'Breaking Bad's Prison Mayhem: The Song Behind It

Monday, 21 May 2018 07:55 AM Written by 


king cole-shearing

One of Breaking Bad's most violent scenes came in the 2012 episode "Gliding Over All," the final installment in the first part of the show's two-part final season. In it, Walter White had previously murdered longtime associate Mike Ehrmantraut, angry that Mike refused to provide him names of ten operatives in his crew, all in prison, who Mike had been paying for their silence to the authorities.  By then Mike and the ten were on the radar of Walt's brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), DEA Albuquerque ASAC (Assistant Special Agent in Charge).

Walt intended to have all of them killed, eliminating risk anyone would cave in and talk. Only later did he realize he need not have killed Ehrmantraut. Their mutual partner, former Gus Fring associate Lydia Rodarte-Quayle ) had the names and would readily give them up, as she did when Walt asked her.

Knowing the ten were scattered among three New Mexico prisons, White crafted a precise plan to kill all ten, simultaneously, in less than two minutes, using prisoners tied to a white supremacist gang connected to Walt and Jesse Pinkman's meth labe associate Todd Alquist. Walt visited Todd's "Uncle Jack" Welker, the gang leader. After explaining what he wanted, Welker replied it could be done but not the way Walt wanted. Walt disagreed and his plan was adopted.  And it worked.

This scene, with its brilliant cinematography, is complete. Note the juxtaposition of the graphic and horrific violence framed by gorgeous music selected by the show's production team. You may know the voice, but perhaps not the song or the performance (edited to fit the length of the scene).

"Pick Yourself Up" was written by Jerome Kern, lyrics by pioneering female lyricist Dorothy Fields, for the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film musical Swing Time. The pair sang it in the movie.

Singing it in the above scene is Nat "King" Cole (1919-1965), one of the most celebrated, beloved pop vocalists from the 1940's into the 60's, also considered among the great jazz pianists of his time. Cole's success as a hit singer eventually eclipsed his fame as a pianist. By the late 50's he disbanded his famous King Cole Trio, to focus on vocals, playing only a bit of piano during concerts.

Cole , who recorded for Capitol Records, teamed with fellow jazz piano titan (and best-selling Capitol artist) George Shearing (1919-2011), Shearing's quintet and a "string choir" conducted by Ralph Carmichael in December, 1961, to record Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays, issued in 1962.

The 15 song album revealed Cole in lush ballad mode singing "Azure-Te." "Fly Me To The Moon," "Lost April," Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" as Shearing, his combo and Carmichael's lavish arrangements frame his voice on every number.

By the way, the episode ends with Hank, during a cookout at Walt's home, accidentally finding strong (if not definitive) evidence Walt may be the mysterious meth kingpin "Heisenberg."

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