“Nobody can tell ya there’s only one song worth singing.”
Despite being first released in 1969, Mama Cass Eliot’s classic single “Make Your Own Kind of Music” keeps making waves in modern pop culture. The latest example of the youths discovering The Mama & The Papas’ songstress’s ode to self care comes from (where else?) Tik Tok.
In late February, users on the sound-centric social media app uncovered a clip from the 2022 film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that featured Cass’s song. In the movie, Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalized version of himself who accepts a $1 million payday to head to Mallorca and hang out with billionaire playboy Javi Gutierrez, played by The Last of Us star and the internet’s current best friend Pedro Pascal.
Mama Cass’s powerful vocals ring out as Cage and Pascal’s very high characters share a moment while tearing down a mountain road in a convertible. The bombast of the song combined with Pascal’s goofy grin have proven to be quite memorable and memeable with many Tik Tokers joining in on the action.
The moment would work just fine with many other ’60s or ’70s songs to be sure. But there’s just something about “Make Your Own Kind of Music” that elevates whatever visual its playing over. It’s why the song has popped up in everything from Showtime serial killer series Dexter to Netflix comedy Sex Education to Ryan Reynolds video game movie Free Guy.
“Make Your Own Kind of Music” is a shortcut to pathos. It’s both a pitch perfect pop song and a sophisticated ode to individuality. It’s no wonder why people the world over continue to find themselves enchanted with the tune. What is a mystery, however, is why TV shows and movies continue to use it even after the definitive application of the song was already executed nearly 20 years ago.
Mama Cass’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” prominently features in the opening minutes of the Lost season 2 premiere “Man of Science, Man of Faith.” That scene represents not only the best use of “Make Your Own Kind of Music” ever but also one of the best executions of any diegetic music ever in television history. In case that sounds like hyperbole, allow us to make the argument for why “Make Your Own Kind of Music” still belongs to Lost and Lost alone.
First we must set the scene. The first season of ABC sci-fi series Lost was a pop cultural phenomenon. The pilot episode of the this show about plane crash survivors marooned on a mysterious island took in more than 18 million viewers. And those numbers held remarkably consistent through to season 1’s two-part May 25 finale, which was watched by more than 20 million people.
Created by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, Lost was the ultimate “mystery box” show. Each new episode would pose major questions about the mysterious nature of the island with the implicit promise that future episodes would get around to answering them. Unbeknownst to viewers at the time, however, Abrams was more of a “asking questions” storyteller and when he left the series shortly after filming the pilot, figuring out those subsequent answers fell to Lindelof and new co-showrunner Carlton Cuse. This led to an awkward situation in the finale.
Midway through Lost‘s first season, the characters came across a mysterious hatch embedded into the jungle ground. The finale all but promised to finally reveal what was in the hatch with characters Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Locke (Terry O’Quinn), and Hurley (Jorge Garcia) heading off on a mission to blow it open, climb in, and see if it could provide meaningful shelter to their people. The gang does blow open the hatch. But instead of showing the audience what was inside it, the final shot of the episode instead lingers on the characters’ faces as they take a look for themselves.
Imagine then, for a moment, it’s Wednesday night on Sept. 21, 2005. Tik Tok, Twitter, and Reddit don’t exist yet, and Facebook hasn’t left the Harvard campus. You’ve have nothing to distract you from the most pressing question gnawing at your brain for the past four months: “what is in that freaking hatch?”
So you finally, blessedly, flip to your local ABC station at 9 p.m. ET and this is what you see … and hear.
If you have some questions after viewing that, rest assured that they were the very same questions Lost viewers had upon first taking in the scene in 2005.
Who is this guy? Don’t know yet. How did he come to be in an underground facility on the island? Don’t know yet. Why does he need to plug a code into a beeping computer? Don’t know yet.
This opening Mama Cass-scored scene is a microcosm for what made the entire Lost experience work. Despite what the haters and losers will tell you, Lost did consistently provide answers to its major mysteries. It’s just that every answer would inevitably spawn dozens more questions, not entirely unlike, you know … real life. The human race didn’t just call it a day and pack the scientific method in for good after Isaac Newton developed his law of universal gravitation. We kept picking away at gravity, fine-tuning the implications of the theory, and before you know it Einstein is tinkering with spacetime curvatures. Every “answer” is just an invitation to more exciting questions.
The answers to those questions raised by “Man of Science, Man of Faith’s” opening scene would arrive within the first four episodes of the show’s second season. But, of course, even those would only lead to more questions.
Who is this guy? A Scottish man named Desmond Hume. How did he come to be in an underground facility on the island? It’s a long story but it involves boats, insecurities, and a girl. Why does he need to plug a code into a beeping computer? If he doesn’t the world will end … or at least that’s what Kelvin told him. Who is Kelvin? Uhh, well there’s this thing called the DHARMA Initiative. What’s the DHARMA Initiative? Sit tight. We’re going to need a few episodes to unpack this.
The answer to one question never changes, however, no matter how many fresh mysteries arrive from learning Desmond Hume’s story. And that’s: why was this man listening to Mama Cass’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” while doing his post-apocalyptic chores? It’s because “Make Your Own Kind of Music” is awesome. Mama Cass is the glue holding this entire iconic moment together. Her cheerful, recognizable song grounds Lost‘s relentless pursuit of mystery in something familiar and something real.
There’s also something haunting about it. As revealed by the extensive record collection down in the hatch, Desmond has his choice of what songs to listen to as he makes smoothies, does sit ups, and injects himself with a mysterious compound. It’s quite telling then that he chooses the one that sounds happy on its face but also includes lyrics like “You’re gonna be nowhere / The loneliest kind of lonely / It may be rough going / Just to do your thing’s the hardest thing to do.”
At their best, songs in TV shows simultaneously supplement and comment on the imagery they’re presented alongside. Few songs in the history of the medium have elevated their respective scenes quite like “Make Your Own Kind of Music” elevates the opening minutes of the Lost season 2 premiere. Mama Cass’s classic song is sure to keep popping up in our pop culture landscape but it’s hard to imagine it ever hitting harder than it did down in that hatch.
All six seasons of Lost are available to stream on Hulu and Freevee in the U.S. and on Disney+ in the U.K.