Written by Hannah Dunleavy


7 Wonders: TV theme songs

When TV people pick the right song to go with their series, it makes our resident remote control-hog Hannah Dunleavy very happy indeed. Cue titles.

True Detective. Photo: HBO.

Some people get ridiculously sentimental about TV theme tunes. If they’re not asking Paul O’Grady to play Stingray while they’re doing their post-roast dishes (I don’t know, what do people do on Sunday?), they’re engaging in long and earnest debates about whether The Littlest Hobo or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was better to sing along to. Which is full-on ridiculous. It’s clearly the former.

Anyway, I don’t mean that sort of theme tune, as in I’m not talking about a song that’s been written to summarise the plot, like The Unknown Stuntman (which has the audacity to rhyme “hay” with “a hey-hey”) or That’s Livin’ Alright. I mean a song which already existed, yet somehow feels like it was created just for the occasion.

This obviously does preclude the two finest TV theme songs ever: The Theme From M*A*S*H and Johnny Flynn’s Detectorists. But hey, I don’t make the rules. Although, that said, this might be the last thing I write about TV for Standard Issue, so let’s throw caution to the wind and include them on the playlist. You’re welcome.

Alabama 3 – Woke Up This Morning
The Sopranos

Often considered the, er, godfather, of modern US drama, The Sopranos also changed the way credit sequences happened. No longer was it a series of shots of characters turning round while the name of the actor flashed on screen. Instead, title sequences became an intro to the world its characters lived in and were considered artistically important in their own right.

Can’t help but think that in 2017, woke Twitter would have something to say about the appropriation of a song about a victim of male violence and using it in a show which, for many, glorified male violence. But you know what? It works.

Tom Waits – Way Down in the Hole
The Wire
(series two)

I know, it’s not YOUR favourite version of Way Down in the Hole. But, like, shut up. Tom Waits. Series two gets short shrift in general, in that it is excellent, but saying so has variously led to me being called “stupid”, “contrary” and “white middle class”. Only some of which are correct.

Series two has Levy having his “hind parts” handed to him by a be-tied Omar. Ergo, it is glorious.

The Handsome Family – Far From Any Road
True Detective
(series one)

True Detective‘s star burned brightly for precisely one series, but what a crapload of gripping oddness it was. And I don’t know about you, but I find nothing better sets the tone for an existential Southern Gothic than a fever dream about a cactus. They deserved each other. In the best way possible.

Oasis – Half the World Away
The Royle Family

Noel Gallagher has said he no longer hears Half the World Away and thinks, “I wrote that,”  instead thinking, “That’s the theme tune to The Royle Family.” Which I’m pretty sure he meant as a huge compliment.

The series set the trend for lo-fi in the sitcom theme tune world, but I’m not sure anybody has better paired a tune and a comedy ethos than Caroline Aherne did here.

Richard Hawley – Roll River Roll
Getting On

There is nothing about Getting On that isn’t 100 per cent on the money. And that includes the choice of Hawley’s ridiculously lovely Roll River Roll as its theme tune.

There’s just something so indefinably right about pairing a love letter to the timeless nature of, well, nature, with the ‘same shit, different day’ life for the staff of Ward B4.

Seriously though, if you haven’t watched Getting On, just do it now.

The Leftovers. Photo: Warner Bros Television.

Iris DeMent – Let The Mystery Be
The Leftovers
(series two)

I cannot say it often enough, The Leftovers isn’t just the best thing on TV now, it might well turn out to be one of the best things on TV. Like, ever. The third and final series is imminent, which means the end, and quite possibly The End are nigh.

The choice of DeMent in the second series titles sequence, is not so much a theme tune as a mission statement.

The first series attracted a lot of internet moaning that its creator Damon Lindelof, also responsible for Lost, was setting up another mystery with a disappointing resolution. Which wasn’t so much missing the point of The Leftovers, as stabbing oneself in the brain with it.

The series seemingly responded with new credits, which effectively say, “If you watch past this point, you need to just go with it.” I’d advise you do so immediately.

Joan Jett – Bad Reputation
Freaks and Geeks

The opening credits to Freaks and Geeks are as close to genius as the parameters of ‘it’s only a TV programme’ allow.

In 50 seconds, they tell you almost everything there is to know about seven characters, using just jumpy cuts of them as they have their school photograph taken. And it pairs them with all the jerky glee of Jett’s Bad Reputation. What more do you people want?

No, but really, if my constant reminders that everyone should watch Freaks and Geeks are falling on deaf ears, then maybe just start with the credits.


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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.