‘Mad Men: On the Rocks’ soundtrack album review

You might expect a Mad Men soundtrack to be a collection of martini-smooth but mundane notes – something you can put on and forget about when you run out of Harry Belafonte vinyls but still require a musical backdrop to smoke and romance a dame to in your Manhattan bachelor pad. But Mad Men: On the Rocks turns out to be anything but ’60s make-out noise.

In fact, it’s a thoroughly comprehensive demonstration of series composer David Carbonara’s musical dexterity when it comes to setting a score to Don Draper’s drinking. Carbonara takes a number of musical styles and shakes up an audio cocktail to pour in your ears, creating tracks so individually distinct you could almost be fooled into thinking they weren’t born from the same show.

The lilting Irish tones of ‘Betty Home and Sally’s Story’ stand in contrast to the Western whipcrack of the cowboy-themed ‘Glo-Coat’, while the crisp Madison Avenue swagger of ‘The Arrival’ bursts in to remind you just what show this all came from.

It makes for an album that not only tours every dramatic aspect of Mad Men, but is a genuinely pleasurable listening experience and manages to avoid completely the banausic ear-porridge of sameyness that many TV soundtracks (including the previous release Mad Men: After Hours) suffer from. Do we need to get Don Draper in here to sell it to you further? Just go and buy it.

As always, we at SterlingCultBoxDraperPrice downed our 11am pitcher of Tom Collins, picked our favourite tracks, then went off for an early lunch of cigarettes and Porterhouse steak. Wake us when it’s 5 o’clock would you? We don’t want to be late getting home.

‘Pacific Coast Highway’

There’s almost a hint of John Barry’s later work here, as Spanish guitar, a smooth flute, and soft strings swagger over a distinctly laid-back beat. Next time you’re on holiday, stick this in your ears as you swagger along the pool and up to the bar to order your eighth rum and coke. You’ll feel like bloody James Bond.

It’s so evocative that listening to it is the musical equivalent of driving an open top convertible along a hot stretch of winding tarmac; a warm sea breeze flowing through your Brylcreemed hair as you rest one hand on the doorframe and the other on the shoulders of the beautiful woman next to you. Wait a minute, that would mean neither hand is on the steering whe-OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO CRASH!

‘Beautiful Girls’

The muted trumpet and dreamy strings make this sound like a deleted track from Pixar’s Up. It’s very Michael Giacchino (Up‘s composer), but that’s not a bad thing at all. If ever Bert Cooper decides to pack it all in and ties several Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloons to the top floor of the SC&P offices in order to sail them to Japan to retire, this is the music Carbonara can dust off and use.

‘At the Codfish Ball’

Two things were memorable from Season 4’s  ‘At the Codfish Ball’ – Roger Sterling having his family jewels polished by Megan’s visiting mother, and the final shot of the Draper family siting at their table and looking defiantly discontented as this piece of music. The heavy brass and ominous tempo give it a feeling of a Mafia movie and perfectly matching the lurching discontent of everyone in the Draper clan, albeit with less Godfather, and more Codfather. Ha, puns!

‘Christmas Conga’

From the Season 4 Yuletide episode in which Lee Garner Jr. treats Roger Sterling like a dancing chimp, ‘Christmas Conga’ manages to be festive but also tropical, balancing these antithetical sensations and musical styles in one bouncy conga beat that’ll have you on your feet and persuading the whole office to form a line and dance to the coffee machine and back. The trumpets frolic, the percussion rattles, if you close your eyes it’s almost like you’re there, with your hands on Joan Harris’ swinging fulsome hips. Make the most of it. That’s as close as you’ll ever get to them.

‘A Beautiful Mine’

More commonly known as the Mad Men theme, this is RJD2’s full version of the tune Don Draper’s silhouette plummets to. It starts off just as the show’s does, throws in some token ‘remix’ record scratches and a more brassy backing, and then dissolves into an incongruous ‘80s synth solo, giving you the impression that Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell are working the Jaguar account from the deck of the Battlestar Galactica. Groovy.

Released on Monday 5 August 2013 by Silva Screen.

> Buy the album on Amazon.