I know, I know. This is another YouTube fest. But that way you guys get to hear those awesome tunes I have selected to be the 30 best television show theme songs ever written.
Before we start, some ground rules should be established.
Firstly, only original material. That means that there will not be any theme songs that’ve been in earlier use somewhere else. So no Massive Attack’s ’Teardrop’ for House, Frank Sinatra’s ’Love and Marriage’ for Married With Children or John Williams’ adapted Star Wars theme in Clone Wars.
Secondly, I’m rating these themes based on the song material alone, so the visual quality of the intro themes will not factor into any decision. In few cases (and in the end anecdotes) I will point out to the visual images, though, but only to highlight the musical brilliance of the theme itself.
Thirdly, I will combine live action TV themes with animated ones, because I really can’t see the difference if a theme is written for either of them. If the shit is good, then the shit is good.
Enough adult talk, let’s conclude the countdown!
Check out earlier rankings:
10. Marius Constant & The Grateful Dead – THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Who of you haven’t heard this theme before?
That dissonant guitar melody is chilling and very effective. The 1959 version is good, but I prefer (surprise surprise) the 1985 version that had the new version of the theme done by The Grateful Dead (yeah, the rock band). I would have never guessed it.
What makes this version especially chilling is where the original threw the melody upfront, the latter version holds back the iconic melody until the very end, where they provide it just enough to have the melody stuck in your head for days. I also commend the 1985 version for leaving the theme open-ended, so the song never gets closure. It is missing the final notes that tells that the song is over. It’s like the song is pulling back into the shadows, where it waits…and waits…and waits…
Best Part in the Intro: The title itself is a Rorschach-test. I saw a penis butterfly.
9. Lolita Ritmanis – JUSTICE LEAGUE
Those of you, who don’t enjoy cartoons or any of that DC stuff, click play on that embed and close your eyes. Are you ready? Take a listen.
The words I’m searching are: epic, majestic, grandiose. This theme has no business being this good. It rivals Danny Elfman’s Batman theme from the animated show (which I cannot include here, because the theme is written for the Tim Burton films) and is wholly under-appreciated.
You listened it, right?
…listen to it again. Put more volume this time.
Once is not enough, is it?
Best Part in the Intro: The theme song owns this wholeheartedly.
8. Gerry Coffin & Carole King – I DREAM OF JEANNIE
I can imagine you going ”Oh, so that’s where it’s from!” right about now. Yep, that’s I Dream of Jeannie theme song and the melody is a masterstroke from Coffin & King. It’s full of energy and positive attitude. This makes me so goddamn happy!
Best Part in the Intro: Once again, the song carries the whole thing, though the animation is well-crafted.
7. Stu Phillips – BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Stu Phillips is back, bitches! And this time he is Star Warsing the fuck out of you!
The great thing about the theme is that while it has to evoke that same epic feeling that John Williams did with Star Wars, Stu Phillips wrote a theme that is actually very dissimilar to it. It’s regal and big, but it feels sort of humble about it at the same time. Pretty good for a Star Wars ripoff.
Best Part in the Intro: Those beautiful model ships.
6. Tangerine Dream – STREET HAWK
How cool is that? Here, take a listen to the extended version:
It’s retro-futuristic, just the way (aa-ha, aa-ha) I like it. The main melody is aces. I never was a fan of the show (excluding that theme and that bike), but this desreves to be here.
Best Part in the Intro: Those beautiful model ships.
5. Angelo Badalamenti – TWIN PEAKS
That bass (or is it a baritone guitar?) sounds so delicious. Regular composer for David Lynch’s movies, Angelo Badalamenti wrote a mellow and hauntingly beautiful main theme for the series. And I love the fact that the main theme never gives away what terrifying dark stuff the show has in store for us.
The series is awesome, as is the theme song which gets the well-deserved number 5 spot. Four more to go, guys.
Best Part in the Intro: It’s awfully nice to finally see the way they process lumber.
4. Jan Hammer – MIAMI VICE
This is it, guys. The very essence of everything what was cool about the 80’s. That music, with it’s boisterous steel drums, it’s rhytmic synth patterns and it’s audacious electric guitars lays a tapestry that covers your eardrums and takes them out for a sexy coctail at a luxurious yacht owned by a drug kingpin. Even the way how it begins feels stylish.
That theme song makes me want to wear pink shirts and use loafers without socks. Oh, and to buy an alligator for my boat. Also, I need a boat.
Best Part in the Intro: I’m not telling you. But it has always been the same.
3. Mark Mueller – DUCKTALES
That song just…swings, man. Everything feels effortlessly perfect. No animated show has ever had a theme song as good as this. And those lyrics. Oh boy are they ever so good (although I’m pretty sure ’Duck-blur’ is not a real thing…). I feel like removing my pants and shake a tail feather, but that would be totally inappropriate. Huey, Dewey and Louie can get away with it, but not me. That’s the perk of being a duck, I guess.
Best Part in the Intro: Webby kissing a bloodthirsty shark. That’s fucking hardcore.
2. Lalo Schifrin – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
Holy crap this is good. That tablabeat underneath that flute melody is working like gangbusters. This song has real sense of urgency and the thrill of espionage.
This song can be beautifully adapted, and has been in the past. Yet my favourite version of the theme comes from M:I III composer Michael Giacchino, who upgraded the theme just enough while retaining that old school feel (go to the 1:35 mark to hear it):
Perfect. In fact the only reason this isn’t at the number 1 spot is that the TV show version isn’t the best version. But you tell me. Can the theme song for the winning theme ever be duplicated, or trumped:
1. Randy Edelman – MACGYVER
Wow. Could you imagine that this theme song would ever get the remake treatment? Shudders even to think. Every element in that song is so well-balanced that even by the seventh season the theme song is tweaked just a tiny amount:
See? Hardly any changes. It’s amazing how much this song can stuff into a minute or so, constantly evolving. The second time the main theme kicks in with those string harmonies, you go like: ”wow, that’s a well thought-out theme”, and then at the end it throws out this sense of danger and excitement before those strong last beats. Endlessly hummable, and never getting tiresome, Randy Edelman’s MacGyver theme is the best example what a great theme song can do for a TV show, and I commend everyone on this list for making such a great job.
It’s a bloody shame that modern times has seen (and heard) so few great theme songs in a television show. I guess there’s no real need to have the show announce itself to the audience unaware that it starts, because now everybody TiVos and streams everything. Maybe everything changes when somebody somewhere comes up for a perfect melody for a television show. And people start to notice them again. One can hope.
Best Part in the Intro: There is not a single thing in that intro that isn’t perfect. Spot on on every level.
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