I want to start this off with a shout-out to Ghosts of the Stratosphere for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this great challenge (don’t forget to vote for this as the best of these four Top 10 lists, because it will be).
My name is Kalvin and you can find me weekly on A Podcast About Something or periodically I will write a post (similar to this one and actually including this one) on apodcastaboutsomething.com. Now that we’ve got the plugs and thank yous out of the way, let’s talk about some awesome TV theme songs (Top 10 to be exact, but I may have accidentally included more than 10 songs here (shhhh, don’t tell GotS)).
Before we get into the Top 10, I want to explain my methods. First, I thought about every cool TV Theme Song I could remember (I think I had about 15 off the top of my head), then I started reading other “Top X TV Theme Song” lists on the internet (that brought me to 27), finally I added them all to a list and as I was adding them to a list and trying categorize them, I thought of even more (bringing the total sample to 31 theme songs). I tried to whittle it down to 10, but that’s hard so I started somewhere else.
I grouped a bunch of them into sub-categories, and the first 4 items on this (10-7) are the results of those sub-categories. There may be better theme songs out there than some of these bottom 4, but I felt that the sub-category for each needed to be represented. All that to say, this is really more of a Top 6, with 4 “Best of (insert category here)” contenders.
After all of that, I still needed to further focus-group where I was going with my list, so I asked my wife for help (I still haven’t decided if this was a good idea or not). We had some disagreement over what the thesis of this post actually is. She thinks I should search for the objective “best” Top 10 Themes, whereas I wanted to find my personal, favorite Top 10 Themes. She also thought that it was a travesty that Friends is not included in my Top 10 (spoilers), but I will stand by this decision until I die (it is super annoying, and I don’t want to listen to it). I won the disagreement because I’m the one writing this so at the end of the day I get to do what I want, so keep in mind as you read through this list, that these are my personal favorite Top 10 TV Theme Songs and not a list of objectively best TV Theme Songs (she also tried to tell me that theme songs without any words don’t count, but I don’t think we need to go too deep into that nonsense).
That’s it, that’s what went into this, and I hope that helps you (the person reading this) navigate your way through this list (the actual list entries shouldn’t be as long as this intro, but we’ll see). By the end of this, you will probably know everything you need to know about me and my taste in TV, but if not, again head over to A Podcast About Something and learn more about what I find interesting (sorry, had to get one more plug in).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
My first sub-category is “classic cartoons,” and I want to give a little space to the runners-up here first because they all deserve mention and are iconic in their own right. Goof Troop (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts7–zxXXKQ ) is a pure nostalgia pick for me as the first runner up, but it’s so damn good too. It lets you know exactly what the show is about and it’s catchy with a solid instrumental background. Whenever I hear it, I need to get up and “Goofy dance.” My next runner-up is Darkwing Duck (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCrn-wrJW5Y ) and it loses a lot of its luster when you don’t have the actual theme song video playing with the music. I think the visuals for DWD are immaculate and get you in the mood for a fun, superhero, spy duck cartoon, but when you strip that away, you’re left with a pretty bland song (“When there’s trouble, you call DW” will always be badass though). Ducktales (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqZ_Cb2slBw) is the third runner-up and I think it gets more credit than it deserves. It’s good but not great, everyone remembers Scrooge diving into the coin pool and the “WooooOOOOH, DUCKTALES,” but do you remember anything else from it? It’s catchy, but I’m not going out of my way to listen to it and I would have no problem skipping it on my TV Theme Songs playlist. Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSPG9NPj73E) is the final runner-up, and it gets extra points for a saxophone solo in the middle of this theme, but other than that it doesn’t do much for me anymore. I tried to sneak this onto my kids “Favorite Songs” playlist even though they never watched the show and they hated it. If a 3 year old and a 5 year old don’t like your cartoon theme song, then you might have a problem. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNa2Fr6CA0E) wins in a landslide in the “Classic Cartoons” sub-category. The visuals are perfect, the song is stupendously catchy (I would bet money that you started singing it when you read it up there), and it’s the perfect primer for what to expect in the show. You see how much fun the turtles are but that they can also kick ass, and you learn a little bit about each one. I don’t imagine I will ever forget every word to this theme song, but if I do when I’m old and puttering around a nursing home, I will pay the staff to come into my room at least once a day and put on an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (it’ll be like a weird 90s kid version of The Notebook).
90s Superhero Cartoons (3-way tie)
It’s honestly impossible to pick from the three most iconic superhero TV show intros of all time, so I am declaring that Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZGN9fZvQhc), Batman: The Animated Series (1992) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrmUk2YUm14), and X-Men: The Animated Series (1992) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAkL2-vh2Sk) are 9c, 9b, and 9a in some order (you can make up your own mind on the order here). The 90s were a great time to be a kid and a fan of superheroes, there were so many shows being made for us and they were all great. Aside from the shows being great, these three, in particular, had the best themes. They are all mostly instrumental (which are top-tier in their own right (I’m learning to play piano and one of the songs I NEED to learn is the Spider-Man TAS theme)), but the visuals to accompany them are amazing too. They are so rich with backstory on the characters and what they are up against, you barely have to watch the show to know what each character is about and what goes on in the show(but I recommend you also watch the shows).
This is the final animation entry, I swear. I wanted to capture a little bit more 90s nostalgia here so I sub-categorized to “Golden Age Nicktoons” (or at least it was my golden age). Doug is by far the greatest theme from this sub-category. It is short and to the point, but also let’s you get a peak at who Doug and his friends are (and some enemies), and most importantly it’s catchy as hell! Other themes in contention, but not receiving enough votes were: Rugrats (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfzynwmrlok), Hey Arnold! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUsnJ9jlwns), and Rocko’s Modern Life (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVL2LDf1bcU) (my 5 year old daughter watched this intro with me and she said quote: “this looks like a weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, weird show,” that’s right that was 9 “weirds”). Doug stands out here maybe because it was my favorite of these shows, but it also just feels like the most memorable. I can’t remember any of the ones listed here off the top of my head (although I did immediately think of the Rugrats movie theme song by Blackstreet, Mya, Ma$e and Blinky Blink – Take Me There (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEpiB8AfSao), the late 90s were a strange place to be for sure), but I will randomly start “do da doo da doo doo doo…” all the time and that’s what it takes to get ranked among the greatest.
The Beverly Hillbillies
When I was in High School we would watch the “Nick at Nite” block every night, and that block was four very classic TV shows. I believe the full 2 hour block was (in some order): Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, Cheers, and The Brady Bunch (Cheers sticks out like a sore thumb here as the most modern, so maybe I’m conflating two different blocks, but these are the shows I remember). All of these shows deserve to have their theme songs in consideration, but I didn’t want to take up four spots, so I’ll have to pick the best of the bunch (which if you read the title of this point you already know) is: The Beverly Hillbillies! Don’t get me wrong the Cheers theme is iconic, but it doesn’t tell me anything about the show or the characters, so it loses points (but extra points to Young Ca$h and T-Pain for this stellar cover/re-imagining: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wry1QgCEAfY). The Brady Bunch theme is a little too saccharine for my tastes (but I do love the boxes with the families). The Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies themes let us know everything about what’s going on in the show, why these fish out of water are out of water in the first place (I prefer this over a 2-part pilot that takes the time to explain everything rather than just getting into the action and letting the theme/intro do its job), who the characters are and why they’re together, and they are both really catchy. Beverly Hillbillies edges out Gilligan though because it’s shorter. I don’t need a 2 minute theme; there is nothing that will make me press “Skip Intro” faster than an intro that is too long (more on this later).
“Californiaaaaaaaa, heeerrrreeee we cooooommmmmmmmeeeee!” Ah, it never gets old and I know you sang it too when you saw this pick. I still rock out to this Phantom Planet banger all the time, so much so that I’m willing to declare that this theme has the biggest disparity between the quality of the theme song and the quality of the show it represents (a close contender in this is The Big Bang Theory). I liked The O.C. for what it was, a teenage angst drama made for teenagers, but I will never get tired of “California” by Phantom Planet.
That 70s Show
That 70s Show has another classic theme that perfectly captures the spirit of the show and its characters. It’s also one of the most annoying themes to have to watch while binging a show. I’ve recently been doing a That 70s Show rewatch and had the epiphany that it’s the best theme song that you never actually want to listen to (thank you Netflix for the “skip intro” option, you are truly a pioneer), but I didn’t know what to do with this information. It wasn’t really good enough for a tweet, definitely not enough there for a full episode, and then GOTS came swooping in with this challenge, and I knew I finally found a home for this thought. Anyway, the 70s gang jamming out to “We’re All Alright” by Cheap Trick is amazing but wears thin real fast (another good example of this is “Superhero” by Jane’s Addiction from Entourage, but That 70s Show’s is better and more annoying somehow at the same time).
Does this count as a theme song? It’s really just The Narrator talking over some music… ahh fuck it, it’s my list and I say it counts, so now you’re stuck with that decision (if mumble rap counts as music, why can’t this). Arrested Development is one of the most innovative and clever shows of all time, and the theme “song” follows suit. The Ron Howard narrator voice is stuck in anyone who has ever watched this show’s head forever and has become a funny short-hand for disagreeing with someone passive aggressively. The Narrator is probably a top 10 TV character (GOTS, there’s an idea for a future challenge) so it only fits that him introducing us to the Bluth/Funke tribe is a top 10 theme. It also hits all of the important beats that I’ve mentioned in past points: music is catchy, introduces us to the characters and why they’re important, and short and to the point. Go ahead and try to change my mind (Narrator: You won’t).
Now it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff and really make some tough decisions, numbers 2 and 3 were really hard to separate but number one is very obvious and you should have already thought of it.
Parks and Recreation
The Parks and Recreation theme song is the exact opposite of That 70s Show. It’s simple and understated while showing us the world of Pawnee and its inhabitants. It’s also one of the only theme songs that I never skip, it’s just so warm and uplifting (it’s honestly the musical equivalent of Leslie Knope, and just when you think you’re annoyed with it/her, it/she somehow turns it around and ropes you right back in). I think a lot of people would put The Office in this category too, but I strongly disagree. The Office theme comes in very loud and obnoxious and the music doesn’t reflect the show as well as Parks and Recreation’s (The Office theme is the musical equivalent of Michael Scott, and every time you think you’re annoyed with it/him, it/he turns around and annoys you even more (I love Michael Scott as a TV character but as a person/musical accompaniment, I want nothing to do with him/it)).
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is by far the best all instrumental TV theme and also the best way too long, and you can’t skip it, but you really don’t want to skip it, but maybe you should just skip it, but you have to fast forward instead of skip, so you’ll just listen to it this time, holy shit it’s still going, you should definitely fast forward, where’s the remote, finally it’s over and that was great, theme from HBO (How To Make It In America, Entourage (again), and Bored to Death also fall into this category, but not The Wire, The Wire is an instant skip, don’t @ me). There was nothing in the world that got me more amped for a season of Game of Thrones than this intro. Even throughout the terrible seasons 7 and 8 (these two seasons should also be considered for the greatest disparity between theme quality and show quality, but the rest of the show makes up for it), hearing this intro made me think there was still hope to turn it all around. Most people probably already know this, but the ever-changing visuals of the map actually showed where the episode was going to take place and in what order, and it’s cool little details like that that make this a top tier theme song. It also didn’t stop at having us follow the map, but the creators added in extra details depending on what had recently happened like the Wall being destroyed in season 8 or the heart tree in Winterfell and Winterfell itself being burned after the city is sacked in season 2 or 3. We didn’t deserve season 8(please finish the books, George).
Before I get to my number 1 pick, I would like to take a second to reflect on the honorable mentions. These are themes that I thought about and are great, but just not great enough for the Top 10:
- Fraggle Rock (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT1tZmGvFfY)
A lot of lists like this on the internet include Sesame Street, but I’m here to tell you that the Fraggle Rock theme is at least 7x better than Sesame Street (I spent over a year watching both shows with my daughters every day, I know what I’m talking about. Sesame Street is the superior show, but Fraggle Rock has the superior theme song).
- Boy Meets World (S4 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOpgKz9y9fA / S5 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh3ca7m7u7U)
There’s a caveat with Boy Meets World (one of my all-time favorite shows) that kept it off of this list, and that’s that only the season 4 and seasons 5 through 7 themes could be considered great. It lost points because it was constantly changing theme songs, and the first three were not very good.
- Family Guy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwJXOTwJHT0)
Family Guy has a very catchy and mostly iconic theme, but I couldn’t bring myself to include it over any of these other themes, it’s just not that good (also, “effin cry” is a better lyric than “laugh and cry”).
- Saved By The Bell (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAh5IwiD4N8)
Saved By the Bell was left off my list and honorable mentions altogether at first, but it was the only one my wife suggested that came close to being usable, so it gets an honorable mention. It is great and iconic, but it can wear thin very fast and I’ve never once caught myself just randomly singing it. Plus everyone only knows the first, like, 7 words and then just mumbles until they get to “JUST IN TIME TO SEE THE BUS FLY BY!”, which if you can’t track all the words, it can’t be top 10, sorry.
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIdFa1qLgNQ)
I don’t think the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt theme is nearly as iconic as the rest of the entries or honorable mentions, but it is just so damn fun to listen to (“Unbreakable! They alive dammit!! It’s a miracle!!!”). Try to not have a positive day after listening to this theme first thing in the morning.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
This was the easiest choice to make. In lieu of a long explanation of things you already know about why the theme for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the G.O.A.T. we’re just going to sing it all together (the short version from most episodes, not the extended pilot/radio edit version). Ready…
Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the Prince of a town called Bel-Air
In West Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground is where I spent most of my days
Chillin out maxin, relaxin all cool
And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys who were up to know good
Started makin trouble in my neighborhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared, and said
“You’re movin with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air”
I whistled for a cab and when it came near
The license plate said FRESH and it had dice in mirror
If anything I could say that this cab was rare
But I thought ‘nah, forget it, ‘Yo homes, to Bel-Air’
Up to the house about seven or eight
And I yelled to the cabbie ‘Yo homes, smell ya later’
Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there
To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air
(I did that mostly from memory, I forgot 5 lines, but other than that didn’t make any mistakes. I’m a little ashamed, I should’ve done better, especially since I missed the entire first verse)
Thanks again for taking the time to read this silly list about TV Themes, be sure to vote for me as the winner of this challenge on Ghosts of the Stratosphere’s twitter (thanks again GOTS for the opportunity to participate). If you liked this and why I picked what I did, check out A Podcast About Something on your favorite podcasting app (some people call them “pod catchers” but I don’t really like that, I did it once on a guest appearance on someone else’s pod and it felt weird and gross) or head over to apodcastaboutsomething.com where there are more long form articles like this and weekly NFL picks!