In Jordan’s last post (which you should really check out if you haven’t, especially since it was on his birthday), he wrote about things he wishes to see on TV. Of course, I have my own wish list for TV, as I’m sure you do too, but, in respect to the upcoming holiday, let’s never forget to take some time to be thankful instead of wishful. For my next few posts, I’ll be pointing out common traits among TV shows that I really appreciate and how they make watching TV more fun. To start on a high note, this post will be dedicated to theme songs. Think about one of your favorite theme songs, and let it play on repeat in the back of your head as you read on.
The theme song has one job. Usually within two minutes or less, it must define the essence of a show exclusively in a musical fashion, and that’s exactly why I love them. They’re creative, catchy, and always let you know exactly what you’re in for, leaving no possible room for confusion. If you hear “Meet the Flintstones,” you know you’re about to watch the modern stone-age family. If a pirate in a frame asks you “who lives in a pineapple under the sea,” then you’re watching a show about an undersea sponge. If a guy starts telling you the story of his life and how it “got flipped, turned upside-down,” then you’re about to watch the rein of a fresh prince. Theme songs are appetizers that give you a taste of what’s coming in the main course, whetting your appetite for it, and the kind of theme songs that get me the most excited to watch a show are ones I can sing along with.
Simply put, theme songs with catchy lyrics are my love language. The lyrics to a good theme song often continue ringing in my ears well after I finish watching the show, compelling me to keep singing along (more often aloud than to myself) as I go through my day. Nothing excites me more than singing about the exploits and antics of beloved characters, almost as if I get to join in on the fun by doing so, and it gets even more fun when friends and fellow fans, unable to contain themselves, spontaneously join me as I sing their favorite themes. I’ve realized that catchy, easy to memorize lyrics can turn a theme song into an anthem, or a sort of liturgy, calling out to fans from all over to unite in one accord and sing a show’s praises together. In a way, it’s beautiful, and, let’s be real, there’s nothing more vindicating than saying the words “In West Philadelphia, born and raised” out loud in a crowded elevator and hearing a stranger from behind respond “In the playground’s where I spent most of my days.” Of course, not every theme song has to have lyrics to be pervasive.
Instead of using lyrics to tell you what a show is about, instrumental themes often show you what you’re in for by matching the tone of the shows they represent. Jordan and I just got done watching through Cowboy Bebop for the first time, and we both loved its high-octane, jazzy theme, which acts as the first track to the jazz-themed soundtrack heard throughout the series. The unsettling, dissonant guitar riff you hear throughout The Twilight Zone’s theme song (dee dee DEE dee, “dee dee DEE dee”) is a clear indicator of the show’s eerie tone, and no one will ever forget it. The themes to both Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated series are two of the most grandiose themes I’ve ever heard for a cartoon, both brilliantly capturing the tone of the hero they represent as well as their adventures. If anything, having no lyrics just gives the music itself more opportunity to wash over you as you listen to it, speaking directly to your soul as you prepare to engage with the show.
Theme songs add a whole new layer to enjoy and prove that the creators are willing to go the extra creative mile to create a show worth watching. It’s why I always get a little disappointed whenever I find a show, especially a cartoon, that doesn’t have an actual theme song, like Regular Show or any of the Marvel cartoons airing on Disney now (seriously, all they give us are boring, 10-second musical stingers with a title card, which looks more like something you’d see before/after commercial break). Sure, a good show doesn’t need a theme song, nor should anyone like a show solely for its theme. However, a good theme song is like the icing a skilled artisan uses to craft a beautiful cake that appeals to multiple senses, a treat for the eyes as well as the stomach (or, in this case, the ears). It can only add to the experience. Besides, I can’t be the only one who’s eaten icing directly out of the can before…right?
In any case, theme songs are a fun romp of a TV tradition, and, so long as we continue to take the time to show creators how much we love the songs to our favorite shows, I believe creators of future shows will continue to uphold that tradition for years to come, which we all will benefit from. If anything, listening to that massive Youtube playlist of your favorite theme songs means you’re just doing your civic duty as a concerned Television connoisseur, making TV land a better place for all of us. Quickly everyone, to Youtube! (NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA, Youtube! NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA, Youtube!)
P.S. Speaking of music, come back Tuesday to read Jordan’s thoughts on Matilda: The Musical.