Wang Chung Was Surprised to Learn John Mulaney Used Their 1985 Song as His Netflix L.A. Talk Show Theme

Wang Chung had no idea John Mulaney’s six-episode Netflix talk show “Everybody’s in LA” would use their 1985 song “To Live and Die in L.A.” as its theme song — but they’re thrilled he did.

“It’s a total surprise that it’s blown up in the way that it has,” says Wang Chung lead singer Jack Hues, who first heard of the usage on “Everybody’s in LA” via “the guy who does our merch.”

More from Variety

For guitarist Nick Feldman, the other half of the duo, he was already a big Mulaney fan when he got the news that “To Live and Die in L.A.” was suddenly getting a new breath of life on Netflix. “It’s so nice to see it get used in such a cool way,” he says. “The way it’s placed into the show — which I’ve watched a couple of episodes and I really liked — it really works well. That collage of images from Los Angeles, with our music it feels like they placed it exactly right. It’s extremely gratifying for us to see.”

“To Live and Die in L.A.” was released as part of Wang Chung’s soundtrack to the William Friedkin film of the same name. Friedkin had been a fan of the group, best known at that point for their hit “Dance Hall Days,” and asked them to create an instrumental soundtrack for the gritty crime thriller (which starred William Petersen and Willem Dafoe).

“Bill Friedkin said to us in the initial conversations that he didn’t want a theme song,” Hues recalls. “He just wanted instrumental stuff. But once I’d seen the film, the song just kind of popped out, despite his warnings.”

Friedkin eventually embraced the track, even though Hues says the band’s A&R team at Geffen Records didn’t quite know what to do with it. Unlike most songs, the chorus of “To Live and Die in L.A.” goes down an octave. “I think in a way the song is a bit upside down, a bit inverted, in that it’s got a heavy verse, and a gentler chorus,” Hues says. “Usually, it’s the other way around.”

Adds Feldman: “It’s essentially a sort of mood piece, as opposed to a straightforward pop song. I remember when we were recording it, the record company were a bit concerned that it didn’t conform to the usual pop structure. I think that’s part of its strength in a way, it’s got its own feel, and it’s not trying to be just a straightforward pop song.”

Back in 1985, “To Live and Die in L.A.” narrowly missed the top 40, peaking at No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“It was not a big hit at the time,” Hues says. “It’s one of those songs I think that people find for themselves, rather than it being pushed down your throat. So, it has a more kind of intimate feeling for a lot of people.”

The full “To Live and Die in L.A.” soundtrack featured vocal tracks on one side, and the instrumentals that Friedkin wanted on the other. Wang Chung followed it up with 1986’s “Mosaic,” their most successful album release (featuring their now-classic “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”).

“At the time, we were getting a lot of pressure from the record company to come up with the follow up hit song to ‘Dance Hall Days’ from our [1983] ‘Points on the Curve’ album,” Feldman remembers. “We were sort of slightly struggling to come up with what they considered a big enough hit. So, when Friedkin came in with this project — which was literally the opposite, ‘I don’t want any songs. I just want some gritty instrumental longform music with no vocals’ —it was a breath of fresh air. It’s really stimulating thing to do. The record company was not particularly excited about it. But once we had a title track, they started to get more interested.”

And although the title track wasn’t an immediate smash, it continued to get wider exposure as the film lived on in video rentals. And then, in 1987, Michelob used the song for an ad campaign (with the tag line, “The night belongs to Michelob”) — further cementing its legacy.

“I think we re-recorded it with some slightly different lyrics,” Hues says. “Because my lyric about ‘God not being in heaven’ was probably not deemed appropriate for a beer commercial.”

As Wang Chung has continued to tour, both bandmates say “To Live and Die in L.A.” now gets some of the best reaction from audiences.

“I think that’s why it’s endured really well with our fans,” Feldman says. “Because I think it’s got that something a bit different so it kind of sticks out in a bit more. When we play it live, people love it.”

Hues says the band and Friedkin kept in touch through the years; they last saw the filmmaker in 2019, when Hues and Feldman were on a panel with him in the U.K. “Whenever I was in L.A. I’d see him and sometimes we go to the L.A. Philharmonic,” Hues says. “He was a fascinating man, a really super educated intellectual guy.”

A month after Friedkin died last year, Wang Chung played the Greek Theatre and dedicated their performance of “To Live and Die in L.A.” to him.

“It’s always a bit magical playing that song in L.A.,” Feldman says of “To Live and Die in L.A.,” which will mark its 40th anniversary next year. Says Hues: “Hopefully, it will be an impetus to try and get that re-released. We’re trying to do all our back catalog at the moment.”

The Mulaney talk show actually isn’t the only needle drop that Wang Chung has recently enjoyed in the streaming world: “Dance Hall Days” also plays a role in Amazon Prime Video’s film “The Idea of You,” as the characters played by Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine dance and sing along to the song. (Yes, the Wang Chungassaince is real, so say it together: Everybody Wang Chung Tonight.)

“There’s something about our music that sort of fits well into TV and film,” Feldman says. “We’ve been pretty blessed with how much usage we’ve had in our music.”

Wang Chung is currently embarking on the “Abducted by the 80s” tour with the Motels and Naked Eyes. They’ll also be on a different tour that hits Los Angeles in August — and at that point, they hope to get Mulaney to drop by.

“We’re going to have to reach out to him and set something up,” Hues says. “I’d like to have a conversation with John. At least just to thank him. It’s been great for us. And it clearly kind of put a stamp on his show that gives it something strong.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.