In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of the return of Mad Men on April 5 for its final seven episodes, we’re looking at some of the show’s most important song selections.
Mad Men didn’t make waves with its occasionally anachronistic music choices until season two’s “Maidenform,” which begins with a striking montage of Betty, Joan, and Peggy slipping into their undergarments, set to The Decemberists’ “The Infanta.” But Mad Men’s first historically misplaced song (not counting RJD2’s theme music) came in the second episode, “Ladies Room.” Don Draper phones Betty’s psychiatrist and gets a more serious assessment of her mental state than he expects as “Great Divide” by The Cardigans plays over a shot of the Drapers’ darkened kitchen and the closing credits.
“Great Divide” was creator Matthew Weiner’s first indication that Mad Men would employ a broader sonic palette than its setting prescribes, but the choice was misleading in its subtlety. The track comes from 1996’s First Band On The Moon, which is technically the Swedish band’s third album, but the first to break through in America on the strength of “Lovefool.” That song, which landed The Cardigans among the ranks of one-hit wonders, was a stylistic departure. The band previously pulled its influences from ’60s lounge and orchestral pop, so “Lovefool”’s disco leanings made the song a bit of an anachronism for the band itself, a jarring lurch into the ’70s not unlike the new Mad Men promo teasing the final episodes with Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover.”
“Great Divide” was among the few songs on First Band reminiscent of The Cardigans’ prior albums, Emmerdale and Life. It doesn’t veer as close to Herb Alpert or Juan Garcia Esquivel as those albums, but is one of the First Band tracks to bridge the gap as the band nudged its sound in a more contemporary direction. “Divide,” a delicate ballad, proves a shrewd choice for Mad Men precisely because of the way it blurs the line between history and modernity. Though “Ladies Room” doesn’t make it to the end of the song, “Divide” features an orchestral coda that could easily serve as the theme music for a ’60s soap opera. It only helps that the lyrics are fitting and prescient within the context of Don and Betty’s eventually doomed romance: “There’s a monster growing in our heads / Raised up on the wicked things we’ve said / A great divide between us now.”