'Breaking Bad' Finale Tunes: Marty, Groucho & Badfinger

Tuesday, 01 October 2013 02:25 PM Written by 

The title of Breaking Bad's finale, "Felina," was partly based on a 54 year old song that became, and remains, a great moment in American country, western and popular music, sharing the episode's Southwestern locale and raw violence. Indeed, knowing the song as I do, the minute I saw the title, I had at least some idea what was going to happen.  

That of course isn't all. The spelling of the title also alludes to something closer: the chemical elements of iron (Fe), lithium (Li) and sodium (Na).

The second tune was heard in passing as a ringtone on Todd Alquist's phone, revealing again the severe, obsessive crush his seriously disturbed character had on his co-conspirator, drug exporter Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.

The third song, which closes the series as Walt lies dying or dead in a meth lab he and Jesse designed as the cops come in, is an outstanding Top Twenty single by a British band the Beatles signed to Apple Records in 1969.   Here's the lowdown on all three:

Marty Robbins: "El Paso" 1959: # 1 country, # 1 pop

Oddly enough, the song is barely heard in the episode, except at the beginning when he finds an old Marty Robbins cassette in the glove compartment of the vehicle he's stealing for the trip from wintry New Hampshire back to Albuquerque.  But the song and its message looms heavy over the proceedings nonetheless.

A native of Arizona, Robbins remains one of country's most versatile vocalists, at ease with country, rockabilly, Western, Hawaiian, 50's teen pop, blues and pop standards. An established star and Grand Ole Opry member from the 50's on and a top seller for Columbia Records, he, like Johnny Cash, were given considerable latitude by Columbia's Nashville producer Don Law.

For Robbins, having grown up in the Old West, its folklore was a lifelong passion. On April 7, 1959, he recorded the entire Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album in Nashville. The album was a masterpiece but one song became its crown jewel: the epic Robbins original "El Paso," blending gunplay with the protagonist's love for the Mexican girl Feleena. Note the line about "the badlands of New Mexico."

Robbins was also a hell of an entertainer.  Here's a live version that proves the point.

The rub: "El Paso" impressed everyone at Columbia at a time radio stations rarely if ever played singles longer than three minutes. "El Paso" ran 4 minutes and 37 seconds. Convinced the record was a hit either way, Law released two versions on 45, one with the full version, another with an edited version. Radio readily embraced the long-form original.

Robbins would revisit the theme with the 1966 recording "Feleena (From El Paso)" and the 1976 Top Ten sequel "El Paso City," sung from a 20th Century perspective, the singer flying overhead in an airliner. Nothing, however, can rival the '59 original.   Robbins's death from heart disease (a longtime affliction) came in December, 1982 came not long after his well-deserved induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The City of El Paso was most appreciative. Today, a Recreation Center, Park and Aquatic Center there all bear his name.

 

Lydia (The Tattooed Lady): 1939 (from the Marx Brothers film "At The Circus")

Groucho Marx sings it in the movie:

 

Badfinger: "Baby Blue" 1972: # 14 Pop

They were a British quartet known as the Iveys when they became the first actual band signed to the Beatles' Apple label. Paul McCartney wrote and produced their second single biggest hit: 1969's "Come and Get It," which sounded decidedly Beatlesque, sung by guitarist Tom Evans, whose voice was similar to John Lennon's. Pete Ham was the second guitarist, responsible for many of the band's original tunes. New bassist Joey Molland bore a striking physical resemblance to McCartney. The name Badfinger was a name suggested by Apple exec and former Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall.

"Get It" was a Top Ten in the US and UK. Their Top Tens continued with "No Matter What" in 1970 and "Day After Day" in 1971 before "Baby Blue" in 1972. Details of the band's existence are too complex to detail but as with "El Paso," tragedy permeated the band's existence, the result of bad business decisions that left band members perpetually short on money. The circumstances led to Ham's 1975 suicide by hanging. Badfinger disbanded, then reformed in 1978.  More bad business decisions and financial woes led Evans, who'd been with Ham shortly before his death and remained haunted by it, to hang himself in 1983.

The song obviously alludes to Walt and Jesse's special recipe for blue-hued meth and Walt's own bad choices, was the perfect song to frame the final scene.

 

This is a live version. The hairy guy introducing them: Kenny Rogers. Really.

These three diverse numbers all enhanced the perfect ending to one of TV's all-time greatest shows.

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