If you’re looking for a summer guilty pleasure binge, I highly recommend BBC period drama Peaky Blinders, which just picked up a BAFTA this weekend for Best Drama Series.
Following the post-World War I lives of the fictional Shelby family, the Blinders themselves are inspired by the real life gang of the same name who ruled the streets of Bordesley and Small Heath from the 1880s to the early 1900s.
Although the characters and twisty plotline of this series are reasons enough to get hooked, the series boasts an unconventional soundtrack for a 1920’s era story that has gained as much attention as the show itself.
From the first moment the theme song, “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, accompanies Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) through the streets of Birmingham, we know we’re in for something a little different than other period dramas.
It gets better, too. Nick Cave is well represented throughout the series, as well as an ample amount PJ Harvey and Jack White — not just solo, but with the White Stripes and Raconteurs. There’s also Johnny Cash, Dan Auerbach, Laura Marling, Queens of the Stone Age and much more than I can list.
David Bowie, a huge Peaky Blinders fan, contributed his final hit "Lazarus" to the show, and Leonard Cohen's posthumous Grammy winning "You Want It Darker" made an appearance.
The best, most complete list of these songs can be found on the Birmingham Mail, with a run down of the entire first four seasons soundtrack.
Series creator Steven Knight said the series will likely end after Season 7, but he has also thought about making a movie based on Tommy Shelby before the series end. This means lots of potential for great music.
Murphy himself commented on the songs chosen for the series in a December 2017 interview for NME.
"The sound has this 'peakiness' to it," he said. "You just know if (a song's) Peaky or not."
For me, this means there needs to be some music to bring you into the gritty, grinding, dirty fold of the story; some music that is so heartbreakingly beautiful it will haunt you long after the episode is over, and some that, well, just works perfect accompanying a group of men in flat caps walking in slow motion on their way to some serious ass kicking. Sorry, Newsies' "Seize the Day" won’t work here.
These songs, however, just might have what it takes to find themselves in Season 5:
Dolores O'Riordon, "Ave Maria"
If the first four seasons are any indication, someone I like will meet his or her horrible, premature death. The religious and spiritual alignments of the characters are all over the place, as in keeping with the climate in Europe between WWI and WWII, but O'Riordon's beautiful version of Schubert's epic work will bring goosebumps to even the most hardened skeptic.
It would also be a fitting tribute to an incredible Irish vocalist who herself died much too early.
Marilyn Manson, "God's Gonna Cut You Down."
I've never been a big fan of Manson's original music, but he has a knack for making some amazing covers. His eerie take on the folk ballad (sometimes titled "Run On") is one of my favorites, and it has so much Peaky potential. Of course, the Johnny Cash version is also a favorite.
William Elliott Whitmore, "Old Devils."
This politically charged throwback to the prohibition era talks of "malicious politicians with nefarious schemes. Charlatans and crooked cops," when "moonshine still gets you five to ten." Although I'll try not to give away any spoilers, Tommy ended Season 4 on a pretty powerful note. When the next season starts, those "Old Devils" will be at it again.
Blues Saraceno, "Evil Ways."
This heavy alt country and blues artist's "The River" has been used in American Gods. AMC's Preacher got "The Bible or the Gun," and the History Channel series The Men Who Built America claimed "Save My Soul" as their theme song. All of these are worthy of a Peaky Blinders appearance, but likely won't happen since people might associate them with these other series. "Evil Ways" seems like it needs a series home, somewhere across the pond.
Lincoln Durham "Heaven."
Multi-instrumentalist Lincoln Durham is one talented musician, and his one-man-band style of performance is wild to watch. One of his latest pieces, "Heaven," is great for the those walking the edge of the blade and making deals with devils. It's driving, catchy, and just a little bit eerie. In a word, very "Peaky."
The final episode of Peaky Blinders Season Four was completed in December 2017, with Season Five planned for 2019 on BBC and Netflix.