Tuesday, January 03, 2012

TV theme songs (no poker content)

Last night, out of nowhere, my friend Grange95 said via Twitter, "Hawaii Five-O is still greatest TV theme song *ever*." I countered with a few other possibilities, which he politely acknowledged as good, but not as good. He then suggested that we each prepare a list of our top 25 TV show theme songs and publish them on our blogs simultaneously.

I initially thought that 25 was too many and 10 was more manageable. He agreed to the lower number. But as soon as I started actually compiling my list, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. I just couldn't narrow it down that far. Grange graciously agreed to bump it back to 25 so that I wouldn't go insane endlessly second-guessing my choices.

Still, it wasn't easy. I started with a list of 40, which I assembled after consulting various online lists of the best theme songs, such as these:

So, to the inevitable question that will come up in the comments, "What about _________? Did you think about THAT?" The answer is almost certainly yes.

I was surprised that the "Cheers" theme song ended up at the top of most of the lists. I've never cared much for that one. Which just goes to show how completely subjective and personal such lists will inevitably be. (Sneak preview: No "Cheers" below.)

I approached Grange's challenge by first asking myself what makes a TV show's theme song great? I decided that it must (1) stand on its own as a piece of music, (2) make you want to watch the show that its attached to, (3) set or suggest the mood of the show, (4) be so distinctive that the viewer quickly forms a Pavlovian mental connection between the theme and the show, such that any other possible music becomes unthinkable.

I decided that those goals are more difficult to achieve if the music is instrumental, foregoing lyrics, so I awarded bonus points to that category and (rather artificially, I'll admit) made my instrumentals list into the top ten and the best ones with lyrics my second ten. (Throughout this post, I am ignoring any distinction in terminology between "theme song" and "theme music.") I then added in five more that, while not necessarily great by the criteria I established for myself, have something about them that compels inclusion in a "best of" list.

I tried to include clips of the original opening credits, but in many cases they are not available due to copyright issues, so some of the embedded clips below are of poor quality, or are some version other than what was with the show originally (e.g., a fan mashup).

So without further ado....


1. "Hawaii Five-0." Yes, in the end, after a couple of re-listens, I had to concede that Grange was right all along, dammit.

2. "Star Trek: The Next Generation." The theme of the original show was pretty good, but they managed to make it ten times better and more beautiful for the show's second iteration.

3. "Peter Gunn." Even if you've never seen the show (I haven't), you'll almost certainly recognize the music, from the great Henry Mancini.

4. "Mission: Impossible."

5. "Twin Peaks."

6. "Merrie Melodies"/"Looney Tunes."

7. "Dr. Who."

8. "The Twilight Zone."

9. "The Andy Griffith Show."

10. "The Waltons."


11. "The Sopranos." The most perfect mating ever of a pre-existing song to a new show--so perfect that most fans assume the song was written specifically for the show.

12. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

13."M*A*S*H." Yes, I know that it didn't have lyrics as used in the show, but everybody knew what the lyrics were, and that's important here; if the music doesn't call to mind "suicide is painless," then it doesn't really work well.

14. "Greatest American Hero." Maybe the best "feel-good" TV theme song.

15. "Ally McBeal."

16. "Rawhide."

17. "The Beverly Hillbillies." Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys? A shoo-in. Of all the ones in my list, this is the one that is most likely to become an earworm for me on any given day. Often just the mention of any its key words (oil, millionaire, swimming pools, movie stars) is enough to set it off. That's not so much because I love the song, but just because of how deeply it has managed to get ingrained in my engrams.

18. "The Monkees."

19. "The Addams Family." Though it deserves inclusion for its general charm and catchiness, this one could almost make the list just for the cheekiness of rhyming "scree-um" with "museum."

20. "Friends."


21. "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." For being so iconically, inextricably linked with one man, one genre, one time slot.

22. "Jeopardy." For having become the musical embodiment of a social message in just about any context, "Time is running out."

23. "The Muppet Show." For maximal playfulness and inventiveness in always finding new twists on the theme.

24. "The Big Bang Theory." For the cleverest lyrics ever penned for a TV theme song. Seriously, incorporating Australopithicus, Pangaea, and "the autotrophs began to drool"? Genius!

25. "Gilligan's Island." For becoming the best-known TV theme show song of all time. Really—just stop anybody on the street and ask. EVERYBODY can sing along.

For the sake of completeness, here is my list of the ones that were in serious contention but didn't quite make the final cut to 25 (in no particular order):

As a final bonus, I give you the most famous TV show theme song that actually has lyrics, though you probably thought it didn't: "The Dick Van Dyke Show":

Grange and I agreed to set the posts containing our lists to publish simultaneously, at 8:00 p.m. my time, so neither of us has seen the other's yet. You can presumably see his list here, now that the hour has arrived. The question for you, dear reader, is this: Who made the more definitive list of the top 25?


Grange's list is here. We had only 9/25 in common. Judging these in order of their summed ranks (lowest being best), they are:

Hawaii 5-0
Mission: Impossible
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Beverly Hillbillies
Gilligan's Island
Addams Family
Muppet Show

The only one on his list that I had not considered is "It's a Jungle Out There," by Randy Newman, from "Monk." I love that song and that show, and I agree with him that the song serves the show perfectly. I would have included it if I had thought of it. I'm amazed that it didn't appear on any of the lists I checked (unless I just missed it).

Judging by a Twitter exchange, he admits to about the same embarrassment for including "Cheers" as I do for including "Friends"--it's a surrender to sappiness on both sides.

Oops--another milestone slipped by

Sometime recently I did my 4000th post, and didn't even notice it. This is #4015.

It's hard to sound excited about it now, since it went by like a thief in the night. But I thought I'd mention it, for the sake of completeness.

I used to think every 100th post was worth noting; now 1000 go by and it doesn't even register. Life changes.

Separated at birth?

That's Andrew "Lucky Chewy" Lichtenberger, professional poker player, top, and John Cochran, from the recent season of "Survivor," bottom.

Twins, obv.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Excellent idea of the year (so far)

A Twitter message that somebody retweeted my way last night:

Two mixer hands

Mrs. Lederer suggested that I should join her for the Imperial Palace Sunday night mixed game last night. I hadn't seen her yet on this trip to Vegas, so I agreed.

One remarkable hand was making the nuts in badugi. The goal is to get one card of each suit, and have them be as low as possible. I started with A-3-4 in three different suits, plus one useless card. I needed a low spade to make a strong hand. I invoked my new-found powers of card-calling, focusing specifically on the deuce of spades. I slid my dud card to the dealer, and he gave me in return...the deuce of spades! It's the first time I've ever made the best possible hand in this game.

The other remarkable hand was in ace-to-five triple draw. I started with four clubs, traded in my mismatch, did my mental voodoo to get myself the ace of clubs, and bingo!

That all by itself wouldn't be so remarkable, but Mrs. L. ended up drawing the king-high club flush. Between us, our ten cards consisted of ten of the 13 clubs in the deck:

I don't even know how to go about calculating the odds of that happening, but they must be pretty long. I'm amazed that she somehow knew not to raise on the last street (when she finally made her hand), and lost only one more bet there.

The only other even remotely interesting thing that happened was that when she went up to her room to get a sweatshirt (it was cold in the poker room), I swiped three stacks of $1 chips from her and hid them in my lap. I wanted to see how long it would take her to notice. The problem was that she took her sweet time about getting back, making some other stops along the way, so I ended up with about 15 minutes of paranoia that the surveillance people had seen me do that and security would be showing up any second to confront me about my theft. Fortunately, that didn't happen. And it only took her about five seconds to notice that she had been looted, so I didn't even get much fun out of my juvenile little prank.