After seven seasons, Mad Men is counting down to its final episode next month. Set (as if anyone hasn’t heard) between 1960 and 1970, the series is famed for its fanatical attention to period detail. For music buffs it has always been fascinating to see, and hear, what songs turn up as source music in the show, and which records figure into the stories, even as background. Key to the show’s shrewd, counter-intuitive take on an overly mythologized era, the music selections avoid obvious choices, while speaking to — and commenting on — the characters’ lives.
In honor of Record Store Day and the resurgence of vinyl in the 21st century, I can’t resist speculating as to what albums the gang at Sterling Cooper might have listened to at home. This was the heyday of the long-player and the hit 45, after all!
So who on Mad Men would’ve had the best record collection?
10. Not Pete.
9. And not Don, either. The show has made a point of showing how advertising whiz Don, who should be so good at reading the Zeitgeist, is not down with the kids: backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in ’65 to close a deal, he makes no attempt to bridge the generation gap, and when his much younger second wife Megan attempts to turn him on to the Beatles’ Revolver (1966), he lifts the needle off “Tomorrow Never Knows” before the song is over.
Is Don Draper too much of a hollow man to have ever formed musical tastes? Or is it more apt to say that Don’s own needle remains stuck somewhere in the ’50s? It’s fitting that hearing Sinatra’s “My Way” come on the radio in summer 1969 inspires Don to slow-dance with Peggy in the office. (That moment immediately felt like such a perfect cap to the show that it’s hard to imagine anything in the series finale will be able to top it — but let’s see.) That scene with Peggy is a rare moment of sentimentality from Don; most of the time he’s too busy living out the classic Sinatra albums to ever need to listen to them.
8. And not Peggy, either. As a 20-year-old secretary in 1960, Peggy is girlishly excited when Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” comes on at PJ Clarke’s; in fall 1962, a gay co-worker takes her to see Bob Dylan at Carnegie Hall; around 1965 she catches a Velvets-like band at a Warholian happening/loft party with her new best friend
Shoshanna Joyce; and 1968 finds her shacking up with long-haired lefty journalist Abe, who composes his pieces while listening to Frank Zappa on headphones.
And yet, none of this ever seems to rub off or make much impression on resolute, hard-working Catholic girl Peggy. She never takes a vacation, and if she’s ever bought an LP in her life we’ve never heard about it.
7 and 6. Westchester Republicans Henry and Betty Francis are the embodiment of a bourgeois Establishment couple — as an aide to New York City Mayor John Lindsay, Henry is indisputably The Man, as Abe might’ve put it. No doubt they would’ve owned an enormous wood-console stereo, of the sort that used to take up whole corners of living rooms.
But since Mad Men is fair to its characters, even (or especially) the squares, let’s consider the possibility that Betty and Henry might have some solid titles in their record collection. I can see a lot of Leonard Bernstein New York Philharmonic LPs in there, and some original Broadway cast albums, plus Betty probably had the original 10″ soundtrack of her favorite movie, Singin’ in the Rain. No shame in that. Betty probably also held on to an opera LP or two, to remind herself that she speaks Italian.
5. I like to think dearly departed Bert Cooper (R.I.P.) would’ve had a great collection of 78s.
4. Who knows what the buttoned-down, closeted art director Sal might have listened to behind closed doors? That could be one diverse record collection: show tunes, opera, maybe some Ethel Merman, maybe some Esquivel and “exotica” records for when the time is right.
We haven’t seen Sal since fall 1963, but it’s not hard to picture him lip-syncing to the Supremes — assuming his wife Kitty wouldn’t get too freaked out by how well Sal channels his inner diva.
3. Given that Megan is a French-Canadian free spirit who relocates from Quebec to NYC circa the mid ’60s, becomes an actress, and then moves to the canyons of L.A. by 1969 (right when that locale was becoming ground zero for singer-songwriters), it’s a safe bet she would have the most cosmopolitan record collection of anyone in the world of Mad Men.
And of course we saw her give voice to her inner yé-yé girl when she sang “Zou Bisou Bisou” to Don at his 40th birthday party. That song dates back to 1960–61, when it was done by Gillian Hills (in an arrangement identical to the one Jessica Paré performed), and no less than Sophia Loren performed the English-language version in a movie, The Millionaress. Megan has good ears, as further evidenced when she tried to get Don to turn off his mind to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” When the show gets to 1970, we see Megan move her stuff out of Don’s penthouse; what lame-o records would she have stuck Don with?
2. Misfit child, troubled adolescent, self-assured teen rebel; if anyone would naturally gravitate toward garage rock, it would be Sally’s neighbor/crush/white knight Glen Bishop. This kid probably got hip to the 13th Floor Elevators all on his own.
And speaking of…
1. Who else but Sally Draper would have the coolest record collection on Mad Men? Sally was the perfect age to become a Beatlemaniac; who didn’t enjoy hearing her scream her head off when she learns she’s going to see the Fab Four at Shea Stadium in 1965? (Getting the tickets was a rare instance of Don being a good dad.)
Circa 1968, when Sally and a school friend discuss a boy they like, they compare him to Mark Lindsay, lead singer of garage-rock stalwarts Paul Revere and the Raiders. (The writers of Mad Men would never dream of having the girls cite a ’60s teen idol that the modern TV audience would be more likely to recognize, like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger.)
This all suggests Sally would’ve had a great collection of pop and rock-n-roll 45s (and maybe a David McCallum LP or two stashed under her bed, for private moments). And maybe she played them on one of those groovy Fisher-Price turntables.
Plus, with Don and Betty as her parents, few kids would’ve had as much to rebel against as Sally. It’s easy to picture her going to the record store and buying whatever hits at the time would be most likely to drive Betty up the wall.
BONUS: Below, one of Harry Crane’s likely favorites from his LP collection: