Mad Men’s obsessive devotion to period accuracy has one conspicuous exception: its hip-hop theme song by RJD2. The track plays under one of television’s all-time great opening title sequences, which I can’t embed because AMC doesn’t understand how internet marketing works. Click this collage I made to watch on YouTube.
The theme song is an edited-down version of RJD2′s backing track for Aceyalone’s “A Beautiful Mine.”
Due respect to Aceyalone but his flow has too much information in it to go on top of such a complex track. Here’s the instrumental, which is easier on the brain.
The internet doesn’t have anything to tell me about the beats, but the string sample comes from the intro to an ornate lounge arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” by Enoch Light.
Maybe the choice of “A Beautiful Mine” for the Mad Men theme isn’t such an anachronism after all. I could easily imagine Pete and Trudy Campbell slipping on Enoch Light’s record during cocktail hour.
A philosophical question. What’s the relationship between “Autumn Leaves” and the Mad Men theme? Enoch Light’s intro was inspired by Joseph Kosma’s original melody. Does that make it part of the same piece of music? Does RJD2 owe any sort of debt to Joseph Kosma when his sample doesn’t make any use of “Autumn Leaves” itself? A similar set of issues surrounds “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve, which samples the intro of an orchestral arrangement of a Rolling Stones song. The Stones management successfully sued the Verve for copyright infringement under very similar circumstances. Does Joseph Kosma have a basis for a copyright claim against RJD2? I say no, but the courts might say yes.
Speaking of intros that have a compositional weight of their own. The definitive recording of “Autumn Leaves” is the one by Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, which has an incredible intro.
Talk about moody, evocative arranging. I’m surprised more hip-hop producers haven’t sampled it. In fact, so far as I can tell, no one has. I decided to rectify the situation by mashing it up with some Mingus, Monk, Coltrane and Miles. If you’d like to hear my track, get in touch.
Aside from the “Autumn Leaves” sample, the RJD2 track has another long sample in it of something abstract, atmospheric and electronic. It fills the whole last two minutes of the track. AMC uses it for Mad Men’s bumpers and the teaser trailers at the end of each episode. I can’t place the source; anyone know what it is?
According to an article on Spinner, RJD2 gave up the publishing rights to his track when he licensed it. Still, he says he has no regrets, and he’s a huge Mad Men fan. If this is true, then he’s a bigger person than me.
Finally, enjoy Brian Williams’ daughter singing a mashup of “Nature Boy” and the Mad Men theme.
Update: Karl Thunder Axe has solved the mystery of the beats! See the comments below.