Staff Top 10
Top Ten TV Themes Of All Time

it would be foolish to say that a theme song can make or break a TV show, but Friends had probably the worst opening theme of the nineties, and I never watched that shit once. Point? Hardy. What constitutes a good TV theme song? First and foremost, it cannot be annoying. Second, it should be representative of the show in question. Third, it should be able to stand on its own as a song. Case in point: you may love hearing the “Pimp My Ride” theme, because you know it signifies a half hour of Xzibit and his loyal auto-trolls mugging for the camera, but would you ever download that song as an mp3? I hope not. Fourth, the song cannot have been originally composed by a Hollywood actor’s vanity band. So sorry, OC.

So without further ado, I give you: the ten best television themes of all time, according to somebody born in 1985 who barely watches television these days and who never had Nick At Nite.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Nerf Herder)
The opening few seconds reveal the tantalizing contradiction that forms the basis of BTVS’s appeal: an ominous organ, suddenly interrupted by a guitar slide that just screams “nineties punk revival.” Cue racing, eerie guitar freakout. The song is simplicity itself, but the balance of creepiness, adrenaline, and comedy (those slides! the fact that it’s all being played by Nerf Herder!) make the song a perfect fit for the show.

Three’s Company (Raposo/Nicholl)
Suggested by my mom. Don’t laugh, I’m young, and I needed people to help me out on all the shows from before I was born. Most of my mom’s list didn’t make the cut, but this one did. Why? Well, much like recently deceased star John Ritter, it’s actually charming that you have to forgive the awkwardly funk intro, or the incredibly corniness. You only have to hear it once and it sticks in your head. If my mother is any indication, the lyrics will remain in your head for at least a decade or two.

Good Times (Jim Gilstrap)
The token black theme of the list, “Good Times” is that rare theme song that actually does what a theme song is supposed to do: clue you in. Everything you need to know about Good Times can be found in this song: the biting rebel humour, the warm-hearted sentimentality, the ghetto soul and, most importantly, the show’s inescapable temporality. Both song and show were very much of their time and place, but somehow they both refuse to die. This was made abundently clear on a recent Chappelle Show episode that practically conferred canonical status on the song.

The X-Files (Mark Snow)
People who weren’t in elementary school when this show debuted may lynch me for this, but this was probably the closest thing to trip-hop most Americans heard during the so-called “electronica craze” of the nineties (ahh, Rolling Stone, you slow-witted, slow-moving mammals). Brilliantly creepy and, at the same time, instantly memorable.

Mission: Impossible (Lalo Schifrin)
When you read the words “Mission: Impossible,” you probably cringed. We can add to this to the list of charges that will be read when Hewson, Clayton, Mullen and…the Edge are finally put on trial for their various crimes against humanity. But forget the remix, and all the other versions, we’re talking about the original here: pulse-pounding orchestral drama. It sets the mood so well that the show’s actual plotlines usually seem tame by comparison.

Knight Rider (Stu Phillips)
That it spawned innumerable rap songs, including a certified Stylus Top 50 single of the half-decade, should probably be enough. But listen to the whole song: how fucking weird is this? Doesn’t it remind you of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” but without the ESL vocals? Doesn’t that make it even creepier and, therefore, better? Infinitely better than the show it was somehow attached to.

Cheers (Portnoy/Angelo)
Instantly recognizable and flawlessly evocative of the show as a whole. Cheers, after all, was a show tailor-made for the jagged, pitiless years of the Reagan and Bush (Mk.1) administrations, a show in which a cast of lovable losers, fronted by the penultimate loser celebrity himself, Ted Danson, are always there for you. The song spells the show’s appeal out explicitly: everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

Hockey Night In Canada (Dolores Claman)
To Americans, this moronic little tune means nothing. To Canadians, however, it probably ranks above our (admittedly kind of retarded) national anthem, providing a sense of national community in a weird jock-rock package. It may be the first song many Canadians hear, and its (currently on hiatus) regular appearance every Saturday night on the CBC (state-run media) is a greater force for national unity than any Prime Minister, Premier or nationwide donut chain can ever hope to be.

Secret Agent Man (Barri/Sloan)
“Secret Agent Man,” unlike so many other theme songs, stands alone as a rock classic. The riff is classic sixties raunch, the rest of the band are hot, and Johnny Rivers’ vocal, although utterly dated, balances charm and menace (by sixties standards) with aplomb. Also performed by the Ventures, who appear on this list, and Devo, who don’t.

Hawaii Five-O (Mort Stevens)
Probably the greatest single moment in surf rock, with the possible exception of the Surfari’s “Wipe Out,” this single almost certainly sounded like nothing else on the box when Hawaii Five-O debuted in 1968. As with Buffy and Mission: Impossible, the Hawaii Five-O creates a sense of action and drama that perfectly sets up the show itself. What sets this one apart, however, is the fact that it’s also a surf anthem. The Ventures simultaneously evoked the tropical splendour of Hawaii while alerting viewers to the fast-paced, sexy adventures Jack Lord and the fat Hawaiian guy were sure to have. Bravo.

By: Ryan Hardy
Published on: 2005-01-28
Comments (35)

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