Best New TV Theme Songs

320as-seen-on-tv.jpgClassic theme songs might seem to be a thing of the past. Some shows, like LOST and My Name is Earl, don’t have them at all. And even among those that do still have theme songs, it might seem that not enough shows boast the timeless classics of Sanford and Son (Quincy Jones’s “The Streetbeater”), or All in the Family (Adams and Strouse’s “Those Were the Days”) or Cheers (Gary Portnoy’s “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”).

But it’s not true. After an admitted lull brought on by the likes of pop-driven stuff on kid-fave-wanna-bes like Dawson’s Creek, and Enya rip-off melodies on shows trying to be too serious for their own good, there’s finally once again a crop of shows that are bringing back the music:

"Short Skirt, Long Jacket," Cake, from NBC’s Chuck
There’s something about this song, from Cake’s 2001 Comfort Eagle release, that fits perfectly with this new show from 2007. There are almost no lyrics to this song, at least the section sampled for the opening credits of NBC’s comedy-thriller, except for some retro “na-na-na-na-NA-na” stuff toward the end, so that’s not it. Maybe it’s that the song plays on 60s musical riffs in a similar way that the show itself plays on 60s spy storylines? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that Cake rocks, and so does Chuck.

"God Only Knows," The Beach Boys, from HBO’s Big Love
No one’s going to get an street cred from pretending that this old Beach Boys song is anything but sappy, especially seeing as how since its inception, it’s been the anthem to bad wedding receptions everywhere (immediately preceded by the drunken best man toast, and followed promptly by either the Chicken Dance or the Bunny Hop). Still, as an opening to this show about an intermingled set of strange relationships, it’s pretty effective nonetheless. Goes to show that great music doesn’t have to be new, or even necessarily sincere, to work.

The Big Bang, Barenaked Ladies, from CBS’ The Big Bang Theory
The only thing I can think to criticize this weird and fun little song by Canada’s Barenaked Ladies is that it reminds me perhaps too much of the They Might Be Giants song "Why Does the Sun Shine?" Since it was written for the show itself (though later released as a single), it’s possible that one was the inspiration for the other. But it’s equally possible that I’m putting way too much thought into this.

The Office Theme, from NBC’s The Office
The instrumental theme to The Office always reminds me of the beginning of the Bob Newhart Show. Maybe it’s the piano at the very end, but there’s something in this theme that makes me think of great sitcoms of the 70s. It’s simultaneously jazzy and wistful, I think, which fits with the show’s emotional tone pretty well. And besides, it makes a great ring tone for that Dwight sitting in the cubicle next to you.
Clip not available because of NBC/Universal's lawyers.

It’s a Jungle Out There, Randy Newman, from USA’s Monk
Another theme song written specifically for the program it fronts (something else that was true for many of the classics), Randy Newman’s piece here demonstrates how humor can be tied into a jaunty little tune to create a sense of the show that follows. It also marks the first time in nearly 20 years that Randy Newman has made any money on anything without Pixar being involved.
Clip not available because of NBC/Universal's lawyers.

Down in the Hole, The Blind Boys of Alabama, from HBO’s The Wire
HBO’s acclaimed series has used several versions of this song for the opening credits. The first (and arguably the best) was the Blind Boys of Alabama. Season two was Tom Waits (who also wrote the song—but a strange upbeat keeps this from being my favorite). The current season is Steve Earle, which is a nice change of pace after the comparative mis-steps of seasons three and four (the Neville Brothers and a Baltimore Boys’ Choir, respectively). But all of them capture the gritty and relentlessness of this series. This song does exactly what a theme song should: once you hear it, you know what you’re in for.

-- Teague Bohlen


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