Like the Winchesters, rock ‘n’ roll never dies on Supernatural. The titans of ’70s FM radio are the fuel — or grace, if we’re staying on brand — of the long-running CW series. Kansas, Skynyrd, Seger, and countless classic rock superstars have all scored Sam and Dean’s adventures for 15 seasons. Hell, their songs are often even the names of the episodes.
No, classic rock is a part of the show’s DNA, and that DNA largely belongs to series creator Eric Kripke. As he explained way, way back in 2007, “All of my friends call me ‘Old Man Kripke’ because I don’t listen to a band past 1980. That’s why Dean’s music always wins out because I hate so much modern music that I can’t bear to listen to it in the editing room.”
In other words, driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole, right? That’s been the show’s MO, even long after Kripke exited stage left at the end of Season 5 — and hey, no complaints. As we’ve come to learn over the last 15 years, the Winchesters’ adventures are the most fun and affecting when the windows are down and the volume’s up.
With that in mind, we decided to revisit the show’s riotous musical past as the brothers rev up for their final stretch this Thursday, October 8th. It wasn’t easy poring through 15 seasons — it required lots and lots of scrolling and debating — but we did it. Rest assured, there will be fist pumps, there will be head nods, and there will be tears.
Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Read ahead to rock and roll…
15. Spinal Tap – “Stonehenge”
Featured in: Season 2 | Episode 5: “Simon Said”
The Drop: If you had any doubts about the people running Supernatural, “Simon Said” certainly assuaged those fears. The fact that Kripke and his team placed Spinal Tap in the series was already worth a gold star. But the fact that they eschewed the more obvious hits from Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockumentary and went with “Stonehenge” speaks to a true fan.
The song’s perfectly placed, too. Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) are investigating a series of murders across Guthrie, Oklahoma involving a man with mind-control capabilities. The suspect in question is Andy Gallagher (Gabriel Tigerman), whose mother was killed in the same manner as their own—in other words, dying in a nursery fire.
When they discover Andy’s van, which is emblazoned with a psychedelic painting of a barbarian queen riding a polar bear, Dean jokes that he’s starting to like the guy. Sam, meanwhile, is more concerned, namely because his own psychic capabilities spell a similar future — a future that could be, to borrow from Nigel Tufnel, none more black.
Turn It Up, Sam: “And you my love, won’t you take my hand?/ We’ll go back in time to that mystic land”
14. Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Simple Man”
Featured in: Season 5 | Episode 3: “Free to Be You and Me”
The Drop: Given that Kripke only had a five-year plan for Supernatural, it’s not surprising how epic every other episode feels in Season 5. By “Free to Be You and Me”, a shy three chapters into the would-be final season, things reach a boiling point for the Winchesters: Dean can’t trust Sam on account of all his demon blood swilling, which gives Sam the noble, if not misguided, idea that if he quits hunting, it’ll all magically go away.
Narrator: “It doesn’t.”
Nevertheless, Lynyrd Skynyrd soundtracks the two new lives for the Winchester brothers. Although it’s not a somber song lyrically, “Simple Man” proves to be the perfect score for their split. Whether it’s Dean slicing up a vampire or Sam slicing up lemons, the editing in the montage shuffles perfectly in lock-step with the song. And because Supernatural has always been a blue-collar, folksy type of show, the Southern rock stylings feel right at home. –Nathan Smith
Turn It Up, Sam: “Oh, take your time, don’t live too fast/ Troubles will come and they will pass/ You’ll find a woman and you’ll find love/ And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above”
13. Alice in Chains – “Rooster”
Featured in: Season 2 | Episode 19: “Folsom Prison Blues”
The Drop: In the earlier seasons of Supernatural, the Winchesters always found themselves on the wrong side of the law. What started with the shapeshifter case in Season 1’s “Skin” eventually heated up here with Season 2’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. In this chapter, the boys get locked up on account of their nemesis and future ally Victor Henriksen (Charles Malik Whitfield).
But, not without reason: The Winchesters’ incarceration proves to be intentional — after all, how else would they catch the gh-gh-ghost inside — and while they naturally break out, they also find themselves on the run and in worser trouble than before. So, it’s perhaps fitting that Alice in Chains’ “Rooster” closes the episode out and brings it all home.
Jerry Cantrell’s haunting tune about his father in Vietnam is perfectly aligned with the Winchesters’ own plight. As we’ve learned two seasons in, the traveling brothers are in their own secret war, one that seemingly never ends and one that affords them little to no rest. It’s a war that, in all likelihood, may similarly lead to a violent death — even 15 years later. –Nathan Smith
Turn It Up, Sam: “Ain’t found a way to kill me yet/ Eyes burn with stinging sweat/ Seems every path leads me to nowhere”
12. Supertramp – “Goodbye Stranger”
Featured in: Season 8 | Episode 17: “Goodbye Stranger”
The Drop: Proving that Michael Scott isn’t the only one who can rock a Supertramp needle drop, “Goodbye Stranger” proves that the classic 1978 hit can be both uplifting and poignant. Having heard Dean’s prayer for help, Castiel (Misha Collins) returns in a blaze of glory, saving both of the Winchester brothers from demons in the nick of time.
After being pulled from Purgatory, Castiel has been brainwashed and manipulated by superior angel, Naomi (Amanda Tapping), who trains him to kill Dean in an attempt to bring her the angel tablet. However, Dean is able to break through Naomi’s manipulation, and Castiel finally rejects her control, disappearing on his own as he’s wont to do.
As the song begins, the final moments of the episode checks in with each of the characters as they react to his disappearance, then finally with the angel himself as he rides a bus to parts unknown. He’s alone, sure, but at last in control of his own path. He’s also not the only character we’re waving goodbye to as this sees the exit of longtime frenemy, Meg Masters (Rachel Miner). –Jenn Adams
Turn It Up, Sam: “Goodbye stranger. It’s been nice/ Hope you find your paradise”
11. Bad Company – “Bad Company”
Featured in: Season 1 | Episode 11: “Scarecrow”
The Drop: The debut season of Supernatural focused largely on a Case of the Week structure, dipping its toes into the overarching mythology ever so sparingly. But “Scarecrow” added a new important wrinkle to the show’s burgeoning folklore by providing a recurring antagonist for the boys. In this episode, Sam and Dean fight over their father’s orders and they split up.
Dean travels deep into the sticks, only to discover that the residents of a small Indiana town are sacrificing people to a Pagan god in the form of a monstrous scarecrow. Meanwhile, Sam heads out to California, and along the way, he meets up with a pretty, young blonde named Meg Masters (Nicki Aycox) — a fan favorite of the series, particularly when recast with Miner.
Bad Company’s titular 1974 hit arrives right as Meg kills a hitchhiker and uses his blood to communicate with a malevolent being. Given the attitude of the FM hit and the closing story beat at hand — one that tells the audience this isn’t over yet — this drop and moment was when Supernatural earned its spot as the new heir to The X-Files. –Nathan Smith
Turn it Up, Sam: “Rebel souls/ Deserters we are called/ Chose a gun/ And threw away the sun/ Now these towns/ They all know our name”
10. Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger”
Featured in: Season 4 | Episode 6: “Yellow Fever”
The Drop: Midway through “Yellow Fever”, Sam returns with donuts and news that Dean has likely contracted Ghost Sickness, an infection causing him to become overly fearful of mundane things like small dogs and teenagers. On his way to the hotel room, he hears “Eye of the Tiger” blaring from Baby and notices Dean playing air drums while laying in the front seat. Why is Dean in the car? Well, their current hotel room is on the fourth floor, and as Dean notes, “It’s high.”
“Eye of the Tiger” is the perfect choice for an episode dealing with the concept of using fear as a weapon, but it wouldn’t even be mentioned here if not for the extended lip sync performance by Jenson Ackles during the credits. It’s pitch perfect and captures a fully committed Ackles, who crawls through the car window and plays the leg guitar atop Baby’s roof. All told, it’s a magical moment and an early behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Supernatural family.
Padalecki’s unexpected laughter is the icing on the cake. –Jenn Adams
Turn it Up, Sam: “Risin’ up, back on the street/ Did my time, took my chances”
09. The Kinks – “A Well Respected Man”
Featured in: Season 4 | Episode 17: “It’s a Terrible Life“
The Drop: Seventeen episodes after he returns from Hades, we learn that Dean was pulled out of Hell by angels because he will prove to be a key figure in the season’s apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Believing himself unworthy for this important role, an injured Dean begs Castiel to find someone else — and alas, we have an alternative universe.
The “Previously on Supernatural” recap leads flawlessly into “A Well Respected Man” as we see a grossly out-of-character Dean go through his morning routine. In this life, Dean wears a yuppy shirt and tie, makes fancy coffee, and drives a car that’s most definitely not Baby. Instead of his traditional classic rock, he balks and quickly switches to NPR.
As the Kinks continue, we follow Dean through his corporate work day as Director of Sales and Marketing at a generic company for which a similarly out-of-character Sam works as tech support. Dean types. He schmoozes about Project Runway. He uses a headset phone, and then he does perhaps the most un-Dean-like thing of all: He eats … gasp … a salad.
The entire montage is a quirky introduction to this spooky Opposite Day scenario, which naturally serves as an introduction to one of the show’s major villains. –Jenn Adams
Turn it Up, Sam: “And he’s oh, so good and he’s oh, so fine”
08. Rob Benedict – “Fare Thee Well”
Featured in: Season 11 | Episode 20: “Don’t Call Me Shurley”
The Drop: “Don’t Call Me Shurley” is a key episode for the simple fact that the writers finally confirmed that Carver Edlund, aka Chuck Shurley, aka Rob Benedict, was, in fact, the universe’s favorite absentee father, God. It’s something that fans had theorized for quite some time, and the revelation was a nice victory and yet also a relief to finally have out in the open.
The episode itself follows our newly revealed God and his scribe, Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), as they have a deeply personal conversation about the autobiography that the G-man is writing about himself. What follows is a compelling piece of television surrounding the drive of narrative writing and how it relates to humanity.
Towards the end, Benedict plucks away at his acoustic guitar and sings “Fare Thee Well”, already a memorable tune because of 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis. Here, it’s sung with a low, heart-wrenching, mournful voice, and delivered with a steely, hollow gaze, one that resembles a being who is resentful of its creatures wanting so much from Him. –Nathan Smith
Turn it Up, Sam: “Now, one of these mornings, it won’t be long/ You’ll call my name, and I’ll be gone”
07. Queensrÿche – “Silent Lucidity”
Featured in: Season 2 | Episode 17: “Heart“
The Drop: For the second season, the writers started diving deeper into the psychological toll that the Winchesters deal with on their journey to rid the world of monsters. In “Heart”, Sam and Dean head to San Francisco to investigate a series of murders that they soon discover is being committed by a werewolf. Even worse, it’s discovered that Madison (Emmanuelle Vaugier), the young woman that Sam’s been mooning over, is one of the beasties responsible for the heinous slayings.
This all leads to the final scene where Sam is forced to kill Madison, all set to the tune of Queensrÿche’s soaring 1990 ballad, “Silent Lucidity”. The acting from the boys in this climactic moment is pitch perfect: Padalecki carries the weight of someone who’s once again forced to lose someone he cares about, while Ackles lets a single tear break through his reliably stoic façade. The gunshot at the end shatters the serenity and leaves us similarly gutted. –Nathan Smith
Turn it Up, Sam: “I am gonna help you see it through/ I will protect you in the night/ I am smiling next to you, in silent lucidity.”
06. Motörhead – “God Was Never on Your Side”
Featured in: Season 14 | Episode 20: “Moriah”
The Drop: The Winchesters are in a tough spot by the end of Season 14. They’re still reeling from all the madness Jack caused, which includes a death in the family and a world turned upside down by the truth. Chuck is back and he’s bitter than ever. Castiel is having a moral dilemma. And, even worse, Dean is on a suicide mission with the Equalizer.
Right when you think we’re about to see another death/resurrection subplot involving a Winchester, the tables turn. Dean sobers up, opts not to go ahead with the plan, and instead sides with his brother. Together, they heat check Chuck, dressing him down for being his source of entertainment all of these years, and decide, yes, to go against God.
It’s a concept that sounds ludicrous on paper, but makes so much sense in the long and winding narrative that is Supernatural. It’s also a heel turn that’s further embellished by the late Lemmy Kilmister, whose 2006 ballad soundtracks the ensuing Hell that unfolds around the Winchesters. Slowly, as he sings, zombies and evil forces of yesteryear return.
Under shadows and moonlight, Dean, Sam, and Castiel prepare to fight, grabbing whatever resources they can find within arm’s reach for protection. It’s a hair-raising scene, and director Phil Sgriccia lenses it all to perfection, dialing back to the show’s salad days, back when the likes of Kim Manners was first establishing the show’s atmosphere.
More importantly, it’s a scene that suggests the end is very fucking nigh.
Turn It Up, Sam: “Let the sword of reason shine/ Let us be free of prayer and shrine”
05. Bob Seger – “Night Moves”
Featured in: Season 11 | Episode 4: “Baby”
The Drop: Every other season, there comes an episode that makes you go, “Yeah, they still got it.” They’re littered throughout the series — and we’ll be outlining them all soon — but one such episode is “Baby”. Written by Robbie Thompson and brilliantly shot by Thomas J. Wright, the entire episode is from the POV of the titular ’67 Chevy Impala.
No need to get into the details of the episode; they’re moot. Like “Weekend at Bobbie’s”, “Baby” highlights the importance of a supporting cast member; in this case, the iconic muscle car. For the two brothers, it’s the literal vessel that has carried their story, even uniting them, and if you didn’t get that notion at the end of Season 5, you do here.
The feels start to percolate when Dean puts on “Night Moves”. At first, Bob Seger’s 1976 hit plays sparingly, but then it comes back to bruise. After years and years of bickering over the radio, Sam and Dean start singing together, cruising down the road as the balmy backwoods anthem carries us out on a stretcher. This is Supernatural in a nutshell.
Turn it Up, Sam: “Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy/ Out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy/ Workin’ on mysteries without any clues/ Workin’ on our night moves”
04. Asia – “Heat of the Moment”
Featured in: Season 3 | Episode 11: “Mystery Spot“
The Drop: Midway through Season 3, Dean is trying to enjoy the last year of his life, having made a deal with the Crossroad Demon to trade his soul for Sam’s resurrection. Meanwhile, Sam is dealing with the guilt of this entire ordeal, and desperately trying to find a way to break it. Needless to say, this savior complex manifests into “Mystery Spot”.
Right from the get-go, Sam wakes up to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and a chipper Dean, tying his shoes and anxious for breakfast. Soon enough, the youngest Winchester learns that he is trapped in a Groundhog Day-style time loop and Asia’s hit becomes the de facto alarm clock that sets off an endless string of Tuesdays and serves as our anchor.
Widely regarded as one of the best episodes of the series, “Mystery Spot” pays tribute to the Bill Murray classic, all while fully exploring the implications of watching a loved one die over and over again. For instance, the most emotional moment comes when “Back in Time” plays in its stead and Sam realizes that, “It’s Wednesday”…
…and he’s once day closer to Dean’s fate. –Jenn Adams
Turn it Up, Sam: “It was the heat of the moment/ telling me what your heart meant”
03. Choir – “Carry On My Wayward Son”
Featured in: Season 10 | Episode 5: “Fan Fiction“
The Drop: As most fans know, this Kansas classic is the unofficial theme to Supernatural, epitomizing the perpetual rocky road trip that has seen Sam and Dean try to save the world and each other. This choral cover is a poignant ending to a beautiful episode in “Fan Fiction”, which finds a group of high school girls performing a staged musical adaptation of the Supernatural book series.
Teenage girls dressed as different members of the Winchester family sing in unison in a line downstage. “Mary” sings the first line alone and is then joined by “John”, departed parents singing a message of love to their sons. One by one, they are joined by “Bobby”, “Dean”, “Sam”, and youngest brother “Adam” (a reminder that he is still trapped in his own cage).
The simplicity of the voices on the stark stage as they sing to the rafters is the very essence of the show itself. After all, beyond the monsters, the angels, the demons, even the apocalypse, at its heart, Supernatural is a show about a family. It’s about two brothers risking everything to try to save the world and maybe to find a little peace as well. –Jenn Adams
Turn It Up, Sam: “Carry on my wayward son/ there’ll be peace when you are done.”
02. Bob Dylan – “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
Featured in: Season 5 | Episode 16: “Dark Side of the Moon”
The Drop: All too often, the greatest needle drops are saved for the closing moments of an episode. “Dark Side of the Moon” subverts that tradition by bringing the fireworks early — literally. One of the final chapters in Kripke’s run, this Season 5 stunner finds the two brothers sent to heaven after being murdered by two hunters.
Shortly after, the muted sounds of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” wakes Dean up in the Impala. He’s confused, he’s disoriented, he’s not sure where he is at the moment. Curious, he leaves the car, only to run into his brother Sam, much, much younger and holding a box of fireworks. It’s a memory of his: Fourth of July, 1996.
It’s a minor moment, to be sure, but every little second counts: Dean’ finding his long-lost lighter, Sam’s jubilation under Dean’s watch, the two of them standing side by side underneath the fireworks. Director Jeff Woolnough frames it all beautifully with just enough patience, and Dylan’s ballad has rarely felt so poignant on screen.
But what really hits hard is the context. This isn’t the first time Dylan’s 1973 masterpiece has graced Supernatural. The song first appeared in the Season 2 episode, “Houses of the Holy”, specifically when Dean begins contending with the reality that god does exist. It’s a revelation that speaks volumes here as Dean begins to realize he’s in heaven.
After all, he’s at his happiest watching over his brother.
Turn It Up, Sam: “It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see/ I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”
01. Styx – “Renegade”
Featured in: Season 2 | Episode 12: “Nightshifter”
The Drop: Not gonna lie, it takes some time to truly understand the magic of Supernatural. “Nightshifter” is a gateway episode in that respect. The Season 2 spectacle involves a bizarre series of robbery-suicides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the likes of which lead to a high-stakes hostage situation that find the Winchesters smack dab in the middle.
At this point in the series, Sam and Dean have managed to outpace the law, leaving only faint traces of their work behind. Not the case here as Victor Henriksen is introduced for the first time, and he’s got their number. As we learn, he’s been following their moves since the events of Season 1’s “Skin”, and this changes the game completely.
Naturally, the two brothers manage to evade the FBI and the engulfing SWAT team through an incredible (and dicey) bait-and-switch. But the damage is done and the word is out: the Winchesters are public enemies. It’s a damning revelation that shakes up the stakes for the series, and it’s felt in the final moments of the harrowing episode.
Slowly, we follow the two brothers disguised as SWAT team members as they leave the bank to the opening sounds of Styx’s “Renegade”. Once they sneakily climb into the Impala parked in the garage, the song stops and we watch the two just sit there in disbelief and tranquility. Then Dean says what we’re all thinking: “We’re so screwed.”
You know the rest. The song kicks up, Dean turns the ignition on Baby, and the Winchesters squeak by just in time. In a wise (and rather self-aware) move, director Phil Sgriccia lingers just long enough to indulge in the swagger and attitude of the scene. But also to allow the fans to catch up with the Winchesters as they speed out of the garage.
So many of us did.
Turn It Up, Sam: “This jig is up the news is out/ They’ve finally found me/ The renegade who had it made/ Retrieved for a bounty/ Never more to go astray/ This will be the end today of the wanted man”