Tonight, Friday Night Lights officially wraps its 5th and final season on NBC. (Actually, technically it wrapped on the DirecTV channel about half a year ago, but some of us are still tied to watching the rebroadcast on its original network—so no spoilers, dammit.) It's been one of the best shows on TV since its debut in 2006, and music has been a big reason why—the expertly-chosen soundtrack from music director Liza Richardson does a brilliant job of emphasizing the show's more cinematic qualities without ever coming off as cheesy or manipulative, and the show's instrumental theme by H.G. Snuffy Walden is an all-time classic. You can check out a solid list of the top ten musical moments over at GQ, including such slam-dunk choices as the Walden theme, The National's "Runaway" and Tony Lucca's oft-used "Devil Town" cover.
But this list is not about that. Music was not only a big part of Friday Night Lights, but it was a big part of the characters' lives, and over the five seasons, bands and songs made appearances in plot points that ended up being just as memorable, for one reason or another, as whatever the show was using in the soundtrack. From Julie Taylor's overeager references to indie rock bands to Landry Clarke's undying love for death metal, the show has seen its fair share of diverse real-life musical references. Here are our ten favorites.
10. LORETTA LYNN. While at a party with some of his new
murderball quad rugby friends, as well as Suzy, a girl he's developed a flirtatious relationship with while going through a rough patch with cheerleader girlfriend Lyla, ex-QB1 Jason Street notices Suzy deliberating over what CD to put on next. Street, ever the old-fashioned type, notices a CD by legendary country singer Loretta Lynn in the pile. "That's a classic," he says. "Gotta go with that." She concurs. By the end of the next episode, the two are hooking up.
9. JOSÉ GONZALEZ. Already featured on the show's soundtrack in the first season, José Gonzalez returns to Dillon when Julie's high school teacher lends her a Gonzalez CD, further crossing the student-teacher boundaries and greatly worrying Julie's mother Tami in the process. The plot is notable for two reasons: One, because it ends up foreshadowing the awful subplot of Julie sleeping with her college TA in season five, and Two, because it ends up leading to the most embarrassing scene in the entire series for Tami, where she threatens to have her husband (Eric, the Football coach) come beat him up if he doesn't stay away from Julie. Like you couldn't have taken him yourself, Tami.
8. BOB DYLAN. Matt Saracen, who becomes QB1 of the Dillon Panthers in the first season after Jason Street gets paralyzed by an on-field hit, is a bit of an enigma at series beginning. Unsure of himself on and off the field, all anyone seems to know about him is that he has vague aspirations to artiness. Street notes this himself when explaining to friends why he's OK with Saracen being his successor. "I always liked him," he says of Matt. "He's not like me...he's creative. He draws...listens to all that Bob Dylan. He sees things different." 40 years after Blonde on Blonde, Dylan is still the go-to singer/songwriter to represent the counter-culture mindset. Not bad.
7. GYPSY. In one of the more literal "musical" references in the show, Jason Street and best friend Tim Riggins go to New York in the hopes of landing Street a job at a sports agency. While Street is only concerned with business, Riggins uses the trip as an excuse to soak up the Big Apple, including a plan to go with his friend to see the musical Gypsy on Broadway, which from its plot description Tim assumes is basically going to be a high-class burlesque show. Sadly, we never get to see him or Street learn the horrifying truth, or to see them in a bar afterwards leading a drunken singalong of "Everything's Coming Up Roses."
6. THE AUSTIN INDIE MUSIC FESTIVAL. In one of the pivotal episodes of Season Four, Julie sneaks away with her parents to go see the Heartless Bastards (among other bands) at the Austin Indie Music Festival, FNL's very, very thinly-veiled spin off real-life Austin indie music festival South by Southwest. (Like the writers were trying to remember the name of SXSW, but could only come up with a vague description.) Rather than reveling in the deluge of indie rock on display, however, the two spend the entire festival coming to grips with the fact that their relationship is startling to crumble. Bad idea to bring a rocky relationship to a music festival, kids—those day passes are very expensive, and super non-refundable.
For musical references five to one, including some classics of '90s alternative and the first mention of Crucifictorious, click NEXT.
5. NAPALM DEATH / CANNIBAL CORPSE. While dorky but lovable metalhead Landry Clarke tries to get over on-and-off girlfriend Tyra Colette, he has the good fortune of meeting Jean, a fellow quirky, nerdy type who seems like his female equivalent. She drives this point home by making him a mix CD with Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse on it, telling him that she classifies all music into two groups, death metal and non-death metal. "God's gift to Landry," his table of friends all conclude about Jean. Landry agrees for about two episodes, until a jealous Tyra comes crawling back and he's forced to break poor Jeannie's heart.
4. OLD 97'S / THE DECEMBERISTS. For the entire show run, Julie is a veritable fount of alt-rock namedropping, the way that only a high school kid convinced of her superiority over her town of jock knuckleheads can be. As such, she spends much of the first season trying to see cool bands in concert (and then usually complaining about it once her parents say she can't go), as she does with alt-country standbys The Old 97s and indie favorites The Decemberists. To be fair to Julie, despite her occasional holier-than-thou moments in musical taste, she's probably the one character on the show who would actually listen to most of the often top-notch songs on the show's soundtrack, and is guaranteed to be the only one who would ever have even heard of Explosions in the Sky, the Texas post-rock band charged with performing most of the show's incidental music.
3. "SHE DON'T USE JELLY". When Landry finally thinks he's found the girl of his dreams in Devin, a cute, short-haired girl who signs on for playing bassist in his band Crucifictorious and whom he briefly makes out with, she breaks his heart by revealing to him that she's actually a lesbian. As Landry grapples with this, and tries to convince himself that he holds no secret powers of turning women against heterosexuality, Devin tries to cheer him up by playing him the Flaming Lips' novelty-ish hit "She Don't Use Jelly" on the piano. It doesn't work at first, but he later plays the song back to her on guitar, letting her know that everything's cool between them. The Flaming Lips: Catalyzing the healing process since 1993.
2. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS. While Matt's trying to wrap his head around becoming QB1 of the Dillon Panthers, best friend Landry tries to counsel him about how to handle critics who want to compare him to the transcendent talent of Jason Street. He explains to Matt that Jason is like the Red Hot Chili Peppers—a great, long-established band that no one (including Crucifictorious) would ever try to sound like or be better than, and that Matt is, by contrast, not the Red Hot Chili Peppers. ("It's not better or worse. It's different.") Matt later attempts to echo this analogy to a couple reporters asking him about Jason, but when they act confused by his statement, he realizes that he has no idea what he's talking about and that Landry's original point made little if any sense. Still, Flea and Anthony Kiedis no doubt appreciated the shoutout.
1. NIRVANA / CLAY AIKEN. In one of the first season's weirdest, most jarring and arguably hilarious scenes, Jason Street, paralyzed from the waist down and pissed off at the world, freaks out at his mother when he can't find his copy of Nirvana's classic 1991 album Nevermind. When she inquires as to why it's such a big deal that he can't find the CD, Jason offers the immortal response: "BECAUSE I'M CRIPPLED! AND I WANT TO LISTEN TO NIRVANA!" Jason heads out to a record store to replace his missing copy, where he runs into girlfriend Lyla, who he's currently on the outs with. The moment of anger passes to levity when he starts making fun of her for liking Clay Aiken, who she jokes is already his boyfriend. "Hey, what Clay and I have is special, okay?" remarks Jason. "America loves him and so do I." The two go off from there to attempt wheelchair makeup sex, setting the rest of the episode in motion.
This may be the first and only top ten list in history where Nirvana and Clay Aiken will share the top spot, but for the rage and humor they simultaneously inspire in this scene, they are both certainly deserving of top honors here.
Did we miss any good ones? Did you feel a little defensive reading us poking fun at Julie? Do you think Jason should have gone ballistic over a missing copy of Creed's Human Clay instead? Let us know all about it in the comments.