It’s difficult to describe HBO Max’s It’s a Sin in just a line or two. Yes, the new 5-part limited series from acclaimed writer/producer Russell T. Davies is a dive into the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, a crisis that took the lives of so many far too early. But the show isn’t just that. While it showcases some of the misinformation and circumstances that led to the epidemic spreading wider and wider throughout the decade, it also focuses on something that you can’t see from just looking at statistics or reading a news story: the humanity of those lost. And Davies does so brilliantly, following a group of young people who aren’t unlike people you’ll run into today. People who love finding friends. People who love having fun. People who love music.
And through that music is where It’s a Sin tends to make an extra appeal to so many viewers. Not everyone watching was of the age to be going out and grooving to the ’80s jams, but almost everyone who’s ever heard “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics (for one example) knows the unfiltered feeling of just vibing when that comes on.
Music supervisor Iain Cooke credited Davies (along with director Peter Hoar and editor Sarah Brewerton) with helping to get that vibe just right.
“I’m a huge fan of Russell’s writing—it may sound clichéd, but I don’t know of many other writers that can have you laughing out loud then sobbing inconsolably within half a page,” he tells Men’s Health. “He creates such brilliant characters and their energy leaps off every page. With It’s a Sin, we were trying hard to preserve the integrity of this immensely personal story that Russell has been trying to tell for many years, and so many of the choices were very specific and represented a time and a place.”
Sometimes, It’s a Sin even takes a unique and unexpected approach that subverts what viewers might come to expect, and does so with meticulous detail. In the first episode, for instance, a montage of a main character, Richie, having sex throughout the early ’80s is set to an unexpected song. And it’s an idea that came directly from the series’ acclaimed creator, Russell T. Davies—and was even written into the script.
“The idea to include ‘Hooked on Classics’ over Richie’s sex montage in episode one was absolutely Russell’s idea, like so many other songs in the soundtrack and was in the first draft of the script I read,” Cooke says. “It’s such a fun and unusual choice, truly evocative of the time and created a highly memorable montage sequence.”
Curating a soundtrack—particularly one as expansive and extensive as It’s a Sin‘s—is rarely without obstacle, and Cooke makes it clear that working on this series was no exception. Still, though, he says that most of the artists and songwriters whose work was featured were very receptive to their recognizable songs being featured within the show, and he credits that warm response to Davies’ incredible pedigree (some of his past TV credits include the original revival of Doctor Who, Queer as Folk, and the 2019 HBO/BBC series Years and Years).
“We received several notes from some huge, huge artists or their estates wishing Russell well with the project and sending their best wishes,” Cooke says.
As you watch It’s a Sin, you’ll almost certainly find yourself grooving to one song or another. It features, well, quite a few ’80s jams. Some you’ll know. Some, maybe, you won’t. And when that moment comes, we’ve got you covered, episode by episode, with the list below.
“Enola Gay” — Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
“Feels Like I’m In Love” — Kelly Marie
“Tainted Love” – Soft Cell
“Reward” — The Teardrop Explodes
“Hooked on Classics” — Louis Clark and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
“Mickey” — Toni Basil
“Call Me” — Blondie
“Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu” — Bad Manners
“Smalltown Boy” — Bronski Beat
“One Voice” — Barry Manilow (Performed in show by Olly Alexander and Lydia West)
“I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” — Wizzard
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” — Joy Division
“Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)” — Hazell Dean
“Karma Chameleon” — Culture Club
“Do You Wanna Funk?” — Patrick Cowley featuring Sylvester
“More More More” — Carmel (Also performed by cast)
“Peanut Butter” — Gwen Guthrie
“Kids In America” — Kim Wilde
“Only You” — Yazoo (Performed in show by cast)
“Gloria” — Laura Branigan
“Oh L’Amour” — Erasure
“I Feel Love” — Bronski Beat + Marc Almond
“Freedom” — Wham!
“You Think You’re A Man” — Divine
“Who Wants To Live Forever” — Queen
“Sweet Dreams” — Eurythmics
“The Only Way Is Up” — Yazz and the Plastic Population
“It’s A Sin” — Pet Shop Boys
“Heaven Is A Place On Earth” — Belinda Carlisle
“Running Up That Hill” — Kate Bush
“Windmill In Old Amsterdam” — Ronnie Hilton
“Telephone and Rubber Band” — Penguin Cafe Orchestra
“Roll Out The Barrel”
“Everybody Hurts” — R.E.M.
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