15 Years Later: Artists That Defined ‘The O.C.’ Soundtrack

It’s been 15 years since we were first introduced to The O.C., and while its pukka shell necklaces and all-white cast hasn’t aged so gracefully, the series’ soundtrack legacy remains.

The O.C. expertly wove music into the show in a way that had never been seen before. Music with lyrics played over scenes with dialogue and live musical performances were seamlessly integrated into the plot, giving lesser known indie bands a platform to be discovered. The series also paved the way for shows and films like Girls and The Twilight Saga.

In celebration of The O.C.’s 15th anniversary, we’re ordering a round of Mountain Dews (classic Seth move) and taking a look back at the artists that defined the show’s iconic soundtrack.



As one of the most notable musical acts who guested on the show, “The Third Wheel” saw the gang on a night out at a Rooney concert. In addition to blessing us with the earworm “I’m Shakin’,” we also have Rooney to thank for the amazing scene of good guy Luke at a concert. Which one’s Rooney again?


Death Cab For Cutie

Not only were they featured multiple times both on the soundtrack and as an act at The Bait Shop, but the band also played the part of Seth Cohen’s favourite musicians, solidifying his identity as a Cool Indie Teen Dream. From the very first season, DCFC was constantly referenced: Seth and Summer fought over them, he bought their albums as gifts, and even wrote a Chrismukkah song that was set to the tune of “A Lack of Color.” Welp.



While Seth had Death Cab, Ryan had Journey. The series even spoofed the car argument Seth and Summer had when Ryan drives Seth to the airport, warning, “Do not insult Journey.”

Contrasting the rest of the gang’s interest in underground indie music, Ryan’s affinity for the cheesy blue-collar rock band proved that you can take the boy out of Chino, but you can’t take the Chino out of the boy.


Imogen Heap

This one’s obvious. Most fans of the show (or Andy Samberg’s SNL skit) will cite the scene where Marissa shoots Trey to Imogen Heap’s “Hide And Seek” as the most memorable music moment of the series (we still can’t listen to Jason Derulo without thinking of it), but forget about the artist’s other contributions. Imogen Heap also gave us the amazing Harbor School graduation scene set to “Speeding Cars.” Pay attention to the 1:20 mark, where music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas gets shouted out as a graduate.



By Season 2, the music in The O.C. had become so noteworthy that Beck premiered five songs from his then-unreleased album, Guero, in the same episode. This stunt was previously pulled when The Beastie Boys debuted “Ch-check it Out” at the end of Season 1 Vegas episode, “The Strip.”



Is it possible to talk about music in the 2000s without mentioning Coldplay? The “Fix You” montage in the Season 2 finale (which was also an exclusive premiere) saw Ryan and Marissa coming together, Sandy and Kirsten coming apart, an attempted murder, and then an actual death—which was just the right amount of angst to match the heart-wrenching track.


Phantom Planet

Did you ever not belt “Californiaaaaa” at the top of your lungs whenever you watched the opening credits? Even if you owned the DVDs, skipping the credits was sacrilege.


Jeff Buckley (and Imogen Heap, again)

Despite Ryan and Marissa claiming Youth Group’s “Forever Young” as their song, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” played a monumentally more important role in their relationship.  It plays the first time they share their feelings for each other in “The Model Home” and again at the end of Season 1 as Ryan speeds away back to Chino. They reprise the track once again in the Season 3 finale, this time opting for Imogen Heap’s harrowing (for obvious reasons) cover.

Nada Surf

The O.C. had a knack for including interesting and unexpected covers (the aforementioned Alphaville cover of “Forever Young,” Ryan Adams’ take on Oasis’ “Wonderwall,”) but Nada Surf’s cover of “If You Leave” by OMD is arguably one of the most important music moments of the entire series.

Heard over the scene where Seth chases Anna down at the airport as she leaves California for good, the OMD track, famously known for playing at the end Pretty In Pink, invites a subtle comparison of the show to the genius of John Hughes, and remains a testament to how seminal and generation-defining The O.C. really is.