Best TV Theme Songs That Didn't Make My List
When I gathered with a bunch of experts at the Peabody Awards offices in the University of Georgia earlier this year to discuss the state of the TV industry, we dissected one topic that wasn't quite heady enough to make our final report.
The death of the TV theme song.
It was a notion which stuck with me for a while, so when we started talking in Floridian about how digital technology was killing off all these cool pop culture creations -- liner notes and album covers, for instance -- I thought again about how cool the greatest TV themes are and how producers' fear of viewers' itchy remote fingers have nearly killed off the form.
Here's the story I cobbled together for Floridian today on the whole issue, complete with my list of the coolest TV themes ever. If you think you know this stuff as well as we do, then check out our online quiz, and test your mettle.
Here, for the blog, are the coolest TV theme songs which didn't make my top 10 list:
1) The Wire: Down in the Hole -- For my top Ten list, this one went down to the wire; I basically had to choose between The Sopranos' percolating Woke Up This Morning and The Wire's bluesy lament, written by the music biz's master of stylish decay, Tom Waits. Though I had to go with the Jersey boys on this one -- I like my health too much, thank you -- I still have a soft spot for this muscular tune, which producers re-record every year to fit the season's theme. For the final season starting Jan. 6, Steve Earle, who also appears on camera as an earnest addiction counselor, does the honors. Extra credit: Hear Waits' version for Season 2 here.
2) The Mission: Impossible Theme -- The slickest TV espionage theme for TV's slickest espionage show. The coolest thing about the '60s -- besides The Beatles, Black Power-era James Brown and the space program, of course -- was pop culture's fascination with spy stuff. And any series cool enough to feature Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Steven Hill and Barbara Bain had to have a kickass theme. Thanks to Lalo Schifrin -- the man who also gave us scores for Dirty Harry, Cool Hand Luke and Bullitt -- they got one. Extra credit: Hear the update by U2 members Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. here.
3) Baretta: Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow -- I'm a sucker for Sammy Davis Jr., '70s showbiz hokum and faded Rat Pack cool, so this was one of my favorite TV themes growing up. Even by then, Robert Blake was a quirky, tough-talking crackpot with a self-destructive charm that lept through the screen. And Sammy's Vegas-ready tribute to the street cop's life was picture perfect for this odd mix of urban grit and showbiz-smooth. Extra credit: See the show's opening credit's here.
4) The Good Times Theme -- This was the first TV show which felt halfway realistic to a young kid growing up in a poor corner of Gary, Ind. I didn't have a father at home, but I loved the idea of a being raised by man like James Evans -- proud, hardworking and a little bewildered by a world which always seemed to hand him the stick's short end. Good times, indeed. Extra credit: Hear the gospelized theme here; extra points if you can tell me the lyrics after "scratchin' and survivin.'"
So, blogreaders, what are your favorites?