Friday, March 18, 2005

I Hear Music, Mighty Fine Music

I came across a link to a top 100 list of TV themes in Bill Crider's blog. It's an interesting list, although of course lists like this are so subjective as to be absurd. I mean let's face it, any list of TV themes that doesn't include I Love Lucy isn't up to much, although I'm not sure what I'd pull to put it in. Maybe one day I'll post my own list of TV Themes, but which ones? There are so many out there that listing 10 or 25 or even 100 may not be enough. I think we can all agree on the worst TV Theme at least: that would be the theme from Walker: Texas Ranger rendered (take that term in every way possible) by famed vocalist and thespian Mr. Chuck Norris.

That's the thing about TV show themes. Everybody has a favourite, or rather a lot of favourites, and they tend to evoke feelings and memories about a show. They don't have to be famous series either. The first record I ever owned was an extended play Columbia 45 of Johnny Cash singing The Rebel - Johnny Yuma from (as the record jacket says) "the ABC-TV production 'The Rebel'". The record cover features an impossibly young looking and pompadoured Cash dressed not in black but in a white shirt, suede vest and string tie. A definite blast from the past and the makings of a lifelong Johnny Cash fan. The reason I have that record however is that as a little kid I so loved that series that I bugged my mom to get it for me. I don't recall much about the series. It was usually Johnny Yuma - the Rebel - wandering - alone - from town to town and getting fighting mad - that rebel lad - usually for some cause or other sometimes related to the fact that he was still wearing the remnants of his Confederate uniform. The show wasn't much of a success, but that theme is still memorable.

Every so often there are attempts to get rid of TV theme songs and title sequences on the grounds that it will allow the producers to tell the story more fully. As nearly as I can tell the producers of Jake In Progress took that approach (but remember I had a headache last night and may not have noticed it). They're wrongheaded. The theme and the title sequence are a readily identifiable signatures for a TV series; in the case of theme music, an audio cue but for the audience. You can be doing something totally involving away from your TV but with it on, and when you hear the theme music from a show you like - say Nerf Herder's music for Buffy the Vampire Slayer or that drum roll that is the signature at the start of The West Wing - you know that you're going to want to stop what you're doing and watch TV for a while.

You can't get away from them, and when they're played out of context they not only bring a smile to your face but an instant flashback to the show. There are people who think they know The William Tell Overture because the finale was the theme music for The Lone Ranger and every time they hear those first trumpet notes immediately think of the lines of the narrator "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-yo Silver....The Lone Ranger rides again." I remember being waiting for a movie - Three Men and a Baby - to start when the theme from Magnum P.I. came over the loudspeakers. You could see the crowd offer up a collective smile and nod, as if the theater had set it up that the music from Tom Selleck's TV series would play before a Tom Selleck movie came on. I know that I can't watch parts of the movieBackdraft without expecting to see a flamboyantly dressed Japanese man chomping on a pepper and shouting "Allez Cuisine". That's the power of TV theme music.

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