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Music in The Sopranos' "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood" (S3 E1)

Andrea is a film scholar who obtained his Masters in Research of Film (Mres) at Edge Hill University by analysing the music biopic genre.

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos."

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos."

"Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood" was a fantastic season premiere for one of the most acclaimed television series of all time, The Sopranos.

The episode delves into the power struggle between the law and a life of crime. Stylistically, the episode revolves around the notion of watching and being watched, the voyeur and the unaware subject.

This focus is echoed in the cinematography, but it truly shines in the masterful choices of soundtrack. This article takes a closer listen to the tracks that are chosen and why they are mashed together.

Tony Soprano being watched by the FBI in "The Sopranos."

Tony Soprano being watched by the FBI in "The Sopranos."

Episode Synopsis

For those who are not familiar with this HBO classic series, here’s what’s going on in this particular part of the series’ narrative. Our anti-hero and “legitimate” businessman, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), is beginning season three under heavy surveillance from the FBI outside of his family home.

The agents are closely monitoring Tony and the rest of his family household to gain a window of opportunity to conduct a covert “bugging” of the house’s basement.

Throughout the episode, we hear two tracks; Henry Mancini’s "Peter Gunn Theme" and The Police’s "Every Breath You Take". There is a fantastically effective process that happens during the stake-out scenes in the episode in which we hear both tracks syncing in and out of one another.

Before delving into the effectiveness of the mash-up, let's look closer at the significance of each track individually.

Henry Mancini – "Peter Gunn Theme"

In paying homage to another crime series, this use of soundtrack establishes the binary oppositions on display; agent/suspect, justice/crime, and right/wrong. Furthermore, it establishes genre codes and conventions.

For the spectators who recognise the music, they can expect private eye Peter Gunn-styled stakeouts from the FBI. For those who don’t, there is no need to worry as the track’s groove and rhythm oozes a calmness, a certain coolness, that indicates a level of control and efficiency over how the FBI are conducting their operation.

To add to that, a sense of time being crucial is exhilarated from the music through a constant percussive beat of a high-hat symbol mixed with a looping electric guitar riff. This looping effect works magnificently in mediating the tracking shots and montage editing of the agents driving and discreetly following the Sopranos.

The Police – "Every Breath You Take"

In terms of its composition, this track is built on the same foundations as the "Peter Gunn Theme", a single percussive beat with a looping electric guitar riff. As well as creating mood, the constant looping of the beat and rhythm provides a parallel between the certain mechanical nature of the non-diegetic music and the diegesis of the agent’s cars constantly on the move discreetly chasing the Sopranos.

This makes the pair of tracks ideal candidates for HBO’s Kathryn Dayak to mash up for the episode. Moreover, the lyrical content of the song emphasises the notion of following someone to an almost omniscient extent. The FBI’s goal is to know every step Tony is going to take by wiretapping the one area where he feels most comfortable: his basement.

Even if contextually the song is about Sting yearning for his ex-wife, this only further emphasizes how crucial it is for the FBI to gain evidence they can use to prosecute the notorious Tony Soprano.

The Mash-Up: “Mrs. Bing Has Left the Sausage Factory"

As discussed earlier, the two tracks are musically cut from the same cloth in terms of beat and rhythm.

What is fascinating about the execution of Dayak’s mash-up is individually these tracks parallel the succession of the FBI’s enfolding plan. However, when they are played together, anxieties of the plan going wrong are emphasised.

The rhythm and beat sync indistinguishably. What doesn’t, however, is Sting's somber chorus and the crescendo of piercing shrieks from the "Peter Gunn Theme’s" forte wind section.

This chaos of non-diegetic sounds essentially orchestrates the diegesis, as the crescendo couples well with the close-ups and quick cuts of the agents sweating profusely as they stumble and scatter whilst aborting the operation. It creates an anxiously tense experience that matches the fears of having a convert operation uncovered.

© 2021 Andrea Sciambarella