This Sunday saw the fifth-season premiere of Game of Thrones, HBO’s hugely popular television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Which means that, as both shameless opportunists and Nerds on the Internet, it is now our solemn duty to post at least one lame attempt to ride that particular pop culture zeitgeist. This is that lame attempt: “Songs of Ice and Fire,” a double-sided playlist with each half dedicated to its respective Aristotelian element. It goes without saying that it has nothing to do, really, with either the Game of Thrones TV series or the novels on which it’s based. But that hopefully won’t prevent it from getting at least a few clicks from bored fans desperate to read anything even tangentially related to the show before the second episode drops in a few days (geeks don’t use AdBlock, right?). And besides, there’s no way it could have any less to do with the show than the Catch the Throne mixtape series, and that’s officially sponsored by HBO. So just relax, enjoy these seventeen vaguely relevant songs, and watch out in 2016 for our upcoming playlist, “More Songs About Houses and Cards!” I’m kidding. Probably.
Side A: Songs of Ice
1. Judas Priest: “Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat/Cheater”
(from Rocka Rolla, 1974)
Like the Netflix series House of Cards, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a brutal, corrupt kingdom full of political backstabbing, where the harsh winters can go on interminably. Also damn near interminable: this almost-ten-minute-long suite from Judas Priest’s heavily Sabbath-influenced 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla. Fortunately, though, what early Priest lacks in concision they make up for in heaviness and atmosphere; this is totally the kind of music you can imagine the Starks blasting in Winterfell‘s Great Hall–assuming, of course, that heavy metal exists in the Game of Thrones universe, and would not just deafen and terrify them. The suite opens with “Winter,” a slice of plodding proto-doom-metal, with Rob Halford’s ominous vocals perfectly capturing the dread associated with the season in Westeros: “I still get this awful feeling / When the snow falls to the ground / It still sends my senses reeling / Knowing winter’s come to town.” Next, on “Deep Freeze,” K.K. Downing’s guitar imitates the sound of scraping ice, before segueing into the melodic “Winter Retreat,” which as the title suggests offers a temporary reprieve: “Sun smiling down from the sky / Melts away ice from my eye / Warmth eases back to my soul / Bitterness shrugs, then it goes.” The suite’s last track, the hard-rocking “Cheater,” has pretty much fuck-all to do with winter–but its pitch-black tale of violent revenge against an unfaithful lover does fit right into Martin’s cold-blooded fictional universe.
2. Empire of the Sun: “Ice on the Dune”
(from Ice on the Dune, 2013)
The cover art for Empire of the Sun’s 2013 album Ice on the Dune features the Australian synthpop duo posing dramatically against the backdrop of a frozen tundra. Obviously, this could never happen on Game of Thrones: the second Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore ventured north of Westeros’ icy Wall, they would be slaughtered by a White Walker and become two flamboyantly-dressed additions to their undead army of wights. Still, the frosty synthesizers and ethereal melody of the album’s title track manage to evoke the Wall’s forbidding beauty; just keep your distance, because that 700-foot-tall barrier of ice is there for a reason.
3. Vanilla Ice: “Ice Ice Baby”
(from To the Extreme, 1990)
In the medieval justice system of Westeros, convicted criminals can choose to avoid imprisonment or death by joining the Night’s Watch: a dwindling military order tasked with manning the Wall to defend the realm against the barbarian “wildlings” who live in the far north–not to mention those aforementioned White Walkers and their army of undead. For legal reasons, I can’t say whether Robert “Vanilla Ice” Van Winkle would have been exiled to the Wall–either for his recent charge of burglary and grand theft, or for his previous brushes with the law for domestic battery, or just for general wackness. But I will say that if he did join the Night’s Watch, whether by compulsion or by his own volition, he probably would have been bullied mercilessly by his fellow watchmen–at least until a wight made its way into Castle Black, and his ability to “light up the stage and wax a chump like a candle” came in handy. They’re weak to fire, see. Anyway, my point is, you put Vanilla’s ass on the Wall and “Ice, Ice baby, too cold” gets a whole new meaning. If only this was an option in the real world.
4. Foreigner: “Cold as Ice”
(from Foreigner, 1977)
So far, we’ve kept the subjects of our Songs of Ice pretty literal. But it’s fair to make an exception for Cersei Lannister–played on the TV show by Lena Headey–because this prototypical “ice queen” is at least as cold as the aforementioned wall of ice guarding the Seven Kingdoms from the threats of the north. In fact, I would go so far as to say that comparing her to Foreigner’s 1977 hit “Cold as Ice” is an understatement: she is, after all, willing to sacrifice not only Lou Gramm’s love, but also the lives of anyone who gets in the way of her pursuit of power. On the other hand, she definitely “never take[s] advice”–which proves to be her downfall in the latter novels–and will definitely “pay the price,” reportedly in the coming season of the show. So basically, what I’m saying is, Martin almost definitely based the character on this song. You heard it here first.
5. Alice Cooper: “Cold Ethyl”
(from Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
Considering all the sexual transgressions that go on in Game of Thrones and its parent novels–incest, sadism, lots and lots of rape–it’s kind of surprising that necrophilia doesn’t get more than a few hinted mentions. Not to worry, though: Alice Cooper has had that particular perversion covered for, oh, about 40 years. An almost unnervingly catchy song, given the subject matter, “Cold Ethyl” finds Cooper’s character expressing his devotion for a frozen corpse with a “skeleton kiss.” It’s disgusting, obviously, but it’s also ghoulishly clever: “If I live ’til ninety-seven,” Cooper sings, “You’ll still be waiting in refrigerator heaven.” Here’s hoping that if the show ever includes a sex scene with a wight, this will be on the soundtrack.
6. Kelly Rowland featuring Lil Wayne: “ICE”
But hey, Game of Thrones isn’t just about gratuitous sexual perversities. It’s also about gratuitous regular sex. And boy, is this 2012 single by former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland gratuitous. As Wikipedia helpfully explains, the song’s lyrics find Rowland instructing “her male lover on how to properly use an ice cube on her naked body” : “Sit it right below my navel / And watch what I do / And that’s my favorite angle / My legs are numb now / Your loving be giving me chills.” Surprisingly, ice hasn’t made much of an appearance as a sexual device on Game of Thrones, even in the northerly trysts between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his ill-fated “wildling” lover Ygritte (Rose Leslie); I guess when you spend a good amount of your life trying not to die of exposure, the erotic potential of ice goes largely unexplored. But still, would it have killed them to have Harington look at the camera at the end of his big sex scene and quote Lil Wayne’s line, “I leave that pussy smoking / Smoking like ice?” Come on, HBO, listen to your fans for once!
7. Paula Abdul: “Cold Hearted”
(from Forever Your Girl, 1988)
Let’s be real: almost every major character on Game of Thrones is richly deserving of the appellation “cold hearted snake,” and almost everyone who couldn’t have been described as such is already dead. But even amidst this cast of cold-blooded connivers, it’s tough to get much colder or more conniving than the ruthlessly upwardly mobile former Master of Coin, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (played on the show by Aidan Gillen). Most recently on the TV adaptation, Baelish cut short his marriage to Lysa Arryn (played by Kate Dickie) in an especially ruthless fashion, proving beyond all doubt that Lysa should have followed Paula Abdul’s time-tested advice: he, clearly, is a “lover boy at play” who “don’t play by the rules.” But really, perhaps the more universal advice to follow is never to trust somebody who goes by the name “Littlefinger.”
8. The Rolling Stones: “Winter”
(from Goats Head Soup, 1973)
“Winter is Coming” may be the mantra of House Stark and the HBO marketing department alike, but it’s tough to say when in the fiction the dreaded season will actually arrive. Fortunately, the Rolling Stones‘ country-flavored 1973 ballad “Winter” paints an evocative picture of what’s to come: “the fields has all been brown and fallow,” “a lotta love is all burned out,” and of course, an army of almost indestructible reanimated corpses is sweeping into the Seven Kingdoms from the north. Like Mick Jagger says, “Sometimes I just wanna wrap my coat around ya.”
Side B: Songs of Fire
9. Donna Summer: “Hot Stuff” (radio edit)
(1979 single, available on Walk Away – Collector’s Edition: The Best of 1977-1980)
From the depths of winter, we now move on to summer–by which, of course, I mean disco queen Donna Summer. Because who better to soundtrack that unforgettable moment from Season Two when Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) goes “lookin’ for some hot stuff” –by which, of course, I mean the volatile alchemical substance known as wildfire? That was some seriously hot stuff–he set the whole Blackwater Rush on fire with it! So what if “Smoke on the Water” would have been the more obvious choice for this playlist? Wildfire is hot stuff!
10. Mystikal: “I’m on Fire”
(from Ghetto Fabulous, 1998)
At the end of the novel A Game of Thrones (and the first season of the TV show), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) walks into the flames of her husband’s funeral pyre and emerges unscathed. This apparent imperviousness to flame puts her in a rarefied category otherwise occupied by, among few others, New Orleans rapper Michael “Mystikal” Tyler. As Mystikal observes on his stunningly literal 1998 track “I’m on Fire,” “by now they should be embalming me / But the shit don’t seem to be harming me.” At one point, he also says, “I can’t see, I can’t see, I’M BLIND! / Oh fuck, I’m all right, I just had my eyes closed the whole time” ; this may or may not have also run through Daenerys’ mind while she was engulfed in flames. The point is, we should probably stop calling Mystikal just “Mystikal,” and start calling him “Mystikal Stormborn, the Unburnt, Bumper Against Walls, Committer of Sexual Battery, and the Only Motherfucking Black Prince of the South.” I mean it’s only polite.
11. Bootsy’s Rubber Band: “Jam Fan (Hot)” (radio edit)
(1979 single, available on Back in the Day: The Best of Bootsy)
Look, I’ll be honest: I don’t really have an excuse to tie this song in to Game of Thrones, I just wanted to include it on the playlist because it’s an underrated cut from Bootsy Collins‘ late- ’70s heyday. But I guess if pressed I could say that it’s probably pretty hot in the southern region of Dorne–hot enough that one would “need a fan”–and that plenty of people wanted the fiery Dornish Prince Oberyn Martell (played by Pedro Pascal) to “be cool” and not avenge his dead sister Elia; but, like Bootsy, “cool” is one thing Oberyn is not, which is why he ended up getting his head caved in by his sister’s killer and rapist, the brutish, aptly-monikered Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). Yes, it’s a thin premise, but let’s be real here: if you were that bothered by thin premises, you would never have made it this far in the article. Just enjoy that space bass and go with the flow.
12. Electric Six: “Danger! High Voltage”
(from Fire, 2003)
Though he’s a more important character in the books, Beric Dondarrion–known as “The Lightning Lord” for his house sigil, which depicts a forked purple lightning bolt, and presumably for his tendency to strike at his enemies swiftly and unexpectedly–also appears on the show, where he is portrayed by Richard Dormer. In the medieval world of Westeros, of course, the concept of “high voltage” doesn’t really exist; but the Lightning Lord does “keep starting fires,” mainly because he is a devotee of the fire god R’hllor, the Lord of Light. And while, again, none of those fires are in “the disco” or “the Taco Bell”–because neither of these institutions have yet made their way to the Seven Kingdoms–he does fight with a pretty rad flaming sword, a trick he learned from the red priest Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye). None of which, again, has anything to do with the song, but hey, doesn’t that second vocalist sound like Jack White?
13. Disclosure: “When a Fire Starts to Burn”
(from Settle, 2013)
I don’t know whether Melisandre of Asshai, the priestess of R’hllor played on the show by Carice van Houten, would be a fan of UK garage duo Disclosure; with her penchant for flowing garments and melodramatics, she seems more like a darkwave kinda gal to me. But I definitely think she would appreciate “When a Fire Starts to Burn,” the opening track on Disclosure’s 2013 debut album Settle–if nothing else, because she’s so clearly enamored when fires start to burn and spread. Plus, it’s a catchy beat, and even devotees of the Red God have to dance sometimes.
14. Van Halen: “On Fire”
(from Van Halen, 1978)
Speaking of Melisandre, did I mention that she likes to burn people alive? Because she really does. A lot of unlucky people on Game of Thrones end up being baptized by R’hllor’s cleansing fire; most recently including (Season Five spoiler alert!), the captured “King-Beyond-the-Wall,” Mance Rayder (played by Ciarán Hinds). And while the show handled the moment very tastefully, with Ramin Djawadi’s ominous theme “Warrior of Light” playing until the moment Rayder’s agony was cut short by a merciful arrow from Jon Snow, another perfectly legitimate artistic choice would have been to soundtrack the scene with this track from Van Halen‘s 1978 debut album: allowing Mance’s shrieks of pain to blend in with David Lee Roth‘s shrieks of ecstasy, all while Eddie Van Halen wails away in the background. All I’m saying is, the scene was good, but it could have been a lot more metal.
15. James Brown: “Hot (I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)”
(from Hot, 1976)
But enough about people being burned at the stake. The real appeal of Game of Thrones is the near-constant parade of barely-narratively-justified flesh, an ever-present reminder that this is the kind of Serious Televisual Art that just couldn’t be possible on some shitty basic cable channel. And nothing says “sexy” like a sweat-soaked, jumpsuited, very possibly PCP-addled James Brown grunting about how he “woke up all in heat” over a groove reappropriated from David Bowie‘s “Fame.” In a weird way, both the James Brown track and the average Game of Thrones nude scene are similarly excessive. Does “Hot” need to go on for almost six goddamn minutes? Does “Loved” really have to be repeated four times in the title? No, of course not. But there also don’t need to be anywhere near as many titties as there are in Game of Thrones, and I didn’t hear you complaining about that.
16. Deep Purple: “Burn”
(from Burn, 1974)
Call me a romantic, but one of my favorite scenes in both the Ice and Fire novels and the TV show is the Sack of Astapor, when Daenerys unleashes both her newly-liberated slave soldiers the Unsullied and her motherfucking dragons on the city’s slaver class and burns that bitch to the ground. And, not to play backseat producer again, but how badass would it have been to soundtrack that scene with this high-octane classic from Deep Purple’s short-lived period with future Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale? Again, I’m not saying it would have been better; I’m just saying it would have been a hell of a lot more metal.
17. Rick James featuring Teena Marie: “Fire and Desire”
(from Street Songs, 1981)
Finally, we end our playlist with a song that evokes one of the all-time greatest moments of the TV series. Who could forget the episode in Season Three when Martin and Gina briefly break up, then dramatically reunite to sing a duet of Rick James‘ and Teena Marie’s quiet storm classic “Fire and Desire?” …Hold on, sorry. I just remembered that that wasn’t Game of Thrones; that was the beloved 1990s sitcom Martin, starring Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell. Fuck it, it’s staying in anyway. Enjoy Season Five of Game of Thrones, and please post any and all GoT/Martin crossover fan fiction in the comments below!