When it’s featured: Ep. 1 — Tony plays Clay a tape while giving him a ride home.
Why it’s significant: The haunting, stark track links us to the year 1979, an era when cassette tapes were booming. Frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide roughly a year after writing this song.
Ep. 2 — Hannah, Jessica and Alex have coffee at Monet’s.
Ep. 2 — Tony seems to be chasing Clay with his car.
When it’s featured: Ep. 5 — Clay and Hannah dance together for the first time.
Why it’s significant: The refrain “Haunted by the ghost of you” cuts like a knife when paired with the flashbacks of the school dance.
Ep. 3 — Hannah explains the Butterfly Effect.
Ep. 3 — Hannah and Clay talk about the moon.
When it’s featured: Ep. 3 — Alex falls (or jumps?) into the pool.
Why it’s significant: Originally written and performed by Neil Young during a time when he feared his music career was declining, the lyric “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” was famously quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.
Ep. 3 — Clay and Hannah watch the moon from the cinema’s rooftop.
Ep. 4 — Clay sneaks out.
When it’s featured: Ep. 5 — Clay breaks down in the shower.
Why it’s significant: The sweet, childlike lyrics are reminiscent of grade school and simpler times. It seems worth noting that the song borrows the line “Rock and roll is here to stay” from Neil Young’s “My My Hey Hey (Into The Black),” a cover of which is also featured on this soundtrack. The circumstances of Elliott Smith’s untimely death are still debated, but it’s widely accepted that he committed suicide.
Ep. 4 — Kids toilet paper the Baker home on Halloween.
Ep. 5 — Hannah and Courtney dance together.
When it’s featured: Ep. 1 — Clay thinks he sees Hannah in the crowded halls between classes. It’s the first time the memory of her seems to physically follow him.
Why it’s significant: The refrain “This mess was yours / now your mess is mine” tangles Clay and Hannah’s stories together.
Ep. 6 — Students fill out the Dollar Valentine questionnaire on Valentine’s Day.
Ep. 6 — Clay, Jessica, and Alex get advice from their parents.
When it’s featured: Ep. 1 — Hannah and Justin start texting.
Why it’s significant: The dreamlike vocals fit the flirty flashback scene perfectly.
Ep. 6 — Hannah cries in her bed.
Ep. 7 — Credits.
When it’s featured: Ep.1 — Clay and Hannah are getting along at the house party.
Why it’s significant: It’s an upbeat song for a rare upbeat scene. It stings in contrast to the much heavier and darker themes that run throughout the series.
Ep. 7 — Clay stands outside of school before the first bell, listening to a tape.
Ep. 13 — Clay, Tony, and Skye drive off in Tony’s car
When it’s featured: Ep. 1 — Justin shows his friends the photo of Hannah on the slide.
Why it’s significant: The opening lyric “Think back on what you did / how you’d punk all the new kids” seems to speak to Justin’s bullying directly.
Ep. 9 — Summer begins!
Ep. 9 — Hannah works at the movie theatre.
When it’s featured: Ep. 1 — Clay sees Hannah’s locker memorial.
Why it’s significant: The romantic lyrics tips us off that Hannah was more than just a classmate to Clay.
Ep. 11 — Credits.
Ep. 11 — Hannah imagines a happy future with Clay.
When it’s featured: Ep. 10 — Clay asks Tony for answers.
Why it’s significant: It’s a cover of a Joy Division song, the band Tony introduces Clay to in the first episode.
Ep. 12 — Hannah decides to talk to Mr. Porter.
Ep. 13 — Tape 13 ends.
When it’s featured: Ep. 13 — Clay talks to Mr. Porter.
Why it’s significant: Selena Gomez is a producer of this show and an outspoken advocate for mental health issues.
This is by no means an exhaustive list! If you have a favorite song from the show that wasn’t featured on this list, add it in the comments!