September 20, 2008

Theme Songs Turn the World on With Their Tunes

Sunday night, I'll be sitting on my couch, rooting with my cats for "Lost" and "30 Rock" to win Emmy Awards. How my night would be complete if Tina Fey and Carrie Fisher scored for "30 Rock." Sarah Palin, meet Princess Leia.

But this year, I'm not as interested in the winners as I am, of

all things, a production number.

Josh Groban, he of the booming voice and self-deprecating sense of humor, will perform a tribute to TV theme songs.

That just escalated him a gazillion notches on the coolness meter, and I don't even know which ones he's singing.

No one does, actually, because producers want to keep it a surprise.

But the four-minute-plus medley of about two dozen themes is said to include "The Brady Bunch" and "The Andy Griffith Show," which is much more than a whistle.

As eager as I am to hear this homage, the implied meaning behind it saddens me: This is the TV academy acknowledging that what was once a vital ingredient of a show is now, like so many things, a relic.

And as much as I worship my TiVo, I'll admit - the DVR killed the TV theme.

Heard anything memorable the past few years that you didn't bypass with the click of a button?

OK, the Barenaked Ladies' "The History of Everything" is perfectly suited to the brainiacs of "The Big Bang Theory," and Danny Elfman nails the fuzzy line between playfulness and malevolence with his "Desperate Housewives" theme.

But ever catch yourself humming it, like you might have "Mission: Impossible"?

This is another topic that immediately inspires arguments, and, as always, I'd love to hear your picks and post them on the pop culture blog.

But first, I'm going to share my favorites with you.

I vacillated for days over whether I should separate my list into instrumental themes and ones with lyrics - yes, these are the things I ruminate over at 5 a.m. - and, in the interest of space, decided to just reel off my top instrumentals without explanation.

Really, don't you think the themes to "Miami Vice,""Six Feet Under,""The X-Files,""Hill Street Blues" and "Dallas" flawlessly encapsulate their respective shows through well-chosen synthesizers and one massive orchestra?

I do.

As for my Top 10 themes with lyrics:

10) "The Sopranos": The British band A3 is responsible for "Woke Up This Morning," inspired by the story of a woman shooting her abusive husband to death. You could say that theme of violence - along with a deliberate cadence - meshed pretty well with the soul of Tony Soprano.

9) "The Partridge Family": I'm not sure what I think of first when I recall this song - the image of Technicolor partridge eggs breaking open or David Cassidy's dimples imploring me to "get happy."

8) "Gilligan's Island": Who needed to watch the show, when you got the whole plot in "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle"?

Written as a sea-shanty singalong, "The Ballad" always had an ominous undercurrent to me, like, there was no way this show would have a happy ending.

Obviously, I didn't know my sitcom formulas as a 7-year-old watching repeats.

7) "Growing Pains"/ "Family Ties"/ "The Golden Girls": You're looking at this trifecta because a) I limited myself to 10 picks and this was a clever way of slipping in more and b) They're all basically the same song - with tender messages about family, love and friendship.

I'm also sneaking in "The Facts of Life" because a) you'll never get it out of your head once you remember it ("You take the good, you take the bad"... ) and b) Nancy McKeon's Jo Polniaczek was my idol growing up - and still kinda is.

6) "Friends": The Rembrandts got famous for one of the few songs they didn't write (a couple of pro songwriters penned it specifically for the show).

Regardless, its simple message of togetherness is timeless, and that melody is ridiculously catchy.

5) "Laverne & Shirley": It took me until the arrival of the Internet, when I could look up lyrics, to figure out what the heck the girls were saying at the beginning of the song ("Schlemeel, schlimazel").

Not that I really cared. I was too busy reveling in Cyndi Grecco's cheesy promises that I, too, could make my dreams come true, but possibly only if I engraved a giant "M" on my shirts.

4) "All in the Family": Speaking of nostalgia, that's precisely the point of "Those Were the Days," sung live each week by Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton with intentional exaggeration.

3) "I Love Lucy": Like "The Andy Griffith Show," it is often forgotten that "Lucy" 's musical signature also has words ("I love Lucy and she loves me"... ).

That version, sung by Desi Arnaz, appeared in one episode, "Lucy's Last Birthday." Otherwise, it was the zippy orchestral instrumental that became synonymous with TV's feistiest redhead.

2) "The Mary Tyler Moore Show": And then there was TV's spunkiest singleton, Mary Richards. She turned the world on with her smile, and her relentless optimism was channeled through Sonny Curtis' beaming "Love Is All Around."

The theme has been remade a ton of times, with the best version coming from Joan Jett.

1) "Cheers": When I was in eighth grade, I was a sad kid.

One day, in an effort to cheer me up, my teacher that year told me that every time she heard "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," she thought of me and my ambitions.

It cheered me up. And now, every time I hear it, I think of her.


Originally published by RUGGIERI; Music Critic.

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