TV Themes

By Rev/Views

Recently Memles of Cultural Learnings recently wrote about how Nurse Jackie's credit sequence really wasn't up to snuff. Which spiralled into a mix of opening credits people like and ones people don't. Now a while back I wrote about some of my favourite credit sequences and I have no desire to directly revisit that right now, a comment about the Sons of Anarchy theme and the resulting reply from Memles (indicating that the theme had been written specifically for and about the show, which explained why it's so on the nose) got me thinking a little about the themes for various shows I've watched.

The simple truth of the TV show theme is it boils down to one of three things; a short sting (think Heroes/Lost), a specifically crafted and normally instrumental theme (Arrested Development, Homicide, Dexter, Six Feet Under and The Shield for example) or the adoption/adaptation of an already existing song. This is a look at the third kind for the most part, the ones which come with lyrics and are adopted from what's already out there.

Chuck - "Short Skirt Long Jacket" by Cake

In truth this is the song which inspired this list, my first experience of the song came from Chuck itself and I was left with the impression that the music had been written specifically for the show (credits here) it seems almost written for a show about spies doesn't it? That guitar riff in particular is both catchy and reverberates with a "James Bond" feel.

But what's more incredible is when you look at the song as a whole (here) and it's appropriateness when dealing with one of the major themes of Chuck. The song initially talks in general terms about wanting a woman who's one type but gradually morphs into talking specifics about her and she turns out to be another type all together. It's a song about longing after that specific woman - and as such it's close to one of Chuck's "clicks", but it's not so close that it feels too staged.

(Of course, a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket is a professional business woman, not a spy. But any girl in a short skirt is fine by me. Actually thinking about it a girl in a short skirt and a long jacket could also be a "professional" of another kind... Hmm.)

Damages - "When I Am Through With You" By The VLA

Damages has a theme which is most certainly positioned right on the nose of the show, the edit of the song used for the opening credits (here) brings a huge amount of excitement to the credits - it's cut down, but the full song (here) keeps the punch and has additional meaning when related to the context of the show, especially when you read through the lyrics.

The main thing I'm most impressed about is the editing in the theme version, while it's not quite up to the standard of Chuck's it is in the same family and league. A short, sharp bite of music which is lead by a snappy riff - but this time it's driven by a pounding drum beat. It's also got that 'spy/espionage' feel which isn't completely inappropriate for the show.

In short it's a song which is almost too appropriate for the show, but it can be forgiven because it's incredible.

In case you're curious, the opening words rolled out are "Little lamb..."

The Office (UK) - "Handbags and Gladrags" by Mike a'Abo

I'll confess it here right at the start, I'm not the biggest fan in the world of the UK original - personally preferring the US version which (after a faltering start) found it's legs and headed off in it's own direction, resulting in an amazing show which still continues to be strong.

But I have no doubt that I prefer the UK's theme tune over the American one. Handbags and Gladrags is a classic song and it's been great since Chris Farlowe first released his version (here). The Office version is arranged by Big George, but it loses none of the power of the original song. Creating a sort of melancholic and almost empty feeling to the show, which echoes the hollow nature of modern office life - pushing paper around for eight or nine hours a day is no living for humanity, but that's what it's come to. At least until the singularity hits or the world ends up like Mad Max 2.

Here's Big George's version in full - personally I prefer the Stereophonic's cover.

Rescue Me - "C'MON C'MON" by The Von Blondies

I'm honestly not entirely sure what C'MON C'MON is about, it's possible that the lines "With my teeth locked down I can see the blood. Of a thousand men who have come and gone" have at least some relevance when related to the collapse of the Twin Towers - a central theme for the early parts of the show. But the song also seems to be an energetic tribute to the lost times of the past.

In truth I have absolutely no idea how C'MON C'MON fits into Rescue Me, but it does provide a striking and adrenaline filled opener which gets you ready for the slightly surreal nature of the show.

Full Version
Credits Version

The Wire - "Way Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits

I think it's fair to call The Wire's song the absolute daddy of TV Themes, taking a superb song from an absolute genius of an artist which completely evokes the feel and message of the show (at least one of the messages) and then goes as far as to provide the viewers with not one, not two but five different renditions of the song. From Tom's own bleak original all the way to Steve Earle's cover there's a version for almost everyone.

In the lyrics the song talks about keeping the devil 'way down in the hole' which is an analogy that fits many parts of the show's themes. Not just the obvious devils - Sin and Drugs - but many more subtle ones. McNulty's own struggle with his personal demons is one more obvious example of this but there are many more.

Here's the Steve Earle rendition and Tom Wait's original.

So that's a brief look at a few of my favourite adapted songs which are used as TV Themes, I know there are many more examples out there and I'd love for you to share your favourites with me. So go ahead.


1 comment so far.

  1. MysterLynch 23 January 2010 at 18:36
    I liked Los Lobos' version of Down in the Hole.

    I totally agree about the theme for DAMAGES. Really killer choice that totally works.

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