Danny Elfman, David Arnold, Delia Derbyshire, Dr. Who, Eastenders, Hans Zimmer, Hawaii Five-O, Jessica, Knight Rider, Mark Snow Theme Tunes, Mike Post, Morton Stevens, Ron Grainer, Sherlock, Simon May, Stu Phillips, The A Team, The Allman Brothers Band, The Pacific, The Simpsons, The X Files, Top Gear, Top Ten, TV, TV Theme Tunes
In light of a few recent TV series’ with some brilliant accompanying themes I’ve been inspired to look into my favourite TV Themes of all time. When I say TV themes, I’ve been particularly avoiding TV Theme Songs, and focusing on scores. (Hence things like Fresh Prince, Friends and Baywatch have been avoided.) This is because TV Theme songs are, in part, successful due to the fact that they are forced upon you as you continue to watch the show, whereas TV Theme Tunes have to be good for you to remember them! Therefore I’m looking at instrumentals, so no lyrics, just music, and simply great catchy melodies.
It was tough to narrow it down to just 10, but here they are:
10) The X Files – Mark Snow
It’s serene, eerie and yet oddly a great whistling tune. It has been spoofed several times, but when this theme tune is played you instinctively feel that something eerie and suspicious is occurring. The X Files dealt with the unknown, and it was its theme tune’s sparse synths and unusual sounds (supposedly created by putting silly putty between the strings of the piano) that helped put Sci-fi on the map.
9) Top Gear – Jessica, The Allman Brothers Band
Yes, this isn’t a score, but it is a gorgeous instrumental song, and a brilliant piece of driving music. Albeit it now has added effects and is far from the Allman Brothers Band’s original, but it still manages to evoke images of the perfect driving scene: a huge empty American Highway with a powerful convertible speeding along with your hair blowing in the wind. Dickey Betts’ guitar melody definitely puts viewers in gear for the right mood of the show.
8) Sherlock – David Arnold
One of the more recent series’ on the list, like Dr. Who, Sherlock is also written by Stephen Moffat, and also like Dr. Who, Sherlock has been constructed with a series of uniquely orchestrated themes for individual characters. The music oozes with smooth, coolness, and quirkiness, it is perfectly apt for the revitalised and suave Sherlock character.
7) Knight Rider – Stu Phillips
I have never seen an episode of the Knight Rider series, but I have heard this music several times, and that’s testament to a great theme tune. It is menacing, but cheesy, and yet also somehow cool. It’s the juxtaposition of a heavy bassline, combined with eerie synths that make this an instant classic. It is such a notable tune because it has been sampled countless times by the likes of Jay Z and Busta Rhymes, to Punjabi MC it’s all in that epic bassline which makes for it being such a massive tune.
6) Eastenders – Simon May
Yes, it has a detuned piano, and yes some might say it is annoying but I doubt there are few of you who can’t hum the tune. For over 25 years this theme and its iconic ‘doof doof’s’ have been filling sitting rooms with tension and suspense. Originally the soap had lyrics and a song as its theme tune (the Sharon Benson version, ‘I’ll Always Believe in you’ is definitely worth a listen), but the main framework of the melody has always stayed in tact. In recent years this tune has been covered, sampled, chopped and changed, for things like the spinoff E20 series, and various mixes done by DJ’s, and who can forget the alternative sad piano endings inserted during noteworthy incidents. This tune is undoubtedly a guilty pleasure theme tune.
5) The A Team – Mike Post, Pete Carpenter, Garry Schyman
I pity the fool who doesn’t like this theme tune! Much like Hawaii Five-O, the A Team theme tune is iconic, and one of the most notable features of recognition for the series. It sounds comical and serious, perfectly capturing the foolhardy nature of the programme.
4) The Pacific – Hans Zimmer
This may have only been a one-off mini-series, but boy was it brilliant. Directed by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and with music composed by the great Hans Zimmer, this mini-series definitely was of epic proportions. By far this is the most moving TV theme I have ever heard, with its sweeping strings, tender horns and crescendo timpani rolls, it ardently tugs at your heartstrings. You only need to watch the picturesque opening credits to see how high the level of artistry in the whole series was: with the carefully crafted imaging of the charcoal splintering in correspondence with the timpani, you’d be in awe and close to weeping before the show even started. It truly is a beautiful and poignant score.
3) Dr.Who – Ron Grainer, Delia Derbyshire
Originally composed by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire, this theme was an instant classic. When the series was revived in 2005, I was quite excited by its revamped theme by Murray Gold and performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Its signature rolling strings and electronic synth sounds perfectly fit the show. And if you’ve ever watched the Dr. Who Proms, you will know just how intricate and cleverly crafted all the individual character musical themes are, it is a work of pure genius.
2) Hawaii Five-0 – Morton Stevens
Quite possibly the catchiest theme tune of all time, it is unlikely that you will be able to get this one out of your head even days after you’ve first heard it. Even the newly revamped series with its faster and higher pitched version still makes you smile, (well, that and Alex O’Laughlin). But it is this original 3mins long version, which still packs the biggest punch. It’s superbly orchestrated, and when the brass section kicks in you know the Five-O team mean business. Book ‘em Dano!
And at Number 1…
1) The Simpsons – Danny Elfman
It is said that Matt Groening approached Danny Elfman to make a retro-style theme, and it is quite easy to hear that Elfman stayed true to his brief and took inspiration from old Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, style compositions. Elfman produced an outstanding and technically demanding piece, that truly captures all the wit and character of the show. The theme has been continually adapted with intricacy, from modifying saxophone solos for Lisa, to incorporating the many various guest spots providing covers, and not forgetting the alterations needed to suit the infamous couch gags. The probabilities have seemed to be literally endless within the show, and its accompanying compositions seem to follow the unpredictability of the show with ease and flair, a true mark of a brilliant theme tune, and completely worthy of the Number One spot.