Welcome to Close Reads! In this new series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors will dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests.
I have written extensively about how much I love The Tick. I think that Ben Edlund’s creation grew into the best critique of superhero genre we’ve ever had. Where Alan Moore dives into giant sociopolitical conspiracy theories, and Frank Miller blurs the lines between costumed hero and fascist vigilante, Edlund dug into the inherent ridiculousness of taking these characters seriously. And once he’d spent 20 years making superheroing seem silly, he turned the second live-action Tick into a heartfelt cry to choose love and creativity over violence.
But I’m not going to talk about any of that today. Today I’d like to talk to you about the theme song from The Tick, the cartoon. The one that ran on Fox from 1994-1996.
First, if you’ve never listened to it, off you go:
But now let’s talk about it. When Batman: The Animated Series hit TV it carried on from Tim Burton’s dark gothic vision by using Danny Elfman’s iconic theme theme. The Simpsons uses… Danny Elfman’s iconic theme. X-Men went for a dramatic piece of music that was bit more “action movie” than “gothic psychodrama”, but it still got you excited for whatever relationship troubles Cyclops and Jean would be exploring in this episode. Gargoyles? Gothic psychodrama, appropriately. Tiny Toons and Animaniacs both featured their main characters singing wacky songs that explained what you were about to see, so no matter when you tuned in, or how small you were, you could follow the episode. Ducktales, Talespin, and Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers all opened with slick, action-packed songs sung by Disney-approved singers. These were all professional shows with songs that were engineered to get your ass on the floor in front of the TV. Then they explained themselves and set you up for 22 minutes of fun fucking hijinks—and 8 minutes of the real stars of the show, the advertisements.
But not The Tick.
The Tick’s theme song opens with a buzzing alarm clock. It’s 6:30am, time for Arthur to get up and go to his job as an accountant—but no! The theme song swoops in, starting as a jazzy riff, before exploding into a man—or possibly several men—scatting nonsense syllables with increasing urgency over a cacophony of frantic horns.
“Da-da dweee! Da-da dwee dowww!”
And what accompanies this soundtrack? Disconnected, extraordinary images! Monstrous skyscrapers bend down to eat people, 10-story tall mustachioed alligators roar into the sky, a nervous-looking man in a moth suit flies, a man dressed as a bat (but not that one) rappels onto a roof, and a woman clad in the American flag backflips across a room. A giant blue creature…with antennae…wrestles an even giant-er writhing tongue (???) and then holds a bomb as it explodes. As the smoke clears, you see that he is unharmed.
If you’re not familiar with The Tick’s whole deal—if you don’t already know what’s going on—you have NO IDEA what’s going on. Who are these people? What do they want with you???
And then the music peters out, as “da-da dwee”s fade, and The Tick’s logo smashes into a wall of flame. It honestly sounds like the singer thought better of the whole enterprise and quietly backed out of the recording studio.
Hey, you want some actual facts? The theme was written and scatted by Doug Katsaros. He’s worked with everyone from Cher to Liza Minelli to Christina Aguilera, and he wrote the goddamn Mennen jingle. But for this assignment he embraced a surreal style that perfectly matched the anarchy of The Tick, and he made Saturday morning even better than it already was.
This intro is one-minute long, and I am physically incapable of thinking about this single minute of music without laughing. I’ve tried—seriously, as I’ve been writing I have tried so hard not to laugh and I’m failing. I’m failing right now, as I type this.
The level of self-assurance and vision on display here! The way the show’s creators trusted their audience to embrace the weirdness of this opening minute of TV while every other cartoon explained itself to the breathless, sugared-encrusted children sitting inches from the screen. The Tick has brought me a lot of happiness over the years, and I’ve loved each of its iterations, but I have to say that when I think of the character, it’s this single minute of joy that I think of most often.