Fallout Series Pulls from APM’s Catalog to Honor the Game’s Vintage Sound

15 May 2024

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched the series yet, some critical plot points are mentioned in this article. 

By Annabella Hoge 

Mushroom clouds grow behind the Griffith Observatory, enveloping the city of Los Angeles in smoke and an onslaught of nuclear attacks. Families run in slow-motion toward cars and bunkers, while a cowboy takes off with his daughter on horseback and the screen fades to black. And then you hear big band horns and the light, Bing Crosby-styled vocals of Perry Como singing “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes.”  

This is the opening scene of Fallout, where post-apocalyptic terror and ’50s crooners go hand-in-hand in the retrofuturistic world of the popular role-playing video-game-turned-television-series. While translating the world-building, plot, and gleeful violence was essential for a faithful adaptation, the trademark retro soundtrack to Fallout was a critical component of the television series released last month. The sonic aesthetic of the video game was influenced heavily by the U.S.’s post-World War II culture, and the show and game crank out popular American tunes from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. The Fallout television show’s soundtrack nods to its roots: the first 1997 Fallout video game featured The Ink Spots’s “Maybe” which, along with four other Ink Spots songs, made it into the series.  

In the video game, the music is not just a passive actor creating dissonance between the screen and sound, it’s an active part of the gameplay; In the Fallout games, tuning into different radio stations on your Pip-Boy can bring you tracks straight from the Golden Era of music. In the show, the original score by Ramin Djawadi seamlessly weaves in and out of recognizable tunes, with bands big and small. Who knew Glenn Miller’s staple “In the Mood” would be the perfect song for Maximus and Thaddeus to fight a gulper to?  

Probably Trygge Toven, Fallout’s music supervisor.  

Toven previously worked on Westworld with Fallout executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and when he heard they were adapting the videogame dove deep into the series. 

 “Luckily I got the call,” he said in an interview with APM.  

With experience in series like Loki and Moon Knight, Toven is well-versed in bringing music to projects with massive fan bases, expectations, and pre-existing lore.  

“I think the scale of this project mirrored my work with Marvel, where you’re contributing to creating a whole cinematic world,” Toven said.  

With Fallout, Toven delivered on connecting the video game’s story and gameplay to the music and bringing that to the screen. 

 “The music in the game was such a big part of the experience, so we tried to use that as a starting place and bring that feeling into a more narrative storytelling,” Toven said.  

There’s a deep level of nostalgia inspired by the game and the show’s musical direction; For the characters, the music of Fallout is stuck in a time before the world as we knew it stopped. 

“As in the game, the use of the ’40s and ’50s music was story-driven by what the vault dwellers would be holding on to and also spoke to the irony of their situation,” Toven said.  

The interplay of Ramin Djawadi’s score and Toven’s soundtrack emphasized the tension between a ghastly reality and a nostalgic past that constantly seeps through.  

“I worked with Ramin before on Westworld, and as always, he finds a brilliant way to bring the tension through such nuance,” Toven said. “In Westworld, he created covers of the songs in the show.  

In Fallout, we had more of a handoff where he was scoring the drama, and the songs were focused more on the irony.”  

The music of Fallout puts the “retro” in the series and the game’s retro-futurism. The post-apocalyptic world of Fallout gives music supervisors like Toven room to play with sounds of a different era and explore what new purpose they could find.  

“I think it’s fun to explore alternate timelines from our history and how the slightest change could bring such drastic changes,” Toven said.  

There are many standout music moments in Fallout where an old, familiar sound foregrounds a gruesome and unbelievable reality—an instant classic is when “Some Enchanted Evening” by The Castells plays over the first episode’s bloody massacre at Vault 33.  

“I have so many favorite moments in Fallout, but I’ll mention the opening Nat King Cole song ‘Orange Colored Sky,’” Toven said.  

Before the mushroom clouds and chaos, Fallout opens with a children’s birthday party and the crooner’s classic, instantly curating an atmosphere before turning it on its head.  

“From our brilliant editors hitting the brass note over the title card to the foreshadowing of what’s coming very shortly thereafter,” Toven added.  

To continue the sonic ambiance of Fallout outside of moments with classic Golden Era hits, Toven turned to APM’s libraries to build the atmosphere. Seven of Fallout’s eight episodes featured tracks from APM, with several songs appearing multiple times as brief motifs and callbacks.  

“I knew that APM had a vast catalog of vintage tracks to choose from so I reached out for many spots in the show,” Toven said. 

There are a couple of songs from the catalog that stand out on the show. In the fourth episode, a beaten, bloodied, and terrified Lucy MacLean walks into an abandoned building and is met with Sam Fonteyn’s “Journey Into Melody” from the SOHO Metro Park library. When she’s taken care of, the optimism of the track fits the security Lucy believes she’s found. 

“I loved how ‘Journey Into Melody’ played out,” Toven said. “It starts as more of a surreal background piece almost lulling Lucy into a false sense of safety and then quickly becomes a recurring nightmare and comedic bit through the end credits.”  

“Journey Into Melody” follows Lucy’s episode arch and remains unchangingly and comically cheerful. The tune plays again as she’s wheeled past a row of ghouls locked behind glass doors to learn she’s there to have her organs harvested, and, after Lucy makes it out alive and is forced to kill for the first time, the song plays over the credits, bringing the audience in on this twisted joke. 

Songs like “Journey Into Melody” and “I’m Tickled Pink” by Jack Shaindlin from APM’s Cinemusic Metro Park library become callbacks or easter eggs for audience members. “I’m Tickled Pink” appears in episodes seven and eight of Fallout, and in both cases, the barbershop vocals create the perfect contrast with the reality of the situation. 

In episode six “I’m Tickled Pink” reflects Maximus’s comfort with life in Vault 4 while Lucy convinces him to leave. Later, when Lucy is apprehended by Vaulters when she uncovers the human experiments they’re conducting, Maximus is shown watching TV in a robe and eating popcorn before “I’m Tickled Pink” rolls the credits. In episode eight, Maximus is still eating popcorn when “I’m Tickled Pink” plays on while Lucy is dragged past his window. The song becomes a callback for audiences, bringing them in on the joke. “I think the situation with “I’m Tickled Pink” made it easy to do that,” Toven said. “That type of song brings a certain sentiment to the character’s situation and also brings comfort to the audience as it’s a part of all of our shared history.” 

Songs like “Oktoberfest” composed by Douglas A. Wood, which is featured in episodes seven and eight, heighten suspenseful scenes by being so out-of-place tonally that it renders a sequence eerie. Others add to the comedy of the show, such as “Bossa Angela (a),” composed by Roland Kovac and Gerd Schoenau, which serves as the elevator music for Maximus and Lucy’s departure from Vault 4.  

This is not the first time APM has shared its archival and retro sounds with the Fallout universe.  Ground-breaking releases such as Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76 used music from APM’s vast catalog to enrich the gameplay.

One notable use of APM’s tracks is in the “Pip-Boy Radio Stations,” where players can tune-in to while playing the game. Hundreds of APM tracks  have been used in this game feature, enhancing the sonic identity of the Fallout video game series.

The Fallout series was able to bring to the screen not just the character tropes and stories fans have loved for over two decades, but also the music that makes the game one-of-a-kind. Luckily, for fans of the Fallout series, a soundtrack is on its way.  

“Yes, Ramin’s score album is out on vinyl and we’re working on a song soundtrack as well,” Toven said.