The OC: our top five music moments

Look, I know talking about an old teen soap opera like The OC isn’t exactly cool. But hear me out.

In case you’re not familiar, too young or just had far superior taste, The OC takes place in the very rich, very white section of southern California, revolving around a kid who’s had a rough go of things. A rich family takes him in – “you’re a Cohen now; welcome to a life of insecurity and paralyzing self-doubt” – drama ensues, fights break out and so on and so forth. Just left of centre was Seth Cohen, the rich, half-Jewish son. He was the sensitive, artsy, unpopular kid that me and so many others related to immediately. Plus, he invented Chrismukkah so what’s not to like? His awkwardness was sadly relatable, and his pining over the gorgeous, popular girl was as well. “Do I force a confrontation or do I just continue to be whiny and passive-aggressive until she realizes what a catch I am?” As anyone who’s lived through high school as a bit of a wallflower knows, you need a crutch when shit doesn’t work out. That’s where music comes in, and I can’t think of any show that had more of an impact on my listening habits than The OC.

Before we dive in, I am purposely leaving Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ off this list. Even though nowadays it’s a go-to in film and TV to conjure up deep emotions, back in 2004 it marked the first time I ugly cried the shit out of a television episode. But it’s too obvious. And here at The Rodeo, we’re anything but obvious.

I’d say spoilers lie ahead, but the show’s finale aired roughly 13 years ago, so if you haven’t seen it yet… let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of other shit to watch. If you really cared about the proper way to schmear a bagel or don’t want to learn secondhand that Marissa Cooper eventually dies, you should have paid attention while it was on like the rest of us suckers. So without further ado, here are five of the best music moments from the series.

5. Joseph Arthur – ‘Honey and the Moon’. Season 1, Episode 1.

“I gotta go back… try to figure some stuff out back home.”

The culture of television was very different in the early 2000s – look no further than the fact that The OC’s first season clocked in at 27 episodes. That’s like, three full seasons of modern television, or one-and-a-half Irishmans! Pilots were important back then – new shows had to grab your attention from the get-go to ensure you’d tune in the following week. Netflix was still slingin’ DVDs through the mail. The OC’s pilot accomplished all it needed to, and set the precedent that, not only was this going to be an addicting show, but they were going to introduce a lot of people to a lot of fucking awesome music. The pilot episode ends with the gentle “Honey and the Moon” serenading the audience as we watch Ryan Atwood transported back to his broken home only to find it abandoned by his dirtbag folks. It’s a pairing of music and plot that basically said, “Fuck off, One Tree Hill, this is how it’s done.” The rest is history.

4. Youth Group – ‘Forever Young’. Season 3, Episode 4.

“Whatever song comes on next on the radio will be our song, okay?”

In a fully cheesy, hyper-realistic scene of high-school love, Ryan and Marissa agree that whatever song comes on the totally dated boombox next will be ‘their’ song. Youth Group’s version of ‘Forever Young’ begins playing and that is that. A lovely song that could have easily soundtracked graduations across the globe had Semisonic not already written ‘Closing Time’. Youth Group is another band the show introduced me to, and their Skeleton Jar – a record released before this cover was put together – is now one of my favorite records of all time. Just one of many testaments to just how good the music supervisors were on this stupid little show.

3. Jem – ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. Season 1, Episode 27.

“I just want you to know, I understand why you have to do this.”

Most would say covering a McCartney song is a bold move – Jem however took on the task and succeeded with flying colours. The OC was the first show to feature her music, and even invited her to perform the song during the Season 1 finale. While “Hallelujah” at the end of the episode overshadowed the piss out of this, Jem really did deliver us one of the finest musical moments of the series. It’s a beautiful scene: our two main characters dancing at some rich people event after a season’s worth of will-they-won’t-they, knowing there’s a sad resolution just around the corner – it’s a network drama, after all. For a moment though, they pretended everything was fine. And with a smooth, intimate rendition of a classic love song in the background, how could it not be?

2. Imogen Heap – ‘Hide and Seek’. Season 2, Episode 24.

Mmm whatcha sayyy…

My God. I mean, there’s not much else to say about this one. Whether you heard this aching classic because of the show or some other way, there’s no doubt it gave you chills the first time. The scene itself, despite being cringingly overdramatised, was pivotal in the storyline. It’s even been parodied by the likes of SNL. ‘Hide and Seek’ is a song that hauntingly accompanied a powerful (albeit kind of ridiculous) scene and was unlike anything most of us had ever heard before. A capella? I thought that was for high school clubs! How is she doing that to her voice?!? Imogen Heap went on to lend multiple other songs to the show, but none was finer or more memorable than ‘Hide and Seek’.

1. Death Cab for Cutie – ‘A Lack of Color’. Season 1, Episode 21.

“It’s like one guitar and a whole lot of complaining.”

If you didn’t know this was coming, you’ve obviously never seen or heard anything about this show. Seth Cohen’s love for Death Cab was rivaled only by his love for Summer Roberts: the band has been brought up in dialogue more times than I can count; Transatlanticism posters lined Seth’s bedroom walls. They were another band that performed at that fictional rock club – if only that place existed in real life back then. Summer seemingly groaned every time the band was referenced by Seth, but he stood by them every step of the way –that’s what you do with your favorite bands. The first of many times Death Cab was featured on The OC, it was a little song called ‘A Lack of Color’. My life changed.I don’t even totally remember what was happening on the TV, the song was just so beautiful. I immediately went to find it on Limewire or Kazaa or whatever the fuck kids were using to pirate music back in the day, and I listened to it on repeat. I bought Transatlanticism as soon as I could afterwards. That CD was played to death, soundtracking some of my most memorable and heartbreaking moments of adolescence – and adulthood, for that matter. I have The OC to thank for my favorite band. And I know that’s the least cool thing anyone could probably say, but damnit, I’m not ashamed. Seth fucking Cohen’s favorite band is my favorite band – credit where credit’s due. So, make fun of teen dramas all you want, but The OC had its shit together. Especially in the music department.

The full soundtrack to The OC is available on Spotify, in case this wasn’t enough. And if you’re still hungry for more, why not grab a copy of our fabulous print magazine HERE?

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