When the High Fidelity reboot was in preproduction — before Zoë Kravitz had even signed on to play Rob, a role made famous by John Cusack in the 2000 movie — music supervisors Manish Raval, Alison Rosenfeld, and Tom Wolfe of Aperture started making playlists. The producers made their own mixes, as did Kravitz once she joined the ensemble, with the track choices often making their way into scripts and informing characters’ personalities, such as the punk-leaning Simon and pop-loving Cherise.
“The showrunners said, ‘We want this to be a platform to introduce a younger generation to like older favorites like David Bowie and Prince, but also be a good avenue to introduce music from all over the world,” Rosenfeld tells Vulture. Raval adds, “We personally wanted to do what we could to not reference the movie. We felt that this is just a different world and, musically, we’re in a different time.”
Of course, the show still shares plenty of DNA with the film and the Nick Hornby book, so the team had to bring their knowledge of “record store-y, unknown B-sides” to the soundtrack, while also incorporating some familiar hits to make the Brooklyn iteration of Championship Vinyl seem like a place where you’d want to hang out. That, in turn, meant figuring out how to marry an eclectic playlist to the onscreen action, a process that involved plenty of research and on-the-fly changes. To give Vulture a better understanding of how the process worked, Raval and Rosenfeld picked their top ten songs from the season and explained what made them the right fit.
Lena Platonos, “And We Hear ‘I Love You’” (Episode 1)
As Rob introduces her ex-boyfriend and current employee Simon (David H. Holmes), he walks in and puts on a record he’d been trying to find for ages, the 1985 LP Galop by Greek artist Lena Platonos.
“She’s like the pioneer of electronic music in Greece in the ’80s and we all agreed that it would be cool to have some notable female musicians,” says Rosenfeld about choosing Platonos. “They asked us for some ideas, saying, ‘We need Simon to come in and play something that’s uniquely Simon, something that Cherise, the pop music lover, wouldn’t necessarily like.’”
As it turned out, Rosenfeld owns an actual copy of the hard-to-find record. “Alison said, ‘Well, I had a hard time tracking down this record that I really wanted to get,’ and I remember saying, ‘Why don’t we tell them that and see how that flies?’ They loved the idea,” Raval recalled.
Funnily enough, this is the song that Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) turns off in favor of “Come on Eileen,” a twist on the scene from the movie where Jack Black plays “Walking on Sunshine.”
“It’s a song you want to hate, but you just can’t because it’s so good,” says Rosenfeld. “It’s the right energy for that scene, and they also liked the idea of using a one-hit wonder there as a nod to the movie.”
Darondo, “Didn’t I” (Episode 1)
When Rob discusses her ex Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and the breakup that fuels much of the season’s plot, the montage of their happier days plays over this song by Darondo, a Bay Area soul artist whose ’70s output didn’t garner much acclaim until the years leading up to his 2013 death.
“This was originally written as a more mainstream choice, but we always felt it should be a more obscure record that we see Rob crate-digging,” Raval says. “We were actually sending Darando stuff to the producers before Zoë was attached to the project and then we saw that song on her playlist. Luckily, we were able to find a great spot for his music early in the process.”
Marvin Gaye, “Right On” (Episode 3)
For the long scene where Rob discusses exes with heartthrob singer Blake — the show’s take on the character played by Lisa Bonet in the movie — they listen to this cut from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On Originally, two songs were going to play during that scene until the team had the idea to use this track, which lasts for seven-and-a-half minutes, because it better fit both the narrative and their practical needs.
“That came about deep in the post-production process. We were having issues with the songs that were in there and it was skyrocketing the budget,” says Raval. “Then we had this funny idea. Earlier in the episode, [Blake] buys the What’s Going On record in the store and then nothing ever comes of it. We thought, ‘Well, why don’t we just assume that he puts on the record when Rob is at his place? And instead of starting with side one, if you start the first track on side two, it’s a really long song that will carry us under the entire scene.’ It ended up being a funny ‘oh my God, we’re so clever’ moment, but it was just a complete accident.”
Yvonne Fair, “Straighten Up” (Episode 5)
This smooth 1963 track plays near the beginning of “Uptown,” when Rob calls Clyde (Jake Lacy) if he’ll drive her to the Upper West Side to check out a collection of rare records. For those unfamiliar with Fair, she was a member of the girl group the Chantels and the James Brown Revue. The Godfather of Soul also reworked her single “I Found You” into his hit “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
“They wanted something to really punctuate the end of this phone call and hit on the main title card, then sort transition into Rob lazing on the stoop, waiting,” Rosenfeld says. “I’m a total sucker for songs that start with a yell or a scream, so I thought of this song. Her big yells at the beginning are such a bold opening, and then it’s such a lazy and relaxing track.”
David Bowie, “The Man Who Sold the World” (Episode 5)
Rob discovering a rare British pressing of Bowie’s 1970 album — with the alternative cover image and misspelling of producer Tony Visconti’s name — was a choice that required a lot of careful thought. Not only would they need an album that would be expensive because of its rareness, but it also had to have a song that perfectly fit the mood of the episode’s end, where Rob abruptly ends a seemingly perfect day out with Clyde, asking herself, “What the fuck was that?” (If you’re looking to own a copy of this hard-to-find record pressing, Rosenfeld says you’ll have to shell out around $2,500.)
“We’d already established a Bowie connection with the characters and we’d sent [the showrunners] a long list of obscure records, or records that had a lot of value to them,” Raval says. “Man Who Sold the World was on that list and they said, ‘Well, this is pretty legit and we can definitely see ourselves ending the episode with that song.’ It felt like a pretty safe gamble to go ahead with that, having not shot the episode yet.”
P.T.A.F., “Boss Ass Bitch” (Episode 6)
When Rob is leaving Blake’s apartment after spending the night, the team knew they had to find something that fit both the character and the celebratory mood, which lasts until Rob steps in dog shit and comes crashing back down to earth. So, they opted for this once-viral hit by the now-disbanded L.A. rap trio PTAF, which is an acronym for “Pretty and Taking All Fades.” (You might also know the track from Nicki Minaj’s 2013 remix.)
“That was a nod to a scene in the movie where Rob celebrates to ‘We Are the Champions,’” says Rosenfeld. “Originally, we had ‘We Are the Champions’ in this spot, but we were like, we can do better than that. What is the modern-day equivalent of an on-the-nose song of personal triumph that this particular character would gravitate toward? And that was PTAF.”
Kaleta & Super Yamba Band, “Mr. Diva” (Episode 7)
For this episode opener, when Rob and Clyde are watching a band and chatting about their tastes — “He listens to Phish, okay?! I just … I can’t,” she says into the camera—the showrunners requested that supervisors find a New York Afro-funk act to play on stage. After scouting local Afro-funk acts, Kaleta & the Super Yamba Band stood out, especially the clips of their “Mr Diva” performances.
“We found a bunch of other bands and sent them all over to Zoë and the producers, saying, ‘Here’s a bunch of stuff, but just watch Mr. Diva. I think that’s the song,’” Raval says. (As Rosenfeld points out, it’s “another song with a scream at the top.”)
But this selection involved more than just picking the right track. The band had to fit with the scene’s action, following Rob and Clyde in the crowd and then as they go to get drinks. “It’s incredibly difficult to find the right band that can do an on-camera performance with the right song that can fit under it when the characters are talking,” Raval says. “Luckily, the band was going to be back home in New York when the thing was going to be shooting.”
Mavis John, “Use My Body” (Episode 7)
When Rob’s brother Cameron decides to have an impromptu funeral-like bash before he becomes a father, this song by a singer from Trinidad and Tobago plays over a montage of increasingly drunken antics.
“We had been sending them lots and lots of songs to play as background music playing in the bar at this party, but this one was special because it has, for lack of a better word, a cinematic feel at the beginning,” says Rosenfeld. “It’s not like a straight-up party song, but it’s fun and active. It’s got all sorts of different parts to it that could mirror the things they’re doing on screen. We just love that song.”
Silk Rhodes, “Pains” (Episodes 9 and 10)
This 2014 song comes from the only album by this Baltimore duo, though it sounds like it easily could’ve been picked off a little-known Motown compilation from the ’70s. Here it pulls double duty, closing out the ninth episode, when Rob has her brief reunion with Mac, and in the flashbacks that reveal what actually happened between them in the season finale.
“We knew it was a special song that needed a special use,” says Rosenfeld. “We were getting asked for song ideas for the end of episode nine and the flashbacks and we said, ‘We think they should be the same song.’ Lyrically, it’s crazy how spot on it is for Rob’s character. This part of your life is over. What now?”
Ted Lucas, “Baby Where You Are” (Episode 10)
Lucas was a Detroit-based singer and songwriter who, after playing in bands and working on several Motown releases, released one solo album in 1975. Appropriately, the gentle “Baby Where You Are” gets played when Rob visits Cameron, his wife, and their newborn in the hospital. This track was one that the team wanted to place in a project for a long time.
“Ted Lucas put out just this one solo album, but to us, it’s a perfect ’70s folk album,” she says. “Any of those songs could work in the show, but this one, there was something about the feel of it that it just felt right.”