TV Tunes: The production stories behind some of the greatest theme songs
04.05.2022

TV Tunes: The production stories behind some of the greatest theme songs

tv sitcom themes
Words by Benjamin Lamb

If you’re a serial ‘skip intro’-er then this retrospective isn’t for you

TV Themes have been a staple of our favourite small screen shows since the inception of the idiot box, getting us in the mood for the characters, cackles, and cliff-hangers that bring so many of us joy every week.

Today we’re having a bit of a look at the history of TV themes and the production behind them.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

The Brady Bunch

The Brady Bunch was one of the earliest memorable themes in the world of TV, giving audiences needed exposition into the lives of the blended family. The track was first recorded in 1969 by The Peppermint Trolley Company.

The group just received the lyrics, nothing else, and were hired to arrange, record, and write the theme, building it from the ground up. Due to their previous hit songs being in the key of A, they used the same for this track.

Happy Days

It’s gotten stuck in all of our heads before, the catchy theme for Happy Days is a worthy contender for this list. The show actually had two themes, with the first two seasons using ‘Rock Around The Clock,’ and the rest using the iconic ‘Happy Days’.

The theme was penned by two popular TV theme writers, Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who have each written music for shows like Laverne & Shirley and The Love Boat. The theme was recorded at the ABC Recording Studios by a group called Brother Love, one hit wonders, who only found success with this theme.

The Muppet Show

It was probably before most of our times, but there’s no question that the theme for The Muppet Show is one of the most memorable. The track was penned by the TV show’s creator, Jim Henson, alongside long-time collaborator Sam Pottle.

Over the show’s five seasons, the theme changed based on characters and guest stars. It is one of the few themes that would be performed live to the crowd before each show was recorded, giving it an individual and different flavour every time.

Neighbours

Back home, 1985 saw the premiere of Neighbours, which has one of the most iconic themes of all time. As 2022 marks the final year of the show, there has been nine different versions of the track, each bringing a different characteristic of its time.

The original incarnation of the theme was written by husband-and-wife duo Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, and as seemed to be the style of the time, the track was littered with exposition to help audiences understand what they were about to see. The track was sent to vocalist Barry Crocker who completed the vocal line in a short few hours, and it quickly became one of the most popular themes in the world.

The Simpsons

It can’t be a TV theme list without mentioning arguably the best of them all, The Simpsons theme. Famously penned by composing legend Danny Elfman, who was approached by the show’s creator Matt Groening to write the theme.

It’s written in an uncommon key, the acoustic scale, which is also known as the Lydian Dominant scale. Elfman wrote it on the way home from the initial meeting with Groening, quickly writing one of the most iconic themes of all time.

Mad Men

There’s an interesting story behind this theme, to many of us, it seemed it was an original track written for use in the TV show, but it was actually an unknown track that was shaped for use as the theme.

Musician Beck was first approached to write the theme, but turned it down after the plot was shared with him, and he didn’t believe it could be a long lasting show. When the show’s writer Matthew Weiner heard the instrumental track on the radio, it quickly became the show’s theme.

Game of Thrones

One of the more modern iconic themes comes from everyone’s favourite show about dragons, Game of Thrones. The world of fantasy and sci-fi themes often littered with similar motifs and sound stylings,  Game of Thrones producers remedying this by asking the theme writers to avoid the use of flutes and violins.

The track explaining the show perfectly, but rather than using lyrics, it effortlessly builds a world using the timbre of many amazing instruments.

Stranger Things

Much alike that of Game of Thrones, the theme of Stranger Things does a great job in painting a picture of what we’re about to see without lyrics. Penned by the electronic group Survive, the theme was written with inspiration from 1980s composers like Giorgio Moroder, perfectly matching with the era of the show.

The track was built predominately using synthesisers, as was common among horror movies of the time.

Check out what happens in the world of a TV composer here.