While many people can sing along to their favourite TV show’s theme song, far fewer can name the musicians behind the songs. One such musician is Jesse Frederick whose singer-songwriter career went nowhere.
At 19, Frederick released a self-titled LP in 1971, but as Atlas Obscura points out:
“Frederick’s work, unfortunately, was the worst kind of successful: it was critically acclaimed, but didn’t move units. Despite his later fame as a sitcom tunesmith, his album is so obscure that the usually-on-point music website Allmusic couldn’t be bothered to write a single sentence about him”.
Despite this career hitting a dead end before it even really began, the young musician began scoring films, one of them being Garry Marshall’s The Flamingo Kid (1984). He followed Marshall to television where he first began co-writing theme songs, such as for the show Perfect Strangers, but soon he was writing — and singing — them all on his own. A few of these shows include Full House, Family Matters, and Step By Step.
Other successful TV theme song composers include Gary Portnoy, who co-wrote and sang the theme to Cheers and was able to retire early thanks to the royalties, Merv Griffin, composer of the Jepardy! theme, and Mike Post, who wrote themes for most of the 80s and 90s procedural shows like Law & Order and Magnum P.I.
It’s not just singer-songwriters who have had success in the world of TV theme songs, though. Alternative rock acts have also made their mark. Take They Might Be Giants, for example. Their song “Boss of Me” was used as the theme to Malcolm in the Middle. Another band, The Refreshments, became known for “Yahoos and Triangles”, otherwise known as the theme to King of the Hill.
A decent number of television shows have a connection to Oingo Boingo by way of Danny Elfman. These include The Simpsons, Tales from the Crypt, Beetlejuice, and, amusingly, Desperate Housewives, among others.
Nerf Herder composed and performed the theme to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts was used for Freaks and Geeks. Indie rocker Lazlo Bane’s “Superman” was used for Scrubs. The list goes on.
Do you know of any alt rock bands that had a song used for a TV theme or composed music for a TV theme song? Let me know in the comments!
Extra reading: A History of Opening Sequences for TV Shows.