Contributing the theme song to a hit TV show is the lottery of the music business, especially if the show goes into syndication. For as long as it runs, you’ll get royalty cheques because every time the show airs, they gotta play your song.
Here are twenty artists who have struck paydirt in various ways over the last couple of decades.
1) The Rembrandts – Friends
“I’ll Be There For You” is best known as the theme song for the American sitcom Friends, recorded by American pop rock duo The Rembrandts. The sitcom originally aired from 1994 to 2004 and still runs daily all over the planet. And where are The Rembrandts? Counting their money, probably.
2) Primus – South Park
The South Park theme song was recorded by San Francisco-based rock band Primus for the popular American adult animated sitcom South Park, created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The sitcom first aired in 1997 with new episodes to run through 2019–and beyond, probably. Les Claypool has made way more money from this than anything Primus has ever done.
3) Cheap Trick – That ’70s Show
“That ’70s Song (In The Street)” by American rock band Cheap Trick is the theme song for the American sitcom That ’70s Show which originally aired from 1998 to 2006. It brought in some cash during some lean years.
4) Remy Zero – Smallville
“Save Me” which was recorded by Birmingham, Alabama-based alternative rock band Remy Zero, was the theme song for the American television series Smallville, based on the popular DC Comics character Superman. The series originally aired from 2001 to 2011. There were never any more radio hits after “Save Me” from their 1998 album, Villa Elaine, but they did get a steady stream of cheques from their TV work.
5) Nerf Herder – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The theme song for the American supernatural drama series Buffy The Vampire Slayer was recorded by Nerf Herder, from Santa Barbara, California. The series originally aired from 1997 to 2003 and still runs in syndication. Score!
6) Barenaked Ladies – The Big Bang Theory
Officially called “The History of Everything,” the theme song for The Big Bang Theory came to Ed Robertson in the shower and later recorded by Barenaked LadiesThe sitcom was first aired in 2007 and the show was renewed for another two seasons earlier this year. That was the most profitable shower Ed ever had.
7) They Might Be Giants – Malcom in the Middle
“Boss of Me” is the theme song for the American sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, recorded by They Might Be Giants. The series originally aired from 2000 to 2006.
8) The Presidents of the United States of America – The Drew Carey Show
“Cleveland Rocks” which was recorded by the American alternative rock band The Presidents of the United States of America, is the theme song for the American sitcom The Drew Carey Show which aired from 1995 to 2004. However, the song is a cover of an Ian Hunter song from his 1979 album, You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. He’s the one who made all the bucks.
9) The Refreshments – King of the Hill
“Yahoos and Triangles” recorded by the American alternative rock band The Refreshments, is the theme song for the American animated sitcom King of the Hill. The sitcom originally aired from 1997 to 2010. There are rumours of it coming back, too.
10) The Von Bondies – Rescue Me
“C’mon C’mon” is the theme song for the American comedy-drama series Rescue Me which originally aired from 2004 to 2011. The song is by the The Von Bondies from Detroit, Michigan.
11) Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Freaks and Geeks
“Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, was the theme song for the short-lived American teen comedy-drama series Freaks and Geeks, by Paul Feig and executive producer Judd Apatow. The series originally aired from 1999 to 2000.
12) The Black Keys – Hung
“I’ll Be Your Man” by the American rock band The Black Keys, is the theme song for the HBO comedy-drama series Hung. The series, starring Thomas Jane, originally aired from 2009 to 2011. So not a lot of money, then.
13) Jane’s Addiction – Entourage
“Superhero” is the theme song for HBO’s hit series Entourage, the American comedy-drama series which originally aired from 2004 to 2011. The song was recorded by Jane’s Addiction for their 2003 album, Strays.
14) Queen – Highlander: The Series
“Princes of the Universe” by Queen, is the theme song for Highlander: The Series, a fantasy science fiction series which originally aired from 1992 to 1998.
15) The High Strung – Shameless
“The Luck You Got” is the theme song for the American comedy-drama series Shameless, which is a remake of the British series of the same name. The song was recorded by The High Strung, an American indie rock band from Detroit, Michigan. The series premiered in 2011 and is still running.
16) Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet – Kids in the Hall
“Having an Average Weekend” is the theme song for the Canadian sketch comedy television show The Kids in the Hall. The song was recorded by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the Juno Award-winning Canadian instrumental rock band from Toronto, Ontario. The show originally aired from 1989 to 1995.
17) David Bowie – The Last Panthers
“Blackstar” by David Bowie was used as the theme song for the British crime drama series The Last Panthers, a six-part series which premiered in 2015 in France, the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany and Austria; and in 2016 in the US and Australia.
18) Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo) – The Simpsons
The ultimate score. “The Simpsons Theme” was composed in 1989 by Danny Elfman, the lead singer and songwriter of the band Oingo Boingo. The show has been running since 1989 and will end…well, who knows? It’s still in first-run and worldwide syndication.
19) Stewart Copeland (The Police) – The Equalizer, Dead Like Me, Star Wars: Droids
Stewart Copeland, former drummer for The Police, composed several theme songs for television shows, including the American crime drama series The Equalizer, which originally aired from 1985 to 1989; the short-lived American comedy-drama series Dead Like Me which originally aired from 2003 to 2004; and the theme song entitled “In Trouble Again” for the animated television series Star Wars: Droids, which originally aired from 1985 to 1986.
The Equalizer theme song:
Dead Like Me theme song:
Star Wars: Droids theme song “In Trouble Again”:
20) William Garrett Walden (Stray Dog) – The West Wing, Roseanne, My So-Called Life
William Garrett Walden, known as W. G. Snuffy Walden, is an American musician and composer who composed several theme songs for television shows, including The West Wing, Roseanne, and My So-Called Life. He also formed the blues-based rock band Stray Dog in 1972. The West Wing is an American political drama series created by Aaron Sorkin which originally aired from 1999 to 2006; Roseanne is an American sitcom which originally aired from 1988 to 1997; and My So-Called Life is an American teen drama series which originally aired from 1994 to 1995. Walden won an Emmy Award for the theme music to The West Wing.
The West Wing theme song
Roseanne theme song
My So-Called Life theme song
There are plenty more: Cake, Ozzy, Bodeans and Grouplove have all dabbled in the TV theme song game. Feel free to add to the list.