Some really awesome music has turned up on my favorite shows this week. During the latest episode of The Wire, the newly unretired Omar and his older partner, Donnie (played by former stick-up man Donnie Andrews, the real-life inspiration for Omar), chillaxed to R&B oldies like the Temps’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” and the Impressions’ “Gypsy Woman” while staking out a condo owned by one of Marlo’s crew. In the same ep, Wire creator David Simon, who also co-scripted this installment, humorously worked a plug for his nephew’s band Dead Meadow into a strained moment between deadbeat dad Jimmy McNulty and his psych rock-loving sons (“Dead metal? What’s wrong with the Ramones?”).
Unlike The Wire, House abuses heavy-handed indie pop montages as often as its title character abuses Vicodin, but its exceptional Super Bowl ep took Marvin Gaye’s overplayed “Let’s Get It On” and spun comedy gold from it—the cleverest use of “Let’s Get It On” ever on the screen. The following evening, Conan, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart laid the smackdown on each other over who “made” Mike Huckabee, to the tune of the Arctic Monkeys’ fierce “Brianstorm”—the perfect anarchic soundtrack for the most hilarious late-night moment to come out of the writers’ strike.
But my favorite use of music on TV this week comes from an unexpected source: the trashy Nip/Tuck, a show I like but don’t love because the writing is so over-the-top it can get wearying, and the songs that accompany Nip/Tuck‘s grisly plastic surgery footage aren’t always the most subtle choices (like the usage of Toto Coelo’s “I Eat Cannibals” and Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy,” one of many overwrought touches in last week’s rather dumb ep about cannibalism).
However, this week’s Nip/Tuck ep‘s usage of the frequently sampled 1966 David McCallum/David Axelrod instrumental “The Edge” took me by surprise because it’s an obscure choice for Nip/Tuck, and ’00s downtempo electronica (which was more prominent in the earlier seasons) and ’80s pop are the only genres that music supervisor P.J. Bloom seems to favor on the show.
The A-story on the latest Nip/Tuck deals with Dr. Christian Troy’s dalliance with a quartet of recently divorced Beverly Hills cougars. (In keeping with Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy’s ’80s fetish, two of the cougars are portrayed by former Knots Landing co-stars Donna Mills and Joan Van Ark. Mills has aged well, while the heavily collagened Van Ark now looks like a duck.) The socialites play McCallum’s “The Edge” on the dining room stereo while Christian persuades them to hire him as their plastic surgeon. Because this is Nip/Tuck we’re talking about here, Christian sells himself by unzipping his fly and laying his trouser scalpel on the dinner table.
“The Edge,” an instrumental with an interesting backstory, is a favorite sample source for hip-hop beatmakers. The most famous tune that’s sampled “The Edge” is Dr. Dre’s infectious joint “The Next Episode,” one of my favorite tracks from the year I graduated from university (“Hope you ready for the next episode/Hey-yeeeeeeeeeey/Smoke weed everyday”). In Nip/Tuck‘s weird alternate reality, wealthy, middle-aged Beverly Hills divorcees are apparently avid cratediggers as well.
I didn’t know the Axelrod-produced tune had a title. I had to Google for it. The song was always known to me as that nameless but funky-as-hell track that Dre sampled for “The Next Episode.” I also didn’t know it was performed by David McCallum. Yes, that David McCallum. The same David McCallum who played Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and now steals scenes as Ducky the M.E. on NCIS—perhaps the strangest connection between a whiter-than-white TV personality and the rap community since Martha Stewart awkwardly bantered with Busta Rhymes at the 1997 MTV VMAs.
McCallum is also a classically trained musician, arranger and conductor who recorded a series of all-instrumental albums for Capitol during his U.N.C.L.E. heyday. (That’s what I’d rather hear more of these days: actors who compose, rather than actors who try to sing. Although Zooey Deschanel’s collabo with M. Ward sounds promising.) On these easy listening albums, Axelrod, a legendary jazz composer/producer who helped develop Capitol’s black music division in the ’60s, handled production duties, while McCallum conducted. Who knew that one of these lush instrumentals that Kuryakin conducted during his off-hours away from U.N.C.L.E. fieldwork would someday turn into a kickass breakbeat?
The out-of-the-blue inclusion of “The Edge” is the highlight of Nip/Tuck this week. Too bad you have to be subjected to Joan Van Ark’s scary-looking Daisy Duck bill to enjoy it.