With the season finale of Mad Men a couple of weeks ago, I lamented to my wife about the fact that many of my favorite shows — shows I would essentially make appointment to watch — either have extremely short seasons, or they are off the air. It’s odd, but shows like Big Love, Lost, Mad Men, and a whole host of others aren’t on the air for very long. It seems I’m just getting into a groove with these shows, and then … it’s over. Or, like Lost, the season is truncated in such a weird way that I have to wonder if the programming geniuses at ABC are playing some meta-programming game with the viewers by making the show, like the island, disappear and reappear at odd times. Or maybe the demise of good TV programming is all because of that creature from Hell: the reality show.
Well, let’s bracket my gripes for a moment and concentrate on the music for six shows that have pretty cool theme songs, shall we? As I was assembling these songs, I realized that, like the soundtrack scores I tend to gravitate toward, these theme songs are much more atmospheric and less symphonic. Also, as standalone pieces of music, they’re pretty frickin’ awesome!
“Main Title,” J.J. Abrams (download)
Not so much a theme song as a sound that captures the disjointed mood of the show. J.J. Abrams — creator of Lost — composed this, um, sound that begins each episode on the popular series. What I like about it is that it’s mysterious, gloomy, and short; it captivates the viewer’s attention in a way like no other TV title sequence I have seen in a mighty long time. Many have pointed out opening title sequence has a David Lynch quality.
However, I disagree. Lynch has traditionally favored lush title sequences drenched in color that evoke a kind of 1950s idealism — where he later peels it back to show the dark underbelly. What the title sequence of Lost does is establish the fact that we’re about to experience something where a good chuck of our preconceived notions of “normal” are about to become detached and pushed into a video game-like universe.
One of my favorite shows of all time is the re-imagined series, Battlestar Galactica. There’s so much composer Bear McCreary has done in the title theme that if I were a schooled musicologist, I could write a fairly long dissertation on the intercultural weaving of styles he was able to stitch together for this rather short title sequence. Season one’s title sequence reflected a kind of post- 9/11 military funeral with the use of snares and vaguely middle eastern strings. The taiko drumming that comprises the second part of the title sequence shifts the energy and the cultural reference from a direct meditation on catastrophic tragedy to a more ancient culture whose roots are, in a sense, timeless. What was added in season two’s title sequence (and right to the end of the series) was the use of the gayatri mantra to underscore the religious themes that pervaded the show. What I’ve done in this “Mega Mix” is take parts of the main title sequence from BSG and the movie The Plan to give you an extended version of a theme song I never really get tired of hearing.
“Teardrop,” Massive Attack (download)
Considering how much of an asshole the character Gregory House is, it was an odd choice by the producers of the show to pick such a gentle tune by Massive Attack — and only the instrumental part. Perhaps because the drumming on “Teardrop” is has a heartbeat quality to it, and it’s a medical/forensics drama that they chose the song. Nevertheless, I’ll take any chance to slip in some Massive Attack into a mix when I can.
“Six Feet Under Title Theme,” Thomas Newman (download)
The first season of Six Feet Under was sublime. It was some of the most gripping TV I had seen in a long time, and Thomas Newman’s haunting title theme captured the melancholy and complexity of the show. I stuck with Six Feet Under right to the bitter end. And while it was tough to get through season two and three, the show eventually found its mojo and ended in a way that was sad and hopeful at the same time. I don’t know if I can watch the series again because it’s tough to watch a family of Jobs go through all that suffering.
“A Beautiful Mine,” RJD2 (download)
Was I hooked on Mad Men after a few episodes. Season one was just dynamite! Season two was pretty good, but this season, it seemed like the show was running out of steam — until the finale, that is. But one thing that never failed to disappoint was RJD2’s music used in the title sequence. Sure the show takes place in the early ’60s, but the use of an electronic tune with some pretty funky jazz-like drumming was a brilliant choice. In the full mix, I chopped off the outro because it was like two minutes of single note playing, but for those who want the whole enchilada, you can grab the single download.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer Theme,” Nerf Herder (download)
My second-favorite show of all time! Yeah, I love Buffy, and it’s because the show, like BSG, works on so many levels. One level is apparent in the theme song. It’s a cool little surf-rock tune that reflects the fact that most of the principles on the show are teenagers who love all the stuff most teenagers do. However, underneath all that is the fact that Buffy and “The Scooby Gang” slay vampires and other netherworldly creatures that pop out of the “Hellmouth”– an opening that just happens to be below the town of Sunnydale, where Buffy and her friends live.