If you glance at the soundtrack listing for “Love & Death,” you’ll basically find a greatest hits collection of bangers from the ’70s. Set from 1978-80, the HBO Max limited series features tunes from Bee Gees, Janis Joplin, Al Green, Dolly Parton and Neil Diamond, to name a few, culled by music supervisor Robin Urdang. “It’s one of my favorite eras,” she tells Gold Derby (watch above). “A lot of the songs were scripted originally because David E. Kelley and Lesli Linka Glatter had in mind songs that they wanted to use. When I read the script and saw that in there, I was like, ‘Oh, my God! This is like my favorite music. I have to do the show.'”
“Love & Death” dramatizes the real-life case of Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen), a Texas housewife who had an affair with the husband, Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons), of her friend, Betty Gore (Lily Rabe), only for it to all end with her on trial for the brutal axe murder of Betty. After coming on board, Urdang, a three-time Emmy winner for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Zoomed with Glatter, who directed five of the seven episodes, to go through the script and whittle down the music, prioritizing the ones they really want. Some were discarded because they were out of their price range, like Beatles tunes.
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The first three episodes track the affair and are filled with recognizable songs, which Urdang feels is vital in showcasing Candy’s personality and the type of music she was listening to and setting the mood of her world before the murder. “I saw something where somebody said, ‘You use all popular music. Nothing is unknown.’ And I’m just like, ‘It wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t unknown,'” Urdang explains. “It feels like it’s gotta be the known music of the time and you’re going to get a relief from as the viewer. There’s so much darkness and tension that when you hear the music, for me, you can just breathe and go, ‘OK, this is fun,’ and engage you in a way that the interior and introspective [world] of Candy does the opposite.”
A Taste of Honey‘s “Boogie Oogie Oogie” plays while the pair fastidiously plan their affair. Green’s “I’m Hooked on You” backs a montage of Allan and Betty at the doctor and Candy baking cookies. Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” blares at the end of the second episode when Candy furiously grinds meat after Allan and Betty return from marriage encounter rejuvenated about their relationship — the first hint that something darker is lurking and one of Urdang’s favorite moments. “It was just riveting for me. And I wanted it to go on longer, but it doesn’t because it cuts to credits.”
Sometimes the songs are diegetic and Candy is singing along to the car radio. Such is the case in the third episode, in which Olsen completely nails the fast-paced “Turn the Beat Around” by Vicki Sue Robinson. “When I saw Lizzie at the premiere, she said, ‘I’m singing it and before I started, I go, ‘Does Robin know this? Does she know I’m singing? Is it OK?'” Urdang recalls. “Because they were locking into that song. It’s a different use if you’re singing to something or if it’s background use … so I thought it was really funny that she was conscious of that as an actor. ‘Am I allowed to sing this?’ But she was awesome. She had the lyrics, she had the song, she learned them, she’s got a great voice. It’s her persona. It’s Candy.”
Once the murder happens in the fourth episode, everything changes, including the music. Needle drops are far more sparse in the back half of the show. As Candy drives home after the killing, she turns on the radio, hears The Knack‘s “My Sharona” and quickly shuts it off. “That music was Candy’s personality up until the murder. That’s why when she gets in the car, she turns it on and turns it off,” Urdang says.
Urdang also shortlisted the track for the show’s atmospheric opening credits, Nina Simone‘s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” The credits originally came with Eurythmics‘ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which Urdang “wasn’t really fond of.” Not to mention, it was released in 1983 and thus would’ve been anachronistic. She sent Glatter, Kelley, who wrote the whole series, and executive producer Per Saari around 15 new options.
“We had a conversation on Zoom about what we’re trying to get out of the opening titles and how we’re trying to engage the audience. We all decided on the mood we decided on, and Lesli and I sat on a Zoom and took picture and went through a short list. And when it came to that song, she just was like [gasps]. ‘I think I really like that. That did something to me.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!'” Urdang says. “And everybody really liked it… and it was a struggle [to clear], but I think it’s a good choice.”
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