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When Bad Things Happen To Good Theme Songs


 

One other thing about theme songs (and they still exist, sort of!) is that if the show runs long enough, the theme song will probably be re-recorded and re-arranged, and when that happens, it will often change in a really disappointing way. I understand the reasons behind the final-season remix of “We Used To Be Friends” on Veronica Mars. I do not have to like it.

What are some examples of theme songs that you liked that were re-arranged in ways you didn’t like?

Here’s one example. That Girl started out with a fine theme song by Earle Hagen, an instrumental that fit perfectly with the story of a single girl trying to make it in New York City:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9rapJrbNRA

The song was then rearranged several times, never sounding as good as the first version. But it never really got bad until the last season (just out on DVD), when they added lyrics to the song, gave it a late ’60s MOR pop arrangement, and ended it with the male chorus shouting the show’s title in unison. Not good.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZEwD9PSDx4

And then there was the unfortunate transformation of The Bob Newhart Show theme by Lorenzo and Henrietta Music. (The original intro is not on YouTube, so here’s someone’s re-enactment of it.)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-NAgSTE3AQ

In the middle of the show’s run, composer Patrick Williams re-arranged and re-composed the theme into something that was more disco-friendly, replacing many of the original melodies with new, non-descript material.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BxLmqtCsV8


 
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When Bad Things Happen To Good Theme Songs

  1. It seems like the lyrics version of the That Girl theme song was the only one I ever saw in reruns as a kid.

  2. I loved the analogue-to-digital translation of the second Bob Newhart intro. I know it wasn’t intentional, but the “rasterizing” made everything go all cubic and effect-y, for lack of better words!

  3. They did a spoof of the later That Girl opening on SNL in 1985-86 for a sketch with Danitra Vance called “That Black Girl”. “Chestnuts, rainbows, hair relaxer…”

  4. About half of the 1960s sitcoms seemed to rarely keep the same theme song arrangement for more than two years at a time — Universal was particularly obsessive about that ; Screen Gems to a lesser extent. On the other side, the shows coming out of the Sheldon Leonard/Danny Thomas production company rarely changed their themes, other than to lengthen or shorten them to fill out the show’s running time on any given episode. And Paul Henning also wasn’t one to finagle around with a successful theme.

    By the 1970s you still saw some season-to-season tinkering with theme songs, especially at MTM and Paramount, but if a show was doing fairly well, that usually involved just tinkering around the edges — “The Odd Couple” had five opening themes in five seasons, but none of them strayed very far from Neil Hefti’s original composition. While M*A*S*H’s orginial instumental bed came directly from the movie (sans lyrics) and other than the dirge-like theme used for Season 6, only varied slightly from year to year (unless you count the ‘lounge lizard’ opening music used on the final two shows from Season 1. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and they kept the Season 1 music when the show returned for Season 2).

  5. I’m glad they didn’t try to ‘vocalize’ the theme to Hawaii-5-0… On nearly all the examples you’ve given, the original was the best. How many theme songs from reasonably successful shows were improved on as the run went on?

  6. When CBS was regularly programming sitcom reruns into their daytime schedule in the 1960s and early ’70s, they had a habit of attaching the same main title to every episode of a series, irregardless of how the show opened in prime time. Every CBS daytime rerun of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, for example, opened with Dick tripping and falling. Every LUCY SHOW opened with the fourth, fifth and sixth season ‘kaleidoscope’ titles. The network’s reason for doing this was that they figured regular viewers of a series wouldn’t realize a series had begun a second, third or fourth cycle of repeats if they couldn’t immediately associate a particular set of opening titles with a particular season of a show.

  7. The themes for both Get Smart and Happy Days were re-done for their final seasons. The revised Get Smart theme was overdone, and heavy on the brass. I didn’t like the last-season Happy Days theme at first, but it grew on me. (It helped that I really liked the visuals during that opening; cutting from scenes of Joanie and Chachi as younger children from earlier in the run to scenes of them all grown up was neat.) I still picture this 40-something, overweight wedding singer singing the theme, though.

    The theme for Growing Pains was re-done for its sixth (and should’ve been its last) season, it was sung a capella by male singers…..and it really worked. But the reason why it worked so well was that they had re-done the visuals too. Instead of clips from past episodes intercut with scenes of the actors growing up, it was portrait-style pictures of the case intercut with scenes of the actors growing up. Then the camera pulled out to reveal a classy family portrait of the Seavers hanging on the wall over the fireplace, with smaller pictures of the cast from past seasons underneath on the mantle. It was a classy opening, and the a capella song worked perfectly for it; the next season, when they went back to the old B.J. Thomas/Jennifer Warnes song but kept the family portrait, the opening just did not work.

  8. When bad things happen to good theme songs….how about what TSN’s done to the “hockey anthem”…urgh

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