The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 50 - 43

50. Tales From the Crypt
"Tales From the Crypt (Main Title)"
by Danny Elfman

If you've ever been to a haunted house, you've probably been disappointed by a haunted house. The corridors are poorly-painted particle board constructs designed for ease of assembly and disassembly. Even if you wanted to soak up the ambiance, you're rushed along because the haunted house employees are trying to get as many people through as fast as possible. And even if the effect wasn't completely negated, any genuine scares are ruined because you can hear people twenty feet in front of you screaming, indicating the exact place the cast member jumps out and yells 'boo.' This is why I like the Tales From the Crypt theme. It's spooky, it doesn't linger, but it doesn't feel rushed, and it's not operated by the guy who normally runs the log flume.

49. Party of Five
"Closer to Free"
by The BoDeans

In the future, children will come up to me and ask, "Hey old guy, what were the 90's like?"
And I'll tell them, "Here, watch the theme song to Party of Five."
And they'll say, "What's that?"
And I'll say, "It was a drama about a family whose parents were killed in a car accident, and the slacker eldest brother has to accept the responsibility of raising them. It represents the 90's greatly. Everybody had bangs."
And they'll say, "No, what's a theme song?"
And I'll grumble under my breath and say, "Go play with the holosphere."

48. The Simpsons
"The Simpsons Theme"
Composed by Danny Elfman
Arranged by Alf Clausen

According to legend, when Matt Groening tapped Danny Elfman to compose the theme for The Simpsons, Groening gave Elfman a mixtape for inspiration. This tape consisted of The Jetsons theme song, selections from Nino Rota's "Juliet of the Spirits," a Remington electric shaver jingle (composed by Frank Zappa), some easy-listening music by Esquivel (Google it), and a teach-your-parrot-to-talk record. A show with a reputation like The Simpsons needs an immensely powerful theme, and this smorgasbord of peppy music instantly transports you to the city of Springfield. Also this, this and this.

47. Da Ali G Show
by Sacha Baron Cohen

What do you mean it's not a theme song? I think it's a great song. Listen to those awesome lyrics: Wubwubwubwubwub. Hmmmmmmm. Snap. Whiff whiff whiff whiff. Kick, Kick! Stomp. Jingle. Clang. Wikka-wikki. Vrooom. Bruuum! Hallo.


46. The Big Bang Theory
"The History of Everything"
by Barenaked Ladies

A major facet of The Big Bang Theory is science. The main characters are scientists, their interests are science, and a lot of jokes involve science. Granted, a lot of jokes also involve Batman and space toilets, but you have to reach the widest audience possible on network TV. But science! The Big Bang Theory, apart from being a double entendre, is one of the most widely known scientific theories. But for the three people who may not be familiar, the opening theme song explains the theory in a nutshell better than any Schoolhouse Rock.

45. Secret Agent
"Secret Agent Man"
Written by Steve Barri and P. F. Sloan
Performed by Johnny Rivers

In Britain, it was known as "Danger Man," and it had it's own theme. In America, it was redubbed "Secret Agent," and was given one of the most awesome themes in TV history. Secret Agent Man has become such a staple of the spy genre, most people forget (or never learn) it was originally a TV theme song. Depending on the scenario it can be either genuine or satirical, all while being hip and evocative of 1960's culture.

44. Scrubs
by Lazlo Bane

Scrubs is renowned for its quirky sense of humor, its fast-paced half-improvised dialogue, and its comical fantasy sequences, but also its occasional provocative moments of drama. At its heart, Scrubs is a show about doctors. Even in the lightness of a sitcom, people's lives are still at stake (fictional people, but people nonetheless). The theme song effectively points out this uncomfortable truth: having people entrust their lives to you is an incredibly daunting responsibility, and that's stacked on top of whatever else life may throw your way. Only Superman could deal with the stress.

43. The A-Team
"Theme from The A-Team"
Composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
Narrated by John Ashley

Everybody seems to love the A-Team, and I don't know why. The concept for the show is full of holes, the episodes are completely formulaic, the actors themselves aren't all that talented, and yet this show is revered by television fans everywhere. If I may venture a guess, I don't think people really love the A-Team, they just love Mr.T. I could understand that. I would totally support a show entitled "Mr. T and His A-Team," but alas, all we have instead is the regular A-Team and this theme song.


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 58 - 51

58. Family Matters
"As Days Go By"
Composed by Jesse Frederick, Bennett Salvay & Scott Roeme
Performed by Jesse Frederick

Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to hate Family Matters or its theme song. So what if a show about the everyday troubles of a suburban family devolved into the nutty adventures of Steve Urkel?

Days go by-ee-eye...

So what if it succumbed to every slapstick, sitcom cliche ever devised by man?

Days go by-ee-eye...

So what if character traits, motivations and logic were thrown out the window on the slightest whim for the sake of plot convenience?

Days go by-ee-eye...

So what if the series went on so long, ABC dumped it from the TGIF lineup (a dumping ground in and of itself), only to have CBS renew the series for one final season, using it to anchor their newly-created and doomed-to-fail Friday night lineup?

It's the bigger love of the fam-uh-lee (jazzy piano outro).

57. Unsolved Mysteries
"Unsolved Mysteries"
by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin

Unsolved Mysteries was a blend of sensationalist journalism, crackpot conspiracies and psuedo-science examination, and the ratio between the three were always changing. On what other show could you hear about identity theft, yetis and the medical benefits of hypnosis in the same hour? It was as close to speculative fiction as a series could get without crossing over into scripted territory, and the theme just furthers the surreality and eerieness all around.

56. Fringe
"Theme from Fringe"
by J. J. Abrams

Unlike other TV shows exploring unexplained phenomena and the supernatural, Fringe's theme song focuses not on the inherent aspects of horror, but on whimsy, anticipation and discovery. Be it the actual twenty-second theme or the full six-minute number, it's like someone anxiously turning a key in a locked door.

55. Cowboy Bebop
by The Seatbelts

An animated series about interplanetary bounty hunters, mirroring classic western movie themes, meanwhile dealing with heavy philosophical concepts. What kind of theme would best fit a series like this? Who cares, let's just throw in a fast-paced jazz number and crank up the adrenaline with lots of flashing colors. Make sure to watch it late at night with your eyes wide open.

54. Clueless
"Ordinary Girl"
by China Forbes

I'm just going to go ahead and turn in my man card right here. There's... there's no recovery from something like this. This song is just so sickeningly bubblegum, you should get it from a vending machine for a quarter. And here it is, 25 spots ahead of Monday Night Football. 43 Spots ahead of SportsCenter. Don't tell my dad I blog about this kind of stuff.

53. Daria
"You're Standing on My Neck"
by Splendora

Daria was a series about a sarcastic, misanthropic high school girl and her attempts to survive the trivial, shallow world that surrounded her. I find it hilariously ironic that this show aired on MTV. Straddling the line between grunge and riot grrl, It says, 'I don't care, but you're not giving me any incentive anyways,' mirroring the titular character's stoic personality in the theme song's imagery, as well as throughout the entire series.

52. Rocko's Modern Life
"Rocko's Modern Life"
Composed by Pat Irwin
Performed by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider

The original Rocko's Modern Life theme song was okay, but not Top 100 Themes material. It's the theme song from seasons two and three which are the stuff of legend. Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider from The B-52s donated their vocals to the theme, turning a mildly passable theme song into a mind-blowing theme song. Never underestimate star power. Also, sorry for the crappy quality of the video, but Viacom absolutely forbids anybody on the internet from remembering their shows fondly.

51. Veronica Mars
"We Used to be Friends"
by The Dandy Warhols

A cult classic and a black sheep amongst other CW programs (in that it was well-written and well-acted), Veronica Mars is the story of a southern California high schooler who moonlights as a private eye. For reasons mentioned in the series far too complicated to mention here, Veronica is alienated from the community, especially her social circle. This is why the theme song works so well. Aside from being a catchy alternative-bordering-on-psychadelia composition, it depicts Veronica's bifurcated life perfectly.


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 66 - 59

66. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer Theme"
by Nerf Herder

From its series premiere, Buffy the Vampire Slayer knew its place among vampiric lore. The opening organ and church bells evoke imagery of the 1930's Universal Studios horror films, and then crescendos into a guitar-driven alternative rock number. It bridges the past with the present (or at least what the present was in 1997). And what a bridge it is, simultaneously giving off sensations of horror, adventure and thrills. All of which feature sexy, non-glittery young adults.

65. The Outer Limits
1963 Theme Composed by Dominic Frontiere and Harry Lubin
1963 Theme Narrated by Vic Perrin
1995 Theme Narrated by Kevin Conway

Unjustly cast aside as the poor man's Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits was a horror anthology series focusing largely on science fiction themes. The opening theme is a spoken word piece from the viewpoint of a Big Brother-type authority figure. You, the viewer, are not only being observed, but also controlled and manipulated by the mysterious men in black into watching this program. It's a surreal piece of genre-savviness, and a creepy way to introduce a creepy show.

64. The Green Hornet
"Flight of the Bumblebee"
Inspired by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Arranged by Billy May
Conducted by Lionel Newman
Performed by Al Hirt

When The Green Hornet was a radio serial, it's theme was the classical music staple: Flight of the Bumblebee. (Editor's note: Hornets are not bumblebees.) When the series was adapted for television, the theme was updated, too. Interpreted as a fast-tempoed trumpet piece, The Green Hornet theme is a forgotten classic which fused the feel of a 1940's crime drama with comic book crimefighting and classic kung fu flicks. Fortunately, like many other pop culture gems lost to time, the Green Hornet theme was salvaged and resuscitated by Quentin Tarantino.

63. Dawson's Creek
"I Don't Want to Wait"
by Paula Cole

I'm not even going to try to explain or defend this one. You were either a child of the 90's and immediately recognize the cultural and emotional connections of this song, or you don't. And I didn't even like Dawson's Creek. It's that important.

62. Spider-Man (1994)
"Theme from Spider-Man"
by Joe Perry

This song was performed by Joe Perry. The Joe Perry. Of Aerosmith fame. And not 'Oh, we were big in the 70s, now we're washed up and drugged out, give us some money' Aerosmith. This is 1994 'We're totally detoxed, we're ready to rule the world, it's our second golden age' Aerosmith. The comic book industry was going through a lot of crap in the 90's, so I applaud the 1994 Spider-Man series for keeping things simple, straightforward, and free of Liefeldian influence. The theme song is the only indication of the 90's-era EXTREEEEEEEEEME mentality, and it's the only place where such a reputation would be an advantage.

61. Red Dwarf
"Red Dwarf Theme"
by Howard Goddall
Vocals by Jenna Russell

Red Dwarf is a sci-fi/comedy series about the intergalactic and time-traveling misadventures of a motley crew. The series was never intended to be dark or dispiriting, but was saddled with a bleak opening number, highlighting the underlying themes of isolation and the vast emptiness of space. Beginning with the third season, the somber opening was replaced with an instrumental version of the jaunty closing theme, thus emphasizing the comedic aspects of the series. It was a sitcom, after all. Since then, the theme song has become a favorite amongst science-fiction fans, while Red Dwarf has become one of the most popular BBC programs (programmes?) of all time.

60. Baywatch
"I'm Always Here"
by Jimi Jamison

Baywatch may have began its run before I was thrust headfirst into puberty, but I was old enough to remember its effect on the world. The cherry red one-pieces. The slow motion running. The bouncing. And David Hasselhoff was in there somewhere, I guess. While I'm no scholar of Baywatch history, what little I do know comes flooding back from the recesses of my mind as soon as I hear that drum machine and piano combo. And no, that's not The Hoff singing the theme. Many (myself included) have erroneously attributed him as the vocalist. In retrospect, I don't think anybody but the frontman for Survivor could be responsible for such an intro.

59. Northern Exposure
"Theme from Northern Exposure"
by David Schwartz

If I could describe Northern Exposure in one word, it would be 'Moose.' Which is a good indicator of how much I actually remember about Northern Exposure. While I can't think of anything insightful to say concerning the series, I can greatly herald the theme song (Which is good, because that's kinda the purpose of this countdown). I can't even identify the instruments: there's definitely a bass, possibly a harmonica, and I think there's a vibraslap. But that's it. Whatever those instruments are, they sound great, and easily evoke images of frozen tundras and really big pine trees. I didn't even know "Alaskan Music" was a genre, but there it is, crystal clear. I also enjoy that typeface, but who cares about fonts?


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 73-67

73. George of the Jungle
"George of the Jungle Theme"
by Stan Worth and Sheldon Allman

It seems every couple of years somebody tries to revive George of the Jungle. It has to be the theme song. I've watched a couple of episodes, and there's no way anybody's nostalgic for any other reason. The adventures of a simpleton Tarzan parody just doesn't have the power to transcend generations. Still, the jungle beat and slapsticky refrain do make for a good song, even if its for a particularly mediocre show.

72. Smallville
"Save Me"
by Remy Zero

There are many mysteries that will forever puzzle mankind. The origin of the Nazca Lines. Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart. How the hell Smallville lasted ten freaking seasons. Remy Zero's pop-rock ballad is an iconic representation of whatever the hell was going on with music in 2001, but just like the show, it slowly turned into a parody of itself after the fourth season.

71. The Addams Family
"The Addams Family Theme"
by Vic Mizzy

If you're unfamiliar with The Addams Family as a franchise, its much bigger than you would ever imagine. It started out as a published comic and was adapted into a pair of theatrical films, two separate animated series, a Broadway musical, the best-selling pinball machine of all time, and its most famous adaptation: the 1964 television series. The iconic finger snaps and lightly macabre lyrics can put anyone in the Halloween spirit.

70. Reading Rainbow
"Reading Rainbow"
Written by Steve Horelick, Dennis Neil Kleinman, and Janet Weir
Performed by Tina Fabrique

It took me the longest time to decide whether I actually liked the Reading Rainbow theme, or if I just remembered it fondly. Before I could come up with an objective answer, I realized one thing: It has a Moog Synthesizer. It doesn't matter that the animated visuals are goofy looking and the lyrics don't make an ounce of sense. It's a Moog Synthesizer! The only quarrel now is whether or not it should be ranked higher. And this is completely contradictory, but check out this neat acoustic version by Rhett and Link.

69. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
"Scooby-Doo,Where Are You?"
by David Mook and Ben Raleigh
Performed by Larry Marks and Paul Costello.

As far as I'm concerned, the big three of American animation are Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo. Think about it. Since Scooby-Doo's inception in 1969, he's fronted eleven different series. Heather Locklear doesn't even have that many. Despite his timeless appeal, it's the original Scooby-Doo theme which everybody recognizes and appreciates. More people know the lyrics than My Country 'Tis of Thee. That's reputation right there.

68. Sons of Anarchy
"This Life"
by Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers

Unless you have a Carrie Nation-sized vendetta against motorcycles, I believe everyone in America has at least one fantasy, however fleeting, about touring the country on the back of a chopper. But then we remember motorcycles are loud, obnoxious, smelly and dangerous, and around 75% of motorcycle riders are loud, obnoxious, smelly and dangerous. Still, the fantasy is there, and This Life would be the perfect song to accompany a twilight ride down the two-lane highways that seemingly stretch forever across the American West.

67. Rawhide
Music by Dmitri Tiomkin
Lyrics by Ned Washington
Performed by Frankie Laine

A million times better than the stuffy ol' Bonanza theme, Rawhide is an iconic piece of the western genre's lietmotif. Which means this subgenre now includes everything Sergio Leone's ever done, plus the Rawhide theme. The guitar, the bullwhip, the yells; it practically smells of prairie dust and chili. Rawhide is such a choice piece of music, I bet a Chicago-based rhythm and blues band could fake an entire country/western setlist if they'd just open with this song.


The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 81-74

81. Cops
"Bad Boys"
by Inner Circle

Before it was the go-to epithet hurled at lower class Americans, Cops (which I refuse to spell in all capitals as Wikipedia suggests) was a groundbreaking piece of television. It's widely considered to be the first reality show, it's one of the longest-running series in TV history, it's one of only two first-run network shows to air on Saturday, and after all these years, the theme song still kicks as much ass now as it did back in 1989.

80. The OC
by Phantom Planet

Phantom Planet may as well be singing, "Life's so great in California/I love being in California/I sure wouldn't want to not live in California/Let's go shop for new cars." It's basically the same thing. Of course, that is essentially what the show is about. I like to think Phantom Planet was in on the joke; it sure makes liking this song a whole lot easier.

79. Monday Night Football
"Heavy Action"
by Johnny Pearson
"All My Rowdy Friends Are Back for Monday Night"
by Hank Williams Jr.

Two awesome themes, I couldn't choose between them. All My Rowdy Friends is the traditional opening, heard at the beginning, and bolstered by the trademark exclamation "Are you ready for some football?!" Heavy Action is the instrumental fanfare usually heard in advertisements, bumpers, and at least 29 other times throughout the program. All in all, both make even the most casual football fan yearn for some gridiron action.

78. Pinky and the Brain
"Pinky and The Brain Theme"
Composed by Richard Stone
Lyrics by Tom Ruegger

Do TV programmers not trust children to figure out a show's premise on their own? From what I've seen, cartoon themes are frequently required to spell out the plot of the show. Themes can either completely suck in this regard, or they can be totally awesome like Pinky and the Brain. As far as expository animated theme songs are concerned, this is one of the best. Narf!

77. Blossom
"My Opinionation"
Composed by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post
Performed by Dr. John

Some might ask for my man card to be revoked, but my emasculating TV preferences get much worse further down the line. At any rate, the theme to Blossom is so upbeat and chipper, it's impossible to hate. Precisely punctuated by the beaming smile and the dance-like-no-one's-watching attitude of Mayim Bialik, the song is so saccharine sweet, it's like eating a can of frosting.

76. Survivor
"Survivor Theme Song"
by Russ Landau

While Survivor may be over-marketed, over-hyped, and living on far past its relevancy, the theme music still remains unscorched. Updated every season, incorporating local instrumentation depending on the filming locale (Borneo had conch shells, Australia had didgeridoos, Africa had tribal chanting, etc.), the theme has a chilling musical sensation that immediately transports me back to 2000. Back when the reality TV concept was new, exotic and captivating, surviving solely on word-of-mouth. Back when competitors were game show contestants, not aspiring models and actors leveraging their exposure. Back when it was shot cinéma vérité, and was less scripted than actual scripted shows---I'm getting off topic. Sorry about that.

75. Home Improvement
"Iron John's Rock"
by Dan Foliart

Home Improvement was a sitcom about masculinity and the male ego, both heralding it and mocking it. As such, the theme song is a collection of masculine aural associations. It starts off with a blues-rock inspired hook, then intersperses it with the sound of power tools, industrial machinery, and Tim Allen's trademark grunts. And after all that, it saturates everything with so much electric guitar, it somehow manages to make the flute seem manly.

74. Friday Night Lights
"Friday Night Lights Theme"
by W. G. Snuffy Walden

Based on the film of the same name, Friday Night Lights' opening is based on one of the key tracks from the film score. The transcendental, almost spiritual song is a stylized recreation of 'Your Hand In Mine' by Explosions In the Sky. Either because of licensing or budgetary issues, Your Hand in Mine is not technically credited as the actual theme, but really, we're splitting hairs. The TV theme is nearly identical to its cinematic counterpart, both are excellent and both greatly capture the drama of the franchise.