As many of us remember, the late 1990s seemed to be a much simpler era to live in.
With the turn of the century on the horizon, pop culture was bursting at the seams: we were met with new genres of music, legendary blockbuster movies, and television shows that would only become more and more iconic as the years went by.
Young teen stars, Britney Spears and Christina Agulera, had just made their debut entrances into the modern music scene, and we were introduced to aspiring new actors, such as Skeet Ulrich, Scott Wolf, and Andrew Keegan… uh, yeah, we’re not sure what those guys are doing these days, either.
One of the biggest, most iconic pieces of pop culture that we were introduced to in the late 1990s, however, had to be the show that made us familiar with the likes of Alyson Hannigan, Seth Green, and, of course, Sarah Michelle Geller. We’re talking about a show that has had a chokehold on every generation since its release, and is still vastly talked about to this day: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The show ran from 1997 to 2003, and was given its own spin-off show, Angel, alongside its run. Both shows were extremely successful, and both are still viewed and enjoyed to this day, with the ‘Buffyverse’ fanbase being as large as ever.
Like pretty much every TV show ever released, there are several aspects that are somewhat responsible for their success: the quality of actors, the storylines, and, of course, the soundtrack.
Music was everything back in the 90s, and the creators of Buffy and Angel knew this better than anymore. A soundtrack can make or break a show, and it’s often something that we forget about: we don’t tend to think about how a piece of music can change the way we feel about a certain scene, but believe us, it really does.
Today, we’re going to talk about the soundtrack of both shows.
The Theme Songs
The key to creating a memorable television show, more often than not, is including a fitting theme song.
If you think about any successful show that you have ever watched, you will most likely be able to recall the show’s theme: it could be a popular, catchy song, an instrumental piece of music, or sometimes even just a singular sound.
Some shows, like Game of Thrones, have long pieces of music that are several minutes long, whereas others, such as Breaking Bad, only play a handful of chords, and only last a couple of seconds. Both mentioned examples are equally as iconic, and are vastly recognized by most, even by those who have never seen either show.
These theme songs are often played at the start of the show’s episode, played over the opening credits. Many shows’ themes, such as the ones used for Friends and The Big Bang Theory, are often better known than the shows themselves, and are recognized worldwide, even by those who have never watched a single episode. A catchy theme song is very important to a show’s image and overall legacy.
Buffy’s theme song was performed by Nerf Herder, a pop punk band from California. The music begins with a handful of notes played on an organ, accompanied by some spooky sounds, before jumping into a rock melody played by Nerf Herder.
The theme suits the show perfectly, letting the audience know immediately what kind of show they’re about to watch: the creepy opening music lets us know that there will be both horror and science fiction themes throughout, but the alternative tune that follows reminds us that it is, ultimately, a teen drama.
The theme used for Angel follows a similar direction: it begins with some unsettling, horror sounds, followed by a violin melody, before the rock music kicks in, accompanying the violin.
Angel’s theme was performed by Darling Violetta, another band from California. While the theme for Buffy gives a more upbeat, exciting vibe, the theme for Angel causes the audience to experience more melancholy, dark emotions, matching the overall vibe for the show.
A theme song is often the first thing we notice and remember about a show, and it is very important that it is done right. Both Buffy and Angel’s themes match the shows perfectly, and allows us, as the audience, to kind of guess the direction that we think both shows are headed in, without even having watched a single scene.
A television show’s score is, without a doubt, the most important musical aspect overall.
While the theme songs introduce us to the show, it is the instrumental scores that keep us hooked, even if we don’t realise it at the time: a well-composed piece of music can be the difference between a scene that makes us laugh, cry, or whichever emotion the show creators want us to feel, or a scene that falls flat.
There were several composers involved with Buffy over the course of the six seasons: Walter Murphy was the main composer during the first season, Christophe Beck took over for seasons 2 to 4, Thomas Wanker took over for seasons 5 to 6, and Robert Duncan and Douglas Romayne wrote the scores for the final season.
Many of the scores on the soundtrack went on to become iconic within the show, such as the ‘Buffy/Angel Love Theme’ which was used several times during the show’s second season.
Robert J. Kral was the main composer for the five seasons of Angel, writing and creating the scores for all 112 episodes.
Both shows showcased several emotional scenes, and the scores written for these episodes, alongside the acting, are what makes these scenes so powerful.
The use of repeated themes, such as Buffy and Angel’s love theme, cause the audience watching to make an unconscious connection between the scenes in which the music is played during, and packs a bigger emotional punch when they are repeated, and then recognized, by the audience.
Alongside the original score, there were several pop songs played throughout the seasons of Buffy, often performed by the original artists.
The main characters in Buffy often spent their spare time hanging out at Sunnydale’s local nightclub, The Bronze. Live music was performed there in many episodes, and while the showrunners wanted to use this platform to showcase local, lesser known bands performing at The Bronze, they sometimes included better known artists (at the time of the show’s release), such as Michelle Branch and Aimee Mann.
There are several scenes in which pop music is played in the background instead of an original score: for example, Buffy and Angel dance to Sophie Zelmani’s ‘I’ll Remember You’ in the first season. The songs played at The Bronze, and several other locations throughout the show, were ones that had been released during that time, giving the show a ‘modern’ vibe at that time.
Two of Sarah McLachlan’s songs were used throughout the show, during seasons 2 and 6: ‘Full of Grace’ played during the second season’s finale, and ‘Prayer of St. Francis’ played during the finale of the sixth season.
The popular trip-pop band, T.H.C., had several tracks played in both Buffy and Angel. They performed live three times throughout Buffy’s run, acting as the show’s fictional band, Shy.
There were several fictional artists and bands that were created solely for the Buffy universe, often consisting of real life bands that were given different names.
As we previously mentioned, T.H.C. performed a handful of times throughout Buffy, taking the guise as a band called Shy: the band’s lead singer, Veruca, was later revealed to be a werewolf in season 4, after having already appeared, and performed, in a couple of episodes beforehand. T.H.C. ‘s music also appears in the Angel soundtrack.
The character Oz, who was played by Seth Green, was in a band called Dingoes Ate My Baby, which made their first appearance in Buffy’s second season. While the band itself was fictional and created for the show, the music was both written and performed by the real life band, Four Star Mary. They performed several times at The Bronze, making their last appearance in the fourth season, prior to Oz’s departure from the show.
Cast Members’s Musical Moments
If we were to think about the moments throughout Buffy in which cast members, themselves, perform musically, the first thing that may come to mind is the seventh episode of the sixth season, ‘Once More, with Feeling’, otherwise known as the show’s musical episode.
The plot of this episode consists of the whole town being controlled by a demon, who compels the characters to sing at random moments. Showrunner Joss Whedon had spent six months creating the soundtrack to this episode: he was originally inspired to create ‘Once More, with Feeling’ after a drunken night with the cast, during which several cast members demonstrated musical talents that he had not previously witnessed.
Despite many of the actors and actresses not being trained singers or dancers, the episode received high acclaim overall, and has been claimed to be one of the greatest episodes of the entire show.
There are several moments throughout Buffy and Angel during which cast members sing, mostly for comedic purposes rather than showcasing actual musical talent. In Angel, the character Lorne, played by Andy Hallett, opens the Caritas karaoke bar, and many characters are shown singing inside.
There are many comedic moments that stem from this, including Angel, played by David Boreanaz, singing an awful rendition of Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ on stage, as well as Lorne performing himself several times throughout the second season.
Why Is Music So Important In Buffy And Angel?
Music has always been a massive part of our lives as human beings, and at the turn of the 20th century, it felt like music was what mainly kept us going.
Buffy used music as a central theme throughout its show, whether it was played through the instrumental scores used during emotional scenes, or the local bands performing in the background while the characters that we knew and loved met up at The Bronze.
At the heart of the show, the soundtrack played a vital role in Buffy, and this continued during Angel’s eventual run. Without the music, the shows wouldn’t have provided the same atmosphere, and neither would have been the same.
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