Music History

Published on September 8th, 2017 | by Alan Cross

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How the Barenaked Ladies Fluked into the Biggest Hit of Their Career

Ed Roberston of the Barenaked Ladies came into the studio a couple of years ago looking very healthy, very relaxed and wearing a very cool (and obviously expensive) jacket.

“So I see writing the theme for The Big Bang Theory is looking good on you,” I said.

Ed smiled. “Let’s put it this way: It was good for the mortgage.”

It seems that you can turn on the TV at any time of the day or night and catch a rerun or two of The Big Bang Theory. What Seinfeld and Friends were to the 90s and 00s and what I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, The Honeymooners and Get Smart were to the 70s and 80s, BBT is the rarest of TV unicorns: a series that goes nuclear in syndication while still in production.  And every single time that theme is played at the front and back of the show, a few more dollars drift towards the Barenaked Ladies.

This puts them in the same rarified circles as The Rembrandts (responsible for the theme from Friends), Danny Elfman (The Simpsons theme), The Refreshments (King of the Hill) and Paul Anka (the original theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson). You gotta be really lucky to join this club, but when you make it, the money starts flowing pretty steadily, even for a band like Primus (the theme from South Park) and Nerf Herder (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who has never managed to sell records in great quantities.

So how did the Barenaked Ladies back into this opportunity? It was a total fluke, much like the creation of the universe itself (sorry, Creationists/Intelligent Design folks.)

During a show in Los Angeles sometime in 2007, the band got into one of their improvised freestyle rapping jags, coming up with a song about the origins of the universe. In the audience that night were two TV producers, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, who were working on a sitcom concept about a couple of nerdy physicists. They were impressed and decided to approach the band about writing a theme for the show.

Intrigued by the challenge–and, coincidentally, Ed had just read a book called Big Bang by Simon Singh–he wrote a 28-second version of a theme while in the shower at his cottage. A few quick recording sessions later, the digital files were on their way to LA. They got the gig. The show premiered on CBS on September 24, 2007. Then it became Top 5 hit not only in Canada and the US but the show also travelled well. It’s become a hit in other countries.

The show premiered on CBS on September 24, 2007. Then it became Top 5 hit not only in Canada and the US but the show also travelled well. It’s become a hit in other countries. And after it reached the magical 100-episode mark–the number of shows required to make profitable to syndicate–it just kept on going.

Now about to start its tenth season, The Big Bang Theory continues to shovel money towards the band–or, if you believe documents uncovered by TMZ, just towards Ed. Steven Page sued Ed, saying that he was promised 20% of the revenues but ended up getting bupkis.

The success the BNL has had with writing a song for television has become an object lesson on how it’s possible to do business in an age of declining record sales. If you want to explore how that all works, go here.

 




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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One Response to How the Barenaked Ladies Fluked into the Biggest Hit of Their Career

  1. Wil Henderson says:

    Great read – always wondered how a band from my Canada landed a gig like this but it could have used some editing before it was published

    😉

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