TV Show Episodes Named After Songs

by Amanda Flinner

Over the last few decades, TV episode titling has taken an interesting musical turn, with TV writers naming episodes after their favorite tunes. Taking a cue from the '90s sitcom NewsRadio, which had nine episodes named after Led Zeppelin albums, the scribes at That '70s Show named every episode of season 5 after a Zep song. Ensuing seasons took titles from The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Queen. Likewise, the first episode of Grey's Anatomy borrowed The Beatles' title "A Hard Day's Night," setting a trend of naming nearly every episode of the long-running series after a song.

While the titles often clue us in to the theme of the episode (except in the case of NewsRadio, where the music references serve as more of an in-joke among the writers), the songs in question don't actually show up in their respective episodes. But sometimes a song becomes so integral to the plot, it's not only used as the title, but is also a key component in the episode. That's where the Songfacts staff comes in. We've selected some of our favorite shows where the songs leap off the titles and into the episodes. Beware of plot spoilers ahead.
Quantum Leap
1991, season 3

And I wonder where she will stay, my little runaway

In "Runaway," Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) quantum leaps into the body of 13-year-old Butchie Rickett. The day is July 4, 1964, and he's in a car on a 9,000-mile road trip with his family. As usual, Sam has no idea what year he's in or what his purpose is in being there. He only knows that big sister Alex (Ami Foster) is beating the tar out of him, father Hank (Sherman Howard) is an egregiously macho jerk, and mother Emma (Sandy Faison) is reading the cultural nuclear bomb that was The Feminine Mystique (published February 19, 1963).

Sam endures his sister's beatings and watches his parents bicker for a while before trusty sidekick Al (Dean Stockwell) shows up at Wild Willie's, which is some sort of zoo or theme park - it's never entirely clear. The one thing we know for sure is that it houses several Buffalo Chimps, which are raucous monkeys inexplicably dressed in fur-lined vests.

Hank and Alex force Sam to get pictures taken with the Buffalo Chimps and then mock him for doing so. Afterwards, Al informs Sam that his mission in this leap is to prevent Emma from running away and abandoning the family.

The data is unclear as to what exactly comes of Emma after she runs away. Al only knows that she leaves somehow and, in doing so, destroys everyone else's lives. The probable cause of Emma's becoming a runaway appears in the form of an old flame named Billy McCann (Joseph Hacker), a reserved, gentle academic with a disposition in total opposition to Hank's. Sam and Al assume that Emma is going to run away with Billy.

It's about halfway through the episode when we hear Del Shannon's "Runaway," a #1 hit in 1961, playing in the family's car. After leaving Wild Willie's, the family sees Billy broken down on the side of the road. They stop to help him. Billy and Emma are obviously attracted to each other, and Hank seems to sense it. After leaving Billy behind, Hank sings along with "Runaway" badly, seemingly unaware of both his own lack of vocal talent and of the irony that he's driving the woman beside him into being an actual runaway. A squabble interrupts his performance, but "Runaway" keeps playing for the remainder of the scene.

"If it's our schedule, how come you decide when and what we do?" Emma asks.

"Because I'm the dad," Hank responds in perfect '60s-guy logic.

Things escalate to the point that Emma suggests she'd rather ride with Billy. Hank pulls over to the side of the road and Emma takes off. The song continues playing as Hank looks over a map and refuses to chase after his wife.

Sam, armed with the vast wisdom of a liberal man from the 1990s, finds Emma. She explains that she just doesn't feel fulfilled as a wife and mother. She wants more out of life and wishes she'd never quit school.

Sam encourages her to pursue her dreams. They go back to the car. Once out on the road, Sam tries convincing Hank to let Emma go back to school, but no dice. Hank can't grasp the fact that what he provides isn't enough to please his wife. He's frustrated at merely hearing the suggestion that she needs more than he can give.

The family again runs in with Billy, this time at the auspicious Camp Chipmunk. Sam and Al, along with us as the audience, feel certain Emma is about to run off with her former boyfriend. She almost does, too, but ends up coming to her senses and asking to be let out to walk. Off-screen, Emma falls down the slope of the Devil's Backbone and becomes trapped on a ledge. As it turns out, this is actually the way she disappeared in the old timeline Sam and Al are trying to prevent.

Working together, Hank and Sam manage to rescue Emma. The fear of almost losing his wife brings Hank to his senses. He pledges his love and promises to change. Al explains to Sam that the day has indeed been saved. In the new timeline, Emma gets her PhD in drama. They move to Miami where she becomes primary breadwinner and Hank retires so he has more time to golf.

Quantum Leap also had an episode titled "One Strobe Over The Line," which clearly references the Brewer & Shipley song "One Toke Over The Line." The song isn't played in the episode, though. -Jeff Suwak

Beyond The Sea
The X-Files
1994, season 1

Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me...

We first hear "Beyond The Sea" at a funeral for Dana Scully's (Gillian Anderson) father, a former Navy captain who died of a heart attack at the beginning of the episode. Scully's mother tearfully recalls how the song was playing when he proposed to her after being away at sea.

The tune is based on Charles Trenet's French-language ode to the sea and its various moods, titled "La Mer." In 1945, Jack Lawrence transformed it into a romantic song about lovers reuniting, making it the ideal choice for Captain Scully's marriage proposal after his long-awaited return from seafaring duty. Bobby Darin had a Top 10 hit with "Beyond The Sea" in 1959 (the version used in the episode) and it became one of his signature songs.

While the song continues to play on a tinny radio, Scully's mind is preoccupied with her own grief. Her parents were disappointed when she chose a career with the FBI instead of pursuing medicine, and she wonders if her father ever got over it. "Was he at all proud of me?" she asks. "He was your father," her mother replies.

Back at work, Scully tries to distract herself with a new case. Mulder (David Duchovny) explains that Luther Lee Boggs, a serial killer he put on death row, is seeking a lesser sentence in exchange for information about a pair of kidnapped teens…information he gleaned through psychic premonitions. This type of irrational claim is usually enough to make Scully roll her eyes, but she reserves judgment. When the agents visit Boggs in prison, Mulder seemingly outs Boggs as a fraud when he gives him a piece of false evidence and watches him conjure a "psychic" vision. But when Boggs gets Scully alone, he throws her for a loop by singing "Beyond The Sea," and she glimpses her dead father sitting in the killer's place.

For the first time in the series, the roles of believer and skeptic are reversed as Mulder tries to deter Scully - desperate for one last moment with her father - from putting her faith in Boggs and his visions. But Scully is blinded by grief and follows Boggs' clues down a dangerous path in the hope that her compliance will lead her to both the kidnapper and her father. Despite providing accurate information, Boggs' deal is denied, but he promises Scully he'll relay a message from her father if she shows up to his execution. Ultimately, she's too afraid to embrace the paranormal. But, she tells Mulder, she already knew what her father wanted to tell her without Boggs' help. "How?" he asks. "He was my father," she replies. -AF

Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer
2008, season 2

A modern-day warrior, mean, mean stride, today's Tom Sawyer, mean, mean pride

Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), an accidental spy thanks to the top secret CIA database downloaded in his brain, thwarts a nuclear attack using Rush's 1981 track "Tom Sawyer."

Earlier in the episode, Chuck crosses paths with a global terrorist with a special interest in the classic arcade game Missile Command. As it turns out, he's in search of satellite codes hidden in the game's kill screen that will allow him to control actual missiles. "Tom Sawyer" comes into play at Atari headquarters, where Chuck finds the game's designer, Mr. Morimoto, listening to the song while frantically playing Missile Command on a bomb-wired console. Before he dies in the explosion, Morimoto cryptically tells Chuck the complex mathematics underlying the final level are based on "the music of the universe."

Thankfully, the Buy More has its very own Missile Command world champion, permanent burnout and all-around oddball Jeff Barnes. Chuck stages a gaming event at the store and convinces Jeff to play the game under the guise of a comeback. But when Jeff caves under the pressure to perform in front of his old fans, Chuck is in a race against time to reach the game's kill screen before the military shoots down the satellite or the terrorist incites World War III.

When Chuck spots a guy wearing a Rush shirt in the crowd, he remembers Morimoto's clue and cues up "Tom Sawyer" to guide him to the kill screen and find the codes in the nick of time.

According to Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, the tune was a collaboration with Canadian lyricist Pye Dubois, who wrote it as "a portrait of a modern-day rebel" named for Mark Twain's adventurous literary hero. Peart told the Rush Backstage Club newsletter: "I added the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself, and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be - namely me I guess."

In the episode, Chuck and Jeff both struggle with the disparity between perception and reality. For Jeff, his glory days as a popular gamer were previously unknown to his coworkers, who dismiss him as the resident weirdo. Meanwhile, Chuck - a would-be Stanford grad - is languishing at the Buy More, and his friends and family are none the wiser about his secret life as a spy. Figuring out the connection between "Tom Sawyer" and Missile Command also highlights how Chuck's own intelligence, not just his Intersect brain, is his real asset. -AF

Arms Of Mine
12 Monkeys
2016, season 1

These arms of mine, they are lonely, lonely and feeling blue

"These Arms Of Mine" by Otis Redding is a key track in season 1 of 12 Monkeys. It first pops up in the opening scene of the pilot episode, where we're introduced to James Cole (Aaron Stanford), a man from 2043 who's on a mission to travel back in time to stop a plague that wipes out most of the population. It shows up again in episode 4, "The Keys," when Cole and his partner, Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), attend a museum gala in search of a doctor who may be able to help them in their quest to stop the virus from being weaponized. When "These Arms Of Mine" starts playing, Cole, who's from a future bereft of music, remarks how he loves the song and convinces Cassie to dance with him.

By the end of the season, the song is important enough to make it into the finale's episode title, "Arms Of Mine." Like the pilot, the finale begins with the song playing behind Cole's same voiceover. But instead of scenes of desolation and hardship for survivors in post-plague 2043, we're shown a quiet moment between Cassie and Cole in bed in 2015, adding a more personal meaning to Cole's question, "Where are you now? Some place warm? Next to someone you love?"

On the lovelorn track, Redding yearns to wrap his arms around the woman he loves. It's no wonder Cole, a time traveler whose mission will only be successful if he's erased from existence, connects with the lonely tune, especially after he finds love. The 1962 song was Redding's first chart hit. It peaked at #85 on the Hot 100 and #20 on the R&B chart.

12 Monkeys wasn't done with "These Arms Of Mine" after the season 1 finale, though. We won't spoil the ending, but it plays over the final moments of the series. -AF

Something Stupid
Better Call Saul
2018, season 4

I can see it in your eyes that you despise the same old lies you heard the night before

We get a listen to "Something Stupid" at the beginning of the episode in a split-screen sequence where Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) go through their morning routines and start their day; she goes off to do her responsible lawyer thing while Jimmy keeps up his street hustle, which is the primary conflict in their relationship.

In the song, the singer is in hot pursuit of a loved one but a little too eager to say those three little words that ruin everything. Kim and Jimmy are on equal romantic footing, but they're ethically incompatible, and Jimmy's mouth has a way of causing problems for both of them.

The episode title comes into focus when Jimmy enters into an awkward and unrelenting conversation with Kim's boss at a company soirée. See, Jimmy can't help but say somethin' stupid whenever he feels like speaking his mind or is just bored. He's willing to live with the consequences, but can't grasp that he's also lowering his loved ones to his level. As usual, Kim forgives this transgression, but she won't forever.

The song was originally recorded by Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy who sing it together but not to each other - that would be weird. The Better Call Saul version is a cover by the Israeli duo Lola Marsh. The 1967 original was stupid popular, spending four weeks at #1.

This wasn't the first time a famous song was used rather literally in this universe; Breaking Bad ends with a scene soundtracked to "Baby Blue" by Badfinger, a reference to the blue meth Walter White cooked. -Carl Wiser

Whether it's a case of too-expensive licensing or not wanting to be too on-the-nose, several TV shows have borrowed song titles, but not the actual songs. Here are some of our favorite examples of songs that made the episode title but not the soundtrack:

Mother And Child Reunion
Degrassi: The Next Generation
2001, season 1
As a nod to the original Degrassi High series, which ran from 1987-1991, the popular reboot titled most of its episodes after songs from the era. The pilot episode, "Mother And Child Reunion," goes a bit further back with a 1972 Paul Simon song that ties in with the plot of a mother reconnecting with her pre-teen daughter.

Going To California
That '70s Show
2002, season 5
The sitcom's first Led Zeppelin-inspired episode title is taken from the band's 1971 song "Going To California." In the episode, Eric runs away to The Golden State to profess his love to ex-girlfriend Donna.

White Rabbit
2004, season 1
Jefferson Airplane's trippy, Alice In Wonderland-inspired hit, "White Rabbit," makes an apt title for the fifth episode of Lost, when Jack Burton starts having visions of his dead father on the mysterious island.

It's The End Of The World As We Know It
Grey's Anatomy
2006, season 2
The R.E.M. title is broken up for two episode titles, "It's The End Of The World" and "As We Know It," an intense two-parter where a patient is brought to Seattle Grace Hospital with a bomb lodged in his chest.

Everybody Loves A Clown
2006, season 2
The monster-hunting Winchester brothers track a demonic clown to a small-town carnival in this episode named after the 1965 Gary Lewis & The Playboys tune "Everybody Loves a Clown." The long-running series also snagged titles from Johnny Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues"), Madonna ("Like A Virgin"), and Supertramp ("Goodbye Stranger").

Into The Great Wide Open
Cougar Town
2009, season 1
The Tom Petty-inspired episode titles of Cougar Town begin with the second episode of the sitcom, titled after the 1991 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers single "Into The Great Wide Open." The plot finds Jules, a recent divorcee, wanting to experience the party lifestyle she missed out on by marrying young.

I Want You To Want Me
2011, season 3
Named after Cheap Trick's 1977 hit single, this episode of the legal drama finds hotshot lawyer Harvey Specter and his protégé, Mike Ross, on the outs. The title comes into focus as Louis Litt, forever in Harvey's shadow, is desperate to snag Mike as his own associate.

I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive
2013, season 1
Nearly every episode of the first season of Nashville, which follows an aging country star's attempts to revive her career, is named after a Hank Williams song. The season finale - which ends with a car accident - takes its title from Williams' last single released before his untimely death: "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive."
Back In Black
Cobra Kai
2019, season 2

So look at me now, I'm just makin' my play

In season 1 of Cobra Kai, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) have a brief moment of bonding when "Take It On The Run" comes on the car radio. "You like Speedwagon?" Johnny asks. "What kind of man doesn't?" replies Daniel.

It's a brief thaw in their contentious rivalry, and it doesn't last. They're in the car - a 2009 Dodge Challenger - because Daniel's cousin torched Johnny's '80s Firebird, so Daniel, who now owns a car dealership, has to give him a new ride to make up for it.

Picking up 34 years after The Karate Kid, Johnny is now the one living in a crappy apartment while Daniel lives comfortably in the rich part of town. After Johnny reboots Cobra Kai, Daniel revives Miyagi-Do Karate, and the saga continues.

"Back In Black" opens the season 2 episode of the same name with Johnny tricking out the Challenger, removing the "LaRusso Auto Group" markings and painting it Cobra Kai black and yellow. He and his young protégé, Miguel, then take it for a ride as they head bob along to the song. They're back in black because at the end of season 1, Miguel won the big karate tournament for Cobra Kai.

Cobra Kai is far more nuanced than Karate Kid, which is clearly good vs. evil. Johnny is more likable now, and is starting to rethink that "strike first, strike hard, no mercy" credo. Daniel is trying to learn how to channel his anger without Mr. Miyagi there to coach him.

'80s music is big part of the series. A later episode is called "Glory Of Love" and features "Dance Hall Days," "If You Leave," "You're the Inspiration," and in a nod to soft-focus MTV tropes, a dream sequence set to Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." -CW

Never My Love
2020, season 5

You wonder if this heart of mine will lose its desire for you... never my love

Released in 1967, "Never My Love" by The Association is second only to "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" as the most-played song of the 20th century in America (according to BMI). A slow tempo, gentle vocals, and a soothing lyric were apparently an elixir for the United States after a decade remembered for its war in Vietnam, the assassination of the Kennedys, rebellion, massacres, and riots. None of it, though, holds a candle to the opulence and carnage of the 1700s.

The ghost of history's violence can go to amazing places in the fertile grounds of a writer's imagination. Diana Gabaldon's pen spared no paper once she began laying down ink for what would become the first in her Outlander series of books based on the fictional characters of Claire and Jamie Fraser, set in the very real historic period of the 18th century. First published in 1991, the series has grown to eight books and counting as of 2020, and a TV series which has racked up several awards in its first five seasons.

Since we're here to talk about music, I'll tackle episode 12 in season 5 of the TV series. The beginning of this episode is a little disconcerting, since we last left Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) in the 18th century, and this scene opens with her settling the tonearm of a turntable on the first cut of a 33 RPM vinyl album, solidly in the confines of the 20th century. The song begins with a gentle, soothing lyric, "You ask me if there'll come a time when I'll grow tired of you... never, my love," as Claire sits down on her modern sofa, studying an abstract painting of her 18th-century home.

The sudden flashback is chilling, even though we knew it was coming: Time traveler Claire is bloodied, bruised, and hog-tied on the soggy ground in the 18th century. We are reminded through quick flashes that she's been kidnapped by a gang of miscreants bent on taking revenge for an imagined slight.

Aside from the season 1 finale, where Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) suffers a similar fate at the hands of his nemesis, this particular episode resonated like a gut punch, only deeper. The atrocities visited upon Claire (and Jamie) are unspeakable. And yet they must be spoken in order for the characters' healing to begin.

Jamie's assault in Season 1 was played out in a much more graphic way. Even Heughan himself told the L.A. Times he wasn't sure they would do it the same way today. Since that episode, the world found its voice, and it's not only entered the conversational lexicon, it's shouting out loud. Whereas back in the 18th century, victims suffered their abuse in silence, today we are learning to speak up and speak out.

The delicacy with which this episode was shot may be a result of this new understanding. The showrunners and actors themselves desired nothing more than to do the topic justice in as respectful a manner as possible. Balfe, specifically, contributed a lot of input as to how the scenes should be shot, and as a result we have an episode that deals with the horror of her assault through Claire's eyes. Not a graphic interpretation, but one where her kidnappers are pushed to the background, not to be given much attention, so viewers understand she's disappearing into numbness.

The first 29 minutes of the episode consists of flashes between the two centuries she has existed in. The dissociative aspect occurs with every fresh assault; Claire's eyes glaze over and her mind takes her to the 1960s and the safe life she left behind. Jamie is there, wrapping his tartan comfortingly about her shoulders. And we hear the music in the background, "How can you think love will end when I've asked you to spend your whole life with me?"

The song is an important piece, as it allows her to hear the reassuring words she needs to keep her on just this side of resignation. She imagines all of her 17th-century loved ones with her there in the 1960s, gathering for a Thanksgiving feast, though we do see her main antagonist intrude upon these "dream escapes" more than once, jerking her rudely back to her present situation.

"You say you fear I'll change my mind, I won't require you... Never, my love"

As these words are playing on the turntable in her mind, Claire's loved ones have caught up with her 17th-century captors and are meting out their form of justice. This is gratifying in its own way, if only on film.

After Claire's rescue, the music disappears, as if she no longer needs to reassure herself Jamie will still want her after what's been done to her. This is a common misconception for survivors of sexual assault and an incredibly difficult thing to overcome. Claire is a doctor and from the 20th century, which may aid in her recovery or it may not. But however much damage has been done her, body and soul, the one thing we viewers know for certain is we now must wait for season 6 to find out. So we do, with a comforting hand and an open heart for the true survivors worldwide, past, present, and future. -Shawna Ortega

November 15, 2020

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