM’s Losing My Religion always makes me think of those times Sarah seemed on the verge of telling Chuck what she was feeling (“Consider this the hint of the century – Now I’ve said too much.”).

    I always appreciate shows with good soundtracks. The new show “Lucifer” primiered with great list of songs, starting with Cage The Elephant Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked – a perfect choice. “The Good Wife” still features great stuff on occasion, but seems to have done that less this season. For my money, only “The Sopranos” ever came close to Chuck for the Best Music Award, though.

    PS Yes, I changed my gravatar back.

    • atcDave says:

      Hey looks like the old Joe is back.

      But I still miss Bucko….

    • anthropocene says:

      Thank you for the thumbs-up, Joe! Your many great posts on “Chuck” music had a significant influence on my thinking about the soundtrack and playlist. Thanks for the recommendations. I enjoy Band of Horses, and I will check out more by Oasis. My wife and I subscribe to SiriusXM, and their “Alt Nation” channel is my primary source of new material (such as Sharon Van Etten—I used another one of her songs in my imaginary episode 6.07). I’ve found the iTunes Store useful too.

      And I’m glad you’re going to read the S6 stories. You can listen to the soundtrack too, as I uploaded all of the songs to 8tracks dot com under my nom de plume. I got as far as 7 out of a planned 12 episodes before running out of steam, but with this revived interest I’m starting back on “ep 6.08.” Thanks again!

  6. A really great idea, Anthro. And Joe, you will not be disappointed when you read Anthro’s season 6! I’m not a huge fan of the Dave Matthews Band, but somehow a couple of songs from Mr. Matthews and co. come to mind. For a Chuck Adjacent song for season 3 (which I prefer to call the pathos arc rather than the misery arc), I thought of:

    “The Space Between”

    You cannot quit me so quickly
    There’s no hope in you for me
    No corner you could squeeze me
    But I got all the time for you, love

    The Space Between
    The tears we cry
    Is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
    The Space Between
    The wicked lies we tell
    And hope to keep safe from the pain

    But will I hold you again?
    These fickle, fuddled words confuse me
    Like ‘Will it rain today?’
    Waste the hours with talking, talking
    These twisted games we’re playing

    We’re strange allies
    With warring hearts
    What wild-eyed beast you be
    The Space Between
    The wicked lies we tell
    And hope to keep safe from the pain

    Will I hold you again?
    Will I hold…

    Look at us spinning out in
    The madness of a roller coaster
    You know you went off like a devil
    In a church in the middle of a crowded room
    All we can do, my love
    Is hope we don’t take this ship down

    The Space Between
    Where you’re smiling high
    Is where you’ll find me if I get to go
    The Space Between
    The bullets in our firefight
    Is where I’ll be hiding, waiting for you
    The rain that falls
    Splash in your heart
    Ran like sadness down the window into…
    The Space Between
    Our wicked lies
    Is where we hope to keep safe from pain

    Take my hand
    ‘Cause we’re walking out of here
    Oh, right out of here
    Love is all we need here

    The Space Between
    What’s wrong and right
    Is where you’ll find me hiding, waiting for you
    The Space Between
    Your heart and mine
    Is the space we’ll fill with time
    The Space Between…

    As was observed multiple times throughout the season, even though there was yawning chasm between them, Chuck and Sarah still loved each other.

    In the Chuck Subsequent category, the song that quickly came to mind upon watching the series finale for the first time was:

    “You And Me”

    Wanna pack your bags, Something small
    Take what you need and we disappear
    Without a trace we’ll be gone, gone
    The moon and the stars can follow the car
    and then when we get to the ocean
    We gonna take a boat to the end of the world
    All the way to the end of the world

    Oh, and when the kids are old enough
    We’re gonna teach them to fly

    You and me together, we could do anything, Baby
    You and me together yes, yes [x2]

    You and I, we’re not tied to the ground
    Not falling but rising like rolling around
    Eyes closed above the rooftops
    Eyes closed, we’re gonna spin through the stars
    Our arms wide as the sky
    We gonna ride the blue all the way to the end of the world
    To the end of the world

    Oh, and when the kids are old enough
    We’re gonna teach them to fly

    You and me together, we could do anything, Baby
    You and me together yes, yes

    We can always look back at what we did
    All these memories of you and me baby
    But right now it’s you and me forever girl
    And you know we could do better than anything that we did
    You know that you and me, we could do anything

    You and me together, we could do anything, Baby
    You and me together yeah, yeah
    Two of us together, we could do anything, baby
    You and me together yeah, yeah
    Two of us together yeah, yeah
    Two of us together, we could do anything, baby

    I wanted so desperately to see hope in the finale. These lyrics applied to Chuck and Sarah (sitting on the beach with the ocean in front of them) seemed to me to say that they had a hope-filled future together ahead of them, including children.

    I agree with you, Anthro, that watching Chuck got me to listen to a lot more 21st C. alt and indie rock than I would have otherwise. Two songs from The National, “Slow Show” and “Fake Empire,” were a revelation to me. However, I think the most powerful song was Nico Stai’s “One October Song” which plays when we see Ellie silently mourning her father’s death after Shaw kills him in Subway. The emotional impact of that scene is imprinted on that song just as strongly now as when I first heard it.

  7. DKD says:

    I acquired almost every song that was used in Chuck. I’m seeing the band Frightened Rabbit in a few weeks. I think four or five of their songs were used in the show.

    • anthropocene says:

      I just heard the new song “Get Out” by Frightened Rabbit on SiriusXM—it seemed more polished and orchestrated than the earlier FR songs heard on “Chuck,” but nevertheless it sounded Chuck Adjacent for episodes when Chuck was working those PLIs out of his system!

  8. noblz says:

    The music was one of the things I liked most about this show. They mixed it in with the action extremely well, better than any other show I’ve watched.

    There was a great mix from the 60s to current. From The Band (60s) through Huey Lewis (80s) to Band of Horses. Tim Jones did a fantastic job. I never thought I’d listen to (and enjoy) a song by The New Pornographers. I actually updated my music preferences solely because of this show.

    The original pieces and themes Tim wrote were also very good. I even sprang for the CD on Amazon and the stuff was very good.

    As I said, best music, both songs and original compositions, on any show I’ve ever followed.

  9. anthropocene says:

    Here’s another “Chuck adjacent” song suggestion:

    “Trouble,” by Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, released in 2009. For me the melody and lyrics evoke the memory-wiped Sarah near the series’s end: after she realizes she really is Sarah Bartowski, but before she really begins to “feel it,” with Chuck’s help.

  10. Jos Faber says:

    I love this blog and this post is awesome. For now I do not have anything to add besides that I agree that the musical elements of the series are amazingly layered. Its the emotional canvas of each scene with resemblances in lyrics and feel. How Morgan can phrase Chuck’s thoughts in one question is how the music enables the characters to get under my skin.

    The themes of Buy More and Echo Park are just amazing, the quirky tune for Big Mike and the soothing cosy sounds for Ellie.

    All of Nico Stai, Matt Costa and Bon Iver are Chuck adjacent to me and I agree that Dave Matthews Band could have played a huge role as well. The Jeffster songs are at this time better sounding to me than the original ones, so there is something wrong with me.

    I am a video editor and I try to use Tim Jones as much as possible (when the story allows it, because it needs to have a really fine balance in comedy, drama and action; like the unique combination we love in Chuck.)

    Thanks for creating this blog, I love the impact that Chuck has on people and the community that it created. After so many years, I still try to watch an episode every day and there are so many scenes that leave me teary eyed, just amazing. I am afraid it is impossible to ever get anything like it again.

    • atcDave says:

      I think Chuck will remain unique for many of us. It sure struck a chord with me, several of them (!).

      Thanks for commenting! Obviously things have slowed down an awful lot around here, but its always great to hear from another fan.

    • anthropocene says:

      Thank you for keeping this thread going!

  11. anthropocene says:

    Back to “Chuck” music: maybe this was already mentioned elsewhere in the blog, but Tim Jones recently put 70 short tracks from the series (many of which are not on the soundtrack album) up on SoundCloud (soundcloud dot com-forward slash-timjonescomposer).

  12. anthropocene says:

    I’m still coming across “Chuck adjacent” music. I just happened to hear “How I Feel,” by Wax Tailor, which dates back to 2005 and so could have been used in the series. It’s a rather eerie remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” combined with somewhat ominous downbeat electronica that would have worked well in “Chuck vs. Sarah”—juxtaposing their happy past with the sinister present. It made me think of the scene with gonzo Sarah in the car with Ellie, or the later confrontation in the dream house….

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