The 100 Greatest TV Themes: 34 - 26

34. My So-Called Life
"My So-Called Life Theme"
by W. G. Snuffy Walden

My So-Called Life was destined for greatness. Unfortunately, everything conspired against the show, dooming it to failure in its first season. Despite it's all-too-brief run, the show achieved legendary status thanks to a devoted fanbase and critical praise (reruns airing seven times a day on MTV also helped a bit). Listening to the deep emotional resonance emanating from the opening theme, it's very clear the producers knew they had a hit on their hands. They knew they couldn't saddle such a show with a halfhearted, cookie cutter theme. They pulled out all the stops, giving us a beautiful instrumental piece that could just as easily be included in an Oscar winning score. Meanwhile, the desaturated visuals tell a story all on their own; a story about a young girl trapped in the universally familiar yet equally alien realms of suburban teenagedom and high school. It was a masterpiece of a series with a breathtaking opening and damn the individuals responsible for its demise.

33. Gilligan's Island
"The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle"
Written by Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle
Performed by The Wellingtons/The Eligibles

I didn't want to include the Gilligan's Island theme. Not initially. The purpose of this list was to establish a new, different, and fresh perspective on theme songs. I was tired of seeing terrible theme songs to old TV shows being heralded by everyone and their mothers (especially their mothers). These old theme songs weren't good. They were simply riding the coattails of nostalgia. Green Acres. Terrible theme. Three's Company. Terrible theme. All in the Family. Terribly terrible theme, even by terrible theme standards.

To quote Bill Watterson, nobody recognizes greatness until some authority confirms it. And since I'm kinda, sorta an authority (after all, you're reading this), I took the initiative to challenge the preconceived notion of what makes a good TV theme song. And that's why I didn't want to include Gilligan's Island; I wanted a fresh perspective. I took a very hard 'out with the old, in with the new' stance. But I couldn't go through with it. I just can't bring myself to hate Gilligan's Island. It is unhatable. It is a great theme, and it deserves recognition. It may not be the greatest, but it is certainly is a contender, even after all these years. But I still maintain WKRP In Cincinnati sucks and Cheers is overrated.

32. G. I. Joe
"G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero"
by Ford Kinder & Spencer Michlin
Narrated by Jackson Beck

When someone talks about great TV themes, you can accurately pinpoint their age because they always include cartoons from their childhood. This is the exception. G. I Joe was before my time, and I still think it's a great piece of music. The thundering chorus is intense by itself, but the overlapping harmonies accelerate it to new levels. Who cares if it's blatantly a toy commercial? Who cares if it promotes a military industrial complex? Who cares if a 1930's-era football player is firing a bazooka at point blank range? Who cares if every character is simultaneously firing a gun, but all bullets are replaced with lasers so as not to send out the message that violence has consequences? This theme kicks ass.

31. Beverly Hills, 90210
"Theme From Beverly Hills, 90210"
by John E. Davis

White people hanging out, having fun, looking pretty, and facing problems only upper-class white teenagers could face. Some of the oldest looking teenagers to ever walk the face of the Earth, I might add. Despite my misanthropy, the 90210 theme was a great way to introduce the series. It worked as sort of a beacon. When those opening notes played on Wednesday night, any teenager or young adult within earshot was socially obligated to make a b-line to the nearest television set. Luckily, I was young enough to not give a crap.

30. Spider-Man (1967)
by Paul Francis Webster and Bob Harris

How awesome is Spider-Man that he has two series on this list? The 1967 Spider-Man theme song is a loving ode to the webslinger with classic lines devoted to his heroic nature and his super abilities. By every measure, it should be considered campy and stupid, but it never quite reaches that level. Instead, the opening stays as authentic and genuine as Peter Parker himself (*spoiler*). It's an inseparable element of the Spider-Man mythos, going so far as to be featured canonically in each installment of the Sam Raimi film trilogy. Plus, The Ramones covered it, which is more than anyone's ever done for Batman.

29. Six Feet Under
"Six Feet Under Title Theme"
by Thomas Newman

A TV show about death. How depressing, right? Your mileage may vary. Six Feet Under's intentions were to make the audience think about death. It's all around us. It can happen to anybody, anytime, and will indeed happen to everyone eventually. We shove the notion of death to the back of our subconscious; it's the last thing we want to think about. But the Six Feet Under theme brings it to the forefront with it's chilling music and morbid imagery. Much like how a funeral home emits disconcerting, uncomfortable vibes, the Six Feet Under theme music alludes to the feeling of death without ever concretely making a connection. The funeral imagery, however, depersonalizes the experience so we can view it from a whole new perspective.

28. 3-2-1 Contact
by Tom Anthony

This is my dark horse. 321 Contact was a PBS series pop-science show targeted at middle schoolers, specifically focusing on the concepts of observation and analysis. It was produced in the late 80s, back before PBS gave up completely with children and focused entirely on the preschool demographic. But that's not important. What is important is 321 Contact boasted one of the most retro-fantastic themes I can remember. The whole thing sounds cutting edge if it were produced in the mid-to-late 70's, but for the 80's... well, PBS had a government grant, they didn't have to be hip and popular.

27. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
by Will "The Fresh Prince" Smith

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme is the new Gilligan's Island theme. Anyone born after 1982 will undoubtedly consider this among the greatest of all TV themes. Most will have it in their top five, but I don't like it quite that much. The theme is entertaining and quirky; it compliments both the series and Will Smith's character But alas, that's also it's biggest downfall: Will Smith. I don't like Will Smith on a good day, but his music career really makes my head hurt. I can't decide whether he's trying to be goofy or if he wants to be taken seriously. His lyrics are unimpressive and poorly written, he takes himself too seriously as an artist and he never has anything important or worthwhile to say. I take his rap career as seriously as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. That being said, the Fresh Prince theme song gets a pass since it was never intended to be taken seriously. Orange juice out of a champagne glass indeed.

26. The X-Files
"The X-Files"
by Mark Snow

The X-Files is a freaky show. On a weekly basis, FBI agents would confirm the existence of the supernatural, psychic abilities, extraterrestrial life, and an international conspiracy seemingly impervious to lung cancer and emphysema. The oft-terrifying adventures were expertly preceded by a haunting theme. The haunting whistling has become synonymous with the horror/sci-fi subgenre, complimenting the imagery of the so-called "conspiracies." It's one thing to imply monsters exist, but to make the monsters seem as though they're lurking in your backyard is a stroke of genius.

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