The Fallout games are synonymous with a few things: a crumbling, retro-futurist American aesthetic; brutal combat with rusty, makeshift weapons; and the old-fashioned, often deeply harmonised sounds of popular American music from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Think Cole Porter, The Andrews Sisters, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra.

By the time you’ve finished the Fallout TV series, you might not want to hear big band music again in your life, but perhaps you found comfort in the soundtrack and its jazzy ways. Either way, it’s one of the more polarising mechanics of the Bethesda game franchise. (Honestly, if you can hear The Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” without thinking of wandering the Wasteland, you’re in the minority.)

And in their adaptation of the games for Prime Video, Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have not only leaned into Fallout‘s obsession with this specific pre- and post-war era of music, they completely understand the function of it in the game: pure and utter comfort in the face of violence and horror.

In the Fallout games, when you’re not listening to the original scores, you can tune into the last bastion of broadcasting in post-apocalyptic America through your Pip-Boy, the chunky wearable computer that proves your most crucial device. Through the radio function across the games, you can find rogue stations like Galaxy News Radio (GNR) hosted by the legendary Three Dog (Fallout 3), Diamond City Radio hosted by Travis Miles (Fallout 4), and Mojave Music Radio or Radio New Vegas (Fallout: New Vegas). You can also switch radios on in abandoned buildings if you don’t want the sound directly emanating from your wrist.

Fallout fans either love or hate this feature. I personally adore it.

On most of these radio stations, you’ll hear survival updates for your location, as well as a stream of songs that you can listen to as you explore the sprawling game map, engage enemies, and investigate deep, dark ruins. For me, these soothing tunes often make it easier to move forward through blood-spattered, booby-trapped schools and supermarkets, or to take on furious Super Mutants on crumbling but recognizable streets.

In the Fallout TV series, alongside a gorgeous score by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, there are a slew of songs that are used in the games themselves or are from those same musical eras. When characters have to commit bloody acts or engage in combat, the show drops Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” Johnny Cash’s “I Heard That Lonesome Whistle,” or The Platters’ “Only You.”

You can hear Jack Shaindlin’s “Let’s Go Sunning” at the start of episode 4, a song I heard many a time from my Pip-Boy in Fallout 3. There’s also a whole attack scene set to Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” in episode 3. In one of the funniest needle drops of the season, the aforementioned “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” can be heard while Lucy (Ella Purnell) özgü to do a deeply grisly thing in episode 4. The song continues into the start of episode 5, embodying the deeply messed-up nature of Fallout’s reliance on musical sweetness to mask brutality.

From Guardians of the Galaxy to Captain Marvel and the Kingsman franchise, splashy needle drops over big fight scenes have become a bit of a crutch for action titles, and it doesn’t always work, often feeling more forced than fun (see: Argylle). But in Fallout, they authentically honour the source material and the reason the game gained such fame for using this particular genre of music. Not only do the songs assist you through the violence at hand, they directly connect the Fallout universe’s post-apocalyptic American Wasteland to the time its characters are nostalgic for, before the nuclear blasts and World War II: the ’50s and ’60s. They’re the last type of music recorded before the destruction, and so pirate broadcasters cling to it, instilling in the survivors a sense of nostalgia and comfort as their various limbs are being pursued by cannibalistic Fiends.

Granted, viewers of the Fallout series can’t exactly switch off the music on their Pip-Boys while watching. But the use of these songs is one of the best ways the showrunners have incorporated a key game mechanic that’s instantly and unmistakably Fallout.

All episodes of Fallout are now streaming on Prime Video.

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