The Americans airs Tuesdays, 10pm on FX.
My favorite show, The Americans is back with their fifth season! The story of two KGB officers posing as regular Americans is criminally underrated. Stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are phenomenal, the supporting cast is top notch, the writing is sublime, and the soundtrack is out of this world! Honestly, just give them all the awards!
So in honor of these new episodes I thought I’d do a countdown of the best songs featured on the show so far. As I said this series has some of the best music being used on television, most of it being tracks from the 80s with a few extras thrown in to spice it up. It’s too hard to really rank the music so I’m simply including tracks that fit the scene perfectly as well as a few personal favorites, but it’s pretty much ‘in no particular order’ as a TV host might say.
Fair warning: there will be spoilers!! If you’re not up up-to-date look away, I’m not going to explicitly reveal anything but I won’t be held accountable for ruining things for you. You have been warned.
1) Tusk, Fleetwood Mac – Season 1, Episode 1
Kicking things off right at the beginning, we’re no more than a few minutes into the pilot episode before the iconic beat of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk begins to play. It’s bold, it’s daring and it’s the perfect way to introduce us to Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, our protagonists who just so happen to be highly trained KGB spies. Within minutes we’ve had a car chase, honey-trapping, a street fight and a stabbing- what more could you ask for?
2) In the Air Tonight, Phil Collins – Season 1, Episode 1
The pilot is jam packed with great music and I could have filled this list with songs from that episode alone (the opening saxophone from Harden my Heart to Philip dancing in a store to the sound of Queen of Hearts) but if there’s one song that steals the show it’s the use of Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight. Following a causal body disposal, Philip and Elizabeth ‘let off some steam’ in their car, there’s no dialogue just the music and nearly the entire song is featured. It’s a memorable Americans moment and one that raises the standards of the audience from this moment on, here’s the clip…
3) Games Without Frontiers, Peter Gabriel – Season 1, Episode 13
Ending as perfectly as it began, season 1 ends with the Jennings’ daughter Paige snooping around their garage her suspicions high, only to find nothing but folded laundry (her mother’s favourite excuse for spending time down there in the middle of the night) For now it seems, Philip and Elizabeth’s covers are safe and the two of them are more united than ever following an intense car chase (seriously it’s one of the best of the whole series) and Elizabeth asking Philip to return home. As Paige explores the garage the unnerving whistling from Peter Gabriel’s Games without Frontiers kicks in and the eerily appropriate lyrics are heard. It’s a fitting ending to the first season.
4) Twilight Zone, Golden Earring – Season 2, Episode 13
From one finale to the next, the second season’s crowning moment of musical awesomeness has to be Golden Earring’s Twilight Zone used as Philip and Elizabeth drive to collect stolen evidence from their undercover agent who has gotten himself shot in the stealing process. As the two – dressed in some of the most ridiculous disguises so far, at least Philip is – make the urgent drive to the pick up point, their daughter Paige is out at a peace rally against nuclear weapons. It’s a great song choice that adds to the tension created by the presence of the cops and the fact that their agent has been shot.
5) Only You, Yazoo – Season 3, Episode 4
Yazoo are featured heavily in season 3 with the release of their album Upstairs at Eric’s being written into the plot. The first song of the album, Don’t Go is used at the beginning of the episode as we follow Stan desperately searches a diner’s bathroom for evidence, but it’s the use of the amazing Only You that is truly fantastic. Philip is working on forming a relationship with the babysitter of the Jennings’ latest target Kimmie, who so happens to be the daughter of the head of the CIA’s Afghan group. The only problem is Kimmie is the same age as Paige and working her is taking a toll on Philip’s moral compass. In the final moment of the episode Kimmie plays an undercover Philip her favourite song from the album – the same album Philip previously bought his daughter – it’s a touching moment but also one that highlights that Philip and Elizabeth are prepared to mess with people’s feelings in order to get what they need from them regardless of how young and innocent their targets may be.
6) The Chain, Fleetwood Mac – Season 3, Episode 7
The Americans’ love affair with Fleetwood Mac continues through to the third season and the use of The Chain, arguably one of Fleetwood’s best tracks, is saved for one of the best scenes in the series. It’s always fun watching Philip and Elizabeth undertaking a mission and when one looks like it’s about to go wrong our enjoyment skyrockets. Take a look at the scene below and just marvel at how good this show is…
7) Tainted Love, Soft Cell – Season 4, Episode 2
Tainted Love is one of those songs that’s so quintessentially 80s that using it in a show about KGB spies during the Cold War seems like a no-brainer. Having said that, I for one did not expect the song to accompany Philip’s struggle and eventual killing of an airport employee. As usual the music choice is spot on and lesser shows would have shoehorned this song in before this point.
8) Under Pressure, Queen feat. David Bowie – Season 4, Episode 5
So much can be said about why Under Pressure is the perfect song choice for this scene. The consequences of three and a half seasons worth of spying are slowly beginning to creep up on Philip and Elizabeth and pressure is most definitely on. Not only this but our supporting cast are also feeling the strain with Martha in more precarious position than ever before, Paige being in a position no child should ever have to be in and the FBI seemingly getting closer and closer to blowing the covers of the Jennings’. The iconic bass line, the finger-snapping beat, even the lyrics, everything about this song and it’s use in the episode is just perfect. Be warned, this next clip is a little NSFW!
9) That’s Good, Devo – Season 5, Episode 1
There’s a whole host of other songs from the previous four seasons that could easily make this cut but even though we’re only three episodes into season 5 the music being used is already killing it. The upbeat, 80s-esque ‘That’s Good’ by Devo is the perfect way to introduce us to Tuan, the newest accomplice of the Jennings’. It’s the perfect return for TV’s best show.
10) More Than This, Roxy Music – Season 5, Episode 3
More than This is such a great song and one that I’ve been hoping would make an appearance on The Americans for a long time. HBO used it in their version of The Normal Heart (also set in the 1980s) and it was such a good fit, finally The Americans have used it and when I heard that iconic twang of the guitar I have to admit I geeked out a little. The song is used twice in fact, once at the very beginning of the episode and played quietly in the background and then again right at the end of the episode this time at full blast. Now that this song has been used I’m running out of songs that I feel we need to hear although Here Comes the Rain Again is one I feel could find it’s way onto the show at some point.
We’re only partially into season 5 and there’s been eargasms galore, this show really does have the best music on television.
Choosing only ten songs was a seriously challenging task, so here’s a few honorable mentions…
- Harden My Heart, Quarterflash – the saxophone solo is briefly used as the very first piece of music in the pilot.
- Roller, April Wine – another one from the pilot, this is featured as Philip beats up a gross dude who’s been hitting on 13 year old girls – including Paige.
- All Out of Love, Air Supply – used in the third episode of season 3, it’s a nice moment as we see Elizabeth make a rare joke in this scene, at the expense of the song no less.
- Vienna, Ultravox – this is played in the penultimate episode of season 3 as Elizabeth invites Paige to join her on a trip to Russia to visit her mother.
- Old Flame, Alabama – used in the third episode of season 5, More than This just beats out this scene where Philip and Elizabeth slow dance in an Oklahoma motel.