Do you want to know a secret? Matthew Weiner is a huge Beatles fan.
Well, OK, that's not really a secret: The "Mad Men" creator has often weaved his love for the Fab Four into his Emmy-winning AMC drama. He ended the Season 4 episode "Hands and Knees" with an instrumental version of that early Beatles hit, "Do You Want to Know a Secret." Plus, he coughed up a quarter-million dollars to use the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" in Season 5's "Lady Lazarus." (And it was worth every penny, by the way.)
Weiner recently told Buzzfeed he's taking inspiration for "Mad Men's" final season (which debuts Sunday) from the last album the Beatles recorded together, "Abbey Road":
"I just always loved that the album actually ends, almost like 'The Sopranos' did, in the middle of a song. It's just, 'Cut!' — you know, that last note of 'Her Majesty'? So I just admire it in artistic expressionism, looking at wrapping up the show. I'm writing an ending, and it will — whether I like it or not — frame the entire 92-hour experience of the show in some way. So I was impressed with how the Beatles dealt with that responsibility."
Which got us thinking: If the final season lines up with "Abbey Road," do the other seasons of "Mad Men" line up with other Beatles albums as well? We couldn't resist doing a little digging, and the parallels are striking. (Although you may need to smoke some of Stan Rizzo's stash to make a few of these connections.)
So join us on this magical mystery tour, as we hunt for hidden (and not-so-hidden) connections between one of the greatest TV dramas ever and one of the greatest rock bands ever.
Season 1 is… "Help!" (1965)
Along with 1964's "Beatles For Sale" (and we'll get to that in a minute), "Help!" represented the Beatles' first tentative steps away from their simplistic early work and into darker, more thoughtful territory. Of course, their singles still had that slick pop-music sheen — like the title track, "Help!," which hides John Lennon's crushing anxiety underneath a catchy melody and chorus.
That tension between outward confidence and inner desperation is a big part of "Mad Men's" first season (and "Mad Men" in general). At work, Don Draper is a conquering hero, a creative magician who conjures ad campaigns out of thin air. But at home and inside his head, he's badly in need of "Help!": He's cheating on his wife Betty, and he's constantly on the run from his true Dick Whitman identity.
John Lennon's Dylan-esque strummer "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" could represent Don's secret affection for department-store heir Rachel Menken. First, he coldly informs her that love is just a fiction invented by advertising: "What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons." In other words, "It's Only Love," right?
But later, Don professes his true feelings for Rachel, in the vein of George's "I Need You": "You don't realize how much I need you…" Of course, Don could quite literally sing Paul's taunting "Another Girl" to Betty: "For I have got/Another girl… As of today, I've got/Somebody that's new."
Then there's the matter of Don's long-lost brother Adam coming back into his life — and bringing Dick Whitman back with him. In a flashback to Don's return from war, a young Adam thinks he sees Don on the train ("I've Just Seen a Face"), but is told he's mistaken. Later, Don tries to pay off Adam so he'll go away, essentially giving him a "Ticket to Ride." But Adam "don't care"; he takes his own life instead.
The strongest connection between Season 1 and "Help!," though, comes in the season finale "The Wheel." Don sells the Kodak slide projector using photos of his once-happy family and the idea of nostalgia, saying, "In Greek, nostalgia literally means 'pain from an old wound.'" That's a dead ringer for the melancholy of Paul's immortal ballad "Yesterday": "Yesterday/All my troubles seemed so far away/Now it looks as though they're here to stay/Oh, I believe in yesterday."
(Would we be reading too much into this if we connected Elisabeth Moss's Peggy feeling faint due to her mystery pregnancy and the Beatles' cover of "Dizzy Miss Lizzy"? Yeah, probably.)
Season 2 is… "Beatles For Sale" (1964)
"Beatles for Sale" (which actually preceded "Help!" by eight months) and "Mad Men" Season 2 both fall into the same category: a generally weak effort salvaged by a few transcendent moments. Both represent a sad, strange transition period; the Beatles were morphing from mop-topped pop idols into serious artists, and "Mad Men" was deciding where to head next after a widely acclaimed freshman season.
"For Sale" found a sullen Fab Four (check out those scowls!) exhausted from a relentless touring schedule, so they cranked out a filler album, with six cover songs sharing space with Lennon-McCartney gems like "I'm a Loser" and "I'll Follow the Sun." And in retrospect, Season 2 of "Mad Men" feels like a filler season, retreading a lot of Season 1's territory without moving the narrative forward, but still spiked with highlights: Don and Roger's wild night out with Freddy Rumsen, Don's picturesque California trip, and Peggy's revelation to Pete that she gave their baby away.
John's aching portrait of love gone sour, "No Reply," matches the mood of Don and Betty's relationship, finally deteriorating after years of affairs. Don's ever-present self-loathing matches John's brutal "I'm a Loser": "I'm a loser/And I'm not what I appear to be." Paul's beautiful ballad about moving on after a breakup, "I'll Follow the Sun," connects to Don and Betty's trial separation and his subsequent trip to sun-dappled California.
John and Paul spin a tale of a girl mourning her dead lover in "Baby's in Black"; likewise, Don pays a visit to Anna Draper, the widow of the real Don Draper, who he's developed a close friendship with. Also while in California, Don hooks up with a roving band of sexually liberated nomads, but eventually walks away from the hedonistic festivities, which sounds like John's regretful "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party."
Bottom line: Both "Beatles For Sale" and "Mad Men" Season 2 aren't much more than noble failures. "For Sale" was deemed uneven by critics and relegated to second-class status among Beatles albums, and Season 2's chief storylines (Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett, Peggy's relationship with Father Gill) have rarely been mentioned on the show since. Let's just move on.
Season 3 is… "Rubber Soul" (1965)
Just as the Beatles' sixth studio album kicks off with the deceptively peppy "Drive My Car," Season 3 of "Mad Men" kicks off with a deceptively peppy airline affair, with Don bedding a stewardess in the premiere. But as "Rubber Soul" and Season 3 went on, both got deeper and richer, ultimately representing a quantum leap forward, artistically speaking.
John's plaintive "Nowhere Man" might as well be Don Draper's theme song, steeped in existential dread and depression. Paul's romantic ballad "Michelle" matches Don's torrid affair with Sally's teacher Miss Farrell. And Don's scheme to get himself and his co-workers fired from Sterling Cooper so they can start their own firm lines up with the rebellious verve of George's "Think For Yourself."
The centerpiece of Season 3, though, is the dissolution of Don and Betty's marriage. Betty finding Don's box of Dick Whitman secrets and declaring she no longer loves him meshes perfectly with the lyrics to Paul's bitter kiss-off "I'm Looking Through You": "I thought I knew you/What did I know?/You don't look different/But you have changed/I'm looking through you/You're not the same…"
The season ends with Betty leaving Don and flying to Reno with Henry Francis to get a quickie divorce, recalling the romantic frustration of "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)." And Don's jealous rage in the finale matches John's chillingly misogynistic rocker "Run For Your Life": "Well, I'd rather see you dead, little girl/Than to be with another man…"
Or that song could very well apply to that poor PPL executive whose foot got shredded by a John Deere mower. If you ever see a Sterling Cooper secretary riding a mower in the office? "Run For Your Life."
Season 4 is… "Revolver" (1966)
Before we even get into the songs, wrap your mind around this: "Revolver" is the seventh of 13 Beatles studio albums — the exact middle. Season 4 of "Mad Men" is the fourth of what will be seven seasons — the exact middle. (And how crazy is it that the greatest "Mad Men" episode ever, Season 4's "The Suitcase," is the 46th of what will be 92 episodes of "Mad Men"? Dead center. Incredible.)
Anyway, "Revolver" is generally considered the best Beatles album — though we'd hear arguments for "Sgt. Pepper" or "Abbey Road." Likewise, Season 4 of "Mad Men" is generally considered the best "Mad Men" season; it won the show the last of four consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series. And the Beatles' increasingly trippy experimentation at this point lines up with the growing influence the psychedelic '60s have on Don Draper and company.
SCDP's accountant Lane Pryce is obviously the "Taxman." Don's ancient secretary Miss Blankenship could be the firm's very own "Eleanor Rigby" — although she died at her desk, not in a church. Don mourning the death of Anna Draper and seeing her ghost recalls John's "She Said She Said": "She said/I know what it's like to be dead." And Don finally snapping out of his alcoholic funk and facing a new day could be scored to Paul's "Good Day Sunshine."
Season 4 ends with Don suddenly falling in love with his new secretary Megan and impulsively proposing to her ("Got to Get You Into My Life"). And when he breaks things off with his seemingly perfect match, psychologist Faye Miller, we can't help but think of Paul's mournful "For No One": "Cried for no one/A love that should have lasted years."
"Revolver" ends with a stunner in "Tomorrow Never Knows," John's wildly experimental sound collage that points to an uncertain future. (It's also the song Weiner forked over all that cash to play the following season, when Megan tells Don to listen to it.) And the title of Season 4's final episode? "Tomorrowland."
Season 5 is… "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967)
The '60s are in full bloom, both in the fifth season of "Mad Men" (which opens in May 1966) and in the brash psychedelia of "Sgt. Pepper," released during the Summer of Love.
Megan's show-stopping performance of the song "Zou Bisou Bisou" in the premiere lines up with "Pepper's" opening one-two punch about a faux band's concert: the title track ("We're Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/We hope you will enjoy the show") and "With a Little Help From My Friends" ("Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song/And I'll try not to sing out of key").
In fact, maybe all the drugs are rubbing off on us, because the connections are coming fast and furious now. Roger's journey of self-discovery with the help of LSD? John's hallucinatory "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Don slacking off at work due to his "love leave" with Megan? "Getting Better." Don emasculating Pete by fixing his leaky faucet? "Fixing a Hole." Paul Kinsey reemerging as a bald, beaming Hare Krishna? George's meditative mantra "Within You Without You."
We were a little torn on Paul's empty-nest lament, "She's Leaving Home." At first, it seemed to connect to Megan rejecting the world of advertising (and, by extension, Don) and returning to acting. But at second glance, it fits even better with Peggy finally saying goodbye to her mentor Don and taking a job at a rival firm: "We gave her most of her lives… we gave her everything money can buy." (That's what the money is for!)
And "Sgt. Pepper's" closing track, John's sweeping masterwork "A Day in the Life," alludes to a man dying in a car crash ("He blew his mind out in a car"), which connects to poor Lane Pryce's suicide in Season 5's "Commissions and Fees." Lane even tried to off himself in his Jaguar! Have we blown your mind (out) yet?
Season 6 is… "The Beatles (The White Album)" (1968)
"The White Album" found the Beatles beginning to fracture and move in their own musical directions, resulting in an eclectic, often brilliant double album of musical delights that never really form a cohesive whole. And in turn, although Season 6 of "Mad Men" sees Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce merge with rival firm Cutler Gleason and Chaough (with Peggy in tow), the union is in name only; the new firm is hopelessly divided from the start.
The rising tide of social change in the late '60s found its way into the Beatles' music, and into Season 6 of "Mad Men" as well. The Beatles released "Revolution" as a single the day that the Democratic National Convention opened, which devolved into the violent riots Megan watches on TV. Paul's "Blackbird" reflected the ongoing civil rights struggle; the Season 6 episode "The Flood" sees the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
And with social change, sometimes blood is shed. "Bungalow Bill" sings of a tiger hunter armed with an elephant gun; Ken gets accidentally shot in the face while hunting with Chevy executives. Paul's uncharacteristically raw rocker "Helter Skelter" and George's "Piggies" are said to have influenced the murderous cult of Charles Manson; remember that T-shirt Megan wore in "The Better Half" that connected her to Manson victim Sharon Tate?
Don and Betty's sexy fling at Bobby's summer camp is in the spirit of Paul's carnal ditty "Why Don't We Do It in the Road." The newly merged firm gets hopped up on speed to hone their Chevy pitches in "The Crash" and Don ends up collapsing, which sounds like John's exhausted "I'm So Tired": "I'd give you everything I got/For a little peace of mind." (Although admittedly, the doctor-administered speed binge fits better with "Revolver's" "Doctor Robert.")
Don Draper and John Lennon could both talk a therapist's ear off with all of their mommy issues. While Don pursues the maternal Sylvia Rosen and flashes back to his whorehouse upbringing, John laments his mother's passing with the poignant "Julia": "Half of what I say is meaningless/But I say it just to reach you, Julia."
And Don's painfully honest pitch to Hershey's, in which he reveals his humble upbringing, recalls both Paul's "Mother Nature's Son" ("Born a poor, young country boy/Mother nature's son") and John's searing confessional "Yer Blues": "Yes, I'm lonely/Wanna die."
On the White Album, John sings "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." Finally, when Don shows his kids the whorehouse he grew up in, the monkey is off his back and he's got nothing to hide.
Season 7 is… "Abbey Road"? (1969)
So if we've finally sold you on this theory (we wore you down!), we're left with one question: What might the songs on "Abbey Road" tell us about "Mad Men's" final season?
Should we expect a reconciliation between Don and Megan, a la George's celebrated love song "Something"? Will we see a burst of violence, tying into Paul's jaunty "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"? An ever-more-rebellious Sally Draper coming in through the bathroom window? A return of Fat Betty, to match "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"? (Sorry.)
After the acrimony of the "Let It Be" sessions, the Beatles wanted to go out on a positive note, and George's cheerful "Here Comes the Sun" could represent a new beginning for Sterling Cooper with the opening of the West Coast branch, complete with Pete Campbell and Ted Chaough soaking up rays on an L.A. beach.
And, of course, that ending. "Abbey Road" (and the entire Beatles oeuvre) concludes, appropriately, with "The End," a gorgeous coda with a timeless message: "And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to/The love you make." Will Don Draper finally learn that lesson by series' end?
Yes, technically, "The End" isn't the actual end of "Abbey Road"; it's followed by Paul's 23-second epilogue, "Her Majesty." So will "Mad Men" wrap up as Weiner hints (and as "Her Majesty" does), with a quick cut to black? After "The Sopranos," he wouldn't do that to us again, would he?
"Mad Men" Season 7 premieres Sunday, April 13 at 10 p.m. on AMC.