Who can forget Gavin DeGraw’s iconic song “I Don’t Wanna Be?” Or Seth Cohen’s Death Cab obsession? Or Lane Kim hiding punk rock albums in her bedroom floor? Many would agree that music defines our teenage years — there’s nothing letting a song take you back to being 14.
Whether music meant more rebellious days or simply memories of hanging out after school with your friends, there’s no denying the power that the right song holds.
It’s no wonder, then, that the best teen TV dramas have great soundtracks. Afterall, what would a prom scene in 1999 be without Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”? (See: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season three). So, while nostalgia’s in the air, here’s our list of 10 teen TV dramas with noteworthy soundtracks.
One Tree Hill
Aside from this show having one of the most memorable theme songs of all time, One Tree Hill was loaded with great indie music. The show’s heavy reliance on music to advance its plot proved to be one of its greatest strengths, and this was first seen in the pilot, when Peyton Sawyer has her first run-in with Lucas, and Nathan almost crashes into a moving train to the tune of Dashboard Confessional’s “Hands Down.”
With nine seasons full of music, the show featured songs from a variety of genres, including Nada Surf, Rooney, Tegan and Sara, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, The Get Up Kids, Story of the Year, Hot Hot Heat, and more. Not to mention all of the artists that made guest appearances on the show at Tric (yes, remember Tric?), including City and Colour, Fall Out Boy, Jimmy Eat World, Lupe Fiasco, and Kid Cudi.
The OC, has, in my opinion, one of the best Teen TV drama soundtracks of all time. This show was a focal point for indie music, with many bands gaining popularity thanks to Seth Cohen’s impressive taste. The soundtrack alone featured Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, The Shins, The Walkmen, The Dandy Warhols, Ryan Adams, Nada Surf, and so, so many more. Who could forget Oliver getting busted for coke outside a Rooney concert? For more OC music, check out Indie88’s Best Music Moments From the OC.
The Vampire Diaries
The CW finally cut the cord on The Vampire Diaries this year after a painful five seasons, but the vampire teen drama wasn’t always bad. The first three seasons were full of promise, and the show kept a consistently great soundtrack throughout its eight-season run. Season one alone saw artists like Cage the Elephant, Band of Horses, Stars, Vampire Weekend, Coldplay, Paramore, Tegan and Sara, Tokyo Police Club, The Misfits, and Florence and The Machine.
Freaks and Geeks
A short-lived series that deserved many, many more seasons. Freaks and Geeks ran from 1999-2000, but carried a soundtrack stacked with rock n roll gems of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Janis Joplin, Supertramp, The Who, Cheap Trick, Grateful Dead, April Wine, Van Halen, Rick Derringer, Santana, Ted Nugent, Rush, Styx, David Bowie, and Billy Joel are just a small portion of the many artists that were played in the 12-episode run.
Friday Night Lights
I take back what I said about The OC — Friday Night Lights could also pass as the best teen drama soundtrack. The football soap’s music seemed to encapsulate what it meant to grow up at a football-worshiping high school in the south. Its soundtrack featured southern rock, hip hop, and indie, with artists including Spoon, OutKast, The Killers, as well as the post-rock band Explosions in the Sky, who became known for scoring the Friday Night Lights 2004 film.
The mother-daughter drama won our hearts over with Carole King’s “Where You Lead,” a song that just never gets old, no matter how many GG revivals Netflix signs up for. Music and literature both played equally huge roles in Stars Hollow, from Lane hiding her love of rock n roll from her conventional mother to Jess lending Rory Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. And who could forget the Town Troubadour, Grant-Lee Phillips? Or the opening scene of the pilot with “There She Goes” by The La’s (which gives me chills to this day)? There are too many moments to count.
My So-Called Life
Another series that was way, way, way too short, My So-Called Life was the epitome of teen dramas. The ABC show only ran for one amazing season from 1994-1995, and in a post-Nirvana age, we were walked through Angela Chase’s bittersweet coming-of-age story to the tunes of Sonic Youth, Juliana Hatfield, Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads, R.E.M., the Cranberries, Grateful Dead, Violent Femmes, and the Ramones.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
One Tree Hill had Tric, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had The Bronze. Artists like Michelle Branch, Aimee Mann, Sprung Monkey, Sophie Zelmani, and Bif Naked guest appeared on the original teen vampire show posed as bands playing at the Bronze, while Fatboy Slim, The Sundays, Sarah McLachlan, The Breeders, and The Dandy Warhols were included on the series’ soundtrack. But song list aside, the true winner of this show was the score that was composed by Christophe Beck, which made up most of the music from seasons two to four, aka peak Buffy-Angel moments. Beck also composed the music for season six’s “Once More, With Feeling,” which turned Buffy into a musical for one beloved episode.
And cue The Dandy Warhols “We Used to be Friends.” Written by iZombie’s Rob Thomas, this teen detective drama explored the town of Neptune, where Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) dissected the town’s deepest secrets while also revealing her own. Whether you were Team Logan or Team Piz, you couldn’t deny that the series showed a sensible taste in music, with artists like Tegan and Sara, Spoon, The Who, and The Pixies making an appearance on the song list.
I’m throwing this one in there because the music is already so, so good. With Santigold, M83, The Shacks, Tegan and Sara, Cage the Elephant, Mac DeMarco, Little Scream, Father John Misty, Chromatics, Band of Horses, and AURORA, it’s already pretty obvious that Riverdale is going to pull of a solid soundtrack. Not to mention the role that music plays in the show’s character development, with Archie debuting his singer/songwriter skills and Josie and the Pussycats being the town’s star band.