From the earliest days of television, there have been “TV series”- a set of episodes (sometimes fixed, sometimes open-ended) that present themed fictional entertainment. From the earliest soap operas to the latest series that rival, if not surpass, movies in terms of both popularity and quality, the introductory theme song to announce the beginning of each new episode has become sonically iconic. From the drab and dreary brass band tune that announces the billionth episode of the UK’s longest running soap set in Manchester, Coronation Street, to the attention-grabbing conga-drum-driven theme of Miami Vice, here we have the top ten themes to TV series- some specially written, some not.
10. X-Files (X-Files Theme Tune:Mark Snow
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully conduct FBI investigations into alien invasion, Bigfoot and a lot more. Went to an incredible nine series. And each episode was launched with this instantly recognisable tune. Whistle along and repel those invaders!
“The X-Files” theme music went straight to #2 in the UK on March 30, 1996. With its echoing sparseness and synthesiser whistle it’s iconic, and even today is the tune used on many people’s mobile phone call and text alerts.
9. Braquo (Braquo: Enwann Kermovant)
Grittier than sand in your garlic snails, this violent Police action/procedural set in Paris is superbly served by its dark brooding theme tune from a Belgian composer, well-known on the continent. We hold bated breath in the hope that there will be a season three. It’s a sort of “Le Shield” avec brass knobs on. And you’ve never seen so many different subtitles for the curse “Putain!”
8. Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks Theme:Angelo Badalamenti)
This theme tune lulls you into a false feeling or normality and coffee with blueberry pie. The composer of this tune, Angelo Badalamenti is a frequent David Lynch collaborator but he surpasses himself here with a tune that belie’s the deep, dark violence that lies just around the corner in the town of Twin Peaks near the US/Canadian border. One episode was directed by Quentin Tarantino and featured a talking parrot and a llama. Well worth a re-run.. or even a second series? Who remember that grinning mad face of the baddie- Bob??
7. Top Gear (Jessica: The Allman Brothers)
Now on its 19th series, the ever-popular motoring programme for petrol-heads maintains its same formula or xenophobia, political incorrectness, mild swearing “cock” and inventive ways of racing, and often destroying, various types of cars, including three-wheelers, caravans and trucks. Calling the French “Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys” is quite mild compared to some of the taunts aimed at Poles, Mexicans, and people from Ipswich.
A slightly remixed version of the original song is used on the most recent series. The instantly recognisable theme tune is here:
The instrumental song was on the Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters Album released in August 1973.
6. Dr Who (Dr Who Theme:Ron Grainer)
Composed by Ron Grainer and realised in the ground-breaking BBC Radiophonic Workshop (pictured), this was the tune that launched a million fans world-wide for the Time Lord, Dr Who, and his battles against Daleks, Cybermen (pictured), The Master and various villains from history and the future. The theme tune and opening credits have gone through a number of changes over the years. But this was also the first purely electronic tune to hit TV, years before Bob Moog made his first synthesiser. Respect!
5. CSI Miami (Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who)
This triumphant rail against the new boss being the same as the old boss, famous for Roger Daltry’s scream after the drum break, was an inspired choice for the Miami series of CSI. The juxtaposition of London post mod-era rock music and the beautiful harbours and sands/swamps of Miami was telling. The incidental music was also carefully chosen, and really made the connecting scenes a lot of fun (usually lab/pathology scenes).
4. M.A.S.H (Suicide is Painless: )
An unusual choice of music to herald in a long-running series about saving shot-up US troops in the Korean war. But the gentle guitar and softly-sung lyrics give an unreal air to proceedings at the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Headquarters, with its tensions and rivalries. The song was later covered my Marilyn Manson of all people!
3. Firefly (The Ballad of Serenity: Sonny Rhodes)
Melding country songs with sci-fi?? But yes, the Firefly series was well served by making most of the planets visited appear like mid-western frontier towns and having this catchy sing-along theme tune. A film “Serenity” was also made, but the series allowed for greater characterisation and humour. Sadly a second series was never made because Joss Wheedon went on to make Buffy the Vampire Slayer- more lucrative, no doubt, but lessworthy! Discuss!
2. The Sopranos (Woke up this morning:Alabama 3)
A great song and a great opening sequence that introduced us all to the New York family in the waste disposal business- the Sopranos. With a number of American Italian actors, strong stories, and a lot of action, the Sopranos went on for many series, as the strong family ties were threatened by greed, the Police and internal rivalries. Not afraid to make references to gangster films like Goodfellas, the whole show has a ring of authenticity. The song was written and per4formed by the British band Alabama 3. There were many other eclectic songs throughout the series, such as “Living on a Thin Line” by The Kinks in the season three episode “University” and “Glad Tidings” by Van Morrison.
1. The Wire (Way Down in the Hole:Recorded by 5 different artists)
“Omar coming!” Simply the best series on TV ever. Period. The show that introduced the world to Body More, sorry, Baltimore, with its failing docks, iffy cops and out-of-control drug use. Interestingly the actor who played the incoming Mayor of Baltimore in the show, now crops up as “Littlefinger” in Game of Thrones. It went for five superb series- and thankfully finished on a high where the acting and screenplay was still very high.
The opening theme is “Way Down in the Hole”, a gospel- and blues-inspired song originally written by Tom Waits for his 1987 album Franks Wild Years. Each season uses a different recording of it against a different opening sequence.
Here are all five versions of the song, each one introducing one of the five series. The artists are: The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tom Waits, The Neville Brothers, DoMaJe and Steve Earle. Sublime.