By Paulo Camacho
For anyone who has caught on to the hit cartoon series Rick And Morty, on Cartoon Network, they not only know that this isn’t “Rick’s stupid nonsense catchphrase,” but is a genuine cry for help. Such is the juxtaposition between the pure absurdity, surprisingly deep emotional undertones, and rich philosophical meaning that Rick and Morty provides for its many fiercely loyal viewers.
The same themes can be said for the music choices that the show makes. Whether for ominous foreshadow, an emotional kick in the stomach, or existential shock, the makers of Rick and Morty know how to effectively execute a soundtrack. Here are some quintessential examples of using the perfect music.
Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD for Major Plot Points of Rick and Morty.
Mazzy Star — Look On Down From The Bridge
From Season 1, Episode 6 — Rick Potion No. 9
If there’s one thing you need to understand about Rick and Morty before you watch a single episode, it’s that the series’ antihero protagonist, mad scientist and certified “smartest man in the universe” Rick Sanchez, functions under one inalienable fact: there are an infinite number of universes, with infinite versions of the main characters, including Rick, his unintelligent grandson Morty Smith, and the Smith family — annoying father Jerry, worked-up mother Beth, and emotional teenage daughter Summer.
That being said, this fact, while mind-numbingly clear to Rick, becomes a sobering reality for Morty, in the episode “Rick Potion No. 9.” In it, Morty basically destroys the world he lives in with a combination of a supercharged “love potion,” a Flu epidemic, and a number of botched attempts by Rick to fix things.
Rick’s ultimate solution to the “Cronenberg” world they inadvertently created? Move to a parallel universe — one in which Rick and Morty avert the crisis, but end up getting themselves killed in the immediate aftermath. Morty is then faced with the psychological headsplosion of having to bury his own dead body, knowing that he will never see the family he grew up with (in his own universe), ever again.
This is where Mazzy Star’s somber ballad, “Look On Down From The Bridge,” becomes such a perfect, sobering choice. The 1996 song depicts the song’s protagonist thinking about ending her own life by jumping off a bridge — a decision that is left to a perhaps unrequited love to come and stop her. The song mirror’s Morty’s own existential crisis — one that questions what is real, and what is life and death.
Belly — Seal My Fate
From Season 1, Episode 8 — Rixty Minutes
Obscure 90s Alternative Rock band Belly wrote their 1995 song “Seal My Fate” — as the band’s lead singer Tanya Donelly puts it — as “[her] first successful joyous love song.” And, as the bright melody and lyrics of an emotional longing indicate, it was a fitting song to use at the end of the first season’s eighth episode of Rick and Morty.
One of the episode’s main storylines poses the questions to the show’s star-crossed couple, Beth and Jerry — what are their lives like in alternate universes, and what does it mean for the choices they made in their own? As the show reveals, one of Jerry’s alternate selves is an award-winning actor and director, who regularly does drugs with Johnny Depp and sleeps with Kristen Stewart, while the Beth of said universe is a surgeon (as opposed to the main Beth’s profession of horse surgeon) — a result of their mutual decision to have an abortion of a baby that turned out to be daughter Summer.
While this signaled to both parents — who already had a marriage on the rocks — that they probably would be better off apart, the scene in which “Seal My Fate” is played tells a different story: one where Hollywood Jerry regrets the abortion every day, and wishes he chose to start a family with Beth, whom he calls the love of his life. In the backdrop of the Belly ballad, it’s a twistedly touching, emotional moment that cements Jerry and Beth’s true love for each other.
Blonde Redhead — For The Damaged Coda
From Season 1, Episode 10 — Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind
From Season 3, Episode 7 — The Ricklantis Mixup
From another relatively obscure 90s alternative rock band, Blonde Redhead originated from New York City with a sound influenced by experimental genres like dream pop and shoegaze. And, while the song used in two episodes of Rick and Morty is simply the instrumental coda to another song, “For The Damaged,” it undoubtedly captures the dark tone of the song — a woman who happens to be the only one who visits a lone grave resolves to return to keep the dead man company.
The wordless vocals in the coda, combined with the song’s bleak piano melody, reflect the morbid, seemingly hopeless air of the situation. It also perfectly reflects upon the visuals that accompany both episodes in which the song is used:
In “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind,” the idea of infinite Ricks and Mortys is taken to a dark place, as thousands of Mortys are kidnapped from their respective dimensions, while their respective Ricks are brutally murdered. When the show’s main Morty leads a revolt of the other kidnapped Mortys, they band together and ultimately murder “Evil Rick” — the version of Rick that kidnapped the Mortys in the first place. It is revealed at the end of the episode, however — in the montage which uses “For The Damage Coda” as their audio backdrop — that “Evil Rick” was being controlled … by an Evil Morty, distinguished by a black patch over his right eye. It is a clever use of audio foreshadow of a mysterious entity lurking in the shadows, in the form of an Evil Morty.
The tune is revisited in Season 3, in “The Ricklantis Mixup,” a standalone story depicting a city of alternate universe Ricks and Mortys having started their own society in the ruins of the Citadel of Ricks. When a Morty who succeeds in winning the Citadel’s presidency (in a society where Mortys are second-class citizens to Ricks) is revealed to be Evil Morty, his despicable actions, combined with “For The Damaged Coda” playing once again in the background, send chills down the spines of Rick and Morty fans. It’s a mind-blowing moment — one that’s practically become its own meme.
Chaos Chaos — Do You Feel It?
S02, E03 — Auto-Erotic Assimilation
The sister duo Chaos Chaos, formerly Smoosh, is an indie pop band that formed back in 2000. Asya and Chloe Saavedra founded the band, surprisingly enough, when they were 8 and 6, respectively. The band changed their name to Chaos Chaos in 2012, interestingly, because of their former band name’s association with Snooki of Jersey Shore fame.
Chaos Chaos had recently found fame by associating themselves with Rick and Morty, as they have been featured by the show in a number of instances, including their involvement with an original song by Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland, “Terryfolds.”
So, it was no surprise that they were featured at the conclusion of the Season 2 episode “Auto-Erotic Assimilation.” In it, the titular Rick runs into an intergalactic “ex-girlfriend” — one who also happens to be a hive mind named “Unity” that controls the brains of entire populations of lifeforms. As the story unfolds, and the “pair” get back together, it becomes evident that Rick is a terrible influence on Unity. When the latter decides to leave Rick in a series of break-up letters (written by individuals of the planet she controls), Rick is devastated. The song, which depicts a disintegrating relationship and a protagonist who wants to run away with her love, seemingly against all hope, to rekindle what they once had, reflects Rick’s unbridled feelings toward Unity, and Unity’s longing for something normal with Rick — something the Unity simply cannot have.
This is what makes the closing scene so heartbreaking — one showing Rick obliterating a thawed-out, deformed being with a homemade laser then, when intending to do the same to his own head, collapses to his desk at the last second in emotional anguish. Rick is depicted as someone who doesn’t care about anything, due to the fact that he has access to an infinite number of universes. To see him so distraught — over a relationship, no less — not only shows that he has the capacity to care about relationships in general, but that the absence of said relationships can lead him to the brink.
Nine Inch Nails — Hurt
S02, E10 — The Wedding Squanchers
One of the more famous songs used by Rick and Morty, “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails is considered a pop culture classic by many, despite the dispute about whether the protagonist in the song is resolving to self-harm as his ultimate decision of suicide, or as an anthem for the protagonist in finding hope where there seems to be none. Its remake, and accompanying music video, by the great Johnny Cash — his last production single before his death in 2003 — is considered one of the greatest videos of all time.
In any case, Rick and Morty uses the narrative of the song to reflect Rick’s final decision in the Season 2 finale, “The Wedding Squanchers.” Rick and his family are invited to his best friend, Bird Person’s, “Mate Melding Ceremony” to Summer’s high school friend, Tammy, after a relationship that began at the end of Season 1. However, after the ever-distrusting Rick — who, incidentally, is a wanted fugitive from the looming interstellar government arm, the Galactic Federation — decides to bless Bird-Person and Tammy’s nuptials, the latter turns out to be a Federation deep-cover agent, and seemingly kills Bird-Person in the ensuing firefight to capture Rick.
Subsequently, the Smith family is forced to hide out on a tiny, Earth-like planet to avoid detection from the Federation. While Jerry questions why the rest of the family continues to follow Rick in his insanely dangerous shenanigans, Beth’s answer is simple: Rick, as Beth’s father, had already left her once when she was a child, and she didn’t want to see it happen again.
Ultimately, for the good of his daughter, Morty and Summer, Rick takes the sacrifice play — he goes against his own self-preservation and turns himself into the Federation, in exchange for the safe passage of his family back to Earth, now a Federation planet. Rick literally hurts himself by giving himself up, seemingly in service to his loved ones. It is considered one of the saddest and most beautiful moments of the series, and the Nine Inch Nails ballad does a lot to narrate it.