Theme Player

In a serendipitous occurrence, I had literally just being thinking about TV themes when Jim Murdoch accosted me down in the virtual post office queue and suggested I write a little something on the subject.

Such is life.

The reason I’d been thinking about TV theme music was on account of ‘The Wire’.

See, the whole world seems to have seen and loved this hard-edged intelligent TV show. Well, the whole world except me – I missed it completely.

It started a complete run last Monday night on BBC2 (no ads) running every weeknight until all five series play out. Five nights in and I am completely hooked.

As a bonus to this great programme, the theme music happens to be a song by my hero Tom Waits. ‘Down in The Hole’ as performed by The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Here’s the opening credits of series one, as a taster:

Good, eh?

It got me thinking about how the TV series theme tune has largely died a death this last few years. Look at ‘Lost’ (Neeeaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhhhhhhh) or more recent series of ER. The new aim seems to be to get through an opening credit as fast as humanly possible and get into some early early commercials. As they might say on ‘The Wire’: ‘Damn!’

But back in the day, when men were men and music was music, themes were themes and there were some great ones.

So, when Jim suggested a TV Theme post, I immediately rubbed my hands in glee and did some quick scheming. I can do my favourite themes, I schemed, like ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Hawaii Five O’. Then Jim said (and he really did say this word-for-word) “To be honest forget Hawaii Five-O and Mission Impossible…”. That’s what he said!

But… but…

I love the themes from MI and H5O, do you hear me, I love them! And now I can’t write about them. Where’s a guy to go?

In truth, Jim’s little 'constriction' makes the challenge more interesting because those two exclusions rule my memory in terms of TV themes. So now I've have to work a little harder to come up with others which have made a great impression on me.

I’ll show you a few in a minute but first a genuine question.

Can you tell me what your favourite TV theme tunes are, avoiding the big big players as I’ve had to do? I really want to know because I am sure that your memories will kick start my own memories and many of your favourite themes will thus become mine once again.

So tell me what you like and why and, for my favourite comment (if I’m lucky enough to get any) I will post you a book from the pile behind me which I’ve finished reading and am even now contemplating dropping in the Charity Shoppe. I’ll give you a choice from a few of them, how’s that?

So, come on friends, what do you like?

The ones I’ve summoned up below have stuff in common. They are largely orchestral and also largely not written specifically for the series they ended up on.

Here’s a cracker: It’s by Khachaturian, the ‘Adagio from Spartacus’ but can you remember the TV series? Of course you can. (Go to 6:10 if you just want to get the TV Theme effect.)

You're right, it was 'The Onedin Line' or 'The Uneven Line' as we used to call it.

Remember Black Beauty? The times I ran around the garden slapping my arse to this one. Granted, by the age of 21, the neighbours had started to stare…

I never actually watched ‘The Life and Times of David Lloyd George’ but I remember Ennio Morricone’s theme, which I think was written for an earlier movie. It’ll always be the Theme from TLATODLG to me though.

The High Chaparral anyone? I used to love that one.

And finally, dammit, it’s my blog after all. Try listening to this without mimicking surfing. I dare ya.

I double dare ya.


Anonymous said...

Nah then Ken, a damn good idea this lad!


I have a few of the old favourites to start with. Airwolf always used to get me rocketing off the sofa to turn the telly up when I was a kid, and I thought the rehashed Dragnet theme tune (from the remade series on Sky a few years ago) was a massive improvement on the original.

When I was a kid, me and my Mum always loved the end theme from a cartoon called The Bobobobs, a very catchy singalong type of song.

Second all time favourite would have to be from a New Zealand made show, called Ghost Hunt. Less than ten episodes made, where a team of three NZ B-list celebs explore various haunted sites. The theme was by Evermore, called Into The Ocean (Calling You).

And my all time number one favourite TV theme tune?

Ulysses 31, a French/Japanese anime updating the Greek/Roman mythology of Odysseus into the 31st Century as Ulysses and his crew try to find the Kingdom of Hades and their way home to Earth. A cracking 80s pop-rock track if ever there was one!

Kat Mortensen said...

Oh now, Ken you know I couldn't resist THIS one!
First to spring to mind is the military-style theme of Upstairs Downstairs. Then the theme to Doctor Who (incidentally, Geoffrey Burgon who wrote another theme I favour, that of Brideshead Revisited, started out by writing incidental music for Doctor Who!)
Of course, The Bugs Bunny theme is another one that immediately occurs to me, but also the theme from "Quincy M.D.", The Mystery Move Series with Columbo, MacMillan & Wife and McLoud and also the themes to Batman (the original series - rather annoying da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da- BATMAN!!! (but very catchy when you are 4 years old.)

Oh, and I can't forget the lovely theme to Inspector Morse by Barrington Pheloung. I could go on and on.


Susan at Stony River said...

Oh, Addams family, firstly. (snap, snap)

Beverly Hillbillies, a close second, and Gilligan's Island, Speed Racer, and the Flintstones.

My real favourite is from Cat's Eyes, which was anime, but I was living where the TVs were only in French. I can still sing that one, however, good stuff.

I've never seen the Wire either, although (or because?) I lived in Baltimore for yeeeears. Scary years.

Ken Armstrong said...

See this is what I need. Already the tunes and memories are flooding back.

Andy: Except for you Andy. You're on a different TV planet to me (I am Old) but I'm off to Youtube up your faves and I'll be back to report... I think you made up Bobobobs though :)

Kat: You and I are of the same stock, me auld flower. I was going to put Brideshead in my post but I thought I was getting too 'samey'. Funny how, whenever we mention Morse, we mention the music composer, he's got such a great name! :) Batman used to be on Friday nights - I took it all *so* seriously! :)

Susan: Yay, Adams Family indeedio! Brilliant! Off to look up cats eyes, my kids are anime crazy so maybe I'll get some cool-points. Baltimore, eh, I'm engaged in a debate in how the clocker characters say 'all right' - I think it's like 'aye' while Trish makes it sound like a Fools 'n horses 'aw'righ'. :)

Claire said...

Well, I have a few to add too - Perry Mason (with it's fantastic thumping intro), The Sweeney, Thunderbirds (of course), and the children's classic Mr Benn (which I later went on to play on Xylophone myself).
Other themes would be the opening theme from Crown Court (Janacek's Sinfonietta), and All Creatures Great and Small, which I also used to play on the piano (rather badly, or very slowly - or both).

Beth said...

RE: Theme songs of today- I just recently found The Closer, which is shown on TNT here in the US-and has been on for 5 years. It's taken me a week to watch the last 4 seasons, but I love it-but, it fits with the idea of hurry up and get through the credits- the beginning parts of the show are flashed through the music and the regular credit info.

My favorite television theme song? Moonlighting. Although I can't say I ran around slapping my butt when it was on...

Ken Armstrong said...

Claire: Yes, Yes! Perry Mason is a great swinging theme, I just treated myself to a blast on youtube. It reminded my of Ellery Queen from the 70's - look it up, it swings too! :) That Crown Court suggestion is golddust! 'Takes me right back - everybody, Youtube now!

Beth: You've made me laugh again! Perhaps I should explain that Black Beauty had lots and lots of horse riding in it, so the but slapping was an equine-impression thing rather than any underage form of 'tough love' in the garden.

Moonlighting was a great series, So sharp and Al Jarreau suited it fine. "Some walk by night..."

Kat Mortensen said...

P.S. I've not seen The Wire either - it's Robson Green, is it? Must watch for it. Ever see an Aussie series called The Phoenix? That was soooo brilliant!


Anonymous said...

You will find Bobobobs and Ulysses 31 on YouTube Ken, go have a look. And tell me that you don't get either tune (or both!) stuck in your head for hours afterwards...

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, where does one start, Ken? There were so many great themes in the old days. One my early favourites was the jazz-oriented theme to Public Eye and probably my most guilty pleasure is the song that opened Follyfoot. My wife and I bought the boxed set of series one for her granddaughter and watched every episode and I sat through the titles (front and end) every time.

Of the more predictable choices let’s go for The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, Department S, and The Prisoner and then there’s the incredible end title to The Incredible Hulk. The end title to The Sweeney is up there too. And what about Lost in Space? Although I actually preferred Land of the Giants.

Of recent years only two jump out at me, the theme to the first season of Babylon 5 - they changed it every year remember – but my absolute favourite is the theme to Millenium in fact I think that Mark Snow’s incidental music to that show and The X-Files should get an award all on its own.

hope said...

Obvious would be "Star Trek"...the joke is more Americans can recite the intro to Star Trek than our National Anthem.

From Childhood:
"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" [Funeral March of a Marionette] That tune still sends shivers down my spine.

Theme to "Bonanza"...I was the only little girl who didn't like Little Joe. I liked Hoss. ;)

More up-to-date [since you already got LOST]....X-Files. No mistaking that for anything else.


Mi (Galway Nutter) said...

For me it just has to be (& yes I'm hanging my head in shame) the theme to Bonanza. I love singing along to Rawhide.

I also loved The Greatest American Hero. "Believe it or not I'm walking on air" :D

I agree about Ulysses too. Oh ya & I can't forget Dallas. :P

Cleveland Real Estate said...

I'm sorry, but I'm only 19, so I haven't even seen any of these shows, both on the post or in the comments.

The first themes that pop into my head and thanks, cause now I'm singing them are:

The Golden Girls. Thank you for being a friend...

Three's Company! (Come and knock on my door...)

Taxi. At 3am when you're up and nothing else is on the telly, it's the most depressing theme song ever.

Cheers. Because I want to go where everyone knows my name, especially Norm.

All in the family... Because it was relevant, political and actually stood for something. Plus Edith can really blow...

Shoot... I have to add...

The Jeffersons... Cause I used to dance around and sing it when I was even younger than 19...

And.... Sanford and Son!

And... And... The Andy Griffith Show... Whistling became officially addictive and cool.

Must. End. Now. Singing. Thanks. A. Lot.

Laura Brown said...

The theme from Maxwell Smart, but I don't think I'm remembering the name of the show right. I was a kid when it was on. I would rush home from ballet class to watch it and I did like the theme music too.

Laura Brown said...

I found it. I wasn't too off on the name:

Anonymous said...

One more for you, Ken, one which I (and many others I believe) am greatly happy to hear on the telly once again.

Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, sometimes better known as the theme for the BBC's coverage of Formula 1.

Simple, subtle, thrilling and epic. Sunday's weren't the same without it, until these year.

Unknown said...

Mission Impossible was excellent. I also remember loving the Miami Vice theme song (more than the show, actually), and seem to have memorized the whole opening credits of the A-Team. "In 1972, a crack commando unit..." :)

Matthew S. Urdan said...

My favorite themes actually were those written my movie composers when they were just starting out.

The second theme from Lost in Space, composed by John Williams is brilliant. So is the original Star Trek Theme. Both from the 60s.

The Adams Family television theme is catchy and one of those earworms that you can't get out of your head.

Growing up in the 70s, my brothers and I loved the themes from the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch and Speed Racer. Here he comes, here comes speedracer, as well as the theme from Spiderman.

But of all television themes, the two that stand out head and shoulders above the others are the themes from the two greatest sitcoms of all time: M*A*S*H and Cheers. While Suicide may be painless, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.


Ken Armstrong said...

Back to Andy: Been to hear 'The Bobobobs', hmmm... perhaps one had to be there. It did a good thing though - it reminded me of the 'Rainbow' theme, which rawked!! :) Somebody agreed with you on Ulysses - it ain't me though! Seriously though, thanks for interesting and obviously highly personal memories. :)

Kat: The Wire isn't the Robson Green one - I think that's The Wire in The Blood or something. The Wire reminds me (thus far) of Spike Lee's movie 'Clockers' - I have two episodes for tonight, yayme clapclapclap.

Jim: Follyfoot! The lightning tree (sigh) brilliant, 'listening now. :) Do you remember 'On White Horses'? I bet you do. Damn, we could have done a horsey theme post all on it's own. I didn't know man in a suitcase as 'man in a suitcase' but it's been used on something else recently... oh yeah, Chris Evans' TFI Friday.

The Incredible Hulk ending took me back - he was always so sad and lonely...

Hi Mi!! Greatest American Hero, yupyup and my pal Cecilia (OhioRealtor) below would agree with you if she wasn't so busy dancing... as for not forgetting Dallas, trust me you can. :)

Ohiorealestate: Never be sorry that your nineteen - it's hard currency round this blog! :D

Now wait wait, all your selections are speaking subliminally to me... damn! :)

Taxi is moody in the extreme, a downer a three AM, I could see that yeah. I had to look up All in the family - of course, Archie Bunker, who was based on Alf Garnett from In Sickness and in Health I think. Am I wrong??

I didn't know Andi Griffith bit it's catchy, it sho' is.

And The Jeffersons - a Realtor theme tune if ever there was one!

Thanks, I'm dancing too - take my hand :)

Laura: I LOVED the opening to Get Smart - I quite liked agent 99 too, I would knocked thirty points off of her... what? :)

Andy: The Chain is most suited music to a TV programme ever.

Jenn: Who told you about these shows? How were allowed watch them? :) We used to climb tress to Mission Impossible. dun dun dundun...

Matt: Learning new stuff! I didn't know Williams did Lost In Space - fascinating Will Robinson and you're right, it's a great theme.

As for Speed Racer, which I've never seen but which I see/hear in references all over the place - can I be a bit negative and say that the universal love of that theme might carry a little nostalgia with it cos I'm afraid it does nothing for me.

And therein, perhaps lies a little truth - it isn't how great or good a theme was, it's the quality of the memories they evoke. :)

Unknown said...

Stranger on the Shore - Acker Bilk. We had it as background music for our wedding a couple of years ago. It was a BBC TV drama for children, in the 50s I think. the TV series wasn't particularly memorable but that crooning sax will live for ever.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jakill: Well I never knew that!! 'Stranger on the Shore' was a TV theme. Thanks for that lovely snippet - it's a great tune.

Jena Isle said...

My favorite movie theme was that of Star Wars- but sadly, I don't know the star wars is known, so let think of one that does is uncommon- What about the theme of The Notebook, in this URL

A blessed Holy Week to you and your family and Happy Easter in advance!

Margaret said...

Gosh! How can I top any of these! All GREAT ones!

Personal favs are Star Trek, Alfred Hitchcock, Hogan's Heroes and American Bandstand. Addams Family -- that's a great one as was the show! And who can't like the theme to Lost in Space?

My birds can all whistle the Andy Griffith theme.

Rachel Fox said...

I was going to say 'White Horses..but you beat me to it.
'Starsky and Hutch'.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jena: It's TV themes, Jena... yes, I know Star Wars has been on TV... only kidding, obviously. :)

Margaret: The Hitchcock theme is great - so suited to the man - Baaahhh Rump bumbumbumbum bum bum bum.. I would love to hear your birds whistle the Andy Griffith theme... God, that sounds like a pick up line from Body Heat. Ha! :)

Rachel: You know White Horses too? Great. I thought I was on my own. Imagine if Westlife would only cover it. ;)

Kat Mortensen said...

Got another one-My favourite by far, the Anne Dudley theme to "Jeeves and Wooster". Did you know she wrote the music for "The Full Monty"?


Jena Isle said...

My previous comment was riddled with typos, sorry for that.

TV themes? well , I remember Hawaii five-O . I use to dance along with it. he he he.

What about the theme of Seventh Heaven? I like that a lot.


Ken Armstrong said...

Kat: You *do* like your Wodehouse, don't you. :)

Jena: Never got into Seventh Heaven, will look up the theme music, can't see it beating Hawaii Five O though. :) Typos, nobody round here minds, we are among friends.

Okay... I promised a book to somebody and I'm going to offer it on the basis of the theme that I had most forgotten and that I enjoyed the most rediscovering. That has to be the theme from 'Crown Court'. This takes me back to when I finished college and worked in a bar for a time, I was often off in the afternoon's and could watch Crown Court. Yup that music takes me back. So, thanks, Claire, here's five random books off my floor, if you'd like one of them posted somewhere (not necessarily your home, in case I worry you) let me know.
Stephen King - Blaze
Nick Nornby - Slam
Michael Ondaatje - The English Patient
John Le Carre - A Most Wanted Man
The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold.
Thanks for playing everyone. :)