1. Music From And Inspired By Desperate Housewives (2005)

Like the ladies of Wisteria Lane—who tried to mask their suburban strife and murderous, adulterous, dirty laundry with manicured lawns—the soundtrack companion to Marc Cherry’s prime-time soap hides behind the dreaded “music from and inspired by” tag. The only things connecting this compilation and ABC’s Emmy-winning Sunday staple are the impeccably dressed actresses on its cover, whose monologues serve as faux introductions to tunes thickly on-message. (For example: Lynette explains becoming addicted to her son’s ADD medication, which is followed by Liz Phair covering the Rolling Stones classic “Mother’s Little Helper.”) It’s got some good songs, but still feels like a blatant attempt to squeeze every ounce of disposable income out of the show’s well-meaning fans under the pretense that music played a role in the series beyond naming episodes after Stephen Sondheim titles. [Janine Schaults]

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2. Fonzie Favorites (1976)

Initially, this Happy Days tie-in is exactly what you’d expect. The album opens with the show’s theme song by Pratt & McClain, followed by a selection of golden oldies likely found on the jukebox at Arnold’s. Selections include the show’s original theme song (in its first two seasons) “Rock Around The Clock,” by Bill Haley And The Comets, Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash,” and “Bird Dog” by the Everly Brothers, but not Richie Cunningham’s favorite song, Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.” (Hey, the album’s not called Richie’s Favorites.) Things get truly strange toward the end of side one with “Fonzarelli Slide,” featuring terrible impersonations of the Fonz and (for some reason) the Sweathogs from Welcome Back, Kotter over a generic disco groove. This is followed by “Fonz Song” by the ersatz girl group the Heyettes and an interminable “Impressionist Track,” on which immortal catchphrases like “Ayyyyyy!” and “Sit on it!” are repeated ad infinitum. As it turns out, Fonzie jumped the shark even earlier than we thought. [Scott Von Doviak]

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3. Sex And The City: Music From The HBO Series (2000)

Throughout its run, Sex And The City inspired horny single career gals to pick up a few habits: dropping a week’s paycheck on a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps, ordering Cosmopolitans at any watering hole, and brunching like calories—when consumed at a table of four—don’t exist. But for all its casual name-dropping of brands, the show rarely mentioned bands (save for that time Carrie ribbed Big for having a Blood, Sweat & Tears album in his record collection). Released in 2000, this out-of-print compilation features a roster as varied as the fab foursome’s personalities. It’s easy to see Samantha getting down to Missy Elliott’s “Hot Boyz” or the remix of Tom Jones’ “Sexbomb,” but Trisha Yearwood (“For Only You”) and Joan Osbourne (“Righteous Love”) seem too homespun even for Charlotte. Curiously, the soundtrack also commits the cardinal sin of its kind: fucking up the theme song. Those looking for that familiar spicy salsa accompanying Sarah Jessica Parker’s showdown with a bus will find something out of a Yanni PBS special. [Janine Schaults]

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4-5. Beverly Hills, 90210: The Soundtrack (1992); Beverly Hills, 90210: The College Years (1994)

Remember that one time Color Me Badd showed up at the Peach Pit to serenade the kids? (Brandon, ever the dutiful servant at Nat’s throwback diner, practically mopped up their hormone-charged drool at the end of his shift.) The guest spot was just another stunt by producers of the Fox juggernaut who failed to realize fans were always too deep in the throes of the Dylan/Brenda/Kelly love triangle to notice such frivolous nonsense. The frivolity didn’t stop there. Beverly Hills, 90210 spawned not one, but two soundtracks packed with artists that Steve Sanders couldn’t pick out of a lineup. The first, released in 1992, features a yacht-rock duet between Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald (“Time To Be Lovers”) and a random Diane Warren-penned track by Jody Watley that’s not nearly as memorable as her giant hoop earrings (“All The Way To Heaven”). And the second, released in 1994 and subtitled The College Years, heralded in the new Shannen Doherty-less era of the primetime soap with Aaron Neville (“I’ll Love You Anyway”). Funny that none of these singers headlined the crew’s foray into the club scene with the Peach Pit After Dark. A compilation featuring The Flaming Lips, Christina Aguilera, or the Brian Setzer Orchestra would better represent the show’s later years. [Janine Schaults]

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6. Bones: Original Television Soundtrack (2008)

Fox’s long-running procedural is one of a legion of shows about vaguely creative murders and vaguely charming leads that seem to exist primarily to keep TNT from having to broadcast dead air at 4 in the afternoon, and the soundtrack album released after the show’s third season sticks firmly to its bland-but-fine-we-guess game plan. The majority of the tracks operate in the vein of the Sarah McLachlan-style wailing-lady songs that you’d expect to hear playing over an end-of-episode montage—maybe of characters brooding beside big piles of bones, or having tearful reconciliations near other, larger piles of bones. The queen of Canadian adult contemporary herself contributes two tracks to the soundtrack, but the album’s stand-out song, and one of the only bits of liveliness in evidence, is Eliza Lumley’s jazzy, breathy cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star,” which, like a snarky one-liner from David Boreanaz, manages to inject a little energy into the proceedings. [William Hughes]

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7. The Bible: Music Inspired By The Epic Miniseries (2013)

Because apparently a huge body of religious music that includes most of the enduring classics of Western civilization wasn’t enough, the producers of The History Channel’s The Bible miniseries felt compelled to release an accompanying “inspired by” CD, The Bible: Music Inspired By The Epic Miniseries. The album kicks off with a cover of “In Your Eyes” by Francesca Battistelli, which functionally differs from a karaoke version of Peter Gabriel’s song in that you’re supposed to think about God when you listen to it. The rest of the CD follows the same treacly Casiotone template, as Christian artists like Big Daddy Weave (who sounds nothing like what one assumes an artist called Big Daddy Weave would sound like, by the way) over-emote over canned symphonic backing tracks. It’s enough to pose the question of what, exactly, makes these songs the official soundtrack to God’s holy word, as opposed to, say, Handel’s Messiah. That question is best answered by the existence of A Story Of God And All Of Us, A Novel Based On The Epic Miniseries “The Bible,” a book based on a miniseries based on a book that is basically the sacred equivalent of Jurassic Park: The Junior Novelization. [Katie Rife]

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8. Songs In The Key Of X: Music From And Inspired By The X-Files (1996)

By 1996, The X-Files had made the leap from a beloved cult series to a full-blown cultural phenomenon, so it made perfect sense to try and cash in on the show’s success with a soundtrack album. Trouble was, apart from the show’s spooky, iconic theme, The X-Files didn’t use a whole lot of music. But just like the logical fallacies in a convoluted alien conspiracy, that basic problem was hand-waved away, with one of the first uses of the “inspired by” tag—meaning most of the songs on the soundtrack actually weren’t on the actual show. (Some were only barely, like Soul Coughing’s thematically appropriate “Unmarked Helicopters,” which plays on a radio that Mulder immediately turns off.) Despite a tenuous connection to the show, Key Of X ends up being a fantastic alt-rock compilation, with the likes of Frank Black, The Meat Puppets, Elvis Costello, Danzig, and Foo Fighters contributing pretty solid tracks. R.E.M. re-recorded Automatic For The People’s “Star Me Kitten,” with guest vocals from William S. Burroughs; Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper were nominated for a Grammy for “Hands Of Death”; and Nick Cave contributes one song to the track listing, and then a hidden track accessible only by rewinding past the beginning of track one—a little-known CD feature that seems in keeping with the secrecy-obsessed show. While “inspired by” has since been used as a dodge for some pretty questionable choices, here it works like gangbusters, making what could have been a cheap cash-in better than it had any right to be. [Mike Vago]

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9. Pan Am: Music From And Inspired By The Original Series (2012)

ABC’s short-lived attempt to ride the coattails of other acclaimed period dramas may as well have come with the tagline, “Like Mad Men, but not as good!” That goes double for this soundtrack, which apes that show’s use of memorable period music, but doesn’t aim nearly as high when it comes to thematic resonance. Matthew Weiner memorably used “Tomorrow Never Knows” to underscore that Don Draper (who earlier blithely declared, “We know what The Beatles sound like,” before being proven decisively wrong) was losing touch, not to mention that Weiner was willing to shell out for a high-priced Beatles song if it made his show better. By comparison, it seems like very little thought went into Pan Am’s use of on-the-nose tunes like “Around The World” and “Fly Me To The Moon,” and for a show set in 1963, a roster that includes Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Billie Holliday, and Count Basie seems decidedly old-fashioned. Pan Am does make a nod to the Fab Four, but “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” as well as “Fly Me To The Moon,” are jarring contemporary covers. Much like the show, the soundtrack aims low, and still doesn’t manage to get off the ground. [Mike Vago]

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10. Dinosaurs: Big Songs (1992)

Like other Jim Henson-associated shows, the puppet-led early-’90s ABC sitcom Dinosaurs worked on several levels; it was silly enough to interest kids, but dealt with enough sophisticated themes to give it adult appeal. The show’s Disney-released 1992 soundtrack, however, contains little for either group, mostly because the occasional flashes of self-aware lyrical cleverness (“And we wouldn’t turn into fuel / In a perfect world”) are drowned out by uninspired music: brassy Broadway numbers (“Be A Herbivore,” “Poor Slobs With Terrible Jobs”), attempts to be contemporary (the Poison-esque lite-metal “I Wanna Be King,” schmaltzy dentist-office ballad “Eon After Eon”), and sore-thumb retro pop (the girl-group “In A Perfect World”). In fact, Dinosaurs: Big Songs mostly feels cobbled together to support the sitcom’s attempt to manufacture a novelty hit: the catchphrase-overflowing “I’m The Baby (Gotta Love Me).” [Annie Zaleski]

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11. A Future To This Life: Robocop The Series Soundtrack (1995)

The timeline of the Robocop franchise’s small-screen adaptation is a bit odd—it’s set between the first and second films, yet it didn’t actually premiere until after the release of the third film—but that chronological peculiarity is nothing compared to the series’ soundtrack, which wasn’t released until two months after the final episode of the series had aired. The album seems to owe its existence to Joe Walsh, who performed the theme song (“A Future To This Life,” a duet with Lita Ford) and was seen as Pyramid’s signature artist. As such, Walsh scores the first three tracks on the album. From there, however, the collection descends into a blend of inclusions from other Pyramid Records artists (Dave Edmunds, The Band) and random oldies presumably featured in episodes of the series, resulting in the single edit of Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” leading into KC And The Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty.” If the album didn’t close with just under two minutes of the Robocop overture, most listeners would leave the proceedings with no clue that the collection even had a connection to the series. [Will Harris]

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12-13. Due South: The Original Television Soundtrack (1996); Due South, Volume II: The Original Television Soundtrack (1998)

The popularity of the police dramedy Due South may have been limited in the States—it was canceled by CBS after a single season, revived for a second season after its success in Canada and the U.K., and even after getting a second American cancellation, it carried on for two additional seasons on CTV—but it’s still a little eyebrow-raising to realize that a series about a Mountie and a detective from the Chicago P.D. warranted not one but two soundtrack albums over the course of its run. In fairness, the pair of albums does serve as a nice introduction to the Canadian music scene circa the mid-’90s, with inclusions from Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo, The Headstones, Spirit Of The West, Holly Cole, Michelle Wright, and Tara MacLean—along with a few classic artists from the Great White North, including Klaatu and The Guess Who—but given the low profile of the series in the States, it’s nothing short of miraculous that the albums saw an American release at all. [Will Harris]

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14. Melrose Place Jazz: Upstairs At MP (1998)

By the time Melrose Place reached its sixth season, it was no longer populated by restless twentysomethings, but grown-up professionals whose murder cover-ups and incestuous hookups belied their sophistication and refinement. At least, that’s the apparent idea behind Melrose Place Jazz, a soundtrack rooted in the decision to swap out Shooters, a divey pool hall, for the Upstairs Jazz Club as the gang’s new watering hole. There was wisdom in trying to overhaul Melrose’s musical sensibility, given that the giddiness of its earlier alt-radio cues—Letters To Cleo’s “Here And Now” among them—didn’t gibe with the show’s increasingly gothic tone. But then again, neither did the new cues, which were drawn from diluted smooth-jazz fare from the likes of Diana Krall and Tuck & Patti. The result overshot the goal of making Melrose’s denizens seem more mature, instead making them seem old and out of touch. By the seventh season, Melrose Place’s last, Upstairs abandoned its jazz roots and started bringing in youthful pop acts instead, beginning with a guest appearance by Hanson. “MMMBop” isn’t the right sonic accompaniment for soapy intrigue, but it’s more fun to listen to than sleepytime jazz. [Joshua Alston]

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15. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: The Album (2000)

The music package for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire brought a bit of techno edge to the typically cheery field of game show music, so an album of the show’s dramatic, pulsing wouldn’t be such a crazy idea. (Indeed, an original soundtrack CD was released in the show’s original British market.) But in 2000, Disney was eager to strip-mine the runaway success of ABC’s Millionaire, and given that a disc of game show music was unlikely to burn up the charts, the company instead created Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: The Album, a collection of songs that are, at best, vaguely relevant to the show. The first track is “I Want To Be A Millionaire,” a sugary dance track by Jack And Jemma that repeatedly answers the question in the show’s title. After that, there’s a grab bag of oldies that gets increasingly esoteric as the CD wears on: Manhattan Transfer’s “Operator” is an apparent reference to the game’s phone-a-friend “lifeline,” and T-Bone Burnett’s “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” is included because you can buy diamonds with money you win on the show, maybe? The grotesquely Photoshopped face of Regis Philbin graced the album’s cover, and the host’s participation went beyond that: one track features Regis singing “Pennies From Heaven,” a rendition that Amazon.com’s official reviewer characterized as “a straight-ahead interpretation.” [John Teti]

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16. Songs From Scandal: Music For Gladiators (2013)

Scandal’s soundtrack is often a mystery, like when Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” played in the second-season episode “Hunting Season,” which was about NSA data analyst Artie Hornbacher and in no way an appropriate setting for a disco classic. Although ABC claims that this Stax release “will allow true Scandal gladiators to experience the full spirit of the show,” nobody ever explains what Bettye LaVette and KC And The Sunshine Band have to do with fixing things in D.C., torture by teeth-pulling, or sloppy, melodramatic political love affairs. [Laura M. Browning]

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