We Watch It For The Music | Over The Garden Wall

We Watch It For The Music | Over The Garden Wall

Norene Bassin, Writer/Volunteer

Ah, the magic of autumn. The leaves change colors, the air becomes crisper and the ghost and ghouls come out to play. In 2014, writer Patrick McHale captured the mysticism of the season in the Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall. The Emmy-winning series has become a classic for many fans of the Halloween season. Its whimsical story revolves around half-brothers Greg and Wirt as they traverse The Unknown, a wide forest between reality and fantasy. Their harrowing journey to get back home while looking out for The Beast, a soul-eating creature who wanders the realm, is accompanied by talking animals, witches, spirits and dancing frogs. Between the waves of beauty and absolute terror, Over the Garden Wall is punctuated by some of the most beautiful music to ever grace an animated series.

The soundtrack was composed by The Blasting Company, a folk-jazz band created by brothers Justin Rubenstein and Joshua Kaufman in 2008 on the streets of Nashville. The Over the Garden Wall soundtrack is their best-known work, including the mixtape “For Sara,” written from the perspective of Wirt. In 2020 they also released a single, “Candy.”

The opening number “Into the Unknown” introduces the audience to the world of The Unknown. The sultry singing voice of Greg’s pet frog — voiced by Jack Jones — weaves a tale of wonder and mysticism.

“Led through the mist, by the milk-light of moon, all that was lost, is revealed,” he sings. The lyrics serve as foreshadowing for the mysteries revealed later in the series, while the spoken word serves as exposition:

“Somewhere in the clouded annals of history,

Lies a place few have seen.

A mysterious place, called The Unknown.

Where long-forgotten stories are revealed to those who travel through the wood.”

One of the most playful songs in the series, “Potatoes and Molasses,” appears in “Chapter 3: Schooltown Follies.” The parade march sung by Greg (Collin Dean) lifts the spirits of the schoolhouse’s students, some of whom were crying into their plain mashed potatoes before the song begins. “Oh, potatoes and molasses, they’re so much sweeter than algebra class,” sings Greg.

It contrasts “Ms. Langtree’s Lament,” a tune sung by school teacher Ms. Langtree as she reminisces on her three-days lost love Jimmy Brown. The song goes through the timeline of Langtree and Brown’s relationship in alphabetical order.

“‘A’ is for the apple that he gave to me

But I found a worm inside.

‘B’ is for beloved that I call to him

Before he left my side.

And ‘C’

See what he did, that’s ‘D’

Did it to poor ol’ me.

How could I be such an emotional fool? ‘F.’”

The crooning ballad goes on to mention the fact that Jimmy Brown has only been missing for three days, while Ms. Langtree says it feels like it’s been eight.

The medley of songs sung in “Chapter 4: Songs of the Dark Lantern” in the Dark Lantern tavern include “The Beast Is Out There,” “The Highwayman” and “A Courting Song.” Each song tells a different story about each of the tavern’s colorful patrons. Viewers often find “The Highwayman” to be the creepiest of the patrons’ songs, as he sings about “making ends meet.” 

“If you cross my path, I’ll knock you out, drag you off the road, steal yo’ shoes from off yo’ feet,” the highwayman sings as he drags his finger across his neck.

One of the most haunting songs on the soundtrack plays throughout the series. Sung by the unsettlingly smooth-voiced Beast (Samuel Ramey), “Come Wayward Souls” follows the tune of the classic Christmas carol  “O Holy Night.” 

“Come, wayward souls

And wander through the darkness

There is a light for the lost and the meek

Sorrow and fear are easily forgotten

When you submit to the soil of the earth”

Songs like “Come Wayward Souls” exemplify McHale’s ability to complement a terrifying tale with music.

Over the Garden Wall is a masterpiece of an animated series. From its gorgeous artwork to its compelling story, the show wouldn’t be what it is without the songs that accompany it. I highly recommend setting aside a night or two to watch the show this spooky week.