The Universal Language



Once upon a time, in a country far, far away, the immortal Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart carefully advised another immortal, Franz Joseph Haydn, to not visit England. “Oh, Papa, you have no education for the wide world.” To this concern the elder master replied, "but all the world understands my language."

I'll grant that comparing the wordless symphonic complexities of the great classicists to twentieth-century English-language 4/4 rock and roll tracks is an exercise in surface futility, but dig deeper and you'll find at the core of each form the human condition itself. This language is indeed universal.

I can count them on one hand

 
"Seriously? I mean do you actually like being stuck in a car with me eight hours a day every day? I don't think so. I mean, I drive too fast and listen to the same five albums over and over and over again and... and... and I sing along and I know I'm annoying and I know that."
-- a distraught, fearful, epically ranting Dean to Sam, Yellow Fever

Because music is one of the vital currents fueling this show both on screen and off (I can’t speak for you ladies, but watching Sam and Dean do nothing but drive cross country for 40 minutes a week wouldn't be all that thrilling to this bloke), and because I watched that episode just the other day, I got to thinking about the answer to the unspoken question. For as we all know, nothing is more fun than speculative meta focusing on minutiae.

As those who've previously read my other, often scattershot, ramblings know, I have a problem narrowing down lists of subjects various and sundry, but I promise to try to try laying out no more than five albums, as difficult a task as that is. Do you have only five favorite albums? I didn't think so; neither do I, and let me be permitted to add this important caveat: this is the opinion of one yokel, and one yokel only, today only. Please feel free to offer your own suggestions because unless it's been confirmed canonically, I could be 179% incorrect.
 
Bang your head!

SAM: Dude, you gotta update your cassette tape collection.
DEAN: Why?
SAM: Well, for one, they are cassette tapes. And two, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Metallica... it’s the greatest hits of mullet rock.
DEAN: House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cake hole.
SAM: Sammy is a chubby 12 year old. It's Sam, okay.
DEAN: Sorry, can’t hear you. The music's too loud.

Preach it, Brother Dean. As for Sam, he rattled off arguably the three most important bands in metal history: the originators of doom and gloom, the peddlers of lethal, punky speed and the early codifiers of architectural possibility. Kudos, Kripke, and I would also wager that at least one, if not more, of the mythical (perhaps rhetorical, ghost sickness can mess you up something fierce) five can be found amidst this thunderous triptych.

Finished with my woman
'Cause she couldn't help me with my mind
People think I'm insane
Because I am frowning all the time
-- Black Sabbath, Paranoid

DEAN: Jo, you’ve got options. No one in their right mind chooses this life. My dad started me on this when I was so young, I wish I could do something else.
JO: You love the job.
DEAN: Yeah, but I’m a little twisted.

Twisted and frowning, without a woman. A permanent one anyway, at least until the apocalypse is no longer nigh, right, Lisa? As has been pointed out by Dean early on in the series (Skin), and Sam much later (Jump the Shark), the life of a hunter isn’t a reasonable facsimile of fun and games, let alone domestic bliss. Thus, if we take into account the CW's budgetary limitations (neither Zep nor Aerosmith, for starters), we can look at which artists have received the most broadcast airplay and one conclusion can be drawn: like his trademark laugh-in-the-face-of-danger defense mechanism, Dean likes his music to be loud, full of big riffs and major key joie de vivre. In other words, very 70s and very American. It was, after all, the decade of bralessness, weed and bitchin’ Camaros. Even if some of the acts have roots in the bleak and foggy English fens, but why quibble over details.

At the very top of the list, unsurprisingly, is AC/DC, arguably the finest no-frills hard rock outfit in music history. Other artists who've blasted out of the speakers more than a few times have been Foreigner, Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And Kent State's own (Ohio! Woo!) Joe Walsh, if we combine solo and group compositions.

With slightly fewer appearances we have arena rock masters Boston, the rootsy, often dark, Americana of Creedence Clearwater Revival, 80s glamsters Def Leppard and literate hard rockers Blue Oyster Cult.
Quick digression. I know it was done for plot purposes, and I hate to be too nitpicky concerning one of my all-time favorite episodes, but wouldn’t Dean have immediately recognized the latter’s logo? Damn writers. Anyway, given that John Winchester was about Dean's age pre-parental advisory (technically, even younger) we know that, chronologically later acts aside, he listened to the same artists and we can plausibly add other legends such as Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers Band, the Who, the Doors and the Rolling Stones to the mix.

If it keeps on rainin’, list’s gonna break

Witness Dean incredulous at Sam's apparent lack of familiarity with the timeless works of Robert Johnson in Crossroad Blues, or his give-and-take with FBI agent-cum-siren Nick Monroe on the loving thievery of Led Zeppelin in Sex and Violence. There's gotta be a Robert Lockwood Jr. or a Son House cassette in that box. Since most post-British Invasion rock and/or roll is constructed on a bluesy bedrock, I’d be downright flabbergasted if there wasn’t a copy of Robert Johnson’s The Complete Recordings hiding in the Impala. I don’t believe that was ever released on cassette, but again, why quibble over details. Want to complain about plot holes, phone Chuck.

 
DEAN: All right, if you’re gonna be talking now, this is a very important phrase, so I want you to repeat it one more time.
LUCAS: Zeppelin rules!

The spectre of the mighty Zeppelin has hung over Supernatural since year one. Even you kids too young to remember their 1985 Live Aid appearance know the score. And as mighty as the mighty Zeppelin is, and mighty they are, even the most ardent fan of said troupe would have a difficult time choosing only one. This isn't The Highlander. So, deftly using a combination of deductive reasoning and cheating, I'm imagining a young Dean thrilled at the prospect of being able to leave Sammy engrossed in his Thundercats reruns in order to absorb himself, along with space and a Whole Lotta Time, within the Led Zeppelin box set, originally released in 1990. Why this? The first official, non-bootleg appearance of Traveling Riverside Blues which is, as we all know, one of his two favorite songs.

And what of the rest? AC/DC's Back In Black is the next logical choice, for it doesn't get more anthemic than that, though I'm partial to the Bon Scott years, myself. It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Hunt, er, Rock N Roll). Sprawling, upbeat, power chord & pop workouts perfectly parallel the yellow lines on the interstate, so cue up Boston's eponymous debut. On second thought, how about Deep Purple’s Machine Head for blasting the serendipitous Highway Star? In Swan Song, during his heartfelt framing of the Impala's history, Chuck relates how Sam and Dean once drove quite a distance in order to check out an Ozzy concert. The singer’s first group was mentioned in the very first episode and given the plethora of unbreakable riffs found in its macabre grooves, Black Sabbath's Paranoid could most certainly be album number four. As for the last, Supernatural is a universal hero tale to be sure, but with a distinctly American flavor, and the band widely considered our nation's finest, at least the most popular, hard rock ensemble during the 1970s was unquestionably Aerosmith (until the otherworldly Van Halen came along, usurping the coked-out Bostonians), and given the ubiquitous appearance of Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way on classic rock radio, staples -- let me emphasize, FCC-mandated staples -- to this day, 'tis Toys In the Attic. Appropriate, since I suppose Old Scratch now views Sam and Dean as the true Toxic Twins.

Aside from the presence of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, which I assume most of us would agree is so logical it would impress both Spock and Supernatural's own resident Star Trek geek, the rest are certainly ripe for calm discussion, vigorous arguing or the occasional bout of fisticuffs. There are hundreds of possible choices and though the most commonly accepted way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the ears can carry an equal clout. Speaking as a man who loves music -- the very antithesis of cold, mathematical precision (be quiet Bach fugue-sters, his stuff moves my soul, not my calculator), the most ephemeral and personal of art forms -- trust me on that.
 
Now, grab your copy of Master of Puppets and turn it up to eleven.
 

Comments  

joelsteinlover
# joelsteinlover 2010-05-26 22:45
I completely couldn't even follow that last bit where you got all music techy. =P In a "what the hell are you talking about how do you know all this?!" sort of way, not a bad writing sort of way, no worries. But it's officially become a goal of mine to read this and know exactly what you're talking about, because seriously, right now I have on a Duncan Sheik/Rascal Flatts/Glee Cast shuffle playlist on in the background, which is pretty much as far away from classic rock as it gets (Matthew Morrison and Neil Patrick Harris did cover an Aerosmith song last week though!). That's how far off I am, heh. I was suprised, upon watching Supernatural, to find that I am, in fact, a fan of that sort of music, but I don't know anything about it. The fact that you do makes me admire you. My grandad hears "I Dreamed a Dream" and says "Hey, that's Susan Boyle's song" and I gasp in horror that anyone would call that Susan Boyle's song, but I suppose I must seem like that to the rock-educated lot of you when I call "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (not to pick the most overused one ever) Hunter Parrish's song (I don't do that for real, don't throw things at me!) because he sang it one time and I love listening to his version of it on YT more than Aerosmith's.

The point of this comment originally was to say that I also just watched Yellow Fever and as I watched it I was thinking "I would love to be in a car with Dean listening to his music" and then you posted this and it was funny, to me. And jeez, I just rambled to the max.

ANYWAY, you should write articles about the music more often, because I like to be educated about this stuff! It's interesting in a "Hammer of the Gods to a person who knows nothing about religon" sort of way.
Karen
# Karen 2010-05-27 00:12
Hi Randal
This was awesome!
I always figured the 5 Albums were Led Zepplin 1-4 and possibly Physical Graffiti. But what the hell do I know. So yeah throw in AC/DC, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and maybe some Cream.
BTW … Sam maybe the Walking Encyclopedia of Weirdness, but you are the
Walking Encyclopedia of Music (Classic Rock/Mullet Rock/Heavy Metal/Banshee). 8-)
Evelyn
# Evelyn 2010-05-27 02:04
Music is indeed the universal language. And while I am fairly eclectic in my music tastes, I prefer the Classic rock of my teenage years (the 70s). While I am not as knowledgeable with the groups of that era, I do know the songs and love to sit back and listen to them while I work or play. It was definitely a great era for rock 'n roll music. And there really isn't anyone new out there that makes music like they use to. Thanks for your analysis Randal. Always enjoy talking music.
Yvonne
# Yvonne 2010-05-27 02:14
As much as I hate to admit, I'm in the same boat as joelsteinlover. Tryin to learn Yoda! Have a feeling I'll be re-reading this as a sort of how-to manual.

Ok, have to get Dean's back over that minor plot point with the BOC symbol. (Which, I realize, has little to nothing to do with the article but I'm gonna anyway. Cuz I can ;-))

Considering what we've seen of his music collection, he doesn't seem to own a lot of mint condition or even bought copies of the bands. There weren't many casset tape holders meaning little to no band images. So it wasn't a daily sight. And, when he saw the tagging, his brain was on 'work' mode which means he was probably flipping through occult related stuff...far from the context of his beloved music. Haven't you ever done that? Come across something you love (not necessarily music) away from it's usual surroundings and gone "I know that from somewhere, but where?" I'm guilty.

So there. My rather rediculous defense. Sometimes it's hard to believe I get this worked up over a friggin tv show.
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2010-05-27 09:53
Great article Randal. Dean does love his music, and I always wondered what his favorite 5 albums were. I'm in the same boat as joelsteinlover, so this works for me. My favorite for the boys is Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive. Loved hearing them sing it!

Yvonne I know what you mean. I get WAY more worked up over this show than I should! Maybe some day I even figure out why. :P
Freebird
# Freebird 2010-05-27 10:03
Music is the best thing humanity ever invented! Or the best thing God has placed inside us to be discovered. Take it however. It's still the best thing ever!

Thank you Randal, for this article. I'm with joelsteinlover and Yvonne, love this music but don't know much about the artists. The first classic rock song I have ever heard in my life was "Eye of the tiger", and I was 10 years old. It was a crucial moment, for from that moment on every time classic rock played on the radio I would turn it up to eleven :-) It was only Supernatural that brought me some knowledge, that gave the songs a name and an artist.

I agree on your choice of Dean's playlist. Too bad for him he didn't go with Sam's douching up the Impala and let that iPod jack be - so much better to listen music from an mp3-player or a CD. When I think back of the tapes ... rewind, fast forward, yowling tape, drawn out tape, no thank you, not anymore.

Thanks again for sharing, Randal!
Lara
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-05-27 10:33
This country far far away, dearest Randal, is just around my corner, muah, the advantages of being European…

I’m with you in claiming music is THE universal language (another is laughter, to my mind), hell, I once planned to make a living on it (don’t worry, I’m not going to get to Bach’s mathematical precision, hehehe).

This is a great show, we all agree, in terms of acting, script, direction, etc, but the music choices are just as vital to its success, and I love its American flavour. Actually, through this show I got to know some bands I was not familiar with and I love to be introduced to new music.

I can’t imagine having only five favourite albums, I keep adding fave music to that list in my head, sometimes it’s more Puccini, sometimes more Pink. Music reflects our moods, moves us to the core (when it’s good and well-written), feeds our passions. Living without music would be unbearable for me. And, I bet, for Dean as well.

This was another magnificent piece, Randal. Thank you!! Love Jas


P.S.: I still hope to find Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town in one of the upcoming episodes….
Randal
# Randal 2010-05-27 13:58
Thanks all!

joelsteinlover, part of it is likely that I tend to ramble and not always make that much sense, all while employing far too many commas. And I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing does not count as an Aerosmith song, at least in my brain. ;-)

Aside from the show itself kicking much ass, one of the benefits has been exposing fans to music that they otherwise wouldn't have checked out. Hell, the key demographic is 18-34 year old women and how many of them would've have thought before to purchase classic rock?

Karen, the Mighty Five (sorry, Rimsky-Korsakov , et al) could easily be five Zeppelin albums, but I wanted to up the word count. :D

Evelyn, I love a lot of newer stuff, but only outside the mainstream, where it's actually interesting. Most rock bands these days just don't have the same songwriting chops as the greats of yore. There's always going to be fantastic, yet fresh, art, but when it comes to hard rock, er, hard to top Sticky Fingers, just to name one album.

Yvonne, oh no question, I'm guilty of that too, and I thought about that exact scenario after I had emailed the article to Alice. I can't imagine Dean sitting down in John's storage unit jamming to a vinyl copy of Fire of Unknown Origin. Just don't tell Julie I accidentally needled her favorite dude.

Sablegreen, that was an excellent use of a track, especially the way they wove in their reactions, Sam keeping it going, Dean realizing that the lyrics were prophecy fulfilled, as it were.

Better getting worked up over this than Dancing with the Stars, no? 8-)

Freebird, you mean you don't associate Eye of the Tiger with Rocky III? Who can forget Mr.T!

And on that, Dean's certainly wrong. I'm old school in that I still buy CDs (I love the total package of music and artwork) but digital is certainly the way to go, especially when space is an issue. Digitize those tapes!

Dany, if we could get some actual Zeppelin, I think the entire fanbase would be beyond thrilled. Listening, CW? Pony up that cash!

Jas, flaunt your cosmopolitan, Old European ways to us Yank rubes again, hmph. ;-)

Naming fifty albums would be almost impossible, let alone only five. And do multi-CD sets count as one? What about classical compilations? Is this 5-disc Beethoven symphony set five or one? Who makes the rules? Why am I asking so many questions?

Thin Lizzy!
Bevie
# Bevie 2010-05-27 15:00
Thanks Randal.

What I knew about classic rock could have been put on the head of a pin before Supernatural. Now I love it and have more than a hundred from the show in my iTunes.

I seem to have skipped that whole era except for the Beatles, Doors, Tom Jones and a few others.(Was a classical music fan (hides face) :-?

I'm way above the women's demographic age, but I really love the music now. But do I really love it, or is it because I really love Dean so of course the music means a lot to me now.

But I'm in kindergarten compared to your college knowledge about classic rock, so you can expound on the music and I will be happy to learn from you. It is amazing how so many of those songs can be applied to our boys and their life style.

I too wish for some Led Zepplin in season six. Gotta keep Dean happy in that car! ;-)
Freebird
# Freebird 2010-05-27 19:43
Randal, Rocky III? Hmph, right, I think I saw that one, but "Eye of the tiger" to me was always remembering that weekend at my friend's house and her big sister playing the single over and over again. Until Jensen came and sang, of course. Don't think of the big sister anymore, but of Jensen - which is far more appealing, of course ;-)
Suze
# Suze 2010-05-28 07:53
Very erudite, dude. Neither the Sabs nor Lemmy come from anywhere near the fens but hey, let's not quibble ... :lol: ( Oh, alright, let's ... That was the only bit I actually followed well enough to pick holes in! :lol: )

I have real trouble getting my head round Dean as a Def Leppard fancier as every single metalhead I ever met thought they were total wussies ...
Julie
# Julie 2010-05-28 08:36
Randal , I heard that !
Our Resident Yoda? what a wonderful image that has conjured up :-)
Perfect title for the article though, the universal language indeed. I have been passionate about music all my life and cannot imagine how I would cope without it ,or how anyone could not be touched by it .
You catch me this morning feeling wonderful ( the reason I can ignore certain comments ) after seeing another awesome concert last night from a band who have been around for many years . Yes , there is some good new stuff out there , you have to search for it though ! I tend to side with Bob Seger `I like that Old Time Rock and Roll` . There is something so special about Classic Rock , and this was one of the reasons I fell under the spell of this show , they even reminded me of some `lost` treasures , Longtime ,Walk Away , Shambala .
To pick those Top 5 Albums - impossible , they could change by the hour .
I would love some more Bad Co. and Free in the show , Hendrix is a given , Doobie Bros, and I am with Karen with her request for Cream , or more Blind Faith, D and the Ds or some solo stuff ;-).
Of course the glaring ommission is Zeppelin , I have the feeling we will never get our wish ( Please Mr Page? ) as I am not sure its about ponying up the money , but their music and this show is a marriage made in heaven , how many episodes/scenes scream out for No Quarter - `Walking side by side with death , The Devil mocks their every step` any images springing to mind there! As much as I love Back in Black if I could just once see The Impala being driven down a long road to Trampled Underfoot I could die a happy woman .
Oh and you are right Dean so needs an Ipod.
Thanks for the article Randal `Very good it was` .
Kaffeklubben
# Kaffeklubben 2010-05-28 09:36
Really like what you write on this site Randal, it usually have a bit of a different angle than what is written otherwise (it's all read with joy from this reader though :-)). Great stuff, great stuff!
Randal
# Randal 2010-05-28 13:20
Bevie, no face hiding. Beethoven was our master before Kripke ever was. Whenever someone says Tom Jones, I always think of that Simpsons episode when Smithers kidnapped him to sing for Mr. Burns wooing of Marge.

Freedbird, I see I've rudely interrupted a mini-episode of Salon de Drool. I'll leave you alone. 8-)

Julie, ha! Oh yeah, definitely some Cream, Derek and the Dominos. There are so many acts, but the red tape and/or cost to acquire some of these are so damn prohibitive. Which is comical given that one of the all-time top sellers, AC/DC, apparently has no problem letting their stuff be used. Oops, speaking like Yoda I should have been?

Kaffeklubben, even if that's a nice way of saying "you're nuts" the thought is appreciated. Thanks! :-)
BagginsDVM
# BagginsDVM 2010-05-30 21:52
This was a fun article, Randal!
Although I'm a child of the 70's & 80's I never really appreciated classic rock before Supernatural. Now I've gone out & added some Zeppelin to my collection (as well as Kansas & Styx, of course!) & I'm liking it!
Dawn
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-06-01 12:18
Very interesting look into Dean's musical tastes. Thanks, Randal! I, for one, am glad to have an iPod jack in my car because picking just five albums to listen to would be impossible.
elle2
# elle2 2010-06-01 17:08
Thank you for this, Randal,

Admittedly I'm not that familiar with all the ins and outs of classic rock, despite having a brother who was/is. With that in mind though, I do love, love, love the music in this show and there is something just...so right to the first two seasons with all their music. The music is deeply satisfying and as fabulous as the scores are behind and underpining the scenes, the classic rock speaks so richly to the show.

Thank you for putting together another fine article.