ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy has always been a launch pad for new music, and now the veteran medical drama has embarked on a new tune: modern covers of 1980s hits.
The project continued with Episode 14, which featured four more songs: The Wind & The Wave’s cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”; Sleeping at Last’s version of Cyndi Lauper‘s “All Through the Night”; J2 featuring Cameron the Public’s interpretation of Michael Jackson‘s “Man in the Mirror”; and Young Summer’s rendition of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”
And, according to Rhimes and music supervisor Alex Patsavas, the remainder of Grey’s Anatomy‘s 10th season will feature only music from the ’80s Covers project.
“Shonda had this idea back in the fall, and we started to talk about songs she knew would make sense with the story,” Patsavas tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We started with a couple of songs that she was interested in seeing if there were great modern interpretations for. But at some point along the way, she felt strongly that the way to tell the story in the second half of the season was to use modern interpretations of her favorite songs of the ’80s and the songs she felt would tell the story the best.”
Grey’s has served as a musical platform for emerging artists, including Brandi Carlile (“The Story”), Gomez (“How We Operate”), Scars on 45, Katie Herzig, The National, Feist, Mat Kearney, The Fray and Rilo Kiley, among countless others, all before many had achieved more mainstream success. Carlile’s “The Story” also earned a rare Grey’s Anatomy music video featuring some of the show’s most emotional moments, which was broadcast on ABC following a 2007 episode. The song was among those to be included on one of four Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack compilations. “The Story,” along with eight others, were covered during the show’s 2011 musical episode in which stars Sara Ramirez (Callie), Kevin McKidd (Owen) and Chandra Wilson (Bailey), among others, covered some of the show’s most well-known songs.
“I called Alex Patsavas with what I worried was a bad idea: I wanted to see if we could find covers of ’80s songs. Alex is why I have good taste in music. She creates the pool of music from which I choose songs to go on my shows. I didn’t know if this ’80s Covers project was a good/tasteful idea or not, but I knew that Alex would know,” Rhimes tells THR. “Happily, Alex told me she loved the idea. She then asked me to make a list of songs I wanted to hear covered. I went off and wrote down every ’80s song that I ever loved, and I made this very long list. Then Alex did what Alex does best — she went out and found amazing bands that had covered these songs. She’d email me these zip files with, like, five different artists, each covering the same Whitney Houston song, and I would go out of my mind with excitement. It’s honestly become the most fun part of my job.”
The project started with the second cover of “Eclipse” this season — an intentional choice and a way to tie in the music with the first half of the season. (The song was featured in episode 12, performed by Jill Andrews.)
“We started slowly, introducing maybe one song into an episode and built from there. Now my vision is complete — the shows are now all ’80 covers all the time,” Rhimes says, pointing to what she called an “amazing” cover of Lauper’s “Time After Time” performed by The Wind & The Wave this week and a “brilliant” version of Houston’s “How Will I Know” by Sam Smith set to be featured in episode 16 on March 20.
“Those are just examples, but honestly, every song is a gem,” Rhimes says. “Alex Patsavas is like my fairy godmother of making amazing things happen musically.”
For her part, Patsavas said the process was very similar to finding more traditional music for the series. (Patsavas’ ChopShop also supervises the Motown music selections for Rhimes’ Scandal, and The CW’s Supernatural as well as films such as The Hunger Games, Twilight and countless other features and TV fare.
After Rhimes hand-picked her favorite ’80s songs, ChopShop went out to managers, music labels and publishers to see what was available. “We received hundreds of submissions,” Patsavas says, noting some of the regular artists featured on Grey’s Anatomy will be among the 40 or 50 ’80s cover songs included in the project. “Every song was one that was a good way to tell the story.”
“It’s very special to use versions of songs that people already know well,” Patsavas says. “It’s interesting for the audience to hear a song reinterpreted. The storytelling process is the same as far as matching the best song to the scene. But the difference is we are focusing on these versions, which is different than just going through new music.”
It’s unclear if ABC will compile the ’80s covers as another volume of a Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, though Patsavas is optimistic. The fourth and most recent album was released in 2011, the same year as the musical EP, with the network, sources say, generating revenue from the album sales. For the ’80s Covers project, ABC has been promoting the music — as it does every week — via social media and on its ABC Music Lounge website, where it links to iTunes to the music featured on the series as a service to fans. ABC does not, however, participate in the artists’ revenue earned from the links and any subsequent downloads.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have been on since the Grey’s pilot, and I feel like the audience has always been interested in what Shonda is doing musically. Because she uses music so respectfully and loves it, we get an enthusiastic response,” Patsava says.
As for if the ’80s Covers project could continue into Grey’s 11th season, that’s to be determined since the series hasn’t yet been renewed but is considered a slam dunk to return after stars Ellen Pompeo (Meredith) and Patrick Dempsey (Derek) inked new two-year deals to return.
Check out a scene featuring “All Through the Night” as covered by Sleeping at Night, below.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.