Why ‘The OC’ had the best soundtrack of any TV show of the last two decades

Why ‘The OC’ had the best soundtrack of any TV show of the last two decades


If you’re anything like me, The OC was a seminal part of your formative years. It’s hard to believe that it only lasted four seasons and was forced to wrap everything up in just a few episodes after being cancelled midway through its would-be final season. It’s probably hard for younger people to understand the influence the show had on its fans and pop culture in general. Language and fashion were both influenced by the Fox smash hit, but the music was on another level. Interestingly, the show was heavily influenced by music, yet it managed to influence music in return.

So pivotal was the soundtrack that a show with only four seasons spurred six soundtracks. The sixth and final release was an album which literally covered songs appearing in the show and on previous soundtracks, proving just how good the music was.

The music in Orange County became like another character, because of its importance to the show. It influenced the bands and artists I listened to then, and many of the ones I still listen to and see live 15 years later. Creator Josh Schwartz and co. recognised this importance and built a setting, The Bait Shop, primarily so they could have bands play on the show.

The only live band in season one was Rooney, while season two featured performances from the likes of The Killers, Modest Mouse, The Thrills, The Walkmen, The Subways and Seth Cohen’s favourite band of all time, Death Cab For Cutie. Somehow, he missed their show to pursue a comic book opportunity. The set barely got used after Seth stopped working there and Marissa’s fling with Alex, played by Olivia Wilde, had wrapped up.

Put all the songs from the soundtracks into a playlist – minus the holiday ones, unless it’s that time of year – and you’ve got yourself several chilled-out hours, laden with understated hits that’ll instantly transport you back to when they were played on the show.

Can you hear The Dandy Warhols’ ear-worm ‘We Used To Be Friends’ without thinking about Seth dancing his way down the Cohen mansion hallways in a dressing gown? Matt Pond PA’s cover of Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ instantly conjures images of Summer kissing Seth upside down on the roof (in an ode to Tobey Maguire-era Spiderman) after leaving Zach at the airport because “you can’t fight fate”.

Jem’s beautiful cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ will forever make me think of the county’s most infamous gold digger, Julie Cooper, as she prepared to marry Caleb despite having spent most of that season sleeping with her daughter, Marissa’s, ex-boyfriend Luke. You may best remember him for the unforgettable quote “welcome to the OC bitch” after beating up Ryan and Seth on the beach while wearing a seashell necklace. The 2000s were a crazy time.

The theme song itself was about as catchy as TV show themes get. ‘California’ by Phantom Planet, and its tremendous crescendo, was so hard to resist that every time the intro rolled towards the title card, nothing could stop me from wholeheartedly singing along at the top of my voice “California, here we cooooooooooome”. After the track ended, I waited with bated breath to see what kind of drama Marissa was going to create this week or the trouble her star-crossed lover from Chino, Ryan, was going to get into – only for Sandy to save him again.

Perhaps the most important moment of the entire show, besides Marissa getting killed off at the end of season three (sorry, spoiler alert) was the finale of season two, when Marissa shot Ryan’s brother, Trey, to save Ryan as the two fought each other. You may remember Trey had assaulted Marissa and Ryan wanted to avenge her. I can’t hear a single second of the song that played during this scene without thinking about this episode. The slow buildup of Imogen Heaps’ crossover hit ‘Hide and Seek’ kicks right into gear with “mm, what’d you say?” right as Marissa fires the bullet from the cylinder. What a song choice, what an episode and what a myriad of emotions for our then-teenage brains to unpack.

Watch the show now, and the fashion definitely hasn’t aged well, but the show as a whole holds up. The music and its six soundtracks feel completely timeless, and that’s why the show had the best soundtrack since the turn of the century.