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The Music of True Detective

take with true detective

take with true detective

It’s been awhile since I’ve been as taken with a TV show’s soundtrack as I have been with that of HBO’s True Detective. Woven into the bleak, increasingly spellbinding story are songs that punctuate the descent into darkness that characterizes the journey of two detectives (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, in tour de force performances) investigating a bizarre murder in rural Louisiana. Music Supervisor T Bone Burnett has crafted selections to punctuate the storylines to perfection. Given the locale of the show, we hear a lot of country, blues, and folk singers, including Lucinda Williams, John Lee Hooker, Steve Earle, and Johnny Horton, but also unexpected shots of indie rock, metal, psych rock, and rap.

The head-turning opening title sequence song is “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family, which immediately sets the tone of the show, along with puzzling and disturbing graphics. It’s a growly, funereal elegy about coming across a woman’s body in the desert. “And rise with me forever/Across the silent sand/And the stars will be your eyes/And the wind will be my hands.”

T Bone Burnett has also composed some haunting incidental background music for the series, instrumentals that strum and thump and expand the scenes they inhabit.

Here are the playlists of each episode:

Episode 1:

Bob Dylan, “Rocks and Gravel”

The McIntosh Family Shouters, “Sign of the Judgement”

The Black Angels, “Young Man Dead”


Episode 2:

John Lee Hooker, “Unfriendly Women”

John Lee Hooder, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”

Vashti Bunyan, “The Train Song”

The McIntosh Family Shouters, with underscore by T Bone Burnett, “Sign of the Judgement”

Reverend C.J. Johnson and Family, “You Better Run to the City of Refuge”

Steve Earle, “Meet Me in the Alleyway”

Cuff the Duke, “If I Live or Die”

The 13th Floor Elevators, “Kingdom of Heaven”


Episode 3:

The Staples Singers, “Stand by Me”

Buddy Miller, “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”

Johnny Horton, “I’m a One Woman Man”

Jo Ell Sonnier, “The Heart that You Own”

Jo Ell Sonnier, “Evangeline”


Episode 4:

Bo Diddley, “Bring it to Jerome”

The Melvins, “The Brain Center at Whipples”

Boogie Down Productions, “Illegal Business”

Blind Uncle Gaspard, “Sur Le Borde de L’Eau”

Lucinda Williams, “Are You Alright”

Slim Harpo, “Rainin’ in My Heart”

The Melvins, “History of Bad Men”

Primus, “American Life”

Sleep, “Holy Mountain”

Wu-Tang Clan, “Clan in da Front”

A Tribe Called Quest, “Scenario”

Grinderman (Nick Cave!), “Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars)”


Episode 5:

Kris Kristofferson, “Casey’s Last Ride”

The Kinks, “Tired of Waiting for You”

Bosnian Rainbows, “Eli”

Wu-Tang Clan, “Protect Ya Neck”


Episode 6:

Waylon Jennings, “Waymore’s Blues”

Bobby Charles, “Les Champs Elysee”

Father John Misty, “Everyman Needs a Companion”

Glenn Gould, “Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, Aria”

Emmylou Harris, “The Good Book”

Ike and Tina Turner, “Too Many Tears in My Eyes”

Meredith Monk, “Core Chant”


Episode 7:

Juice Newton, “Angel of the Morning” (just have to quote an article from Slate about this selection, which is seemingly so perky and incongruous: ““There’ll be no strings to bind your hands/ Not if my love can find your heart.’ Talk about on the nose. Also, Lucifer was a fallen angel and the morning star. Obviously.” Whoa.

School of the Seven Bells, “Trance Figure”

Gregg Allman, “Floating Bridge”

Vincent & Mr. Green, “Red Light (featuring Ravenbird)”

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Fault Line”

Richard & Linda Thompson, “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed”

Townes Van Zandt, “Lungs”


Episode 8:

The Hat (featuring Father John Misty & S.I. Istwa), “The Angry River”

So there you have it, a soundtrack as murky and ominous as the depths of the bayou. I can’t wait to see what musical treasures will be featured next season. True Detective will introduce a completely different crime story, with a different cast, but with T Bone at the helm, it’s sure to present a truly fine musical collection.


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