A few years ago, Seth listed — in our second-ever installment of Pajiba’s Guide to What’s Good for You — the greatest television theme songs of all time. It was a list I almost wholly agreed with. But I do have to concede — and I think others would, too — that a lot of those TV theme songs, particularly from the 1980s and ’90s, were great for nostalgia’s sake. I don’t think many of them — save for the “Cheers” theme — would fly today. You know: Alan Thicke used to write a lot of television theme songs (“Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of LIfe”) and the thing about those great cheesy theme songs was that they were not that dissimilar to advertising jingles. “Who’s the Boss?,” “Growing Pains,” “Family Ties”? They were homey little numbers that kind of crawled inside your head and camped out for days. The original “Felicity” theme song used to do that to me, too.
But today, television theme songs have changed, I think, for the better. I’m not sure, really, but it seems to me that “Friends” (for comedy) and “The Sopranos” (for drama) may have steered theme songs in a new direction: Namely, shows often take pre-existing songs and edit them into theme songs. There are still a lot of good original themes, of course (a few of which are included below), but it’s fairly common now — especially for dramas — to find a great song and just use that.
The function is still the same, however: To set the tone. And in a DVR-friendly television landscape, the best TV themes are ones that you won’t fast-forward through (and don’t even bother for “The Office” or “30 Rock” themes — the 8-second auto-rewind function will invariably put you right back where you started).
Here are my seven favorite theme songs from currently airing television shows (or ones on hiatus).
7. “Mad Men”: I don’t actually love this particular song, but I think it’s incredibly successful for the way it sets the tone for the show as a whole. It gets you right into the “Mad Men” mindset.
6. “Spooks” (“MI:5”): I should be a little embarrassed, I guess, but this is actually my ringtone right now. It’s infectious.
5. “Psych”: I don’t even like “Psych” very much anymore; the theme song may very well be the best thing about it these days. This one, however, more than any other on this list, recalls late-’80s, early-’90s theme songs, which is appropriate, since “Psych” calls back to that era so often in the show. It’s just a fun fucking theme. Unfortunately, it pumps you up for what’s sure to be a letdown, as of late.
4.“Damages”: For whatever reason, for the longest time, I thought this song was performed by U2 with The Edge on lead vocals. It’s not. It’s a band called VLA. It successfully captures the insidious undertone of the show (which has jumped the shark a bit in season 3), but the best part of it, really, is searching to see if Ted Danson’s name will show up on a particular given week.
3. “Rescue Me”: Cool song that captures the harried, heavy-drinking nature of a firefighter, or at least those depicted in “Rescue Me.”
3. “Doctor Who”: If you’re a hardcore “Doctor Who” fan, there is nothing better than this theme to occasionally even give you the fist-pumping goose bumps.
2. “Friday Night Lights”: Man, this theme song just sinks in, and it’s one of those — like a lot of theme songs — that appears four to six minutes into the show. Instead of introducing the tone, it sort of reinforces it. And it always seems to come on at just the right moment. I’m convinced that Explosions in the Sky could make anything feel a little poignant — someone should run one of their songs over a Transformers trailer. I bet it would blow your mind.
1. “Sons of Anarchy”: How great is this song? Who doesn’t hear it and croon along with Curtis Stigers. It kind of sucks you in, and then pushes you into the show. It’s fantastic, and actually reminds me a bit of the “Firefly” theme song, which is one of my all-time favorites.