Top 10 Childhood TV Themes
ou’d better hold on to your childhood, they say. Fair enough. But some parts are so tenacious you couldn’t leave them behind even if you tried. They cling to you, much as an adorable Dickensian moppet may cling to a favourite moth-eaten bear. Hanging around in a disused, cobwebby box in the attic of your mind. Waiting to be unleashed; by a smell, by a sight.
By a sound.
Advertisers are all too aware of this. They know that those early months and years involve levels of absorption which the multimillion dollar world of kitchen roll research can only dream of. Every single one of us can reel off a list of commercial jingles that haven’t seen the light of day for decades. An average toddler will demand a branded pram before they can properly recognise their parents. Schoolkids now jot notes in smeared burger grease on sweatshop trainers. And so on.
All of which, naturally, brings us to why all those fondly-remembered cartoons had such awesome theme tunes. Why bother with regular adverts when you can just script a thirty minute, feature-length promo to sell your action figures/cereal/colouring books/freakish bedcovers? And to truly ram the message home, open with an ear-worm of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan proportions.
Here then, in no particular order whatsoever and united only by the vague premise that ‘I heard them when I was small,’ are ten of the wiggly blighters which absolutely refuse to leave my head. Even when I poke around in there with a fork.
(Alert readers will notice that some of these programmes did not, in fact, have any products to sell—but still provided us with a lovely theme tune anyway. You’ll also notice that they tend to be the ones which last about 30 seconds.)
Through the Dragon’s Eye
Part of the BBC Look and Read education series. Terrible child actors, dubious costumes and crowbarred learning opportunities abounded, but there were two notable redeeming qualities. Dressed as a grotesque, decomposing bird (complete with skull mask and protruding ribcage), chief baddie ‘Charn’ was an impressive stab at properly frightening small children and leaving some lasting psychological scars. Matching this for quality was the piano-driven introduction, which comes about as close to compressing a conceptual prog rock epic into nineteen seconds as anyone is likely to get. The lyrics, for your convenience: “North or South / East or West / The quest / To save the life of Pelamar / Goes far / Look bravely through the dragon's eye / And fly.”
Denver The Last Dinosaur
Very much the ‘classic rock’ of the opening theme world; featuring dubiously over-earnest vocals, allusions to stadium stardom and, of course, prehistoric creatures struggling to achieve relevance outside of their natural timeframe. Hijinx with giant lizards are all well and good, but in these furry-aware times the line “he’s my friend and a whole lot more” has taken on a new, chilling significance.
Characterised by a mighty “Ha-ha this-away! / Ha-ha thataway!” choral hook and worrying giant cone fetishism. Sadly, with the nostalgia machine now in hopeless overdrive, tunes such as this are usually accompanied by a gormless Channel 4 mouthpiece declaring that the composition must, most assuredly, have had some chemical assistance. This low-grade observation will then be perpetuated throughout student bars for the rest of time. Three things, though; (1) Paul Daniels is about as straight edge as it is possible for a person to humanly be without having centimetres marked along the length of their body. (2) You try singing “Ostapazoozalem” whilst anything other than completely clean. (3) Fuck students.
A popular (and helpful) technique adopted by several of these themes was to outline the backstory and plot basics in song before every single episode. That way, anyone coming to the show late would be rapidly up to speed. Hence the pleasantly theatrical voiceover which sets the Transylvanian scene over portentous church organs, here. Considering that this chap was probably busy wondering if he’d ever play Henry V again, it’s artfully done—treading the fine line between creepy and camp. About halfway through, the organs are ditched in favour of some wacky 80s effects and our thespian is transformed into a pseudo-diva with a penchant for taking liberties with the word vegetarian (“he’s a vegaaarriyaan!”). Because, yes, he was a vegetarian vampire duck. I think this pretty much laid the groundwork for my eventual love of crap like Bauhaus.
Mysterious Cities of Gold
I’ve done some research, and it seems this series ran to 39 episodes. At the rate of once per week, that’s almost a year. No wonder it seemed to last forever when I was a kid. Most of the time I was convinced the BBC hadn’t even reached the end before just showing it from the start again. And whenever they actually *found* a City of Gold, our heroes contrived to destroy it in spectacular fashion. Which I suppose provided a useful, if basic, history lesson about Spanish Conquistadors. In truth, the music for this is pretty poor (enthusiastic children’s choir belting out “searching for the citiiieees of goooold” excluded); I really just wanted to use the word Conquistador.
Another fan of the ‘use the intro for backstory’ method. That’s quite ambitious, considering they’re having to outline a spaghetti western... IN SPACE. With a mystic sheriff who channels the spirits of ancient animals. And befriends an irritating talking horse. It’s not a bad effort though, and they’ve found someone who sounds sort of like a cybernetic cowboy of the 25th Century might. He gruffly fills us in with the details over some fairly insistent bass, combined with various explosions and laser-fire which would no-doubt have been accompanied by snazzy visuals. Towards the end, he’s joined by a gentler soul who reiterates all the amazing animal powers Marshall Bravestarr has, in a slightly fey manner. Whilst this is happening though, our gunslinging android friend decides to take it upon himself to discover what the most ridiculous way of singing ‘Bravestarr’ might be, leaving his final exclamation sounding like a near-fatal throat convulsion. Interestingly, the planet they’re supposedly on is called “New Texas”—so keep an eye on that space program, my American friends.
wibbly wibb-de-wibbly wibb-de-wibbly wibb-de-wibbly-wibbly
wibbly wibb-de-wibbly wibb-de-wibbly wibb-de-wibbly-wibbly
nyoow nyoow nyoow nyoow nyoowwww ny nyoow
Or “Run With Us,” by Lisa Lougheed. Putting aside the fact that The Raccoons was obviously Marxist propaganda for another day (they run an underground printing press against an evil, wealthy industrialist who deploys strong-arm tactics in the form of three pigs—come ON people), this is an actual, real tune. Magnificent PYOO PYOO! snare drum action and some uplifting, life-affirming, power-pop sentiments that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Perfect for any young ones developing early signs of angst and alienation. Of course it may also be a call to arms for the Red Army or a prod towards born-again Christianity.
Something I’d always do with favoured tunes was try to get their words down correctly. Recalling the tune and creating vague phonetic approximations to fit the gaps was fun for a while, but could never quite cool my desire to know THE TRUTH. Cartoons generally didn’t make this task particularly easy for me. Tailspin was a case in point, with a section that basically amounts to an extended tongue-twister. It was highly confusing. But not as confusing as the decision to take Baloo from The Jungle Book and put him in charge of an airline courier business. Tongue-twisters aside, the rest is a kind of feel-good, faux-tribal thing with a simulated pan-pipe solo. You know, the type of thing cheesy Disney characters are always dancing around to on curiously unpolluted beaches. I guess this was to help reflect King Louie’s new career move as the owner of a pacific island bar, or something.
Sub-D&D nerdfest, in which one poor sap wore a ridiculous helmet in a blue-screen room while three others directed him (or her .. but seriously, it was always him) through terrifying dangers like awful CGI and excitable enthusiasts of amateur dramatics. Such a thing of beauty required an opening score of majestic proportions. What it actually got was a kind of metal-lite, symphony pastiche, heavy on the synths (of course) with overtones of sorcery and adventure ... which, in retrospect, was absolutely perfect.
Sincere apologies if I neglected to include your favourite, but take heart from the knowledge that the gruelling task of selecting just ten caused me considerable suffering. You sadists. Don’t forget to buy a crude plastic representation of your favourite Stylus staff member on the way out!