Graphic by Allegra Rosenberg
The opening piano strains of Phantom Planet’s song “California” mean just one thing to me: the beauty and the glory of an episode of The OC is about the begin. From 2003 to 2007 the public was graced with four complicated, privileged and dramatic high school students from sunny Orange County. Ryan Atwood, Seth Cohen, Marissa Cooper and Summer Roberts were the troubled, cool kids of Newport that we all wanted to be, or at least had a wall of posters covered with their faces. Now eight years after we have said goodbye to our favorite melodrama, we can celebrate the second best thing about the show: the music!
The OC was known for bringing the best indie bands to our televisions each week. Whether Seth was a fan of a cool new band, a moody cover song was setting the tone for Ryan to brood around the beach or the gang was catching a gig at the Bait Shop, the soundtrack was unparalleled. So, let’s party like its Chrismukkah and have a beach party with the songs that helped shape some of the best teen soap television ever. Warning: definite spoilers ahead.
20 – 16
20. Coldplay – Fix You
19. Rachel Yamagata – Reason Why
18. The Subways – Oh Yeah
17. Modest Mouse – The World At Large
16. Beck – Black Tambourine
15 – 11
15. The Dandy Warhols – We Used To Be Friends
14. The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It
13. The Walkmen – Little House of Savages
12. Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out
11. Phantom Planet – California
10. Super Furry Animals – Hello Sunshine
If you have any sense at all, you’ll know that the real romance success of The OC was Seth & Summer. At least when they extremely awkwardly lost their virginity to each other, they had a good soundtrack.
9. Finley Quaye & William Orbit – Dice
The third best love of the show was Ryan & Marissa (the first is obviously Sandy & Kirsten), and every great love has a super villain. Ryan and Marissa had a ton of people trying to split them up, but perhaps the most twisted was the evil Oliver in season one. This song is synonymous of true love championing evil as Ryan runs up hotel stairs to pent house level to give Marissa a NYE’s kiss.
8. Placebo – Running Up The Hill (Kate Bush cover)
When The OC came back for season four without Marissa Cooper, viewers were sad and confused about how Ryan would cope with her death. The answer was he wasn’t going to, not anytime soon anyway. It takes the length of this Placebo cover for him to almost come to his senses, while he moodily broods, of course.
7. Interpol – The Specialist
Probably the nicest interloper of Ryan and Marissa’s love story was Theresa, Ryan’s childhood friend and baby mama. Rolling around in a motel bed was never so sexy.
6. Nada Surf – If You Leave (OMD Cover)
Seth and Summer also had their share of road bumps, the most heartbreaking being Anna Stern, the cute and nerdy dream girl of every lonely mixtape-making boy’s dreams (aka Seth Cohen). When Anna moves away to Pittsburgh, marking the end of whatever their turbulent lust was, Nada Surf’s cover makes the scene so John Hughes it hurts. But we’ll always have: “Confidence, Cohen.”
5. Matt Pond PA – Champagne Supernova (Oasis cover)
Anna was the least of the problems Captain Oats and Princess Sparkles’ owners faced in their relationship — there were lots more. This is why, when they finally get back together, the reenactment of the famous upside down Spiderman kiss detracts from the cheesiness of this song playing.
4. Rooney – Shakin’
Potentially Seth’s second favorite band, these guys get ranked highly not just for their appearance at the Bait Shop early on, but also for the perennial reference to the California bear and for giving us Luke’s drunken sing-a-long.
3. Death Cab For Cutie – Sound of Settling
Disclaimer, not even my love for The OC could get me to come around to Death Cab, but I do love Seth Cohen — you have to respect the man’s taste. From the Transatlanticism poster on his wall to the gang catching them live, Death Cab for Cutie was most definitely popularized the show.
2. Imogen Heap – Hide & Seek
The moment Marissa pulls that trigger, the bullet whizzes into Trey and this song kicks in is so overly dramatic it’s now a meme, but you can’t deny that shooting your boyfriend’s criminal brother isn’t worthy of it. Imogen Heap became the soundtrack to every sappy drama moment of the 2000’s after this.
1. Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
Cliché? Most definitely. But we’re talking about a prime-time soap opera made for sixteen year olds here. The OC abused this song, but it will forever stand as the soundtrack to some of the series most tender moments. From the season one finale, that sees Ryan back to Chino, Seth sailing away on the Summer Breeze, the emergence of the ill-fated Nichol-Cooper alliance, and last but not least Marissa dying in Ryan’s arms.