Friday, June 27, 2008

Top 5 Television Theme Songs - Instrumental Edition

I decided to split this list up because a) there's too many good theme songs out there, and b) you can't really compare those themes with lyrics to those without. And for the record, any spoken narration does not qualify as lyrical content.

Dan's Top 5:

1. The A-Team - Theme by Mike Post - Probably the most formulaic show in history, but so much of its popularity is (in my mind) due to the awesome theme song, created by none other than the master of television theme songs, Mike Post. Listen to that theme, and you get pumped up. Right now as I'm thinking about it, I'm ready to punch someone, or shoot at them and miss them entirely, or adamantly express my disdain for traveling in airplanes.

2. The Critic - Theme by Hans Zimmer - Let me guess, this show is set in New York City. It's a dead giveaway once you hear jazz clarinet. But here's the thing - I love jazz clarinet and the theme is awesome. I could imagine having this song playing as I walk into work every day, and as I sit down at my computer, the song ends just like when Jay Sherman's going to bed. Can Zimmer do any wrong? If he has, I don't know about it.

3. Miami Vice - Theme by Jan Hammer - Remember how the 80's sucked? Oh yeah, that's right - they didn't. Say what you will about the series itself (I like it, but a lot of that is camp value. I have no problem with you hating the show.) But Hammer's theme was the new definition of cool. Just listen to it again, and you're just filled with the imagery of primitive synthesizers, neon pastels, and plastic that would come to define the decade.

4. The Simpsons - Theme by Danny Elfman - Do I really need to say anything here? The theme is deliberately wacky, and if there's anyone who can produce that sort of music, it's Danny Elfman . He's probably best known for his superhero themes nowadays, but really, his talent encompasses a wide range. Probably my favorite film (and television) composer.

5. The Venture Bros. - Theme by J. G. Thirlwell - New classic status at #5, as is standard practice. I don't even know if anyone else reading this blog has ever watched Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming. Honestly, I wouldn't be offended if you didn't, because a lot of the programming is god-awful. However, one of the few really good shows is The Venture Bros., which, in essence is a mockery of 70's cartoons such as Jonny Quest. The adventurous theme fits perfectly, with a few electronic subtleties thrown in. The horns can be a bit harsh at times, though.

Honorable mention: Hawaii Five-O - Theme by Morton Stevens, Mission: Impossible - Theme by Lalo Schifrin, Sanford and Son - Theme by Quincy Jones

Ryan's Top 5:

I don't have the courage to look up on my laptop who wrote/composed the following songs.

1. The Simpsons - I like going with different answers on the whole, but screw that--this best instrumental theme song ever produced also belongs to the best TV show ever made. Try imagining the show without this song--it can't be done.

2. M*A*S*H - Such a good theme song. This would be my dad's #1, hands down. He'd actually be pissed that I almost forgot this one. It's a good thing only three people read this.

3. Knight Rider - Gets major cred as this is one one the few TV theme songs that I choose to listen to on my iPod (both Offices, um, ... that might be it). Such a cool-sounding tune.

4. Twin Peaks - Yes, I initially forgot this one, which was one of my favorite songs for a long time. A beautiful song.

5. Sportscenter - This tune has come to epitomize Sports. Can you name any other example of a theme song that encapsulates its entire genre? (No sitcom's theme epitomizes Comedy, for example.)

Honorable: Hawaii Five-0 (I haven't seen an episode...), The Office US, I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, The Office UK, Northern Exposure, The X-Files.

**Thanks to Cortney, who pointed out my numerous inadequacies regarding this list.**

Tim’s Top 5:
Ok, I was really unhappy to see these lists on the site, as an avid non-watcher of television that’s not sports, I’m not privileged to have much of a source on this. Then I realized that it didn’t matter, because the songs of value are old anyway, and because my #1 and #2 were so obvious and yet unmentioned that I had a real opportunity to go in a different direction here.

1. The Green Hornet - There is simply no contest, the theme song is one of the best things about the show, which was amazing despite its razor-thin plot. And it’s the best Rimsky-Korsakov on the market. Good luck finding an orchestra to take this angle on it. Man, I wish this show would come out on authentic DVD instead of the terrible Chinese imports slapped together to sate people’s desire for Bruce Lee on TV. If I ever have a child who wants to join the marching band, he or she will be forced to practice on their trumpet until they sound like this.

2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents - More because it’s really suitable for the show, I can’t refrain from putting this on the list. It came to personify Hitchcock as much as the drawing, neither of which spoke very highly of him, but it elevated him to a cultural persona that was not shared by any of his peers as directors (as if he had any).

3. Law and Order - I am the only person who’s graduated from law school that’s never watched the show. But it doesn’t keep me from appreciating that its theme is appropriate and has been for the nearly two decades that it and its variants have been on the air. Composing so timeless is astounding enough in its own right.

4. Hawaii Five-O - I also have never seen the show, but I know the Hawaii Five-O theme as well as I know Jack Lord’s hair. It’d odd not to have the theme play whenever you see Jack Lord in Dr. No, frankly.

5. Mission: Impossible - Ok, this is a link to the modernized version that’s associated with the movie, but I’m too lazy to post another link. The point is that it’s a good song that you immediately connect with the show, whether or not you’ve seen it. True of all five of these songs.

Honorable mention: Hill Street Blues; The A-Team really has the voice-over lead in, so I can’t really include it in the list because I think it’s a part of it. But I do enjoy 1980s jingoism, and this absolutely reeks of it; M*A*S*H (penalized because I love the song with lyrics so much more in the movie), The Simpsons.


Jon Spell said...

A-men on the A-Team! I remember recording it off of the TV by sticking my tape recorder up to the speaker. Ah, good times. =)

The theme to Bonanza is pretty good, too.

Dan said...

Hmm, I left off "The Office," because "Handbags and Gladrags" has lyrics. But I guess your claim is entirely valid, as the theme itself is just instrumental. Curses!

Dan said...

Props to Tim for his #1 and #2 - I can't believe I missed Green Hornet completely.