Even if you’ve only watched one episode of Grey’s Anatomy, you quickly realize that the show’s soundtrack plays a big part in the show’s narrative. Sometimes a Grey’s song pieces a scene together, sometimes its lyrics explain an entire episode.
These 10 songs are outstanding examples of how Grey’s got it right when the producers underscored crucial scenes with the perfect song.
“Keep Breathing” by Ingrid Michaelson
Season 3, Episode 25, Title: “Didn’t We Have It All?”
If it’s one thing Grey’s Anatomy does well, it’s weddings and season finales, and this clip is part of both. After Meredith tells the church that Christina and Burke won’t be getting married, Ingrid Michaelson’s ballad reaches its crescendo, and at that point, we see the near-bride clawing at her bejeweled choker and skintight wedding dress. As Meredith symbolically frees Cristina from her suffocating wedding dress and choker (who wears a choker with a wedding dress?), Michaelson’s ballad suggests a little bit of hope in this bittersweet finale.
9. “In My Veins” by Andrew Belle
Season 6, Episode 24, Title: “Death and All his Friends”
In what turned out to be another nail-biter of a season finale, a shooter has entered the hospital and among other people, he’s shot Dr. Charles Percy. As Andrew Belle’s “In My Veins” swells, Bailey screams and yells as she realizes the hospital elevators have been turned off due to the hospital lock down. Belle’s song captures the sadness, rage, and frustration of Bailey’s situation.
8. “Somewhere a Clock Is Ticking” by Snow Patrol
Season 2, Episode 25, “17 Seconds”
In the first of a three-episode story arc which closes out season 2 in dramatic fashion, Snow Patrol’s “Somewhere a Clock Is Ticking” fights with sirens and gun blasts for screen time. Snow Patrol’s mid-tempo ballad is juxtaposed with Izzie about to snip Denny’s LVAD wire to move him up on the heart transplant list, while Burke is bleeding out in the hospital parking lot. The song is soothing even though there’s chaos throughout the scene. And the title of the song also ties in nicely with the title of the episode – remember, Denny was admitted 17 seconds too late.
7. “The Quest” by Bryn Christopher
Season 4, Episode 17, Title: “Freedom”
This is another one of those classic Grey’s season finales where major storylines weave in and out of each other, all while being bound by a song that’s able to tie an entire season’s loose ends together. Bryn Christopher’s “The Quest” nails the feeling of the last minutes of this episode with the lyrics “What I’m gonna live for? What I’m gonna fight for? Who you gonna die for?” while George kisses Lexie, Meredith and Derek make things official, and Callie finally kisses Erica.
6. “Turn to Stone” by Ingrid Michaelson
Season 5, Episode 22, Title: “What a Difference a Day Makes”
The person who edited this 5-minute wedding scene should’ve gotten an Emmy or something – it has so many layers and elements and it’s all interwoven with Ingrid Michaelson’s delicate number. Meredith and Derek call off their wedding who then give the event to Alex and Izzie (remember, she was potentially dying). Everyone in the church’s pews get some powerful screen time, and the entire event is woven together perfectly. Alex’s from-the-heart vows is the cherry on top of this scene.
5. “Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick
Season 2, Episode 17, Title: “As We Know It”
The grenade episode! Talk about a scene full of tension and fear. Just as Meredith pulls the fanciest grenade you’ve ever seen out of her patient’s body, Anna Nalick’s “Breathe” breaks down (you can actually hear the blood and guts squish as she takes it out). Nalick’s melody is hopeful and even a little upbeat, which is why when Meredith hands the grenade off to that guy from the bomb squad, you think everything’s going to be OK. Except it wasn’t, and just as we slip into a false sense of security, bam.
4. “Where Does the Good Go” by Tegan and Sara
Season 10, Episode 24, Title: “Fear of the Unknown”
This scene is a great example of Grey’s Anatomy gutting you with a heart-wrenching moment, and then using music to lighten the mood, and even give you a little hope for the future of the show. A perfect example of that is when Cristina returns to the hospital for the second time. After Cristina tells Meredith how important she is to her, she insists they cap off the farewell by “dancing it out.” Meredith finds an old song hardcore fans will remember from season 1, and softens the blow of Cristina leaving.
3. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Jill Andrews
Season 10, Episode 12, Title: “Get Up, Stand Up”
As April and Matthew are standing at the alter with pretty much the entire hospital staff watching, the faint intro to Bonnie Tyler’s heartbreaking “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (sung by Jill Andrews) softly starts picking up momentum. We see a dramatic montage with Meredith’s narration, and then the priest asks the couple’s friends and family if they’ll support the marriage. The camera pans to Jackson, struggling with his head and his heart, and then he does it… He stops the marriage and professes his love for April.
2. “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
Season 2, Episode 27, Title: “Losing My Religion”
It’s safe to say that even after all these seasons later, Izzie clutching Denny as she’s wearing her plum-colored formal, and he lies lifeless in his hospital bed, ranks high up there with most Grey’s fans. As Alex lifts her from the hospital bed as the other interns look on, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody sings “If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world,” and you can feel the heaviness in the room. This is peak Grey’s when the actors, the script, and the music are in perfect sync.
1. “Off I Go” by Greg Laswell
Season 5, Episode 24, “Now or Never”
One of the things about Grey’s music is that sometimes a scene and a song are so well paired, you don’t even realize there’s accompanying music playing until something snaps you out of the drama. In the case of Grey’s season 5 finale, the crescendo of Greg Laswell’s “Off I Go” hits perfectly as Izzie and George meet in the hospital elevator. This of course, is the moment you realize they’re gone forever. It may be one of the strongest season finales producer Shonda Rhimes have ever produced, and she’s written some great finales.