Certain movies or TV shows are instantly recognizable by just a few notes of their theme songs. Iconic TV series are inextricably linked to their timeless themes, and it’s hard to imagine them separately. Think of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, or Friends without their iconic opening themes; they just wouldn’t be the same. A good soundtrack can elevate a project to new heights, and in some cases, can even make or break their success. Today, we’re rounding up what we think are five of the best TV series themes of all time. Obviously, the list is not exhaustive, so stay tuned for Part II of this round-up.
1. Law & Order
The iconic Law & Order series is recognizable after hearing just two notes of its theme song. Mike Post, a Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer who also worked on projects like NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Magnum, P.I., and Renegade, was tasked with coming up with a theme song for the series, which debuted back in 1990. Since it was a series focused on police work in New York City, Post wanted to mimic the sound of a jail door slamming shut. He then combined that iron-sounding sample with some different sounds, like a hammer hitting an anvil and people stomping on a wood floor, and came up with the now-legendary ‘dun dun’ sound at the start of the song. Post then added some cool-sounding guitars and some percussion, and a timeless theme song reminiscent of NYC was born.
2. Mad Men
The excellent Mad Men series is set in 1950s New York, but its theme song sounds modern, fresh, and mysterious. It’s an interesting and unsettling combination that instantly makes you want to learn more about what the music is all about. The song, A Beautiful Mine, was written by Columbus-based DJ and composer Ramble Jon Krohn, aka RJD2, and was featured on his Magnificent City album. The studio album version also includes vocals by rapper Aceyalone, but an instrumental version was used for the Mad Men theme. Initially, Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner wanted to feature a Beck song for the show’s opening, but the musician refused the offer. Weiner then stumbled on the instrumental version of A Beautiful Mine while driving in his car and listening to the radio. It was definitely meant to be.
3. The X-Files
There’s no way you can even think of the X-Files series without the theme song immediately popping into your head. The creepy, sci-fi tune was composed by Mark Snow, who wrote all the music for the X-Files series and films, as well as the music for the Millennium series. Dubbed Materia Primoris, the theme was featured on Snow’s 1996 album The Truth and the Light: Music from the X-Files. It was an instant hit, even reaching number one on the singles chart in France, and number two on the U.K. Singles Chart. That’s quite impressive for a creepy, slightly alien-sounding theme with no vocals. But as it turns out, the theme for the X-Files was the result of an ‘accident’ in the music studio. It was all just a case of Snow accidentally resting his elbow on his keyboard while an echo delay effect was turned on. He liked the strange sound so he continued to play around with it, adding some ominous whistling courtesy of his wife, Glynn.
We couldn’t leave aside one of the most iconic and unusual TV theme songs of all time, namely the Seinfeld theme. It was composed by Jonathan Wolff, who also wrote the music for Will & Grace, The King of Queens, Married…with Children, and Who’s the Boss?. It’s a unique and innovative theme that consists of sampled solo slap-bass riffs coupled with beatboxing sounds. Jerry Seinfeld liked it so much that he also used it for all his stand-up scenes in the series, however, the folks over at NBC weren’t impressed. The executives were reportedly concerned that the theme sounded odd and weird – which is exactly why audiences loved it. It managed to stand out from other TV series that had complicated, orchestra-driven theme songs and scores. Now, we couldn’t possibly imagine Seinfeld without its one-of-a-kind theme song.
5. Game of Thrones
To finish off with something more contemporary, we had to include Game of Thrones on this list. The epic masterpiece theme song instantly gets you ready for action, and makes you excited about what’s coming in each episode. Because you know that each episode of GoT was packed full of action and surprises. Composer Ramin Djawadi only had one request from the GoT producers: that he was not to use flutes, which they felt were overused in fantasy films and series at the time. Djawadi thus picked the cello as the main instrument, as he thought it had a darker tone that fit the plot of the series. He went on to compose one of the most epic and hair-raising theme songs of all time, and earned two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.
These are just five of our favorite TV series themes, that we just had to mention, remember, and enjoy. But they are not the only ones; there are many other legendary TV music themes that deserve a spot in the hall of fame. That’s why you should stay tuned for Part II of this round-up, where we talk about more timeless and amazing TV series themes. Make sure to keep an eye on future blog posts to learn more.
If you’re in need of help with a musical project, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Cutting Room Music team. We’re a trio of passionate composers that can’t wait to work on new, creative and exciting projects and deliver a best-in-class product that wows audiences and elevates the project to new heights.