Ears at the ready, our sponsors over at Lightbox have just launched a new game that challenges you to identify some famous TV theme tunes from a small clip. To celebrate, we thought we would share some our favourite (and least favourite) theme songs of all time.
Best theme tune: Sherlock
Sherlock’s opening theme song is so quintessentially British that I’m surprised it doesn’t open with a trumpet fanfare. It drips intrigue, suspense and fine winklepicker boots, with connotations of thick woolen trench coats and bodies found in the Thames. When that guitar starts strumming and the string section swells over the top, you know some real mysterious shit has gone down – and there’s only one guy with the IQ and the cheekbones to get the job done.
Worst theme tune: Weeds
“Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes, made of tickytacky…” At first the theme to Weeds sounds like the sort of thing you’d hear in the first year of primary school. You think “I know the show is called Weeds, but were the producers actually high? This is just a stereotype of the random shit stoned people find funny!” But then you realise the lyrics are in fact a musing on the cookie-cutter nature of insular community life and other typical stoner talking points. You realise that yes, the producers probably were high, but so are you – and rather than a hit television show all you’ve got is a dirty bong and Dorito crumbs on your shirt. It might be an interesting song, but nobody needs that sort of introspection in the first couple minutes of a TV show.
Best theme tune: Dog the Bounty Hunter
“There’s fear and darkness all around you,
the criminals are on the ruuuun.
No use in hiding in the daaark,
I’ll hunt you down ‘coz I’m the dog.”
This theme song does exactly what it says on the tin: creating a gravelling and dark world, full of seedy crims and noodle-haired vigilantes. Plus it was sing by Ozzy Osbourne for some reason. Plus it inspired this great South Park parody.
Worst theme tune: Just Shoot Me (closing credits)
To this very day, all this weird Sheryl Crowe-sounding ditty reminds me of is long afternoons sitting front of a television waiting for dinner. When I heard that “life keeps bringing me back to you”, all it meant to be was that I was one step closer to the news being on, which was one step closer to Coronation Street being on, which meant I might as well go find something better to do.
Best theme tune: Taxi
Strangely melancholy for a prime TV US sitcom that featured Andy Kaufman as a doofus caricature from a fictional country, the Taxi theme remains so lodged in my head I can’t help hum it every time I cross Auckland’s harbour bridge. The tune’s actual title is Angela performed by jazz fusion musician Bob James and it’s the perfect scene setter for the run down, ramshackle and slightly frayed 70s New York Taxi depicted during its five year tenure on TV.
Worst theme tune: Parks and Recreation
When the adventures of Pawnee’s Parks & Recreation Department debuted in 2009, the show’s theme song running over the opening credits was perhaps the jauntiest theme ever invented. As such it was an entirely appropriate opener for the show. However, with season three the opening credits were made longer, the introductory violins and drums went for a whole second longer meaning the first clarinet melody no longer matches perfectly with the title of the show as it appears on screen. And since then I can’t stop thinking about it every time I watch the show and it’s sullied every thing in my life
Best theme tune Mirror Mirror
It’s tempting to say the original Shortland Street theme song is the best this country has ever produced – “If you want to find a way of searching for another world” is a spectacular lyric – but truthfully it’s easily beaten by the theme to 1995’s Mirror Mirror. From the wonderfully evocative opening lines (“Far, far away on the edge of the world / You are lost, out of place, out of time”) the song glides along pleasantly before erupting in a cascading “oh-oh-oh” chorus, then ends with a mysterious flourish Angelo Badalamenti would have been proud of. It’s perfect
Worst theme tune: Louie
Really great show with a theme tune like nails down a blackboard. It’s short enough that it’s difficult to efficiently skip, but seems endless when you’re in the middle of another round of “Louie Louie Louie Louayyyy”. Combined with the opening shots of Louis CK taking two bites out of a slice of pizza before chucking the rest in the bin it’s the most irritating title sequence on TV, but one which is always worth enduring
Best theme tune: Peep Show
Peep Show’s first season actually has diabolical theme music. Odd, nervy piano figures. Yuck. They were, at a guess, meant to sonically allude to the shiftlessness of the central figures. I much prefer the more literal approach we got from having the mostly unsuccessful Harvey Danger involved. ‘Flagpole Sitta’ (classic early ‘90s spelling) is American pop-punk with a fake British accent, its lyrics of alienation and general apathy get to the heart of the 20-something malaise which infects everyone on Peep Show.
Honourable mention: The Office UK for similar reasons.
Worst theme tune: Homeland
Honourable mention: Mad Men theme. Reminds of like David Holmes and ‘downbeat’ and Kruder and Dorfmeister and that whole shit period of British film where they tried to make London ’60s gangsters – who probably mainly gave people a good jab with an umbrella – seem tough. Horrible thing to endure on the way to an otherwise perfect show.
Click here to play Lightbox’s Guess the Theme Tune game and go into the draw to win great prizes
And once you are done with that, click below to watch Louie, Parks and Recreation, Weeds, Peep Show, Sherlock and many other excellent shows with varying quality of theme tune: