Ongoing History of New MusicTelevision

The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 974: The Story of TV theme songs

Like Homer Simpson, I love my TV. Without my local, network, cable, on-demand, and streaming subs, I would have never made it through the darkest days of the pandemic. The downside is that in order to remain distracted and entertained, I became over-subscribed. Mixed with my perpetual fear of missing out, I’ve ended up paying for more cable channels than I need and subscribing to services I don’t even watch. I’m just too lazy to go through my credit card statements, find the offending charges, and then go through the hassle of dealing with customer service to cancel my subscription. I gotta do that.

But I’ve been a TV junkie since I was a kid. And one of the things that have always fascinated me is TV theme songs. Some are bespoke compositions commissioned specifically for a certain show. Others are formerly standalone songs that have been licensed for the program.

In both cases, being the writer of a song chosen to be the theme for a TV show can be very lucrative, especially if the show is a hit and goes into syndication. Every time the theme you wrote gets played on TV–broadcast or streamed anywhere in the world–you get paid. Every. Single. Time.

And since having your song played as part of a TV show, you’re constantly advertising its existence to the world. If you’re lucky, it’ll blow up into something even bigger. And although it doesn’t happen much anymore, your label might decide to release your bespoke TV theme as an official single. And if that becomes a hit, too, wow.

What I’d like to do is look at the history of some of these TV themes, focusing on rock bands who have made some very good money–sometimes insane money–from somehow being associated with television. This could very well alter the way you listen to TV from now on.

Songs heard on this program:

  • Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Having an Average Weekend
  • The Jam, Theme from Batman
  • Alabama 3, Woke Up This Morning
  • The Refreshments, Yahoos and Triangles
  • Brian Jonestown Massacre, Straight Up and Down
  • Harry Nilsson, Gotta Get Up
  • Barenaked Ladies, The History of Everything
  • Green Day, Theme from The Simpsons
  • Jane’s Addiction, Superhero
  • Oasis, Half a World Away
  • Nine Inch Nails, Head Like a Hole

Naturally, Eric Wilhite has prepared a playlist for us.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s, and anywhere else with a transmitter and I’ll see what I can do.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 37821 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 974: The Story of TV theme songs

  • This was fun!

    On the chance have enough material for a pt. 2, I’d have loved to have heard JG Thirlwell’s Archer theme on there. But maybe he deserves a separate episode, or combined with other progenitors of industrial and what they’re up to now.


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