Untangling the threads of the Mad Men theme

Untangling the threads of the Mad Men theme

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. 

How’s this for tangled pop-culture roots: The theme song to a 1960s period piece originated as an instrumental on a hip-hop record from the mid-2000s. The primary sample from that instrumental, meanwhile, began its life as an easy-listening rendition of a French tune that became a pop standard shortly after the end of World War II. As such, RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine” is the one thing that connects Edith Piaf, Enoch Light, Aceyalone, and Don Draper—that and the fact that three of those four weren’t born with those names. Appropriate for the history-remixing/reordering work of a DJ, it was the man otherwise known as Ramble John Krohn who connected these disparate threads, lifting the string intro from Light’s version of “Autumn Leaves” (the Americanized title of “Les Feuilles Mortes,” recorded by Piaf and many others) to provide a bed for the closing number of his 2006 collaboration with Aceyalone, Magnificent City. No wonder the final product gives off such an overwhelmingly kaleidoscopic vibe: There are six decades of artistic expression tied up in the track. To listen to the track is to free fall through all that time—as if you’re on some sort of metaphorical plunge through the conservative-yet-suggestive iconography of a tumultuous decade—landing on cushiony drones that take the track to its conclusion.