Saturday, June 03, 2006

one of the reasons for which i will beat down tony danza, part 2: a reason not to beat down robert guillaume boogaloo

Benson actually has an enjoyable theme song. I hadn't heard it in years, but thanks to TV Land's current Benson marathon it has now replaced the dreaded Who's the Boss? theme within the confines of my rather large skull.
It is all a matter of taste, but methinks the key to having a good theme song is to keep it instrumental.
Consider the bothersome themes like Who's the Boss? that tend to stick in the mind and do their slow neurological damage: From personal experience, I will cite The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Growing Pains, and Charles in Charge to name a few (there are others, like The Greatest American Hero or Moonlighting that are sometimes a nuisance but occasionally fall into a middle category of not always being unwelcomed, depending on the situation). Each of these attempted to do a small part in setting up or reinforcing the main characters. As a child, I assumed that Mrs. Garrett sang the Facts of Life theme, the respective parents on Family Ties and Growing Pains lent vocals to their songs, and Nicole Eggert's character wanted Charles in charge of her and told us as much in song.
This was all a lie implanted successfully into our collective subconsciousness.
By contrast, I never thought that Jack Lord or Tom Selleck played guitar on their respective Hawaiian themed television programs. It never occurred to me that the Incredible Hulk could've played his sad piano theme or that Matlock was responsible for his theme's trombone or clarinet.
However, I did think that Andy Griffith whistled the theme to the Andy Griffith Show and that Ricky Ricardo's band did the theme to I Love Lucy.
Also, I thought that Kitt was responsible for the Knight Rider theme with all its early eighties techno goodness.
Anyway, the thing that all these themes have in common is that they set the mood instrumentally and do not assume to speak for the character. This is how themes should be done.
The best example of this would have to be Angelo Badalamenti's tremolo laden baritone guitar arrangement for Twin Peaks. It sounds like a mystery in a remote mountain town should sound, and I dare say that a set of generic lyrics presumably sung from Agent Cooper's point of view would have lessened the show's viewership.
The X-Files is another good one. Part of me fears the alien anal probe each time the ambient notes filter though my television speakers.
The absence of a theme song is also effective. Lost, if I recall correctly, just has a subtle sound effect somewhat akin to air being released from a manhole cover. It's mysterious and it works.
This, as I said at the onset, could all be a matter of personal preference. However, I think the theory holds true.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have not recently I challenge you to listen to the opening theme from Perfect Strangers. It's truly vile, but couple the song with the opening credits montage and well...there's just something beautiful about it. For the record I have to say that Mike Post is the king. That guy truly understood his craft. Jan Hammer has to be right up there as well with the brilliant Tangerine Dreamish mood music he composed for Miami Vice.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Joseph William Perry said...

Well, I think they got vocalists to mimic the voices of the stars of the show. Witness the Jeffersons. I always thought that about that theme.
Now, I hate to burst your bubble but there was one that shows exception to the "no stars in the theme song" rule. That was All in the Family. But there was a re-recording on that one. Ever notice the first season's rendition had Edith's vocal hystrionics going way over the line and they corrected it on the second season.
Now, you have opened a real un-Seinfeld-ish subject here. This subject is actually meaningful.
How about that theme to the doomed Star Trek Enterprise? They should have stuck with instrumental, like you say. I really think the weak theme contributed to the demise of the show.
Speaking of Star Trek themes, read this .
Hope that link works.
Ever hear the words to I Love Lucy? I heard it once on the show. "I love Lucy and she loves me ..."
Oh, and speaking of something you didn't mention. The sweetest musical performance ever featured on a sitcom. That was when nurse Peggy was cooking every night for Andy and Opie in the absence of Aunt Bee, giving Andy the heebie-jeebies anxiety she was "after" him. Anyway, Andy and Peggy, played by Joanna Moore, then-wife of Ryan O'Neal, mother of Tatum, sang the purtiest duet rendition of Down in the Valley you ever heard, bar none. Shame they couldn't keep Joanna around there. Issues, I suppose.
Well, Rex. I have got a lot off my chest this time. Mostly just spouting off, but maybe it's ok just this time.
Joe
Oh, I almost forgot Frazier. Surely that is really him singing about tossed salad and scrambled eggs!!?

6:00 PM  
Blogger squirrels_on_snark said...

TV theme music went to pot in the 80s and has yet to recover.
I noticed the Benson marathon today, but had the temerity to skip right over it when surfing for something to view.
Somewhere, on casette mind you, I have the TV theme music from the 50s and 60s. Brilliant stuff. Lots of instrumentals, as you prefer.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

I always assumed that was Uhura "singing" the theme to "Star Trek".

6:25 AM  
Blogger jag said...

Curse you Rex L. Camino!

Not only is 'what'll we doooo, baby' and visions of Michael J Fox ruffling the little blond kid's head running through my heard, but the inner soundtrack is being infiltrated with lines of 'I want Charles in Charge of me'. This is torture at it's worst.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

It shouldn't be hard to find an episode of "Matlock" floating around on cable at any given moment, Jag. I've found that it wipes away the numbening effects of the more dangerous theme songs and leaves you feeling much better about yourself. Seriously.

5:47 PM  
Blogger jag said...

I can hum the Matlock theme on command, but do I picture the credits with Tyler Hudson or Conrad McMasters? Oooh, that's a tough one.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

That's easy. Conrad.

Back when I lived in Knoxville I worked at a law firm doing various odd jobs. I didn't really have an official title and therefore gave myself the job description of "black guy on 'Matlock'".

2:49 PM  

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