This week, Fox’s Empire became the first TV series since Fox’s Glee to earn a No. 1 debut with its accompanying soundtrack.
As surprising as it was to see Empire topple Madonna on the Billboard 200, it’s stranger still to see a TV soundtrack on top of the album chart. While TV shows like Glee and Miami Vice have achieved that feat in the past, it’s not a given that a hit TV show translates into a No. 1 album.
So in tribute to the many wonderful TV soundtracks that missed No. 1 on the Billboard 200, here are 10 that will always have a No. 1 spot in our hearts.
Additional research by Keith Caulfield
Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons (1999)
The best of all The Simpsons compilations (the two albums of songs not from the TV series aged horribly), Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons somehow only reached No. 197 on the Billboard 200. But the highlights on this 53-track album are almost too plentiful: Sideshow Bob singing Gilbert & Sullivan, Milhouse’s father’s awful “Can I Borrow a Feeling,” Lisa’s folk protest song about “a hero named Homer and a devil named Burns,” “Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel” and so many more.
The Beavis and Butt-head Experience (1993)
One of the strangest and best TV soundtracks came to us via the dull-witted wisdom of Beavis and Butt-head. Tracks from Nirvana (the first appearance of “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”), Anthrax (covering the Beastie Boys) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (covering the Stooges) are intercut with B&B banter. Best of all, Cher joins the duo on the strangest reworking of “I Got You Babe” imaginable. Why did the duo want Cher? “We need a chick who’s done it a lot of times, and who used to be married to a dork.” The album hit No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
Songs from Dawson’s Creek (1999)
Back when the CW was WB, the teen drama Dawson’s Creek — starring James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes — was one of its signature shows. A big part of its appeal was the music, featured on the 1999 disc Songs From Dawson’s Creek, which peaked at No. 7. Aside from Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” (the Dawson’s theme song), the album included Sixpence None the Richer’s No. 2 Hot 100 hit “Kiss Me” and the peak ’90s vibe of Heather Nova’s “London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do).”
Music From The O.C.: Mix 1 (2004)
Operating less like a soundtrack and more like a companion mixtape to the popular teen drama, the first O.C. album was full of gems from rising alt-rock bands and obscure indie faves. In addition to The 88’s “How Good It Can Be” and Spoon’s “The Way We Get By,” high praise (and undying love) go to Phantom Planet’s “California,” the show’s theme song. This one peaked at No. 52 — perfect placement for a soundtrack priding itself on its indie cred.
Friends Original TV Soundtrack (1995)
Hard to believe, but despite the runaway success of Friends the TV show, the Friends Original TV Soundtrack peaked at No. 41 on the Billboard 200. Regardless, the immortal theme song — the Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You” — and a slew of alt favorites (k.d. lang, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Paul Westerberg and even Lou Reed) add up to an essential slice of nostalgia.
Metalocalypse: Dethalbum III (2012)
Brendon Small’s Dethklok, the virtual metal band at the center of Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, are like a combination of the Archies (TV’s best cartoon band) and Spinal Tap (metal’s best parody band). Culling tracks from three seasons, the series’ third album (featuring the brilliantly titled “I Ejaculate Fire”) hit No. 10 on the Billboard 200.
The Music of Nashville: Season 1 Volume 1 (2012)
Much like Empire, the country music biz drama Nashville owes an enormous part of its success to the credibility of its music. With the guidance of T-Bone Burnett, actors Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere deliver impressive vocal performances, and the material (songs from the Civil Wars and Elvis Costello) don’t hurt things, either. The first soundtrack to Nashville hit No. 14.
Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired by The X-Files (1996)
As wonderfully eerie as Mark Snow’s theme for the show was, there’s so much more to this remarkable soundtrack. For example: two hidden tracks at the “0” mark requiring the listener to rewind nine minutes backwards from the first track (one of which is Nick Cave covering the X-Files theme). Also included: R.E.M. collaborating with William S. Burroughs, Foo Fighters and even Sheryl Crow. This one hit No. 47.
Soundtrack From Twin Peaks (1990)
Angelo Badalamenti’s deceptively simple synth soundtrack to David Lynch’s offbeat cult classic Twin Peaks is a classic TV soundtrack. The music goes from romantic to horrifying to comedic in a heartbeat, and Julee Cruise’s vocal version of the instrumental theme song (retitled “Falling”) is one of the least lame New Age ballads ever. This soundtrack reached No. 22.
Yo Gabba Gabba: Music Is… Awesome Vol. 2 (2010)
The willfully weird kids show Yo Gabba Gabba attracted an eclectic, impressive lineup for its second soundtrack. How many albums feature Weezer, Solange, MGMT, the Ting Tings, Jimmy Eat World and Apples in Stereo? This one debuted at No. 197.