J.K. Rowling built a tremendously rich, detailed cultural world for Harry Potter and his fellow wizards to inhabit. Her attention to detail—part of what makes the fantastic fantasy series so captivating—even extends to depictions of music in the wizarding world. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for example, Dumbledore books notable band The Weird Sisters to play at Hogwarts’ Yule Ball, and according to Rowling herself, they’re Harry’s favorite artist amidst a music scene composed mainly of rock bands.
But given that Harry and some of his Hogwarts classmates were raised by Muggles, they were probably also exposed to Muggle music. According to the series canon, Harry’s birthdate is July 31, 1980, which would put him at Hogwarts from September of 1991 until May of 1998. So, we’ve taken some liberties and retrofitted various scenes from the Harry Potter saga with British music from that same time period. Read on and check out 10 songs that provide an alternative soundtrack to the beloved Harry Potter series.
1. “When You Sleep,” My Bloody Valentine
Scene: Harry visits the Mirror of Erised, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Before Britpop evolved out of the Madchester scene, shoegaze seemed to be the on-the-rise movement in British rock. My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album Loveless is one of the subgenre’s seminal records. Released to universal critical acclaim, it features wall of sound production reminiscent of Phil Spector, innovative guitar work from Kevin Shields, and dreamy, subdued vocals.
“When You Sleep,” the album’s lead single, perfectly matches the surreal feeling-cum-obsession that Harry gets from viewing his family in the Mirror of Erised. “When I look at you / Oh, I don’t know what’s real,” Shields sings, mirroring Harry’s own wonderment. And though the song itself is far more upbeat than the minimalist, heart-rending score John Williams composed for the scene, it matches Harry’s excitement far better.
2. “Could It Be Magic,” Take That
Scene: Gilderoy Lockhart’s first class, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
As New Kids On The Block found fame in America in the late 1980s, Manchester’s Nigel Martin-Smith decided to put together a boy band that could attract a diverse teenage audience. The result of his efforts was Take That, a five-piece centered on Gary Barlow that found massive chart-topping success in the first half of the ‘90s.
One of their most popular songs was “Could It Be Magic,” a Barry Manilow cover that won the BRIT Award for Best British Single in 1993. The brash, danceable Rapino Brothers production, topped by Barlow’s commanding but gentle disco-era vocals, seems to perfectly match the character of Gilderoy Lockhart, the celebrity charlatan with a flashy smile. Add in the cheeky title, and it’s obvious that this is the song Lockhart would have had blasting as he walked down the stairs for Harry’s first Defense Against the Dark Arts class of second year. Hermione, of course, would’ve been smitten.
3. “For Tomorrow,” Blur
Scene: Harry in London, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Blur started off as students of the shoegaze movement, but bad experiences on a 1992 American tour caused them to double down on their British roots, effectively kicking off the Britpop movement that would rule the airwaves and record stores for the next few years. “For Tomorrow,” a sort of love letter to London, was one of the first examples of the new subgenre.
In the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry spends a day at The Leaky Cauldron, but in the book, he’s there for three weeks before Hogwarts starts, enjoying the London summer on his own. It’s easy to imagine the bright vibes of “For Tomorrow” defining the blitheness of those days in the city. Also, the song’s first two lines basically describe his experience on the Knight Bus: “He’s a 20th century boy, with his hands on the rails / Trying not to be sick, holding on for tomorrow.”
4. “Love Is All Around,” Wet Wet Wet
Scene: Harry frees Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
While British indie rock was picking up steam throughout the early ‘90s, Scottish soft-rockers Wet Wet Wet found widespread success with a style that combined the folk-inspired songwriting of bands like America and Bread and introduced the maximalist production tendencies and world music influences that were in vogue in mainstream pop of the time. Their cover of The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around,” recorded for the now-classic film Four Weddings And A Funeral, topped the British charts for 15 weeks in the summer of 1994.
The lyrics are pretty sappy and the music is fairly saccharine, but that seems to match the sentimental tone of Harry’s encounter with Sirius Black, particularly in the film. The woodwinds-heavy score is beautiful, but if there were a song to match the soaring feeling of Sirius flying to freedom on Buckbeak the hippogriff, it’s this one.
5. “One,” U2
Scene: Quidditch World Cup, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Looking at a timeline of U2’s history, you notice a period in the summer of 1994 where the band seems to have been inactive. It’s obvious that they were actually hired to play at the Quidditch World Cup. They were one of the biggest bands in the world, their music has the sorts of transcendent themes that Olympic-type event organizers love, and their native Irish squad was playing in the championship match against Bulgaria.
So in biggest quidditch match in the world, U2 probably would’ve played a half-hour set before the game, and almost certainly would’ve included “One” in that set. Despite the song being about “splitting up,” according to Bono, the lyrics are soulful and inspirational enough to unite the mosaic of international wizards in attendance. And let’s be honest; The Edge is probably actually a wizard, what with the guitar tones he achieves.
6. “Do You Remember The First Time?,” Pulp
Scene: The Yule Ball, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Fun fact: in the film version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker plays the singer of The Weird Sisters, Myron Wagtail. He’s joined by bandmate Steve Mackey and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway on bass, lead guitar, and drums, respectively. It’s quite the little supergroup that the producers put together, and certainly period-appropriate, as Pulp was nearing its peak popularity at the end of 1994. Cocker even wrote three songs for the film, and “Do The Hippogriff” legitimately shreds.
But if Dumbledore hadn’t booked The Weird Sisters, Pulp would’ve been a great alternative. After years of muddling in mediocrity, they had finally begun to achieve mainstream success, with a repertoire of poppy, danceable rock songs that would have had Hermione and Viktor Krum gettin’ down all night. “Do You Remember The First Time?” was the band’s most recent single at the time and its themes of love and sex would’ve been delightfully subversive for the ball.
7. “Wonderwall,” Oasis
Scene: Any of Harry’s angsty moments, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Oasis was so omnipresent throughout Britain in the mid-1990s that not even the most Muggle-shunning of wizards could have avoided them. The band’s 1995 album Morning Glory? is the seminal Britpop record, the best-selling British album of the decade. Buoyed by its combination of aching ballads with Oasis’ hard rock wall of sound, the album showcased the band’s sheer power and elicited waves of emotion.
Seeing as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is “the one where Harry is angsty all the time,” it’s easy to imagine Morning Glory? serving as the soundtrack to his entire fifth year at Hogwarts. Whether it be a pairing of “Wonderwall” with any of the scenes where Hermione is attempting to reason with him, “Don’t Look Back In Anger” with his coming-to-terms with Sirius’ death, or any of the other songs with any of his many angry moments, the audiovisual connection would’ve been tight.
8. “Say You’ll Be There,” Spice Girls
Scene: Ron makes out with Lavender Brown, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gets a lot of flak for feeling too much like a Twilight-esque soap, even though it was probably crucial to the series’ character development and there wasn’t much happening on the Voldemort-front. Topping the list of relationship filler was Ron’s time with Lavender, which kicked off with a very public make-out session in the Gryffindor common room after a big quidditch win.
The big problem here (aside from Hermione being shattered by the kiss) is the music playing at the party—a wordless composition called “Big Beat Repeat” by Josh Powell. Clearly, the young Gryffindors would instead have been listening to the Spice Girls, who took Britain and the world by storm in the summer of ’96. “Say You’ll Be There” would just have been released around the time of the landmark quidditch victory, and it’s sufficiently romantic to serve as a backdrop to Ron’s first kiss.
9. “Paranoid Android,” Radiohead
Scene: Harry and friends infiltrate the Ministry of Magic, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Of course, Radiohead has to appear on this list somewhere. “Paranoid Android” works on so many levels. It’s easy to imagine Thom Yorke’s acerbic lyrics about the disgusting yuppie woman being directed at Dolores Umbridge, who may not be young but is certainly the worst kind of ambitious. And the dynamic tone of the song, from the eerie ambience of the first two verses and chorus to the insane riff that takes over in the third, lends itself perfectly to a mission of espionage gone wrong.
Radiohead also happened to be on top of the British music world in 1997, with OK Computer achieving widespread critical and popular acclaim. Think about this: “Paranoid Android,” at over six minutes long and with its meandering musical shifts, was a hit single on pop radio.
10. “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” The Verve
Scene: Harry and Hermione dance, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This is a scene that has divided the Potter fandom, exacerbating the Harry-Hermione ‘shipping on one hand and inducing eye rolls on the other. The song that accompanies the scene in the film, Nick Cave’s hopeful, yet heartbroken “O Children,” suits it well, but “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” could have done so even more precisely. The crown atop Britpop’s head, The Verve’s achingly beautiful magnum opus includes a sublime orchestral arrangement (admittedly stolen from an adaption of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”) and the plaintive vocals of Richard Ashcroft, sliding right into the motif of doggedly pressing onward despite deep emotional wounds.