David Carbonara is the composer of the critically acclaimed series Mad Men, winner of multiple awards including three Golden Globes and four consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series, and multiply album releases. His latest release is “Axiom of Choice” which includes the singles “Inverse Probability”, “Non-Constant Function” and “The Undefined and Indeterminate”.

Axiom of Choice
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How I came to compose “Lipstick” for Mad Men.

“Lipstick” is one of my most loved music cues from the series “Mad Men.” The funny thing is that I never composed music for that famous scene in season 1. It’s true but hard to believe, right? After scoring the pilot episode, I worked on episode 102, the second episode in the series titled “Ladies Room.”

Mad Men's Lipstick

“Office Tour”

In “Ladies Room,” Paul Kinsey gives Peggy Olson a tour of the office, and they make a lunch date for another day. When I went to the early cut of the episode, I decided that scene could use a bit of upbeat score to accompany Paul and Peggy through the scene, pausing for his quote of Rod Serling’s “submitted for your approval,” which I would never ever step on! So I scored it with a medium swing small big band sound to give it a bounce, as the actors had when walking through the set. I was happy with the cue and was expecting it to easily go into the final cue. So I sent it to the editor to show producer Matthew Weiner, expecting the best.

Ladies Room Mad Men, Peggy Olson and Paul Kinsey
Mad Men’s Paul Kinsey and Peggy Olson

It didn’t go well 😔 – rejected. I tried again, but “no” once more! I gave up, and the scene remains “dry”, without music. Honestly, I needed a few episodes to learn what worked for Mad Men. This was an early lesson that I needed to learn – only so much underscore could be tolerated by the producers of the show. I myself have a light touch in scoring, so I had a good start, but there is always a learning curve.

Mad Men’s “Office Tour” returns as “Lipstick”

Ladies Room Mad Men, Peggy Olson

In episode 6, I was surprised to find that my cue from the “Office Tour” fitted perfectly with the montage of the “Belle Jolie” lipstick.

The editor, Malcolm Jamison, later told me that Matthew Weiner felt sorry for me because Malcom’s temporary music was so good. But it turned out that my cue worked even better! He was stunned when he learned it was a Carbonara original! So, although the process for “Lipstick” was not traditional, it all worked out for everyone. And in fact, the cue was used more than once in the Mad Men series.

So, thank you Malcom and Director Andrew Bernstein for transforming “Office Tour” into “Lipstick”.

“Lipstick” on Spotify

Okay, less about Lipstick and more about “Mad Men” here:

And check out the infamous Mad Men Christmas Conga!

“Nostalgia” says Don Draper in Mad Men’s carousel pitch, “it’s delicate but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home.”

Mad Men’s Carousel Scene. One of Don Draper’s finest pitches.

Many have considered Don Draper’s powerful pitch for the Kodak Carousel in the finale of season 1 of Mad Men to be his greatest pitch. And yes, it certainly was to my ears. Jon’s voice always captivated me, and he influenced the way I composed for the show. As a result, I focused more on scoring Don Draper’s scenes than the others. Just have a look at the YouTube video above.

From CollinsReview.com:

The product in question, a slide projector with a rotary tray for storing photographs, is tentatively called the Wheel. But Don believes it is capable of something more. “It’s not called the Wheel,” he says. “It’s called a Carousel.” As he flips the projector from slide to slide, he contemplates the memories onscreen. A picture of him pushing his son Bobby on a swing set in the park, lying with his daughter Sally on the couch on Christmas morning, a younger version of himself kissing his wife Betty on their wedding day.
Don’s presentation is beautiful, nostalgic, genuine. He uses anecdotes, invokes the memory of Rachel Menken and even throws in some Greek for good measure. All the while, he thinks of his family and how he’s neglected them throughout the years. His half-brother just committed suicide. He longs for better days.
“It takes us to a place where we ache to go again …. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
It’s the greatest sales pitch of all time.

From Emily St. James, AV Club

“The Wheel’s” greatest stroke is that it takes the way that back-story motivates Don and moves it from the theoretical to the achingly tangible. On the one hand, the centerpiece of “The Wheel”—a long, masterful pitch from Don that lands Sterling Cooper the Kodak account—is complete and utter hokum. Designed solely to provoke an emotional response that will be so undeniable the company will reach up and land business with a firm far larger than it deserves. On the other, it’s a pitch so good, so nakedly emotional, that Don actually sells himself. He runs home to be with the family he could use to backfill those happy memories, maybe, only to find the house empty.

Noel Murry, AV Club

My favorite scene: Back in the boardroom, pitching Kodak on “The Carousel” slide projector–not “The Wheel,” as the episode is pointedly called–Don describes the difference between the newness that advertising tries to sell and the nostalgia that it simultaneously tries to speak to. In addition to encapsulating one of the key themes of the series, Don’s speech sums up a lot of Mad Men’s appeal. It’s at once a classic TV drama with a sense of retro style and a sophisticated one in look and tone, on the cutting edge of elliptical television storytelling in the same manner as The Sopranos and The Wire. Mad Men is only a perfect show in that forgiving TV realm where 80% is as good as perfect. But I’m ecstatic that it’s been renewed for a second season, because with this cast, these writers, and this premise, next year Mad Men might clear 90.

Jon Hamm in The Carousel from Mad Men as Don Draper pitching the Kodak carousel

Final Thoughts

The Carousel from Mad Men is a brilliant piece of writing by Matthew Weiner, as well as creative editing by Malcolm Jamison. But if it wasn’t for Jon Hamm’s performance, I don’t think I would have scored the scene as well as I did. I will forever remember the Carousel scene in Mad Men as one of the greatest moments in television history. It showcased the brilliance of the show’s writing, directing, and acting, leaving a lasting impact on all who watched it. As a composer who had the privilege of scoring Don Draper’s scenes, I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a remarkable piece of television artistry.

Don and Betty Draper in The Carousel pitch from Mad Men

Check out on YouTube and scroll through some of the comments and you’ll see how this scene has touched many people. Also, my video page here.

Looking back at some of the score I composed for Season 7 of Mad Men, there is one track that I’m often drawn to and wish I had recorded a much longer version of it. It’s my “He’s on Nineteen” from Mad Men’s Lost Horizon. I’ve recently uploaded this track to YouTube along with another gem called “Come in Monday” from episode three “Field Trip” of the same season.

Mad Men's Lost Horizon

Mad Men’s Lost Horizon: Exploring this Enigmatic Episode

What they say:

In the history of television, few shows have captivated audiences and critics alike as Mad Men. Known for its impeccable storytelling this acclaimed series took viewers on a journey through the tumultuous world of 1960s advertising. Among its many standout episodes, “Lost Horizon” from season seven holds a special place, offering a narrative twist that left audiences yearning for more.

“Lost Horizon” is a pivotal episode in the seventh and final season of Mad Men. Written by Semi Chellas, Matthew Weiner and directed by Phil Abraham, it premiered on May 3 2015, and left fans clamoring for answers as they unraveled the complex layers of the show’s protagonist, Don Draper.

The episode takes us on a rollercoaster ride as Don finds himself at a crossroads, battling demons from his past and questioning his very identity. Set against the backdrop of McCann Erickson, the advertising agency that absorbs Sterling Cooper & Partners, “Lost Horizon” delves deep into Don’s psyche, exploring themes of redemption, longing, and the eternal search for meaning.

One of the standout moments of the episode comes as Don is ushered into a meeting room filled with strangers, faced with the reality that his carefully crafted world is slipping away. As the camera pans away from him, the audience is left with a sense of uncertainty, mirroring Don’s own inner turmoil. This visual metaphor perfectly encapsulates the essence of “Lost Horizon” and showcases the masterful storytelling that Mad Men is renowned for.

Don looks out window in Mad Men's Lost Horizon.

The episode’s title, “Lost Horizon,” alludes to the famous 1933 novel by James Hilton, which explores a mystical Himalayan utopia. This reference adds another layer of depth to the story, as it signals Don’s search for his own personal utopia, a place of solace and fulfillment.

Don drives in Mad Men's Lost Horizon

“Lost Horizon” stands as a testament to Mad Men’s ability to challenge its viewers and provoke introspection. It invites us to question our own desires, motivations, and the sacrifices we make along our own journeys.

But for me, “Lost Horizon” stands apart mostly because of the music in that episode. Who does not love Roger at the organ! Plus Peggy roller skating thru the empty offices. Nice!

Roger at the organ in Mad Men's Lost Horizon

Peggy Olsen in Mad Men's Lost Horizon

And speaking of Peggy, the reuse of my music cue, “Lipstick” when she’s walking through the hall with her banker’s box and Bert Cooper’s 19th Century Japanese print of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife that Roger gave her is beyond fabulous 😎

The episode first aired on May 3, 2015 and was directed by Phil Abraham. Written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner. And check out my unreleased track “He’s on Nineteen” from this episode.

“He’s On Nineteen / Come In Monday” from “Lost Horizon” & “Field Trip”