10. Elton John – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
“The Soviet Division”, Season 5, Episode 13
Some might argue this one’s a tad on the nose, but Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” expertly closed a season that had so much to do with change. As Randall Colburn predicted, the fifth season of The Americans belongs to Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor), whose coming-of-age story became less about cute boys across the street and more about other teenage stuff like learning key self-defense tactics that will aid in future Soviet espionage. But she wasn’t the only one going through the motions, as we learn that Philip is also having a change of heart about his lot in life, and that he’s even entertaining the idea of a future that may find Elizabeth donning wigs by her lonesome. So, yes, John’s piano-fueled poetry parallels the story quite well, covering both Paige’s quest (“Oh I’ve finally decided my future lies/ Beyond the yellow brick road”) and Philip’s tumultuous indecision (“Maybe you’ll get a replacement/ There’s plenty like me to be found”). Goodbye Soviet Brick Road?
09. Golden Earring – “The Twilight Zone”
“Echo”, Season 2, Episode 13
Out of all the moments in The Americans that truly feel akin to Miami Vice, there’s very little competition than the cold open for “Echo”. Given that it’s the second season finale, everything’s rightfully out of control: Russian insider Fred (John Carroll Lynch) has been shot up and is dying with the police on his tail, Philip and Elizabeth have to frantically race to a drop zone amid all the heat, and Paige watches Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) get manhandled by a storm of cops at a riot that’s gone south. In other words, it’s a perfect time to slap on an old stunner like Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone”, and while the pseudo sci-fi rocker doesn’t exactly seem like a perfect lyrical fit for the scene in question, the repetition of “when the bullet hits the bone” enhances the stakes at hand. It also mirrors Paige’s point of view and how she witnesses the frightening brutality of a militaristic police force, stuff she’s only seen in the news at home. To be honest, though, it’s also just a really cool track for a really cool scene, and sometimes that’s all you need.
08. Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”
“Pastor Tim”, Season 4, Episode 2
Juxtaposition can be a wonderful thing, and that’s exactly what Tainted Love’s signature hit offers for one of the series’ diciest moments. When Philip meets with a commercial pilot in an airport shuttle midway through “Pastor Tim”, things don’t exactly go as planned. The two are exchanging the world’s scariest chemical weapon and the pilot is (rightfully) terrified at the idea of traveling with it. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, though, if he weren’t so goddamn panicky, but he is, and much to Philip’s chagrin, he draws the attention of a nearby security officer. Despite his attempts to placate the officer, Philip must resort to strangling the poor son of a bitch, all to the sounds of “Tainted Love”, which is what’s playing in an unsuspecting passenger’s pair of headphones. Again, this one’s more about aesthetic over substance and watching Philip tactfully bring this big guy down to the bubbly New Wave sounds is all at once hilarious, tense, and super cool.
07. Yazoo – “Only You”
“Dimebag”, Season 3, Episode 4
“This is my favorite song,” Kimberly Breland (Julia Garner) tells Philip after she pushes play on her boombox, which just so happens to have Yazoo’s debut album, Upstairs at Eric’s, on deck. The two are alone in a park late at night — Philip’s rolling a joint, Kimmie’s regaling him with stories — and it’s a genuine moment. But that’s a problem for Philip, as it’s the beginning of his unraveling from cold-blooded assassin to warm-hearted human being. You see, he likes Kimmie, and unlike his past associates, he actually cares about her well-being, and Rhys subtly sells that budding realization as he soberly takes a drag from the joint to the sounds of “Only You”. It’s a testament to the song’s power, and perhaps the assured finesse of the writing staff, that none of this registers as ultra creepy, especially since we’re watching a grown man cuddle a young girl in public. Instead, this is a charming slice of life that continues to speak volumes as Philip’s story evolves.
06. Peter Gabriel – “Here Comes the Flood”
“The Walk In”, Season 2, Episode 3
The best montages traditionally offer lucrative portraits that move the narrative without being too ostentatious or unwieldy. (Think about the way Christopher Nolan closes out the majority of his films, especially The Dark Knight.) Weisberg and Fields know this power all too well and they’ve littered their series with outstanding montages pretty much from the get-go. One of the better examples arrived fairly early into the second season with “The Walk In”, which finds the Jennings family on the precipice of some major arcs. Though most of the drama here stems from Elizabeth burning a vital letter from the recently departed Leanne Connors (Natalie Gold), one she’s been carrying for 15 years and one that holds a significance for Leanne’s still-kicking-it bastard son, Jared (Owen Campbell), the scene also captures the rest of the Jennings and reveals how splintered their lives really are when they’re placed side by side. Things are okay, sure, but for how long? Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood” rides on that uncertainty and adds a somber wash to the proceedings, while also making a small fire look ridiculously epic.