There's something about the opening theme of a TV show or series that gets you in the mood instantly. I remember how precious childhood evenings were synonymous with the Knight Rider theme or how I smiled ear to ear every time the Crystal Maze theme started playing. Let's not go so far back, though, and try and list some of the best pieces of music from the recent past. Here are, in no particular order, my 10 favourite themes of TV shows that are still running on air.
A weird mix of tenor sax, baritone sax and bass trombone, this tumbling tumbleweed of a music piece gives an instant idea of the roller-coaster life of the protagonist – a cynical former TV star. Not composed for the show, this demo music piece was a collaborative effort of avant-garde musician Ralph Carney and his nephew Patrick, the drummer of the band Black Keys. While the theme music remains the same, every season little details of the opening credits video changes a wee bit, if you watch carefully.
"Referencing Bernard Herman's work with Hitchcock", composer Bear McCreary came up with a theme that gives the chills every time you hear it. Even if you've been hearing it for almost a decade. A very agitated tune with "undead banjo licks", McCreary wanted "the earworm to get stuck in the back of your head." Coupled with the post-apocalyptic images which play with the theme, the tune really sets up every episode, episode after episode.
Can you imagine that this particular piece titled Temptation Sensation was royalty free when it got picked up? German composer Heinz Kiessling is the man behind this upbeat, breezy orchestral tune and it doesn't give any idea of the mayhem that follows. But this contrapuntal approach is exactly what this show has been about right from its inception way back in 2005.
"It seems today / That all you see / Is violence in movies / And sex on T.V / But where are those good old-fashioned values… / On which we used to rely?" Well, trust Seth McFarlane to be a little saucy with this one because Family Guy is anything but for family audiences. The kind of audiences this theme track is lamenting for. But there are many who are not complaining – about the show or the song.
Larry David supposedly heard the song "Frolic" in a bank commercial and decided to use it as the theme of his then new show in 2000. Composed by Luciano Michelini and first used in an Italian film in the 70s, the instantly recognisable piece starts off with a tuba and then adds everything from mandolin to piano to strings to create what is now known as "The Frolic Effect", which has become synonymous with not only David's on-screen ineptness but anything and everything that's funny.
Half-Iranian half-German Ramin Djawadi has scored the soundtracks of huge blockbusters like Iron Man and Pacific Rim, but he is and perhaps will always be known as the man who composed that extraordinary Game of Thrones theme. You'll find more cover versions of this theme than any other music piece in the world but nothing can ever better the original cello-led piece by Djawadi. "The cello has a low range and the show is very dark. So as a starting point, I wrote everything with the cello and it really worked well." It sure did!
The song by Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies is appropriately called "The History of Everything" as it hops, skips and jumps through how this universe got created and ultimately led to the coming together of Sheldon and Leonard and the rest of the geeky gang. The track goes so well with the show that one often wonders whether the show came first or the song.
It's one of those themes that not only serves the show well but also somewhere becomes a universal song of empowerment. Simply called "Unbreakable", the song, composed by The Gregory Brothers and performed by Mike Britt, traces the backstory of Kimmy, of how she was kidnapped and then got rescued. But at the same time, the lyrics also affirm: "Females are strong as hell!" Beautiful, isn't it?
The man who's written many a terrific score including most of Tim Burton's fantasy films, might be remembered as the guy who did the Simpsons track. What's more, Danny Elfman was convinced that the show won't last more than a season. That was 1989 and The Simpsons are still a hoot. And the "easiest piece he's ever written" is perhaps more recognisable than any other theme ever.
The second Djawadi theme on the list. And for good reason. The music incredibly combines the past with the future and gives an inkling of what the show is all about. For inspiration Djawadi looked at the one and only Ennio Morricone and then dripped his Western spirit in some "underground, robotic sub-world" and the result is this trance-inducing piece that is suspenseful and dramatic and yet unforgettably melodious.