All Mixed Up

The 11 best music moments from The O.C.

SEASON 1

Phantom Planet, "California" (theme): Despite its use in the movie Orange County, O.C. creator Josh Schwartz still goes with Phantom Planet's piano-anchored power ballad for the show's theme. Cue Ryan gazing out the window of Sandy's car, cloaked in a smoke-soaked hoodie and his Chino-bred malaise.

Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah" ("The Model Home," "The Ties That Bind"): Underscoring both a house fire and Ryan and Marissa's smoldering potential for destruction in just the second episode, Buckley's wrenching Leonard Cohen cover is the first real indication that Schwartz has more than sudsy teen angst up his sleeve. For potent full-circle effect, it's used again in the first season's finale, as Marissa and Ryan part ways while Seth sets a course for Tahiti.

Death Cab for Cutie, "A Movie Script Ending" ("The Escape"): Summer mocks Seth's safe driving and obscure musical taste as they drive to Mexico. Speaking for sensitive boys the world over, Seth replies, "Hey! Don't dis Death Cab!" And with that, Schwartz ropes in his most crucial demographic: indie kids. They no longer feel so guilty for watching; the rest of America skips off to Google "Death Cab."

Rooney in concert ("The Third Wheel"): The first time a band plays on camera, Rooney's reliable power-pop rocks Luke's world as he shifts from the menacing bully to the harmless dumbbell with the gay dad. Best line: "Which one is Rooney?"

Ryan Adams, "Wonderwall" ("The Heartbreak"): Divisive alt.-country pinup Adams reworks divisive Britpop pinups Oasis, and somehow it makes sense, on Valentine's Day, no less. The first of many weepy cover songs that fuel the show's increasing use of final-minute montages.

Journey, "Separate Ways" ("The Goodbye Girl"): Ryan to Seth: "Hey! Don't dis Journey!" Schwartz proves that he's no snob, that the show can self-reflexively tinker with its own best moments and that there's always a time for Journey.

SEASON 2

The Walkmen in concert ("The New Kids on the Block"): The Bait Shop emerges as this show's Peach Pit (there's even a mention of Nat), hosting the Walkmen for a too-brief set while teen drama unfolds all around. The trick is repeated with The Killers ("The New Era") and Modest Mouse ("The Family Ties"), and later Death Cab ("The O.C. Confidential"). Suddenly Schwartz is the John Peel of the teen-to-twentysomething set, lending national exposure to bands that were once relegated to college radio.

Beck, multiple songs ("The Mallpisode"): Indie/mainstream staple Beck provides most of the soundtrack to the kids' overnight misadventures in the mall. For those who think Beck is a little too obvious, Schwartz throws in some Pansy Division and Le Tigre.

The Pixies, "Debaser" ("The Blaze of Glory"): A booze-soaked Carter plays up his indie-rock roots for Kirsten, all ripped jeans and sex appeal, as "Debaser" blasts in the background. This is Schwartz reaching out to the older segment of his audience, for better or for worse.

SEASON 3

Bloc Party, "Blue Light (Engineers 'Anti-Gravity' Mix)" ("The Aftermath"): Poignant, if repetitive, the remix runs as Ryan watches his troubled brother board a bus headed toward another life. If it's not so strange to see stone-faced blue-collar siblings part ways to the strains of featherweight Britpop, we have Schwartz to thank.

Phantom Planet, "California 2005 (No Whistling)" ("The Shape of Things to Come"): Self-reflexive as ever, the show hits us with a new version of its own theme, as a school carnival spells a regrettable confrontation with the new dean. Not only does Schwartz not seem to regret his choice of theme song, but he also embraces it for all its possibilities.

 
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