Fri
Feb 18 2011 3:57pm
Strange Love a Star Woman Teaches: Favorite SFF Theme Songs

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)

Last week Tor.com asked its Facebook and Twitter followers what some of their favorite SFF show/movie theme songs were. Here’s a selection of what you nominated, along with some of my favorites.

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:

Beyond
The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wandr’ing in star-flight
I know
He’ll find in a star-clustered reaches
Love,
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
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.

21 comments
Qtip6
1. Qtip6
I always loved the Babylon 5 soundtrack myself. Here is the Season 1 theme (yes, all 5 seasons had names, and separate music)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INtAsDRiYkU

Also, how could he fans have omitted the most iconic SF music of all, Doctor Who?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J_3rsEwYVE
Bridget McGovern
2. BMcGovern
Agreed 100% about Doctor Who, Ryan (and the Orbital version is really, really fun to drive to--especially when speeding is an option :)

I have to mention the opening of The Prisoner (the original show, of course--SO dramatic!) Also Nerf Herder's Buffy theme is an all-time great, and the Quantum Leap theme never fails to fill me with childhood nostalgia with all its keyboard-y glory :)

Oh, and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme(s)! Who can resist a Robot Roll Call?
Sky Thibedeau
3. SkylarkThibedeau
I always like the theme to Sid and Marty Krofft's original 'Land of the Lost'.

Marshall, Will, and Holly
On a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known.
High on the rapids
It struck their tiny raft.
And plunged them down a thousand feet below.

To the Land of the Lost.
To the Land of the Lost.
To the Land of the Lost.
Qtip6
4. Stefan Jones
Oh, my, how could you forget "Benson, Arizona" from the Dark Star sound track?

The lyrics, a link to an MP3, and a letter from the lead singer are at:

http://www.benzedrine.cx/darkstar.html

It's great little song, sweet and unpretentious.
Ryan Britt
5. ryancbritt
Doctor Who. I mean, I love it. I know it should have been on there. But we can't talk about Doctor Who in every single post. Oh wait, maybe we can. :-)
Cindy Anderson
6. Jubercat
I know this probably isn't a popular choice, but as a 15 year old girl in 1979 I couldn't resist the sweet, melodic theme from Buck Rogers, called "Suspension" ("Far beyond the world I've known, far beyond my time...").
Qtip6
7. SteveDave
"Tank!" from Cowboy Bebop certainly deserves a mention.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6zDfxZ4NcE
j p
8. sps49
U.F.O.

Does Jonny Quest count? I'll have to find a working link later....

Gotta add "Cruel Angel Thesis" from Evangelion, too!
Qtip6
9. politeruin
For me, Emiliana Torrini's Gollum's Song is far better than the somewhat over-cooked Into The West...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkXbzffVl44

Can't forget Portal's magnificant ending either...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RthZgszykLs
Qtip6
10. politeruin
*magnificent
Qtip6
11. Buckethead Baptist
I remember watching the opening to ""The Flash" at my best friend's house... And his brother made a deadpan comment as the last sequence panned up the body of John Wesley Shipp in his costume (with quite a bulge in the package area).

"I SEE why YOU like this show".

I would have knocked his block off if I hadn't been laughing so hard.
Mike Conley
13. NomadUK
Hands down, The Prisoner, along with what is probably the best intro sequence ever done (shown here in a somewhat extended version, and without the iconic thunderclap at the beginning). And I'm glad sps49 mentioned U.F.O. (you just can't beat that groove — or the Moonbase ladies in the silver suits and purple wigs, or the submariners in their fishnet tops — yow). To round out the British contribution, how about The Avengers — which, while not strictly SF, certainly had lots of SF-themed episodes.

I cannot abide the theme to STTNG — it's just ... blechhh. The Battlestar: Galactica (old school) theme was fun, though, and suitably thrilling.

I do have a soft spot for both Lost in Space themes and The Six Million Dollar Man (whose intro sequence gives The Prisoner a real run for its money).
Qtip6
14. RanchoUnicorno
The missus is disappointed that the old BSG theme gets a nod while the new theme gets nothing. But, I suspect that has more to do with her affinity for all things percussion, especially when it is contrasted with the haunting vocals at the beginning.

As for me, I'm just another point in the field of those concerned that Doctor Who didn't get a mention. Although, I suppose the trouble there are the various arrangements make it hard to pick one (I tend to prefer the original and current arrangements over the others).
Qtip6
15. Ian P. Johnson
I have to say, one of my favorite SFF theme songs of all time isn't even a TV show theme: it's the overland theme from Legend of Zelda. Actually, most of the music from Zelda is absolutely phenomenal. "Midna's Lament" from Twilight Princess is haunting, tragic, and undeniably beautiful. And the "Ocarina of Time Medley" from Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a collection of some of the Zelda series' greatest hits that blew me away from the first notes of "Zelda's Lullaby". Considering how much importance music plays in the Zelda series– Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Majora's Mask– I'm kind of surprised how it didn't get a mention here as a favorite SFF theme! Makes me wonder if Tor could possibly do a favorite video game music post…
Qtip6
16. NaomiKes
No love for Red Dwarf?
"It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere,
I'm all alone, more or less..."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZFLKXINNns
Qtip6
17. Dr. Cox
The "Star Cops" theme is memorable, poignant.
Qtip6
20. Maren T
@9 politeruin — I agree about Gollum's Song. I like it more than Into the West, and I remember watching the end credits of The Two Towers over and over and over again, when I was younger and Internet had not yet conquered my life.


(Nothing to do with theme songs, really (though found in the Battle Galactica one), but I was so amazed I had to mention it: OH MY GOD an actress with my name in a non-Norwegian TV-series!! And her birthday is the day after mine... Interesting.

Sorry, I seem to say things I usually don't say very often today. I think I need some chocolate to come to my senses.)
Qtip6
21. Michael.K
I read a rumor that Gene Roddenberry wrote the Star Trek theme lyrics so that he could be credited as co-writer, and therefore get half the royalties. Any corroboration?
Qtip6
22. Suzeee66
I like the Highlander and Flash Gordon themes (both by Queen). When the husband and I watched the new-school Flash Gordon series, we still sang "Flash, ah ah, savior of the universe!" with obligatory air guitar.

Add me to the Dr. Who list as well.

Not sure if it counts, but I love Hugo Montinegro's brilliant music for I Drem of Jeanie.
Qtip6
23. That Neil Guy
Soundtrack specialty label Intrada recently released the original stereo tracks from the original Battlestar Galactica pilot film. It's a great CD.

http://www.examiner.com/film-score-in-national/review-of-intrada-s-battlestar-galactica-volume-1-saga-of-a-star-world-review

@michael k I think it was Solow & Justman's Inside Star Trek (http://amzn.to/gRAi8X) that announced the lyrics as a Roddenberry moneymaking scheme, but of course the lyrics themselves were printed in Making of Star Trek, that indispensable original reference book published while the show was still in production (http://amzn.to/hjHiCK).

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