For Gladiators everywhere, Thursday nights will never be the same: It’s time to break out the popcorn and red wine one last time for the series finale of Scandal Thursday (April 19) night at 10 p.m. on ABC.
For seven seasons of OMG twists and turns on the drama starring Kerry Washington, music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas has provided the soundtrack. “It’s really hard to see this end,” says Patsavas, who has also worked her music magic on Grey’s Anatomy, another Shonda Rimes-created show.
For Scandal, the signature sound has been classic soul from the ’60s and ’70s. “Even though the action is present day,” says Patsavas, “we’ve had many repeat uses and iconic tracks from Stevie Wonder, from Roberta Flack, from Aretha Franklin. So many of these songs are from Shonda’s personal playlist.”
As we get ready to say goodbye to Olivia Pope and her gang of fixers, Patsavas shares her fave musical moments from Scandal’s 2012-2018 run.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, Season 3
Setting the scene, Patsavas says, “Fitz and Liv are in Vermont yearning for an uncomplicated life of kids and jam.” Cue this 1971 Withers classic, which Patsavas describes as “such a beautiful song to score their connection.”
“Ben” by Michael Jackson, Season 3
“‘Ben’ plays in a childhood flashback of Olivia and Maya, and then transitions to present day as Olivia puts her mother on a plane,” says Patsavas. “Shonda was delighted that the song was about a rat and had some fun, interesting connotations about Maya. Of course the song is originally from a movie.”
“Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, Season 4
Patsavas secured the 1981 duet—which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100—to interlock moments when “Abby admits to David that she [slept] with Leo, and Quinn discovers Charlie [was planning] to kill her after a romantic night. I love this song and especially like the juxtaposition of the soulful and sweet delivery after David is shattered and while Charlie and Quinn have a physical romp of a completely different kind.”
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” by Stevie Wonder, Season 4
“I had not had the great privilege of licensing Stevie Wonder a lot before Scandal. He was definitely a muse for the show,” says Patsavas, who used “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” at the end of the Season 4 winter finale, when Olivia busts out some vinyl and some moves before she gets kidnapped. “Olivia puts on the song for Jake, and they dance. It’s so romantic, but then [later] Jake returns and our heroine Olivia Pope is missing. Often times songs are selected in post, after the scene is shot. In this particular instance, that song was decided on in advance so that it could really be danced to. I think that’s my favorite [Stevie Wonder moment] of a very competitive field.”
“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye, Season 4
This “beautiful protest song,” as Patsavas describes it, was perfect for an episode inspired by the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Says Patsavas: “The song plays while the community organizer Marcus Walker leads the crowd in a chant: ‘Stand up! Fight back!’ I am heartbroken it is more necessary than ever to protest police brutality.”
“Nessun Dorma” by Aretha Franklin, Season 5
The Queen of Soul reigned supreme with her rendition of Puccini’s Turandot aria in an episode titled “I See You.” “That was an incredible moment,” she says. “Abby fires Cyrus, Fitz asks Abby to join him for a drink, and it’s sort of montage-y. It’s such a powerful performance, and it’s a classic Scandal [example] of how Shonda ties things together with a song. She really started doing that in Grey’s Anatomy.”
“Delirious” by Prince, Season 5
“Prince’s tragic death affected all of us, and right after he passed away, Shonda wanted to honor him,” says Patsavas. “I was able to reach out to his estate and his people. It was a very tumultuous time for his survivors, but we were able to get ‘Delirious’ on Scandal and ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ on Grey’s Anatomy. We did a back-to-back tribute on Grey’s and then Scandal. The songs aired two weeks after Prince passed away, and that was just super special. We were thrilled to be able to do that.”
“When I Think of You”/“Rhythm Nation”/“Black Cat” by Janet Jackson, Season 7
“Shonda wanted to do a Janet episode,” says Patsavas of “The People v. Olivia Pope” episode that aired this year on Feb. 1, just three days before the #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay on Super Bowl Sunday. “For this particular episode, she wanted three songs, and she handpicked all three. It was definitely a little bit of a departure because we had moved into the ’80s. Shonda doesn’t use all of the same artist in an episode like that too often, but she wanted to honor Janet.”
“Trains and Boats and Planes” by Dionne Warwick, Season 7
Warwick’s 1966 gem played during the “Air Force Two” episode in which Olivia sets Maya free to go to Paris while Cyrus’ plane has been “hijacked.” “It was a classic montage [with] an iconic ’60s track,” says Patsavas. “Dionne is one of the greatest voices of all time. She sang so much of the Burt Bacharach [and Hal David] catalog, and they wrote that song. It’s beautiful.”
“The Light” by the Album Leaf, Various Seasons
“It’s sort of our one outlier in the genre of music,” says Patsavas of the atmospheric instrumental from the Album Leaf’s 2006 album Into the Blue Again. “It applies to many moments over the years. It was introduced very early on and has been used as Fitz and Liv’s love theme. I think it’s iconic to the show.”