By Ani Perks
It’s been far too sophisticated around here with all these articles about music as art, practicing more often, and copyright litigation, so let’s talk about TV theme songs! There is nothing quite like an old theme song to get the nostalgia pumping. Just ask Questlove! He recently shared his secret to a perfect party playlist — a well-placed TV throwback.
Before anyone gets upset, let’s get it out of the way and acknowledge that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is top-shelf when it comes to TV theme songs. Nothing really comes close to it in terms of how beloved it is. Yes, you know all the words…
You’re singing it to yourself right now, aren’t you?!
So with all due respect to the Banks family, let’s forge ahead and discuss some of the other small-screen gems. The good, the bad, the hopelessly awkward — here we go!
Family Matters has THE MOST delightfully awkward opening credits. The posing for the camera, the repeated use of “gentle” and “tenderness” in the lyrics, and that grandmother reading Rolling Stone — TGIF, indeed!
My So Called Life
Oh, to be the locker upon which Jordan Catalano rests his silky tresses. Lasting only one season, the premature cancellation of MSCL is still mourned. Angela Chase perfectly encapsulated teenage angst, the agony of being “in-between”, and the foolish desire to experiment with a home hair dye kit.
The Emmy nominated opening theme was composed by W.G. Snuffy Walden and the end product is basically a 90s nostalgia-bomb. It may just be the cheerleaders and all that flannel but it feels reminiscent of Nirvana’s video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
How could I not mention the long, moody opening theme of Twin Peaks? Composer Angelo Badalamenti won the 1990 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for this opening theme. It is evocative, dream-like, and the perfect soundtrack to watching several minutes of lumber. You could make a grilled cheese sandwich in the time that it takes to watch these credits. I don’t know… that’s just an educated guess.
The Golden Girls
I have no problem admitting that I have seen every single episode of The Golden Girls. I love this theme song. YOU love this theme song. Questlove loves this theme song. “Thank You For Being a Friend” was written by Andrew Gold and originally appeared on his 1978 album All This and Heaven Too. It was later rerecorded by Cynthia Fee and used as the theme song for the best show in the history of television. I hope those two cashed their royalty checks and lived the good life — thank YOU for being friends to humanity, Andrew and Cynthia!
While Dynasty‘s theme song alone doesn’t necessarily merit inclusion, in fact, it’s utterly forgettable, the opening credits as a complete package are spectacular. Cheesy video effects! Blake Carrington sipping brandy! Fallon Carrington, Blake’s headstrong and glamorous daughter, masterfully executing my favorite opening-credit choreography: turning around quickly toward the camera as if to say “who, me?!”. Meanwhile, a wild horse runs free in the background. See what they did there?
This mess of sequins and Aqua Net culminates with the incomparable Joan Collins as Alexis Morell-Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan having her cigarette lit by an off-screen presence who I can only assume is an oiled up 23 year-old hunk with washboard abs named Chad.
The often parodied “I Don’t Want to Wait” by Paula Cole is at least 60% of the reason I love Dawson’s Creek. When the series became available on Netflix I was so excited to go back to Capeside High to marvel at a pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes and to re-live James Van Der Beek’s crying face. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that “I Don’t Want to Wait” had been replaced by Jann Arden’s “Run Like Mad”! No offense to the lovely and talented Jann Arden but dancing in a canoe just isn’t the same!
As it turns out, Arden was actually commissioned to write the theme song after producers could not secure the rights to Alanis Morissette’s “One Hand In My Pocket” — their first choice. “Run Like Mad” was the intended theme song but was replaced at the last minute by Cole’s hit song. The network did not purchase the rights to “I Don’t Want To Wait” for DVD/video distribution, though, so as a result “Run Like Mad” was put back in for streaming and most DVD distribution.
I almost didn’t include this one, but the folks at Soundfly HQ have such passion for the Vice that I can’t refuse them! The Soundflies had this to say:
“Jan Hammer has the ability to encapsulate the entire 80s in a single keyboard note.”
“The shredding guitar solo is really just to die for.”
“It sounds like a car chase. Everything is leading you somewhere, and the only place to go is into the show.”
My favorite thing about these credits? The flamingos. Always lead with the flamingos.
There are so many shows of late with great credits: True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, True Detective, and obviously The Sopranos which arguably has one of the coolest opening sequences of all time. But I want to throw a bone to The Affair. From what I’ve read on recap comment boards, these credits are polarizing! Some even compare it to Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” which plays over the opening images for Orange Is the New Black. I feel your pain! Orange’s credits make me want to run screaming from the room, but I have to say that I love how The Affair‘s theme song sets the mood for what’s to come.
Fiona Apple’s previously unreleased “Container” is used for this title sequence — it’s eerie, haunting, and in my opinion deeply affecting. Apple’s voice is dark, powerful, and primal. I would listen to her read the phone book.
Star Trek (Original Version)
This theme song is iconic, yes, but also hilariously mismatched for the show. Once Shatner tells us that we are boldly going where no man has gone before, the music sounds more like the opening for a tawdry nighttime soap opera. Did anyone of the Starfleet ever throw champagne or homewreck? I hope so!
So what did we learn? Well, if you’re trying to write a classic TV theme, the most successful capture the essence of the show and distill it down into just 30 seconds. While the most memorable fail at that entirely.
And if you’re DJing a party, be sure to drop in some classic theme songs when your friends are at their drunkest. You will be an instant hero!
Now, because you waited patiently, here it is…
Ani Perks is a theater professional, yogi, and lover of pasta. She lives in NYC with her husband and the world’s sassiest shih tzu. Follow her on Twitter @aniperks.