'This Is Us' Soundtrack From UMe Hits Big Emotional Notes

Ron Batzdorff/NBC
"Three Sentences" epsiode from This Is Us.

Before This Is Us, NBC’s hit family drama, even premiered in September 2016, Universal Music Enterprises president/CEO Bruce Resnikoff knew the music-filled show could be a good fit for his label.

20th Century Fox Television, which produces the show, “told us about their new series and showed a few of us the pilot,” Resnikoff tells Billboard. “We all unanimously agreed that the music was so relevant and intrinsic to the setting of the stories, it was a natural fit for a soundtrack. These songs are both a way to connect back to those scenes or just enjoy a beautifully curated album of hits, lesser known tracks and scores."

The emotionally charged show, which is up for 10 Emmy Awards on Sept. 17, became the break-out success of the season, with the finale drawing 12.8 million viewers. Music played an integral role in propelling the story lines through the use of carefully selected licensed tracks and composer Siddhartha Khosla’s moving score.

On Sept. 15, UMe will release This Is Us (Music From The Series). The soundtrack features 20 songs that appeared in the series chosen by This Is Us creator/executive producer Dan Fogelman and his team, music supervisor Jennifer Pyken and Khosla.

The soundtrack opens with Sufjan Stevens’ "Death With Dignity," heard in the show’s pilot. The rest of the songs aren't sequenced chronologically; instead, they were chosen for their emotional impact. 

“We tried to go with songs that people would remember and would bring back memories of the show,” says Pyken, who estimates she licensed as many as 100 songs for inclusion in the first season. The goal was also to find the right mix of indie and legacy artists for the series, which time travels between the '80s. ‘90s and present day as it chronicles two generations of the Pearson family. 

In addition to the licensed tracks, the soundtrack includes a number of songs created especially for the show, including a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Come Talk To Me” by Khosla’s band, Goldspot, Mandy Moore’s character’s version of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” and “We Can Always Come Back To This,”  written by Khosla and Chris Pierce, and performed by Brian Tyree Henry in the season’s pivotal “Memphis” episode. The soul tune resonated instantly with the show’s fans, spending four weeks atop Billboard’s Blues Singles chart and peaking at No. 12 on iTunes Top 100 Songs chart. The soundtrack ends with Khosla’s stirring "This Is Us Score Suite."

A number of songs play recurring roles in the series, such as Paul Simon's “You Can Call Me Al,” the soundtrack’s second selection. It is first heard in a scene set in the ‘80s with the three siblings in the car and then in current day when it plays as adopted sibling Randall’s alarm goes off one morning. A remake of “We Can Always Come Back To This” by Hannah Miller also appeared in the show. Similarly, the series used Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run The Game,” originally released in 1965, and then a new recording of the track by Janileigh Cohen in a subsequent episode. “We bring back songs,” Pyken says. “I’ve worked on shows where we don’t want to do that. Here, we do want to bring it back and do a newer version for our audience.” 

Though fans have created multiple This Is Us playlists on Spotify with much of the music already available, Pyken sees the official soundtrack release as a companion to those efforts, not a competitor. “We have songs that they can’t get anywhere else,” she says. “This is for fans who want to take a piece of the show with them. They want the artwork. They want the actual soundtrack."

The soundtrack arrives digitally and physically three days after the Sept.12 release of the first season of This Is Us on DVD and 11 days before the Sept. 26  second season premiere. On Sept. 13, UMe will hold a red-carpet event to launch the soundtrack with cast members in Los Angeles. 

"We are working closely with the Fox Home Entertainment division on both commercial and marketing tie-ins for the soundtrack and the release of the Season 1 DVD, particularly with Amazon and Target,” Resnikoff says. “We have created an additional fan piece for Target which has an expanded booklet that will be positioned in the stores and advertised in their circulars."

Additionally, “With the launch of Season 2 we have access to the NBC promotions and publicity machine to also market the soundtrack through press and TV opportunities,” Resnikoff continues. “NBC is giving the soundtrack great support through their This Is Us socials and website."

Pyken is "thick in the woods" on music for Season 2. She wouldn’t reveal any song selections, but added that the mission remains the same as for Season 1: "We're creating that emotional connection," she says. "That's what I’m looking for when I’m working on an episode: bringing out what Dan’s trying to put into words and what the actors are trying to act."

This Is Us (Music from the Series) [CD, Digital]

1.  Death With Dignity - Sufjan Stevens 

2.  You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon

3.  Willin’ – Mandy Moore

4.  Can’t Find My Way Home - Blind Faith

5.  Uptight (Everything’s Alright) – Stevie Wonder

6.  The Calvary Cross – Richard Thompson & Linda Thompson

7.  Watch Me – Labi Siffre

8.  The Wind – Cat Stevens

9.  Come Talk To Me – Goldspot

10. Blues Run The Game – Jackson C. Frank 

11. If Only – Maria Taylor (featuring Conor Oberst)

12. Northern Sky - Nick Drake

13. If I Ever Was A Child - Wilco

14. Because Of You - Gene Clark

15. Evergreen Cassette (Tape Mix) – Goldspot

16. Without You – Badfinger

17. The World’s Smiling Now - Jim James

18. Photograph – Ringo Starr

19. We Can Always Come Back To This - Brian Tyree Henry

20. This Is Us Score Suite - Siddhartha Khosla