Redbrick’s writers discuss their favourite TV show theme tunes
Julia Lee – Merlin
‘In a land of myth, and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy. His name – Merlin.’ Excerpted from ‘Merlin’s Arrival at Camelot’, the show’s opening theme is triumphant and magical. Orchestra, choral and visuals come together for something that is equal parts Arthurian as it is the late 2000s.
In its short 30 seconds, the song manages to galvanise one’s soul for some great adventure. On a personal note, it evokes memories of the whole family at grandma’s house – cosying up on the sofa as the theme plays on the tiny (now defunct) TV that balanced precariously on a bookshelf while the adults played Mahjong in the lounge. Perhaps it was simple nostalgia that made Merlin’s theme top of my 2021 Spotify most-listened list.
Abi Kinsella – Detectorists
The idyllic opening strums of the Johnny Flynn’s theme accompany serenely shot rural images at the beginning of every episode of Detectorists, immediately telling you what kind of show you’re going to be watching. It’s time to settle in for half an hour of escapism, where the stakes are low and the characters feel real, bound by their mission to “search the loamy earth with me.” The raw, timeless vocals continue into a lulling promise that “I will be your treasure”, arguably the central theme of a show that claims to be about finding gold, but is actually about love in all its forms. The pastoral injections into each note reveal the song to be a work of great passion, as is the show as a whole. It is the essence of a masterpiece, distilled into sound. It is perfect.
Beatrice Lancet – Downton Abbey
From the opening piano motif, we are brought into the world of Downton Abbey, a place that captured my heart and made me long for the spectacles contained within those sweeping halls. The drama series centres around the high-status Crawley family living at Downton Abbey and the struggles upstairs and downstairs. John Lunn’s use of full-bodied strings and piano melodies create the instantly recognisable and classy opening, which soars into each episode, helping to create the era of lords, ladies and balls.
The music is able to emulate the majestic nature of the series and is complemented by the cinematography and strong direction. A particular strength is the theme’s emotional chord changes, which still give me goosebumps, creating an air of expectation as they go from dissonance to a harmonious resolution as we wait in anticipation to find out what each episode has in store.
Sian Allen – Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls turns ten this year – a fact that makes me feel extremely old, considering I remember watching the very first episode premiere directly after lesser-known DCOM Let It Shine. One of the reasons the comedy-mystery cartoon has been a favourite of mine for such a long time is definitely its theme song. The theme perfectly teases the show’s Twin Peaks-for-kids vibe – it is somehow eerie and upbeat at the same time, which fits the tone of the series brilliantly. Richly layered and always fun to hum along to, the Gravity Falls theme (just like the show) is enduringly weird and wonderful. No spoilers, but I love the even weirder series finale version too. Listen out for the creepy whispers at the very end; played backwards, it will usually reveal how to solve the cryptogram in the credits – cool, right?
Samantha Hicks – BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman is one of those rare shows where the credits song is arguably even more iconic than the theme tune. ‘Back in the 90’s’, written and performed by Grouplove, perfectly captures the essence of the show: a once-famous television star desperately hanging on to the fame he once had. The song is saturated with a sense of bittersweet nostalgia, perfectly mirroring BoJack’s (Will Arnett) connection to his past throughout the series, and his reluctance to let it go. With this layer of meaning, hearing the song becomes all the more poignant on each rewatch.
‘Back in the 90’s’ emphasises the importance of the credits music, an element of a television show that is all too often overlooked. BoJack is only improved by having such a recognisable and catchy song ending each episode; a song which encapsulates the protagonist’s position in ‘Hollywoo’. Not only is it the ideal accompaniment to the show, but it is also a song that irrefutably holds up on its own – to me, this is the sign of a faultless piece of TV music.
Charis Gambon – Why Women Kill
My favourite TV theme features in the opening of the first series of Why Women Kill. I believe that the theme tune is perfect for the show because it is an older song but has been altered from its original form. The version of the song specifically for the TV show is interesting and alludes to the fact that the show is about love but in a bizarre and interesting way. The choice of theme tune is also sort of ironic as it is about love and the women within the show all kill their partners. One of the women is from the 1950’s when the song originally came out and another is from the modern world; the new take on the song connects the two through the song similarly to how the show does. L-O-V-E has something unique and bizarre about it and I do not think they could have chosen a better song.
Kylie Clarke – My Mad Fat Diary
The only TV theme song which I find myself unable to skip while watching is the theme within the title sequence of My Mad Fat Diary, my favourite comfort show. The recognisable sound of the rock guitar in the opening notes of The Charlatans’ ‘One to Another’ reminds us of the fact that the aesthetic of this show is an indie kid’s dream, staying authentic to the 90s setting of the show and getting us hyped for each episode.
The angsty tone of the instruments is fitting as the title sequence usually follows the introduction of yet another problem in the main character Rae’s complicated life within the opening scene. However, this contrasts with the hopeful lyrics of the song, ‘I hear our day is coming, gets sweeter every year’, which reminds the watcher of the character’s pursuit of healing despite her problems, making us root for the character even more so.
Georgia Brooks – Peaky Blinders
A standout feature for me of Peaky Blinders is its stellar soundtrack. Featuring everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Laura Marling, the modern soundtrack juxtaposed with the period piece is an interesting choice, but one that perfectly compliments and arguably even makes the show. Many of the key moments throughout are inseparable from their soundtrack, but even more so, the main character Thomas Shelby is inseparable from the brilliant title track and theme song from the outset of the series: Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
The lyrics seem to fit the character perfectly: ‘He’s a God, He’s a man, He’s a ghost, He’s a guru.’ Originally taken from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the idea of a ‘red right hand’ represents divine vengeance, and the unsettling unease that the original track conjures encapsulates the drama, suspense and often violence of the Peaky Blinders. Although this may well be a case of a song becoming very much synonymous with the show that it is the theme tune to, and as a result losing some of its independence, it would be hard to argue for any other track as the backing for Cillian Murphy, the ‘tall handsome man,’ striding through the streets of Birmingham.
Amelia Neath – Gilmore Girls
The Gilmore Girls opening tune is a song by Carole King called ‘Where You Lead’, with the lyrics that are most recognisable to fans: “Where you lead, I will follow.” This represents the main characters’ relationship, mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory, as the show follows their unbreakable bond. The folk-pop light-heartedness of the theme song represents the safeness of this companionship set in the usually autumnal town of Stars Hollow.
While the song originally was meant to portray a romantic relationship between a couple, the song took on a new meaning when symbolizing mother and daughter love. My own parents and I would belt the theme song in our living room on rainy days with the fire on, watching a few episodes of Gilmore Girls after a Sunday dinner. Whenever I hear this familiar theme tune, I am reminded of those happy times and the warm feeling that is unique to Gilmore Girls, which only fans of the show can resonate with.
Jess Rushton – Friends
I’ll Be There For You by The Rembrandts as the theme song for the show Friends is arguably one of the most iconic TV theme tunes to exist. From 1994 to 2004, over 200 episodes of Friends graced TV sets across the world and is still a highly admired, well-known sitcom. Written by the show writers, the song is recognisable even to those who have never seen Friends, particularly the four claps mid-way through the song. I believe the song really captures the message and essence of the show, the obvious key theme being friendship and supporting each other through everything. It really demonstrates the ups and downs of adult life and the difficulties of managing relationships, friends, jobs and everything in between, perfectly summarising Friends and what it stands for.
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