Released during the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, The Queen’s Gambit was expected to be one of those ambient TV shows Netflix releases periodically to keep viewership spirits alive and blandly curious. Recent examples include Emily in Paris, which provided only a refreshing set of pace in light of quarantine circumstances. However, The Queen’s Gambit begged to differ straight from the get-go. Boasting a perfect score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 62 million viewers worldwide and counting, the Netflix limited series easily became one of the most highly-acclaimed series on Netflix to date. From a strong (but slightly broken) lead protagonist to the retro aesthetic of the 1960s, the show provided much to love.
Due to its nature as a chess story, the limited series makes sure to make excellent use of music to escalate the progression of time in order to create a fast-paced story that is most appealing to the modern audience. From its playlist of 84 songs that span on for close to 5 hours, certain songs stood out prominently above others, mostly due to the large roles they served for the development of the story. Below are a few of the most beloved and iconic songs from the limited Netflix series (spoilers included).
“Don’t Make Me Over” – Dionne Warwick
Introduced first to the audience through the trailer (that has now racked up over 3 million views), “Don’t Make Me Over” is a tune used to represent and set the pace for the riveting tale of prodigy chess player, Beth Harmon. As this is most likely the audience’s first taste of The Queen’s Gambit, the song is often hailed as the deserving title track for the limited series.
“Gnossienne No.1” – Erik Satie
Beth gets adopted by the seemingly perfect Wheatley couple (episode 2: “Exchanges”). However, Beth soon realizes there is something awry about the relationship between Ms. Alma (played by Marielle Heller) and Mr. Allston Wheatley (played by Patrick Kennedy). As the audience also gets their first glimpse into this falling relationship, Alma is seen playing “Gnossienne No.1” by Erik Satie, while sorrowfully explaining the circumstances that cost her the marriage. Despite being a softer song than the rest of the iconic soundtracks, “Gnossienne No.1” still left a lasting impression on the audience as it perfectly echoed the unfortunate complications of Alma’s life.
“You’re the One” – The Vogues
After sweeping many wins from chess competitions across the nation, Beth receives an invitation to attend an exclusive high school party. In episode 3, “Doubled Pawns”, Beth attends said party, only to come to an acknowledgment that her life is already far different from these ‘popular’ girls’ lives. While the girls talk on about which hot boy to sleep with next, Beth realizes sees she would rather be drinking alone and thinking about her chess games. As she steals a bottle of liquor from the party house’s extensive collection, “You’re the One” comes in full circle to characterize Beth’s addiction and love for alcohol, leaving many an audience finding the song and cheeky scene a hilarious ode to clique cliches.
“Fever” – Peggy Lee
Just after the loss of her adoptive mother/companion, Beth tries to fill up the gaping hole left by the loss through a somewhat misguided flirt (episode 5: “Fork”) with Harry Beltik (played by Harry Melling), a former Kentucky State Chess champion and opponent. As Beth iconically dances to “Fever” by Peggy Lee, the audience gets a raw glimpse into how mysterious and complex of a person Beth is to others. This scene offers an opportunity to truly appreciate how otherworldly Beth is for her intelligence and beauty, and the song perfectly complements this sensual awe.
“Classical Gas” – Mason Williams
Throughout the series, time passage and intellectual progression is always portrayed artfully in a montage that is reminiscent of music videos. Most notably is the US Chess Championship scene (from episode 5: “Fork”), where montage is designed to show the passage of time leading up to Beth and Benny Watts’ (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster) final championship showdown. Set to the tune of “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, the scene perfectly captures the identical path both Beth and Benny are taking up to the point where they part ways, with only one coming out victorious as the US Chess Champion.
“Yeh, Yeh” – Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames
After losing countless times to Benny in speed chess, Beth finally develops better skills and beats Benny in his own version of chess in a 3 vs. 1 simultaneous game. Set to the upbeat tunes by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, this moment signals to the audience that Beth has nominally improved as a chess player, and the song that accompanies it helps leave an impression on the audience.
“Tut tut tut tut” – Gillian Hills
Just after impulsively and independently purchasing the former Wheatley house, Beth goes through a major home renovation in episode 6: “Adjournment”. Matched to “Tut tut tut tut”, a French song by Gillian Hills, the audience is invited to empathize with Beth’s obsession with revamping the house as a coping mechanism for her loss in an important tournament (the Paris Remy-Vallon Invitational). The catchy ‘tut tut tut’ that fills the entirety of the sequence makes for an extremely captivating song.
“I Can’t Remember Love” – Anna Hauss
After a long night of unproductive chess studies, Beth visits a restaurant she once frequented with her adoptive mother, Alma (episode 6: “Adjournment”). “I Can’t Remember Love” leaves a lasting impression on the audience as a song for Beth to reminisce her late mother. However, this song is also iconic as it serves as a gateway for Beth’s unhealthy alcoholism to arise from a night of daughterly reminiscence, where she originally orders Alma’s favorite alcoholic beverage (a Gibson) as a toast to her mother.
“Venus” – Shocking Blue
Possibly the most iconic scene in the entire show (only second to the final scenes of the show), “Venus” is used to emphasize Beth’s downward spiral as she quickly approaches rock bottom as an absolute alcoholic. With a memorable performance to match the iconic song, the audience is completely sold on the idea that Beth has spent months in this state of addiction.
These are far from the only songs that characterize The Queen’s Gambit as a true iconic masterpiece of the quarantine era. Original soundtracks by Carlos Rafael Rivera also add an elevated level of intrigue throughout the limited series. Stream The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix to find out how Beth is ever able to pick herself up from her slump and discover more iconic songs from its soundtrack.