“Initially, we signed it away for $500 because we didn’t have a very savvy manager”: Alabama 3 on how their song Woke Up This Morning became the theme tune for The Sopranos

The Sopranos cast, 1999
(Image credit: Anthony Neste/Getty Images)

You only need to hear a couple of seconds of the reverb-effect keyboards and rumbling bass that opens up Alabama 3’s Woke Up This Morning to visualise Tony Soprano motoring his way down the New Jersey Turnpike, Manhattan in his rearview mirror, in the iconic sequence that opened every episode of The Sopranos. Speaking to The New Cue about the track’s creation, Alabama 3 singer Rob Spragg said that stretch of road was integral to how it came to be used in the classic show about a loveable, put-upon and quite psychotic mob boss and his struggles, because that’s where the Sopranos creator heard the song for the first time.

 “David Chase told me that the first time he heard it, he was driving down the New Jersey freeway, which is at the start of every episode, and the track came on the radio,” Spragg, also known as Larry Love, said. “He heard it and thought it was perfect. We’d just signed to Geffen Records at the time, it was just on the radio at random and he chased us down. He thought we were three black kids from Brooklyn, and then he found out it was a Welshman and a Scotsman in Brixton in London.”

There might have been a point when the band winced every time they caught sight of the show as they’d originally signed away its usage for peanuts. “Initially, we signed it away for $500, because we didn’t have a very savvy manager,” Spragg recalled. “We didn’t know what it was, all we’d heard was that HBO was a small cable channel in New York, no-one thought much of it, so it was signed off quite cheaply and there was no recognition of us on the credits. I think it was about six months after The Sopranos came out, we were getting calls from people in America going, “you know there’s fucking massive billboards everywhere with James Gandolfini on?!”. We were going, “what?!”. Cos it started on a cable channel, no-one had much optimism for it but it just grew from there. I like the fact it built up slowly, it came from the underground. I think it gave it more integrity. Over the years, because it got synced again, we've done alright out of it, but the initial deal was a bit fucking stupid.”

It all came full circle with Chase’s 2021 Sopranos prequel film The Many Saints Of Newark, which plays Woke Up This Morning over the end credits. “They approached us to use it at the very end of the film, which was great news. You can knock the track down and do an acoustic blues version or do a banging acid version of it, within that style it allows itself to be many genres,” Spragg said. Listen to the song where it feels like it belongs best, with T making his way back home, below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.