Mad Men – Tomorrow Never Knows

“When did music  become so important?” This is a question Don Draper posed to his young, swinging wife Megan a few weeks ago on the critically acclaimed television show “Mad Men.” Not only was it a curmudgeonly, elder statesman complaining about the misplaced values of the youth, it showed a man caught adrift in a sea of change, simply trying to understand when and how the world was pulled out from under him. Only a few years earlier, Don reigned supreme in the world of cool.  He could be found mingling in the West Village with beatniks and gypsies or taking an unannounced month off from work to enjoy the swinging life of the California coast.  Yet, even in these exotic ventures, Don’s motives were never to be a part of a scene; usually, he just wanted to bed another woman.

In the first four seasons, music never played much of a part on “Mad Men.” On a show that is so heavily grounded in metaphor and symbolism, this is surprising.   Perhaps in all his wisdom, creator Matthew Weiner knew to save music as an agent of change for season 5, and as the season nears its close, there is no doubt that music has become a major influence on the uncertainty within the SCDP Universe. This season, we’ve seen Don backstage at a Rolling Stones concert grilling teenage girls about why they are so fascinated with Brian Jones (in past seasons, Don would have been hitting on them instead of acting like their father).  In another episode, Don and the boys struggle to find a song to fit their “Hard Day’s Night” inspired cologne commercial.  When Ken Cosgrove presents “September in the Rain” performed by the Wedgewoods, the agency’s resident Jewish-alien, Michael Ginsberg, reacts to the outdated, hokey song like any self-respecting music fan would – demanding that they turn it off because it was “stabbing [him] in the fucking heart.”

Caution – song may stab you in the fucking heart:

Instead of paying up for a real Beatle’s song, Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price would rather go the cheap route and get a product that isn’t up to their former high standards. In past seasons, Don would have insisted they pay-up for the Beatles song, but caught up in his newly wed status, he defers to whatever the client wants.  Fortunately for us, Matthew Weiner didn’t have the same miserliness for a recent episode entitled “Lady Lazarus.”  Instead of searching out a 60s one-hit-wonder in need of some quick cash, Weiner insisted that the show get the rights to The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the episode’s closing scene. The minute and 40 seconds of Beatlemania cost the AMC production team a whopping $250,000.

While this may seem like an overzealous investment for a show that receives around two and a half million viewers per week, it shows how much care and commitment is put into each episode.  As with anything “Mad Men,” the song’s use serves more than one purpose.  On one level, Weiner’s musical choice represents The Beatles in the adolescence of their experimentation. The final track on an otherwise tame “Revolver,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” changed the definition of what a pop song could be. Repetitive, swirling, and erratic,  “Tomorrow Never Knows” would even challenge the minds of the average listener today. So when Megan suggests he listen to the final track on the album, Don’s reaction to the song is what one would expect from a man that is stuck in the past.

The song choice has much bigger implications in regards to the episode and the season as a whole.  As with all memorable moments on the show, the shots during the song each hold a deeper meaning when paired with the lyrics. The result is one of my favorite scenes in the show’s five seasons.

I couldn’t locate the clip anywhere, so I filmed it straight off my TV with my Flip-Cam. I know the sound and video quality are less than desirable, but I felt it was important to show the clip for those who may not be familiar with it:

I see this closing scene as the crux to the season (although, I may be wrong by season’s end).  Every minute of the song provides insight into the state of things to come for each character. The scene opens with Don arriving home to find his actress wife (literally and figuratively) heading out. She hands him a copy of “Revolver” and says, “You said you didn’t know what’s going on. I thought you might like this Beatle’s album.”

She then instructs him to listen to the final track, a telling move. You would think a progressive young woman would want to slowly bring her husband into the fold with a track like “Eleanor Rigby” or even “Yellow Submarine,” but she opts for the most obtrusive song on the album.  Does she really want Don to understand the cultural revolution or is she relishing the power of holding his culture shock over him? In this past week’s episode we saw her teaching Sally Draper how to cry, and I instantly had the urge to revisit past episodes to see each time she turned on the water works to get her way.  I get the feeling that Megan has acted her way into a cushy lifestyle, and for the first time, a woman is able to tame the wild stallion that is Don Draper.

After she leaves, we see Don put the album on. Still wearing his work clothes, he sits back in a chair to take it all in, and John Lennon’s voice sings:

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream,

It is not dying, it is not dying

These lyrics perfectly capture what season five has been all about. In it, we’ve seen Don less concerned with his work, more relaxed and willing to give in to his clients’ requests. Instead of sticking by what he believes is a great idea, Don no longer is invested in his job and prefers to float along aimlessly with the aspirations that once defined him.  As Lennon insists “It is not dying,” one can’t help but feel that it certainly is a form of death – death of aspirations, death of ingenuity, death of old ways, and death of Don Draper as we once knew him.

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,

It is shining, it is shining.

So goes the next line of the song as we see a familiar image from this season – Peggy pecking away at a typewriter.  What is she working on anyways? Last week’s episode suggested that Ginsberg has become the creative mastermind of SCDP, and Don even questioned last week why Peggy’s name isn’t present on any of the agency’s latest work. On face value, it may look like Peggy has been passed up as the young, innovative mind, but the “Tomorrow Never Knows” scene has me second guessing this assumption. Could Peggy be working on something that isn’t work related? She did show great interest in Cosgrove’s writing exploits.  Whatever the case, with a joint in hand, Peggy is certainly surrendering to the void of creativity. I suspect that we will soon see the light of her work “shining,” in whatever form it may be.

Lennon goes on to sing:

Yet you may see the meaning of within

It is being, it is being

This, of course, is sung as we see the exchange between Pete Campbell and Beth Dawes in the parking lot.  As self-destructive as Pete’s latest decisions have been, he is following in the footsteps of his hero, Don Draper. Pete is living in the moment, making decisions that he knows may come back to haunt him.  In his personal life, he’s reached what he always thought was the precipice of happiness – a suburban home with his wife and child and a career where he is quickly becoming the most powerful man at SCDP (although Lane Pryce may have proven this wrong with a couple knuckle-sandwiches, British style). Yet, he feels emptier than ever. He has had an awakening, a realization that what he’d strive for his entire life is not the path to contentment. Instead, he has turned to all carpe diem, refusing to let the possible consequences get in his way.  (Side note: a friend of mine has raised the possibility of Pete Campbell putting his shotgun to use by season’s end. Let the Pete Campbell suicide watch begin).

Love is all and love is everyone

It is knowing, it is knowing

The montage closes with the new king of “Mad Men,” Megan Draper, lying on her back at an acting class, seeming to be at peace with the world. She has manipulated her way to the top and found herself in a place she truly loves – the stage (having an obsequious sugar daddy at home doesn’t hurt). In a season where all the characters have faced adversity, Megan is the one character who seems to be all-knowing.  Every move she makes is planned, every tear dropped is another step toward getting what she wants.  Is she truly in love with Don, or is he part of her most successful acting gig to date?

Don brings this moment to a screeching halt, lifting the needle halfway through the song. The clear reason for the mid-song stop would be that Don’s first foray in the world of experimental Beatles didn’t go well.  This move is disinterested, dismissive, and shows that Don remains distant from the changing times. He stumbles off to his bedroom, his Fortress of Solitude, where music still doesn’t matter.

Despite the obvious, I’d like to believe that this metaphorical lifting of the needle has more to do with Don refusing to give in, than simply to illustrate how he is out of touch. Stopping the record is Don’s version of rising from an 8-count, ready to redeem himself.  I’d like to believe he heard Lennon’s mantra loud and clear:

It is not dying, it is not dying


Filed under Music Ramblings

73 responses to “Mad Men – Tomorrow Never Knows

  1. While I’m not a Mad Men fan (yet…and I know, I know, I’m a bit late to this particular party), I can absolutely relate to songs that “stab you in the fucking heart.”


    Great post. Now I probably should go put season one in my NetFlix queue…

  2. Interesting post. I disagree about music not being a big part of Mad Men in the past; I believe it always was, especially during the closing credits. I would wait for them to roll wondering what song they would use to tie everything together. Now that it’s the mid 60s, it’s playing a bigger role, and they are doing a fine job showing how Don is “out of touch” with the changing times. Even last week, they showed him sneaking a peek through the copywriters’ files, which generated “his” ideas for the SnoBall campaign.

    Getting back to the music, I remember when I saw this episode I thought it was interesting that they selected “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Like the 60s, however, the times are changing way too fast for my comfort on this show. It’s still great, but the show’s portayal of the early 60s, which was much like the 50’s, seemed to be a little more interesting.

    • I loved seasons 1 & 2 on Netflix, but haven’t been able to catch up past those.

      I remember a version of Tomorrow Never Knows from the 80s from an artist named Danielle Dax. Very trippy…

    • Great post!

      I also agree with Jane’s suggestion above that the music chosen for the closing credits so far has been of particular importance.

      The example that springs to mind was the use of Sonny & Cher’s ‘I’ve got you babe’ at the conclusion of ‘Tomorrowland’ (Season 4 finale), an episode that ended with Don in bed with Megan. In addition to neatly marking the era with what was a very popular song, it also seemed to reference the use of the same song in ‘Groundhog Day’ (where it was played on the radio alarm clock repeatedly through the film), as though suggesting that Don was potentially embarking on another relationship riddled with the same mistakes and poor decisions of those that had preceded it.

      • This is an interesting thought. One might also look at the relationship between Sonny and Cher themselves: a beautiful, talented child bride propelled to success by her older, creative, business-savvy husband. A union that ended in a rather explosive divorce.

  3. I just started watching Season 1 on Netflix and even though I promised myself “No Spoilers”, I read your entire post. Well written.

  4. theyellowranger

    Interesting observations. I too watched and enjoyed that episode. I didn’t know that it had cost Weiner so much to get that song, but I’m really glad he insisted on it. It is great that they’re starting to use music to send a message.

    I just had a question for you. In the paragraph after you mention the lyrics “Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining.” You talk about Peggy, as in Elizabeth Moss’s character, but then you start mentioning a Betty and a Debbie. Who is Debbie and who is Betty? The only Betty I know is Don’s ex-wife, and I know no Debbie in relation to this show. Maybe I just missed something but it sounded like you were talking about Peggy and just got jumbled up on the names. Not sure though.

    Nice post. Congrats on fp!

  5. Times change, people change. I think Don is a classic example of that. You can’t expect him to go on being with every woman in NYC. Initially, he wanted the clean cut image so he got married to Betty, had kids, moved to the burbs.

    He experimented with drugs, tried to find himself, and was searching for the past few seasons. He has found someone who he feels he can finally be who he is when he is around her. He’s not trying to be one way or another, but just being what he has become.

    I see this as a similar transition with the Beatles. They did what they were expected to do, had to dig deeper, then moved on to be who they really were.

    …I’m very curious to know how much they paid for the September in the Rain clip? $50?

  6. Very great article. Thanks much.

  7. Dude, you called Peggy “Debbie” / “Betty” four times in the course of a single paragraph. Otherwise, awesome post!

  8. um, Don Draper isn’t married to Betty anymore!? GOOD!

  9. annlivingston

    I have no idea what show this is. I’m so behind in the times 🙂 Great writing. I hope to see you around my blog sometime!

  10. Wow! Great synopsis! As a Mad Men Follower and Beatles fan I think you’ve hit it right on the head! Congrats!

  11. dope re-edit of the jam in question here which kinda captures what chemical brothers were trying to attempt when they sampled it for ‘setting sun.’

  12. VJ

    I absolutely love Mad Men from the first episode. I grew up in the 60s, and it reminds of a time when life was simpler — a bottle of Coca Cola was .10 cents, a candy bar was .5 cents, 5 sticks of gum was .5 cents, a bag of potato chips was .5 cents.

    Hey, and it wasn’t 100 years ago, it was less than 50.

  13. Allan G. Smorra

    I like your insight on this episode. The part about Pete and the shotgun is something to think about, but towards the end of the series not this season. Pete isn’t THAT unhappy, yet.

    This was the second or third time that we have seen Don Draper reading an Ian Fleming 007 novel. My money is on Jon Hamm in a remake of one of the first 3 Bond movies – the good ones with Sean Connery – toward the end of the series. Draper has been sporting the requisite stainless-steel Rolex since the first time he read a Fleming novel. With his hair slicked back, wearing a black tux, and at the right angle Jon Hamm looks like Sean Connery of 40 years ago.


  14. Phenomenal analysis. I don’t know if you read Tom and Lorenzo’s weekly analysis of episodes but they are worth a look. I love your take on Megan, I think you hit the nail on the head (though most of the other people I’ve talked to about her as infatuated as Don).

  15. Quite impressed with this analysis of the scene! I’d noticed the musical themes of the show of late too, and I’m pleased to see that Mad Men has the freedom to be truly artistic. AMC is known for being a bit miserly too, so it’s a lucky thing they got the rights to that great song.

    I hold out hope that that incredible opening song has some significance in the last episode.

  16. great post i really enjoyed it!

  17. Reblogged this on peux and commented:
    this is perfect.

  18. I’ve always loved the song at the end of each show. You did a good job looking into this one.

  19. joiedevivre74

    Reblogged this on This beautiful life.

  20. joiedevivre74

    Reblogged this on This beautiful life.

  21. joiedevivre74

    Reblogged this on This beautiful life.

  22. joiedevivre74

    Reblogged this on This beautiful life.

  23. I’ve never seen Mad Men, but I’ve been wanting to, but I feel like it would take me way to long to catch up.

  24. Excellent post. I am also a huge Beatles/Mad Men fan and when Megan handed Don the album, I did not predict that she had suggested Tomorrow Never knows. I also never thought of Megan “acting” her way through this marriage, but you may be right. Love the breakdown into the lyrics and the insight!

  25. I love Mad Men from the first episode. 😀 haha! Thanks

  26. Interestingly thoughtful work, and congrats on your selection in freshly pressed.

  27. Yes, big Mad Men fan here. (I worked in advertising for a while.) Music was always a big part of our work and glad to see it used more in Mad Men. I think Don is feeling his age at work and around Megan now. Once you are over 35 in advertising you are “out”… they see you as not in touch with the current trends, including music. Thanks for the recap of that episode!

  28. Great post, not a madmen fan but the timing of music and ,what music, plays a vital role in shaping our lives and moments and opinions

  29. Reblogged this on worderinsecond and commented:
    Mad guys-Tomorrow Never knows of cores

  30. Great post! Very unique observations.

  31. wardenfree

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  32. Mickey Revolver

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    An interesting piece using my favourite show I’ve never watched as a tool for social analysis. Sounds aloof but that was the best way I could describe this article. Read it ayyee!!

  33. yes truely said,Great post….

  34. lijiujiu

    Excellent post.
    I’ve always loved the song and appreciate your efforts behind that. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Alyssa

    Great topic. Congrats by the way on making it to freshly pressed. Cheers to you! 🙂

    colorado springs divorce lawyers

  36. Great post! I Love Mad Men, and I’m getting a dog I plan on naming Draper, in tribute! LOL But anyway, I never considered that Peggy was possibly into something unassociated with SCDP (besides hand jobs in the movie theater), and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for what’s going on with Pete. He really does seem like he’s on a downward spiral!

  37. Pro @ctive Media

    Wow! Glad to have discovered your excellent post… Mad Men is so way above & beyond the rest of the tripe on TV. Having been raised in the late 50’s & spending time after school playing (disturbing the Art Dept Staff) inside a successful Ad agency in Seattle; I can testify as to the accuracy and attention to detail of the production design… it’s absolutely incredible.

    Using “Tomorrow Never Knows” was truly a brilliant & inspired choice.
    Having grown up in BH & West LA in the 60’s; hanging out on the Sunset Strip on weekends… I’m waiting to hear the Yardbird’s “Over, Under, Sideways Down” and maybe some Hendrix, Doors, Airplane or Iron Butterfly should Don & Megan (also) decide to try dropping acid (“Are You Experienced?” “Light My Fire” “White Rabbit” “Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida”).

    • Shannon Scheidell

      Did you know Jon Hamm’s doing a little weekly gig for some site giving relationship advice to kids?

      I admit I’m not watching this season of Mad Men yet–still on season 4 on Netflix, and my subscription’s run out–but I was surprised when Don smoked pot with one of his girlfriends and her posse. He was uncomfortable being in such an intimate setting with so many people at once. I wonder if he would try acid with Megan.

      I still can’t believe Bets and Don split and each pick a new partner for life. (I’m guessing it happens sometime in the beginning of the fifth season?) Can this be an allusion to reality of the early 70s, where more and more couples were getting divorced, leaving the era of “Leave it to Beaver,” where we started off.

      It’s pretty swell, I think. How long do you think this show will last anyway, Pro?

  38. Sam

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  39. Loved your analysis! I think music problably wasn’t such a big part of people’s lives in the fifties/early sixties, but since then it’s hard to think of a life without it. Music is everywhere and it defines us much more than it did back then. The music at the closing credits is very important to us now, but would they have done something like that in a TV series in the sixties?

    Your post shows us how Don is no longer in and trendy, he’s becoming outdated, a fate that awaits most of us. After all, who stays cool and young at heart forever? In the sixties you weren’t even supposed to.

  40. Indeed the Megan character should not be underestimated! Great review.

  41. I like the new Don. I like that he seems to have figured out how to relax and float downstream, and I think it is all Megan’s doing. Even more interesting- the people around Don are constantly up to old-Don shenanigans, and new-Don seems to help them through it. Pete’s hooker, the dope smoking at Rolling Stone, on and on.

    Will he perhaps grow into a rock? The kind of person that others build on? Is that possible? Is Don a new being? Remember the “baptism” in the Pacific Ocean…

  42. Fantastic post. Loved that episode. Miss the old tortured Don of last season, though.

  43. I loved the first few paragraphs!

    Why am I saying this?


    I’ve had exams, and I’ve not yet watched season 5! I feared spoilers, so immediately scrolled. Will report back in a few days, now that my exams are over 😉

  44. I like your posts. Can we shear each other for the future?

  45. I am so queing up season one as well. Great post!!

  46. John Saddington

    Reblogged this on 8BIT.

  47. mdprincing

    interesting twists, I will now look at the show in a different light. Thanks for the insight

  48. Great analysis. I’m not sure about your interpretation of Don’s lifting of the needle though. So far, we this season we have had Don struggling with his age and mortality, but relying on Megan to bring him back to his youth. Over all, he seems to be having quite a successful relationship. However, I think this pulling of the needle is (unfortunately for Don) a hint as to where things are about to go, and I don’t think it will be pretty. The youth gap is going to hit him at home.

  49. Great post. Love Mad Men and this post doesn’t disappoint. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  50. Reblogged this on the Go Bunny Books blog and commented:
    I surfed onto this yesterday. mad men & good music … nice.

  51. I’m way too old to appreciate anything you wrote, but thanks anyway.

  52. prestontowers

    Very interesting post and nice breakdown of Tomorrow Never Knows. I think it was one of the best moments of the 5 seasons – and this season is seeming to swing on that song like Season 4 swung on the telephone in Episode 7. I would disagree with the use of music in MM – it has always played an integral part of telling the story. It’s just that we haven’t seen it play a role before as a diegetic player in a scene like we have in Season 5 – with the Stones, the Beethoven, now with the Beatles. I do think, though, that you are a bit rough with Megan. I still think she’s just a lovely person. But maybe I am far too much of an optimist.

  53. ataraxiphile

    Loved this! Detailed, well observed and good read 🙂

  54. Thank you for going into more depth with the lyrics. I saw this on NPR and shared it with a lot of friends. I love that show!!!

  55. I believe this may be the most insightful and interesting posts about music OR MadMen anywhere! Awesomely stated! Totally engrossing. Had thought I was the only one expecting a Pete suicide. Glad to know there are others.LOL! Gave me tons to think about though. and I will be following this blog. You have a great way with words. Oh,and Grump Joe’s comment before me is hilarious!!!

  56. Reblogged this on mid-century heart / new-century life and commented:
    I will RARELY if ever reblog anything… BUT I couldn’t help myself this time as it pertains to my love of mid-century everything,music,The Beatles,and AMC’s Mad Men! Enjoy

  57. Pingback: mid-century heart / new-century life

  58. massiveaudience

    $250,000! Wow. Great post filled with fantastic factual information. Lovely stuff.

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