It’s true: No other television show has a better theme song than Gilmore Girls. Even out of context, Carole King and her daughter Louise Goffin’s “Where You Lead” brings you back to Stars Hollow — it’s that integral to the show. And it’s not Gilmore Girls’ only musical coup: The show’s soundtrack featured the likes of Yo La Tengo, the Shins, Big Star, and Björk, with Sam Phillips’s signature “la-la-la” refrains serving as transitions between scenes. (How would Stars Hollow retain its whimsy without it?) But leading off with “Where You Lead” set a tone for the show that wasn’t just a candy coating. It seeped way down into the seams. Here’s why.
Even through marathons, I promise you, it won’t get old.
The second time I watched Gilmore Girls in its entirety was via a DVD box set a friend graciously lent me in college. And while I’d like to say that it took me “a very long time” to watch all seven seasons, that is a lie and it did not. I could binge four — even five — episodes at a time, no problem. (Turns out I was just as cool in college as I was when I first watched the series in middle school!) But even through multiple watches, I never once fast-forwarded through the credits. In fact, I looked forward to them. Maybe it was a Pavlovian-dog-type reaction to the fact that I still had so many wonderful episodes ahead of me to watch. But I’ve binged TV shows before where, by the end of series, I know the exact mechanics of when to push the “FF” button. (I’m thinking of Nip/Tuck specifically, but it is not alone.) There’s something magical about “Where You Lead.” Its 51 seconds is not too short, not too long. Catchy, but not an earworm exactly. Cleansing, almost! Readying you for the next episode of Gilmore Girls that you’re about to consume. Consume away!
It is relevant.
Have you ever heard the full version of “Where You Lead”? First off, it’s lovely. Second, it’s actually not as mother-daughter specific as you might think from its Gilmore Girls excerpt. Here’s the bridge:
I always wanted a real home with flowers on the windowsill
But if you want to live in New York City, honey, you know I will
I never thought I could get satisfaction from just one man
But, if anyone could keep me happy, you’re the one who can
Not really the most feminist message, even though King has said that the song was inspired by the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth (“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay”), a story about a woman who devotes herself to God and, weirdly enough, her mother-in-law, Naomi.
But keep in mind, while the original “Where You Lead” appeared on Carole King’s 1971 album Tapestry as a solo song, King added her daughter to the track for 2005’s Love Makes the World. That’s the version used for the show, and on GG (thanks to a time constraint), that bridge is nowhere to be seen. Here, daughters trump lovers every time.
Still, it’s interesting to think about the conflict between the song’s newfound meaning as a mother-daughter ode versus its original meaning as one for lovers. Just as Lorelai did, King had her children quite young (beginning at age 18). “I was in denial,” Goffin once told People magazine about comparisons to King. “I’d say, ‘No, I’m nothing like my mother.’” In an episode called “P.S. I Lo …,” Lorelai discovers that Rory and her doting boyfriend Dean’s breakup was because he told her that he loved her and she didn’t respond. She advises Rory:
Lorelai: I understand. You know, I’m still learning this stuff, too, and since I’m still learning, I think I haven’t thought enough about what I’m supposed to be teaching you.
Rory: What are you talking about?
Lorelai: I’m talking about my own personal lack of commitment skills. I mean, look, I love that you have my eyes and my coffee addiction and my taste in music and movies, but when it comes to love and relationships, I don’t necessarily want you to be like me. I would hate to think that I raised a kid who couldn’t say “I love you.”
Mother-daughter relationships: forever complicated.
Just like Gilmore Girls (!), your mom would probably love it, too.
Moms love Carole King. This is a known fact! It’s nice to think that a show centered around a mother-daughter relationship (no matter how different it is than your’s might be!) begins every time with a song the two of you can surely agree on.
And Barbra Streisand covered it on Barbra Joan Streisand.
This one really speaks for itself, but you know what moms also love? Streisand.