Mad Men: Tomorrow Never Knows

Last night while watching Mad Men season 5 “Lady Lazarus” I was utterly shocked.  To me this twist was as jaw dropping as JR Ewing being shot, Rosalind Shays falling down the elevator shaft (which they alluded to in this episode) or Piccard turning into a Borg.  At the end of this episode, Don Draper walked over to the record player, dropped a disk on the turn table and the actual Beatles came out of the small speakers.  For the first time in my life, I heard a TV show use The Beatles.   Don listened to the 1966 track, Tomorrow Never Knows.  I sat up with shock.  I couldn’t believe that someone had actually got The Beatles to allow them to use one of their songs.   As soon as I finished the episode I went out to Google.  Sure enough I found an article confirming my suspicion that this was the first time they allowed one of their actual recordings to be used in a television series. I had read years ago that part of the contract that was signed when The Beatles broke up was that all four Beatles, or their surviving wives, had to sign off on any use of their songs.  The producers of the movie The World According to Garp by John Irving went through this to get the rights to use “When I’m 64” for their opening credits.  It was George Hill’s relationship with George Harrison that allowed this to happen.  I never thought it was worth the trouble for Garp.  For Mad Men it was critical.  Tomorrow Never Knows has always been the bridge between old Beatles and New Beatles music.  Having Megan suggest that Don start by listening to Tomorrow Never Knows and then having Don stop it in the middle and get up and go to bed that was genius.  We know that Tomorrow Never Knows will go down in history for many reasons: the first use of loops, a pop song written only in the key of C and the first blatant manifestation of drug use in a Beatles song, but in 1966 there had to be tons of 40 year olds that said, “shut off that noise.”  It is very brave to let your main character stay behind the audience’s sensibility.

I believe in season 1 when Don Draper went to the coffee shop and heard a Dylanesque artist perform, he really thought it was silly.  I think Draper didn’t like Dylan and wouldn’t have liked the later Beatles songs.  We know that he took his daughter to see early Beatles and he probably viewed them as harmless noise for young people.  Two years later, his new wife, his employees and even his clients are looking ahead to a new kind of music.  Don is feeling old.  I read that it cost the show $250,000 to license the song.  It was worth it.  They have taken Don from all knowing in the present to facing the truth that Tomorrow Never Knows.

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