Thursday, 28 June 2018

My Top Ten TV Theme Tunes (Instrumental)




This is actually a repost from my old blog, originally posted back in 2010. It was requested by Martin - probably the only person (apart from JC) who remembers the old blog. Anyway, Martin posted a link relating to one of the shows on this list recently and it seemed a good time to dust this off... particularly as I'm on holiday this week so had to pre-prepare all my posts.


When I originally decided to compile a list of my favourite TV themes, it quickly became apparent that these break down into two distinct categories - those with vocals, and those without. So I did a list for each. I may have to revise the vocals one before reposting it (if anyone's interested) as I don't agree with all my original choices now, but I'm pretty happy with the list below so I think I'll leave it as it is.

It should go without saying (except this is the internet, and you can't ever be too careful) that this isn't a list of my favourite TV shows. In fact, there's only one show here which would get on that list... wonder if you can guess which? On the other hand, my all-time favourite TV show has a theme tune that sounds like someone from Stomp banging a bunch of dustbin lids together... so there's no correlation between a great theme tune and a great TV show.

The majority of my favourite theme tunes hail from the 70s and 80s. One or two are from even further back. What does that tell us? Theme tunes were much better when we were kids... even if TV shows weren't. (Or maybe some of them were... but most of the ones on this list have aged pretty badly and can only be viewed with a nostalgic eye these days.)

At the time of compiling this list, I suggested a few runners-up, including The AvengersBlakes 7DallasDr. Who Star Trek and Starsky & Hutch. I think I should have included Taxi on that list too. I can't think of any memorable TV themes from the last 10 years or so... but that may be because I fast-forward through the credits on most shows I watch these days. The TV theme tune is a lost artform then, and these were some of the greats...

10. The Sweeney


Harry South's theme to The Sweeney spells out the name of the show musically. "The Sweeney - the Sweeney - doo doodoo doo doodoo... etc." A number of Hammer Horror films used the same technique, as did The Return Of The Saint and the "Tucker Jenkins" motif from the end of the Grange Hill theme. "Shut it!"

9. The Incredible Hulk - The Lonely Man Theme


Was there ever a sadder image than poor old 'David'* Banner shrugging his backpack over his shoulder and walking out of town, thumbing a lift while nobody stops? That was all down to Joe Harnell's Lonely Man Theme, which closed The Incredible Hulk every week.

(*They called him David, not Bruce, on TV, allegedly because the producers thought Bruce sounded "too gay". Ah, the 70s: the decade when offensiveness became an artform.)

8. The Professionals


Wa-wa wa! Wa-wa wawa wawawawa wa-wa... wa wa-wa wa! Dung - chikka chikka chikka chikka chikka - wa wa-wa wa!

Ha - look at Martin Shaw's perm! Snigger.

7. Mission Impossible


My love of Lalo Schifrin's Mission Impossible music was tainted slightly when Tom Cruise and those muppets from U2 got hold of it. Still, if I close my eyes and picture Peter Graves and Martin Landau, everything's all right.

6. The A Team


The only problem with the A Team theme is that it takes so long to get going. Yes, I know we need that famous talky bit first, but hurry up with the nobody-gets-hurt car chases already! The first Mike Post theme on this list...

5. Hill Street Blues


...followed immediately by the second Mike Post theme on this list.

I took piano lessons for almost ten years, but I was never very good. The theme to Hill Street Blues was one of the only things I could ever really play. And that's easy! Simple, but effective - and quite unlike most other cop shows of its time. Let's be careful out there...

4. The Rockford Files


Three Mike Post theme tunes in a row! The man is a genius. This was a Top 10 hit in the States back in 1975.

When I was a kid, Jim Rockford's answering machine seemed like the ultimate in futuristic, high-tech innovation. You just know that if they ever do a remake, Jim's gonna be on Twitter.

3. Magnum PI


Look who's back again... even MORE Mike Post!

TC's helicopter swooping down over a crystal blue sea, the smirk on Tom Selleck's face, Higgins being a prissy English cliche... the Magnum theme tune conjures up so many memories. There's a lot going on in this theme - it's like three tunes in one. I'm also convinced the Manic Street Preachers nicked one of them.

2. The Twilight Zone


Possibly one of the most iconic TV themes ever recorded - and yet it's so simple. "Doo-doo doo-doo..." has entered the cultural language in the same way as the "der-der der-der" from Jaws. I reckon there's people who "doo doo doo doo" and they've never even seen The Twilight Zone. Which is a crying shame. Because it's still brilliant, even after all these years.


The theme was written by Bernard Herrmann, the man responsible for many of Hitchcock's most famous film themes (including North By North West, Vertigo and eek!eek!eek!eek! Psycho).


1. Hawaii Five-0


The prime example of a theme tune that transcends its show. What else do you remember about Hawaii Five-0? "Book 'im, Danno!" If you ever find yourself watching this show again, you're almost certain to find it deathly dull. But that theme tune - even forty years on, it's one of the most exciting things I've ever heard coming out of a television set.

I've never seen the remake - perhaps it's a much better TV show. Apparently they originally tried a different version of the theme tune on that but quickly decided that you don't mess with perfection and got some of the original session musicians back in the studio to re-record it exactly as it originally was... only shorter, for the shorter attention spans of today's TV audiences.


This theme was written by Morton Stevens, a former musical director for the Rat Pack. Unlike Mike Post and Bernard Herrmann though, he appears to be a bit of a One Hit Wonder in the theme tune stakes. Still, as I always say, if you're only gonna have one hit... make it a belter!




So, those were mine - what are yours?

Remember, instrumental themes only... I'll discuss singalongs later, if you're interested.

22 comments:

  1. Brilliance, utter brilliance, from start to finish! I would have had Starsky and Hutch in there, but at the expense of what? I don't know.

    The Lonely Man Theme from The Incredible Hulk, inspired choice. Anyone remember the opening music? No, me neither.

    Might have had the Sweeney and Professionals tune higher up the list, maybe with Magnum PI a bit lower, but hey, this is all gold.

    (Oh, and I was about to go and create a "Jim Rockford's answerphone" Twitter account but ... RockfordTapes is there already)

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    1. The opening of The Incredible Hulk was mostly monologue with a bit of tense backing music. Hardly a theme.

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  2. Oh, you just get so nostalgic listening to these themes - They don't make 'em like that any more (or do we all just fast forward). Brilliant as Martin says.

    I would have had Taxi in the Top 10 but Mr WIAA would have had The Persuader's theme (but probably more because he wanted to be a hybrid of Brett Sinclair/Danny Wilde as a boy).

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    1. Persuaders was before my time, I'm afraid. I do have a fondness for the theme to The Protectors though... That may show up in volume 2, the vocals.

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  3. A fantastic Top 10 Rol, but I agree with Alyson - wot, no Persuaders? Or Taxi? From your selections, I'd imagine that The Sweeney would be my own personal No.1, but for old times sake, I'd also have to make room for this beauty... http://unthoughtofthoughsomehow.blogspot.com/2014/06/terry-lil-and-power-game.html

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    1. Taxi would probably have been #11.

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  4. Well, I'm going to be Mr Unpopular and say that I always enjoyed "Hill Street Blues" and "The Rockford Files" and their theme tunes but never bothered with the rest.

    A Family Guy fact is that Stewie Griffin closed out one of the shows doing a walkaway as "The Lonely Man" theme was played.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94pEjQAzGG8

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    1. I think it's a much parodied scene. And not unpopular, just of a generation for whom the A-Team would hold little appeal?

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  5. Great post and a great idea I may have to pilfer! I think I'd have to have Taxi and The Persuaders in my top 10, along with Doctor Who and Shelley. But Hill Street Blues would definitely be there

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    1. Dr. Who is an interesting one. It carries such nostalgic luggage that can't help but connect it to my childhood and evoke strong memories... But later versions have rather diluted it's impact for me.

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  6. I love the theme from the Hulk. You can imagine my surprise when it turned up here

    https://app.box.com/s/0mj3f4u869j04mcoxyqflxfyc3m16ine

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    1. That's got to be the oddest use of that tune I've ever heard, though I guess it makes as much sense as the Superman sample which opens the track.

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  7. Taxi - so mellow and mournful. Slightly less obvious: the gently skanking theme from the late great Ronnie Corbett’s Sorry. Reggae was just much more a part of the furniture back in the day. And all time fave: Rhubarb & Custard, that fuzz guitar has never been bettered, in my opinion.

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    1. Rhubarb was in serious contention, actually - as you say, that guitar is unbeatable. Good to hear from you again, Artog.

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  8. Excellent stuff.
    One of my favourites is the wonderful, psychedelic,sitar-laden theme from the brilliant Sir Prancelot:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlQYizttQZI

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    1. New one on me, though I can hear George Harrison digging that.

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  9. Did you consider the theme tune for "Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds". I was in my 30's when it arrived on British TV but my inner/outer child thought it was great fun.

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    1. Never watched Dogtanian, I'm afraid. Suspect I'd just reached the age when cartoons weren't cool anymore.

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  10. Replace Hulk with Monk. Otherwise an excellent list

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    1. Ah, but Monk is sung. Come back next week for that one!

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  11. Two instrumental themes I remember that turned out to be part of much longer, prog-leaning tracks.

    1, Hitch-hikers Guide To The Galaxy: The Eagles - Journey Of The Sorcerer
    2. Weekend World: Mountain - Nantucket Sleighride

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