03 March 2007

A Different Kind of Show Tune

So I talk about all kinds of music on this site. Some of it's sophisticated, some of it's trashy, but perhaps none of it--I said none of it--is more significant than the nuggets of musical genius I will be discussing today.

That's right: It's time to discuss television theme songs.

Right off the bat, I think we should mourn the loss of what I'll call "The Narrative Theme." You know... those 40-second songs that tell you the entire plot of a series, sometimes with animation.

As far as Andrew and I can remember, the last series to have a theme like this was "The Nanny." You can go here to watch/listen to the delightful tale of a gal from Flushing, Queens who wears red when everyone else wears tan. It's a fantastic opening--charming, sophisticated, and cheeky. If the actual show were as accomplished as the theme song, I might want to watch it. (Plus, it's sung by Broadway sisters Liz and Ann Callaway, which is just another point in its favor.)

Other hot narrative themes include "The Patty Duke Show" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." (You have to scroll down a bit to find the 80s American version of the opening, but it's there. Plus, it's fun to check out the British version, where they're called "The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.")

Then, of course, there's TV theme songs whose words aren't necessarily about the show. Those are getting rarer, too. When was the last time a theme song became a hit single, a la "I'll Be There For You?" Or how about "How Do You Talk To An Angel" from The Heights? Guys, that song went to number one. Number. One. Ironically, it peaked on the pop chart in the same week its accompanying series was canceled, but that's another story. (I can't find a sample of this one. Anyone? Bueller?)

In fact, I'm not sure I can name five current series whose theme songs have words. There's "Scrubs."And like every other pop culture product that takes an ironic view of religion, "Big Love" uses "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys. Apparently, the Grey's Anatomy theme is called "Cosy in the Rocket," but since I've never seen an episode, I'll just take the web's word for it. Katy, I remember, likes whatever song starts "Veronica Mars." That's four.

Hmm... Are there others?

Maybe not. Or at least there aren't that many others, which is kind of sad. I'd argue there's not a single current TV theme song that can equal the catchy brilliance of the openers to "The Golden Girls," "The Facts of Life," or "Growing Pains." I don't think they can even approach "Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs." Well... maybe they can. I really hate that song, unless it's in Spanish.

(And here's a fun fact: "The Facts of Life" was co-written by "Growing Pains" star Alan Thicke. Will his son be writing a TV opening soon?)

Of course, in the absence of great sing-alongs, I at least can enjoy the excellent wordless themes of current and recent series like "The Office," "Sex and the City," and "Six Feet Under." (HBO, man. They really know how to put together an instrumental, you know?)

But I have a theory: as commercials take up more airspace, themes will continue to dwindle. It's already happening. "Lost," "24," and "Heroes" run credits on top of actual scenes, thereby allowing them to squeeze more show into their 42 minutes. The theme to "30 Rock" sails by at light speed. How long will it be before "American Idol" drops the liquid walking man and the "ah-ahhs" that accompany him?

Too soon, perhaps. Too soon.

But in the meantime, what are your favorite TV themes? I obviously haven't named them all, and I'm sure there are few current ones with words that I've overlooked.

Do tell!

P.S.--Did you click on the link for "The Office" theme? Because it takes you to something much cuter than you're expecting.



At 8:09 PM, Anonymous AdamH said...

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I bought a disc of TV themes *just* for the theme to The Nanny.

"TeeVee Toons - Cable Ready Volume 7" is the disc in question. Who's up for the theme to Doogie Howser?

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous katy said...

Yes, Katy DOES like the theme song to Veronica Mars, which, again, is "We Used to Be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols. And again, yes, you should really listen to it. *Sigh.*

Suckily, they remixed the theme for the third season of Veronica Mars, and I don't care as much for it. I prefer the original uptempo version. Be sure you check out the original and not this remix.

I mean, I swear, just go to ITunes and listen to the free sample. Dandy Warhols. We Used to Be Friends.

(Hey. I just went to ITunes to check it out myself, and that led me to the discovery of a compilation called "Planet Television" by Global Stage Orchestra, which features cover versions of current TV themes: Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, etc. But I don't like their Veronica Mars cover, either. Not at all.)

At 11:09 PM, Blogger N said...

Hey, thanks for the shout-out.

One of my favorite TV themes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukSvjqwJixw
It's so ridiculously genius.

I ALSO own "TeeVee Toons, Volume 7: Television's Greatest Hits - Cable Ready" (high-five, adamh!) and it includes the coveted "How Do You Talk To An Angel." In college, my supercool friends and I would test people to see how quickly they could guess the shows from hearing the theme songs. One guy, I kid you not, got the "Family Matters" theme based on like three notes of the random horn-intro, even before the "kachooong, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch" part.

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

I say tht neither one of you should feel shame for owning TeeVee Toons. Because, really, aren't we all ready for some Doogie Howser?

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Cassy said...

I don't know about good TV themes, but I recall some awful annoying ones. The Fresh Prince theme song really sticks out in my head. Whenever it used to come on I would leave the room. I cringe at the thought of it...

At 2:52 PM, Anonymous kalle said...

Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun... A bit too macho-bullshit to be taken seriously, but then again, "The Sopranos" is about macho bad-ass gangsters. Catchy tune, anyways.


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