Back in the days of walkmans, I had a mixtape devoted entirely to theme songs from my favorite televisions shows. I obtained these various recordings from holding up a tape recorder to the television. As you can imagine, this mixtape was all of 15 minutes long. (The theme to The Flash was in my opinion, awesome, but very, very short)
Overwhelmingly, people told us their favorite theme was the twangy opening song to Firefly. And it’s written by Joss Whedon himself! This is interesting because most of the time when a show’s creator writes lyrics for a theme song, it doesn’t go so well. Witness Gene Roddenberry’s lyrics to the original Star Trek theme:
The rim of the star-light
Is wandr’ing in star-flight
He’ll find in a star-clustered reaches
Strange love a star woman teaches.
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me
Odd as those lyrics are (“strange love a star woman teaches,” simply must go on a t-shirt), they contain an unmistakable yearning for the pairing of high romance with the unknowing vastness of space. To Roddenberry, space is exotic and challenging, but contains a potential for ultimate freedom. Taken in that context, the Firefly theme becomes an unwitting homage to the spirit with which Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, even though the two end up being very different shows.
It’s also sort of a triumph that one most loved theme songs in SFF is basically a country/western tune!
Speaking of Star Trek, despite one mention of the theme to Enterprise, the big winner here was the theme from The Next Generation. This is funny to me, as the Jerry Goldsmith tune was originally used to herald the return of the original cast in Star Trek: The Motion Picture before Picard and co. totally stole it away from them. Here’s the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra with their version.
Some theme songs are so abrasive and absurd that one simply has no choice but to love them. In this category, there were several, but easily the most kitsch is the theme to The Greatest American Hero. The song, “Believe it or Not” was written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer and sung by Joey Scarbury; it also peaked at number 2 on the Billboard charts in 1981. I guess that’s why it showed up on George Costanza’s answering machine a decade later.
Tor.com’s Irene Gallo mentioned humming along to the intro to Battlestar Galactica (the classic version) though I must say, another Glenn A. Larson collaboration with composer Stu Phillips holds fonder memories for me. Yes, I’m talking about the theme to Buck Rogers In the 25th Century. Now, there were two versions of this song, the one from the TV show, and then the crazy one with vocals by Kipp Lennon. Remember in 1987 when we launched Buck into space?
In any case, as much as I love the corny goodness of Buck (we called that show “Beedy-Beedy” in my house. Like, “oh Ryan, come quick, Beedy-Beedy’s on!”) even I have to admit, as theme songs go, old school Battlestar Galactica is totally Stu Phillips best work. And that Patrick Macnee voiceover still gives me dorky chills.
Many of you really really loved the Annie Lennox song, “Into the West” from the final Lord of the Rings film Return of the King and I remember loving it just as much then. It’s really impressive how The Lord of the Rings movies got away with putting these pop songs during the end credits without it seeming out of place or just plain wrong. All those songs really worked and “Into the West” was the best of the bunch. Here’s Annie Lennox on Jay Leno performing the song live.
There were so many more great answers but we don’t have the room to feature them all. And though I’d like to end on a classy note with Annie there, I can’t help myself. Because one of you said said Thunderbirds. Yep. These space marionettes probably don’t have the best theme song, but they’re not screwing around with this intro. Pure action.
Thanks as always to everyone who responded! Now start making those playlists and be sure to include all the theme songs we omitted!
Ryan Britt’s writing has appeared here and other places. He loves the theme to Babylon 5, only because it reminds of his first CD player. He knows that the theme to Doctor Who is the best TV theme ever.