This is the first article in a six-part retrospective of the Skins soundtrack.
The past week, I decided I would finally watch Euphoria and binge-watched the first season. My FOMO (fear of missing out) was acting up since I’ve been seeing all the hype for it. I came with very little expectation, after all, I’ve had my fill of watching a ton of teen dramas in the past that I didn’t think I would see anything that I haven’t seen before.
Post-binge, I’m happy to report that the series did not disappoint.
One thing that kept niggling in my mind however, was that this would have been Skins if they actually were successful in adapting it to the US audience.
Skins was a UK show that ran from 2007 to 2013, and much like Euphoria, it dealt with the dark and complicated lives of teenagers. It was a huge hit in the UK so they tried to adapt it to the US via MTV, hoping to imitate the success of Shameless and The Office. The US version of Skins only lasted one season. At that time, I thought, if they actually produced it through HBO just like Shameless, and not MTV (which limited how edgy it could be) it would have been a success. Interesting to note – Euphoria is an HBO production.
Euphoria as I’ve learned, was also an import. It’s loosely based on an Israeli teen drama of the same name. Curious to how loosely it was based, I watched a couple of episodes of the original series. It was indeed, loosely adapted. In fact, the further I watched, I was slowly finding out how Euphoria had more things in common with Skins than it had with the original show. Both Euphoria and Skins follow the format of character centred episodes, they feature problematic parents, there’s constant drug use, house parties, a sociopathic lead character, a manic pixie dream girl, and a drug dealing character (only, instead of a lovable one like Fezco, what Skins had was the Mad Twatter with a hipster moustache). On a side note, I’m actually glad we’re over the hipster moustache stage, I’ve seen a couple of waxed handlebar moustaches in my day and the pretentiousness always made me want to barf.
This wont be a Euphoria vs. Skins comparison article though. Despite the similarities, Euphoria is still its own show. The thing is, watching Euphoria made me miss Skins. Not that I’m still hung up on what actually happened to Freddie or why Sid was never mentioned in that Cassie-centric Skins Fire episode. What I miss about Skins the most, is the music. Skins was always big on music. Skins’ characters were fascinating, the storylines groundbreaking; but the music was the one that made the show a hundred times better. It gave the show a certain kind of edge. The show’s soundtrack featured music that undoubtedly shaped a generation. The Gossip, Foals, MGMT and Crystal Castles were among the few artists that got a big boost, with some, even finding more success after the show ended. (Maybe that’s why MTV wanted to produce Skins in the first place….to bring music back Music to Music Television?) So I’ve decided, to kick off a weekly nostalgic look into the music that defined a particular generation. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be doing a recap of the most memorable songs that appeared in Skins’ seven season run.
It’s 2007 again, what are we listening to?
Standing in the Way of Control (Soulwax Nite Version) – The Gossip
If there ever was a song that embodied Skins, this was it. It began with the Skins promotional trailer: a wild house party to end all parties, with footage of teens in different states of intoxication and undress – getting high, horny, or puking their brains out. The soundtrack? “Standing in the Way of Control” by The Gossip. “Standing in the Way of Control” was already a small hit when Skins picked it up, but it wasn’t the original version of the song that transformed it into an epic era defining teen anthem, it was the Soulwax Nite Version – a remix ripe for a raucous “get-together”. The song became synonymous to “skins parties” – i.e. any house party that, much like it’s namesake, indulged in teenage hedonism. With that, much like Spandau Ballet’s “True” in the eighties or Oasis’ “Wonderwall” in the nineties, “Standing in the Way of Control” cemented itself as a song that bookmarked the wild “skins party” days of the late noughties,
Right Place, Wrong Time – Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
An excellent cover of the Dr. John song, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s version ups the ante on this already energetic, funky song. We hear this play in the second episode of the series, the morning after Michelle’s party. Our favourite Skins characters scamper off, having been woken up by Michelle’s mom, who just returned home to a thoroughly trashed house. This is too good of a song not to notice, and works extremely well while Anwar, Maxxie, and friends dash off to safety.
“Right Place, Wrong Time” has also been a favourite background tune to a lot of chase sequences on TV and movies. This version in particular, was included in 1997’s Scream 2 movie soundtrack.
Interesting tidbit: another Jon Spencer Blues Explosion song, “Bellbottoms” has been featured in a soundtrack, coincidentally, used in a car chase scene. If you check out the first 6 minutes of Edgar Wright’s 2017 action movie “Baby Driver”, you’ll hear it.
Aht Uh Mi Hed – Shuggie Otis
This 1974 classic from Shuggie Otis is a delight to hear, especially in one very memorable scene from Cassie’s episode. In the episode, Cassie is on the second floor, and notices Sid walk in to school. She quietly observes him from above. She’s smitten by him, having just had a conversation earlier about her eating habits and how it concerns him. He cares about her, he says. Like anyone who’s ever wondered if the one they love, loves them back, she asks the universe for a sign: “Look up if you like me, look up if you like me…“. He doesn’t look up.
Underwear – The Magnetic Fields
Underwear is one of two Magnetic Fields songs that appear in the series. The Magnetic Fields’ songs are the perfect soundtrack for Sid as they fittingly embody his goofy and awkward nature. They also sum his up cluelessness when it comes to love. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the only times we hear The Magnetic Fields is if Sid in the scene. So where do we hear “Underwear”? It’s in that bedroom scene where Sid tries to relieve his schoolwork stress with a picture of Michelle in hand.
Hell Is Around The Corner – Tricky
Tricky’s “Hell is Around the Corner” sets the mood as it plays while Cassie, not able to cope with heartache, attempts suicide. The scene is beautifully staged: a sunny day at the park with Cassie, looking angelic in a gorgeous white dress. She fills up a water gun with vodka, and uses it to down a couple of pills. She gets lost in the moment and dances on top of the park bench as the music swells.
Skins goes back to 90’s with this song and aptly chooses Bristol artist Tricky with his unique brand of moody and dark trip hop. If you think it sounds just like that song by Portishead, it’s because both “Glory Box” and “Hell Is Around The Corner” sample the 1971 Issac Hayes song “Ike’s Rap II”.
As if suddenly hit by cupid’s arrow, Sid realizes who he really loves. This is heavily implied as he browses through online pictures of Cassie and this song is playing in the background.
As much as “The One You Really Love” sounds like a really sweet love song at the beginning, the song slowly reveals itself as a melancholy reminder of a love that’s lost to another. And if you listen closely until the end, it’s a love that’s lost to someone that’s long been gone. The song clocks in shy of 3 minutes, but with lyrics like “I do believe our love’s in danger/ I might as well be loving air / You look at me like I’m a stranger / You look at me like I’m not there” there’s a lot of emotion to unpack.
You Can’t Hurry Love – The Concretes
In the early 2000’s The Concretes had two big hits: “Say Something New” which was featured highly in an ad for Target, and “You Can’t Hurry Love” – the song that everyone remembers as Sid’s “off to profess my love” song in Skins. In the ninth episode of series, Sid finally realizes that he needs to do something to get his girl. In typical Sid fashion, he absentmindedly throws on mismatched clothes with mismatched shoes and waste no time to get Cassie. As he’s doing his mad dash, he’s played off to the triumphant trumpets of The Concretes “You Can’t Hurry Love”. This scene and this song, come right after Sid composes a heartfelt and very honest love letter that’s too pure not to post here:
Cassie, I’m shit with words, everything always comes out as crap, but I’ve been doing some thinking and everything is getting clearer. The thing is Cass, I’ve woken up this morning and the sun’s shining through the window and it’s making me think of you. Cassie, it’s not right you’re hiding away in that clinic, you’ve got to get out in the world! I don’t care if you think you’re odd, because I feel like singing when I see you. And you’re beautiful. And I’ve been such a fucking chapstick these past few weeks. All I want to do this morning is sit on top of Brandon Hill and hold you, and tell you how wonderful you are and stick my hand down your knickers …and…and… I love you. – Sid
Style-wise it could be improved, but it had several compelling thematic points.
Sky Holds The Sun – The Bees
The Sky Holds The Sun only has three unique lines in its lyrics, but it’s a real earworm. Skins features this song while an immensely lovesick Chris pines for Angie – his school teacher. Theirs is a highly problematic relationship that wouldn’t fly in today’s TV. But back in the late 90’s and even just a few years ago, young male students having affairs with their hot female teachers weren’t at all that uncommon – i.e. Pacey with Ms. Jacobs (Dawson’s Creek), Dan with Ms. Carr (Gossip Girl) or Archie with Ms. Grundy (Riverdale).
Although the controversial relationship was brought in for additional drama, there were also some comedic Angie/Chris moments which managed to lighten the already dubious situation. In one scene, Chris has a spirited discussion with Merve – Angie’s fiance, arguing that he and Angie are meant to be together. The ever practical Merve shuts him down and even reveals Angie gave him genital herpes in the past. He offers some solid advice –
Chris: But, she can see into my soul…
Merve: How old are you?
Merve: Seventeen? You haven’t even got a soul yet, and with any luck you haven’t got any herpes either. Quit while you’re ahead.
Looking back, Merve made a lot of sense. Shame on you Angie, and thank god this TV trope is (hopefully!) dying down.
Nevertheless, The Bees’ “Sky Holds the Sun” is a silver lining in this. It’s one heck of a love song.
The Owls Go – Architecture in Helsinki
Architecture in Helsinki is indie pop at its best. We only get a glimpse of this song in the season finale, as Cassie hatches a plan to escape from the treatment facility that she’s in. The song is played briefly, but it’s enough to make you go: what’s that song playing in the background? The song’s unique and playful melody is one that matches Cassie’s character to a T. One of my personal favourites, it’s a twee pop song that I would recommend to anyone, any day, if they’re looking for something new to listen to. But who hasn’t heard of Architecture in Helsinki?
Regardless if you know this song or not, press that play button and enjoy, you’ll thank me for it.
It’s All Over – Broken Family Band
Probably one of the most downloaded songs after the Skins finale aired, next to Sid’s version of “Wild World” , “It’s All Over” encapsulates the pain of a broken heart in beautiful song form. As Cassie drops off her letter to Sid, breaking things off, we hear the Broken Family Band express our mutual heartbreak as we watch the scene.
For Lovers – Wolfman featuring Pete Doherty
I will always love this song. In my opinion, it was the perfect song of choice for Cassie and Sid at the diner. They share their first real kiss. Young love at its sweetest!
A while back, when I noticed that they had it on Netflix Canada, I decided to do a re-watch of my favourite episodes. To my horror, this song was NOT playing in this very essential scene. It just didn’t feel the same. No magic. Nothing. I’m not sure if it was the disappointment of expecting that particular song to play and it wasn’t playing, if I just overly romanticized that moment, or if the song was the one that truly carried that scene to perfection. So I tried to find the original version that aired and viewed it.
Did the song make that scene? Yes, yes it did.
Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, most of the songs in this list actually didn’t make the cut to be included in the international streaming or DVD release of Skins. It’s such as shame though, because for most Skins episodes, music was used quite prominently to enhance the viewing experience. Anyone viewing it without the original soundtrack would probably question why this show was such a hit back in the day. Here I am though, doing the lord’s work and letting you know…you’re all missing out! Look at all these awesome songs! If you do want the full Skins experience I suggest getting a VPN to stream it from the Channel 4 UK’s site instead, or find a copy with the original soundtrack somewhere….😉
Next week, we’ll look back on Series 2.