Thursday, 14 January 2010

Top Ten TV Theme Songs (by Established Artists)

It was kind of difficult to come up with a title that accurately described the content of this week’s blog, as the last thing I wanted to do was imply that these where my favourite TV themes of all time – they are not.

Rather, this is my list of the top ten TV theme tunes that are recorded by established musical artists and have been released as stand alone singles/album tracks.

The subject of TV theme tunes is one that people look back on with an unparalleled fondness, and there have been some truly iconic ones since the invention of what is probably the greatest piece of equipment known to man (that would be the TV in case you were unsure…)

Some of my personal favourites include The Muppet Show, Happy Days, The Flintstones and more recently Two and a Half Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm and 30 Rock.

Few modern shows now tend to have a bonafide theme tune though and that is a crying shame – many are now reduced to nothing more than a title card and maybe 30 seconds of instrumental accompanying music as the titles roll over the opening scene(s).

That is not true of all modern TV though as the other trend that has developed in recent years is to use an established song as your show’s theme; perhaps the most memorable of these would be Friends’ use of The Rembrandts’ I’ll Be There For You.

While Friends might be the best known of this type of theme, the intention of this list is to pick out ten shows with ten awesome songs for theme tunes, because let’s be honest I’ll Be There For You is an absolutely horrendous song…

So without further delay here is my list of the Top Ten TV Theme Songs (by Established Artists)…

10. Teardrop by Massive Attack from House – brilliantly captures the often melancholy tone of the show but offers light and inspiration, as does the show - mainly through House’s use of humour.

9. California (Here We Come) by Phantom Planet from The OC – derided by many, The OC was actually a very well written show and boasted one of the great sing out loud theme tunes of all time.

8. We Used To Be Friends by The Dandy Warhols from Veronica Mars – this cult show was incredibly popular in the States but never really found an audience in the UK, regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that Veronica Mars had The Dandy Warhols’ best song as its theme – the electric We Used to Be Friends.

7. Next Year by Foo Fighters from Ed – the little known Ed had a great cast and an even greater theme tune. For some reason the Foos are massive in the UK but just seen as another band in the States. The thing that annoys me most about their popularity over here though is that people only seem to chatter on about their material from the last decade, when at the end of the 20th century they put out There Is Nothing Left to Lose that not only featured the anthemic Learn to Fly but also this beautiful song that perfectly captures the in flux nature of the title character’s life.

6. Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from Peep Show – when one of the UK’s best comedies Peep Show changed its theme song from the original, rather dull, instrumental to Harvey Danger’s raucous Flagpole Sitta I don’t think anyone would’ve complained. This song is anarchism at its finest and is the ideal accompaniment to the questionable morals and actions of leading men Mark and Jeremy.

5. Bad Things by Jace Everett from True Blood – If ever a song summed up a show more aptly than Jace Everett’s Bad Things does with True Blood then I’m yet to hear it. This bluesy country effort encapsulates to a tee the dirty, sweaty, sexy tone of the vampire smash. Coupled with the suggestive imagery of the title sequence, if you’d never heard about the show before, after the titles had rolled you’d know you were in for some Southern weirdness of the highest order.

4. Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3 from The Sopranos – the thumping bass of The Sopranos iconic theme is instantly recognizable but few people probably know that A3 are actually a UK based band. Woke Up This Morning’s lyrics are a perfect fit for The Sopranos and the iconic title sequence from the show is almost unimaginable without Woke Up This Morning over the top. For a band that remain relatively unknown the World over there influence is incredible – in addition to being used as the theme for The Sopranos, Woke Up This Morning is also the sample Nas used for his hip-hop classic Got Yourself a Gun.

3. C’mon, C’mon by The Von Bondies from Rescue Me – a friend of mine once described this song as “two and a half minutes of pure, power, pop perfection” and to be honest I can’t think of a better way of describing The Von Bondies’ C’mon C’mon. The song captures the frenetic nature of the show and being an FDNY fireman in general and as the titles roll and New York’s unrivalled skyline whizzes by you know you’re in for an emotional rollercoaster that packs one hell of a punch.

2. Superhero by Jane’s Addiction from Entourage – unlike most of the other shows on the list, I wouldn’t say that Superhero captures the tone of Entourage per se but what it does do is let you know that you are about to watch one of the coolest shows on TV. Entourage’s title sequence is one of the only ones I not only sit through but actually turn up the volume for, it might not send a message about the show but I can’t imagine seeing those glitzy LA landmarks now without hearing Perry Farrell’s soaring vocals and Dave Navarro shredding for all its worth in the background.

1. Baba O’Riley by The Who from CSI: New York – what else could it have been!? The CSI franchise will forever have the best TV theme songs because they have the rights to The Who’s back catalogue. After hearing Who Are You on the original (and best) CSI and then Won’t Get Fooled Again on CSI: Miami I was convinced the producers had shot their load with The Who link but then for New York spin-off CSI: NY they picked not only the greatest Who song but one of the greatest songs by any artist of all time: Baba O’Riley. It doesn’t say much about the show itself but this is one of the most anthemic songs of all time and to put it in cold hard facts: there’s not a TV theme tune in history that can hold a candle to the magnificent Baba O’Riley.

Other Musings:

- Heroes returned to our screens this week and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by how well it kept my attention. I had seen some of a future episode during my trip to America towards the end of last year and what I saw looked dreadful; so needless to say my hopes for the new season were somewhat low.

But the double bill we got on Saturday night (which for the record is a ridiculous scheduling decision by the geniuses over at the BBC) was actually a pretty decent start to the new season. As expected, Robert Knepper was awesome, and will no doubt become the best thing on the show in a very short space of time.

I’m under no illusions that Heroes is well past its best but what I was expecting to be a dire fourth season could actually surprise us all and be pretty darn good.

- Speaking of the BBC, just before I uploaded last week’s first blog of the year it came out that Jonathan Ross was leaving the BBC. Initially it was reported that he quit and although that seems to technically remain true the general consensus is that he has been being somewhat forced out ever since Manuel-gate over a year ago.

I personally lobbied for him to up and quit immediately after the pathetic witch hunt against him and Russell Brand back in 2008 because the BBC basically hung him out to dry and did nothing more than fan the flames of the hateful fire the Daily Mail had lit.

Ross should have, as Brand did, told the BBC to stick then, so I’m quite glad to see him finally parting company with the most antiquated broadcaster in the World. Ross will no doubt find a home elsewhere where he will be allowed to be himself and hopefully rejuvenate his act, which even he must admit had become quite stale during his last run of the show. Channel 4 would be my personal suggestion for Ross’ new home.

The BBC meanwhile have put another nail in their coffin with the departure of Ross, edgy, controversial programming continues to be squeezed out in favour of bland, boring, family-orientated crap. The reason for this seems to be that the BBC now live in fear of offending anyone as it will no doubt raise questions over the gloriously out of date license fee system they employ should their be another media shit storm over their content.

It’s a shocking indictment of the ultra-PC world we now live in where organizations are frightened to push the envelope in any way for fear of upsetting one of the PC brigade.

My hope is that Ross will succeed greater than he ever did at the BBC in his new home and show the biggest culprits for buckling under media pressure just what a pathetic shell of the great broadcaster it once was the BBC has become.

As if how out of touch they are needed to be proved – their reported decision to offer the spot vacated by Ross to Michael fucking McIntyre just about says it all, there’s only one man who should replace Ross and that is Graham Norton, who, although the Beeb seem to have no idea what to do with, has consistently delivered the funniest and most entertaining talk show on TV for years now.

- In other resignation news this week, Simon Cowell has announced he will be quitting American Idol at the end of the next season.

To be honest it won’t matter too much to Idol’s success – the show is a phenomenon because of the talent and the format not because of Cowell (this isn’t X Factor we’re talking about).

Speaking of Cowell’s Saturday night ratings juggernaut though, the reason for his departure from Idol is reportedly due to the fact that he is taking the X Factor format Stateside. Again, the show will be a huge success in the States, not because it’s a better format than Idol (it’s not) and not because Lord Cowell is involved, no it will succeed because any type of talent show will succeed in any country it airs in – America’s Next Top Holocaust Denier would attract millions of viewers.

This is the state of modern TV, and reality and talent shows are King; if they decide to continue with Idol it might not have the same magic it once did but it will ultimately survive and as for X Factor US it to will be a phenomenon even if Cowell takes the awful Cheryl Cole with him.

- I watched Glee, somewhat under duress, this past Monday and have to say that I quite enjoyed what I can only describe as some weird amalgam of Saved by the Bell, High School Musical and American Pie.

It is already a monster smash in the States and will no doubt be huge over here – if it works in the same way as X Factor did and contributes to the songs it features charting in the Top 40 I’m all for it because unlike X Factor, Glee actually features some pretty decent songs performed in a pretty decent manner, it is also smart, funny, touching and toe-tappingly entertaining.

Jane Lynch is the stand-out in the cast, although she is basically playing the same character she does in the 40 Year Old Virgin, Role Models and Arrested Development, but she’s damn good at it so what the hell.

- Back at TV or not TV’s inception I used to run look-alikes that I’d spotted that week, now I haven’t done one for a while and although it’s not strictly from TV I had to share this most recent one I spotted with you:

No wonder he was tweeting those suicidal messages last year… he’s responsible for wiping out half the human race!


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