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Ballad of a Mad Man

The return of Mad Men provides a welcome respite from sundown channel-surfing during a time of the year when there’s not much going on in TV land beyond bad news and worse reality.

Now in its forth season, the critically acclaimed drama centered on a brooding bunch of ‘60s advertising guys and dolls is becoming less of a showcase for vintage fashion and dated mores and more about the makeup and character (or lack thereof) of its shifting and shifty protagonists. Bourbon before noon and Lucky Strikes in the nursery only go so far.

Still, the little details beyond the offerings of the office bar and dizzying array of gravity-defying hairdos continue to give the series texture and pizzazz.

Think of the music, which in the past has included everything from Ann-Margaret kittenishly cooing “Bye Bye Birdie” to Bob Dylan soberly intoning “Song to Woody.” The hallmark of Mad Men’s selections, like the soundtrack to The Sopranos before it, is to avoid the obvious and dig a little deeper into the vaults.

The opening episode of the new season faded out with the Nashville Teens’ “Tobacco Road,” a post-Beatles Brit Invasion artifact. (Yes, the Nashville Teens grew up a long way from Music City USA.). Released in 1964 (which is where also we currently are in Mad Man’s world), it feels tailor-made for enigmatic executive Don Draper, who’s escaped a hardscrabble upbringing to reinvent himself as a Manhattan power player. The song is about loathing where you’ve come from and hungering for wealth and acceptance. As in the song, Don Draper is all about dynamiting the past and starting all over again.

Of course, Draper wouldn’t have been a fan of that particular song. He and his on-the-outskirts-of-Squaresville pack are really more Sinatra and Bennett than the Stones and, I dunno, ? & the Mysterians. That tension between where these characters are coming from and where the world is going will make for more riveting viewing – and listening.

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