It’s a madeleine for the ear. In its day, “Classical Gas” was the most performed piece of instrumental music ever heard on the radio. It’s an unforgettable composition of orchestrated guitar that gleefully carries us along, evoking an era—the 1960s of Vidal Sassoon, the Summer of Love, Pop art, Mondrian-inspired miniskirts, the Smothers Brothers, VW Beetles, the burgeoning of the sexual revolution. With unmitigated joy, it put the nail in the coffin of the prim 50s.
Which is why, most recently, it was the perfect music selection for “Fork,” Episode Five of the Netflix hit The Queen’s Gambit. The heroine, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), plays her scruffy competitor, Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), in a crucial match in the 1967 U.S. Chess Championships. To meet the challenge of making spectator chess thrilling, the show’s creators played a montage of six matches at rapid speed to Mason Williams’s “Classical Gas.”