Within minutes of Lovecraft Country's opening scene, it's easy to see that Misha Green is committed to telling a genre-bending and blending show. The HBO series, that debuted in mid-August, is part horror, part sci-fi; at times it's a laugh-out-loud comedy, other moments it's a gripping, and thoughtful drama about Black lives. It expertly straddles lines between fantasy, gory monster movies, and Indiana Jones-esque adventure storytelling.
But it's also easy to hear Green's commitment to not being put in a box. The showrunner, writer, and director worked to create a soundtrack for the show that defies all expectations of a "period piece." Though the show is set in the 1950s (like Matt Ruff's book that inspired the series) the music is both anachronistic and an homage of the sound of the time.
Green spoke with Marie Claire about crafting a soundtrack that fuses spoken word, retro classics, and billboard toppers.
"I feel like people expect period pieces to be so sacred," Green told MC for the fall 2020 issue. "That it has to be exactly the music of the period or it’s bad. And I go, Ah, that's boring. How do we take that to another level? And, at the time, I [listened], back to back, to Beyonce’s Lemonade and I Am Not Your Negro. Both of those used voiceovers in a way that I was like, This hasn't been done on a TV show yet! I think that was our big—I like to do a big swing with every project, audio-wise, visually, in all the different categories—audio swing. It’s the part [when] you’re going, Is this gonna work?"
The Lovecraft Country creator credits her work on her previous show Underground (where John Legend was a music collaborator) for sparking her interest in using music that brings "the past to the present as much as possible." It's a concept perfectly encapsulated in an upcoming episode where a scene is set to Cardi B's "Bodack Yellow."
"I was like, Oh my god. She says bloody shoes in this song! It was made for this moment. Or did the moment come from me listening to that Cardi B song all summer? I don't know," she explained.
Though the soundtrack is unparalleled, it's bolstered by a unique and oft-surreal score. Composers Raphael Saadiq and Laura Karpman, who worked on Green's Underground, were responsible for the show's orchestra work. Karpman explained to Variety that pandemic lockdowns actually helped create Lovecraft's sound because the musicians were forced to record entirely over Zoom. "Suddenly a bass clarinet or a contrabass clarinet is a beautiful double for low brass, and because it’s isolated, you can have as much volume as you want. A unique sound has started to emerge," Karpman said. "It was wildly appropriate."
Here's a breakdown of the songs from the first few episodes. We'll keep this list updated as episodes airs.
Episode 1: "Sundown"
- "Main Title (From The Jackie Robinson Story)" by Herschel Burke Gilbert
- "Sh-Boom" by The Crew Cuts
- "I Just Want To Make Love To You" by Etta James
- "Clones" by Tierra Whack
- "Alley Corn" by Earl Hooker
- "I Want a Tall Skinny Papa" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe (cover by Ruby/Wunmi Mosaku)
- "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" by Jerry Lee Lewis (cover by Ruby/Wunmi Mosaku and Leti/Jurnee Smollett)
- "Ride Pretty Baby" by Big John Greer & The Du Droppers (cover by Ruby/Wunmi Mosaku and Leti/Jurnee Smollett)
- "September Song" by Sarah Vaughan
- James Baldwin's speech during his 1965 debate against William F. Buckley
- "You Upset Me Baby" by B.B. King
- “Recipe For Happiness” by Jimmy Self
- "Cobb's Corner" by Arnett Cobb
- "Sinnerman" by Alice Smith (cover by Alice Smith)
Episode 2: "Whitey's On The Moon"
- "The Jeffersons Theme (Movin' On Up)" by Ja'Net DuBois & Jeff Barry
- "The End" by Earl Grant
- "Blackbird" by Nina Simone
- "Killing Strangers" by Marilyn Manson
- "Whitey on the Moon" by Gil Scott-Heron
- "River" by Leon Bridges
- “Bad Moon Rising” by Mourning Ritual (cover by Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Episode 3: "Holy Ghost"
- "Window" by The Album Leaf
- "Nike #BeTrue Campaign" voiceover by Precious Angel Ramirez
- "Ain't That a Shame" by Fats Domino
- "Good Rockin' Daddy' by Etta James
- "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" by Louis Jordan (cover by Ruby/Wunmi Mosaku)
- "I Don't Hurt Anymore" by Dinah Washington
- "Take It Back" by Dorinda Clark-Cole
- "Satan, We're Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down" by Shirley Caesar