Has the “skip” option made main title theme songs redundant? Hardly if you consider how some of the top-shelf shows of the streaming era have married music so effectively with the tone of the accompanying series.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Hearing Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” is so evocative of its parent series, “The Sopranos,” that you feel as though you’re riding shotgun with Tony Soprano as he winds his way down the New Jersey Turnpike. Same goes for the eerie and multi-layered theme of “Six Feet Under” from Thomas Newman, an instrumental that seems to never get old, no matter how many times you hear it, nor does it even sound dated. This also applies to Ramin Djawadi, whose score work for “Game of Thrones” is not only award-winning, but essential to the opening credits of the series, which mapped out the areas of the fantasy world that would be featured in that particular episode.
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But as streaming networks have become go-to’s for those inclined to binge, they too have yielded some powerful theme songs, like Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” from “Orange Is the New Black.” And without the constraints of broadcast, these tunes stretch longer and weirder than ever. Take these 10 standouts from the streaming era.
“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)
The opening credit song is one of the most beloved components of this critically-acclaimed animated series. The creation of the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney along with his uncle, the late composer and saxophonist Ralph Carney, the instrumental originated as a way for the younger Carney to test out his new studio. He sent what he had to Uncle Ralph, who put some sax on it and formalized it a bit more. When the series’ executive producer Noel Bright approached Carney about a theme song, he sent this along, which has become the signature sound for the popular series — even as the visuals behind it mutate.
“Carnival Row” (Amazon Prime)
“Carnival Row” may not have been a critics’ favorite, but its main title theme music, composed by the award-winning Nathan Barr — who’s an old hand at main title themes (“The Americans”) — takes its cues from the Victorian fantasy world of the series. Barr centers the theme around massive 1920s Wurlitzer which is capable of creating a multitude of spooky sounds. Coupled with a violin, Barr’s theme signals the steampunk style and tone of the series before the visuals even begin.
“Cowboy Bebop” (Netflix)
The opening credits of the (now canceled) live-action version of this classic anime series is possibly the greatest thing about it. Created by Yoko Kanno, the composer of the original series and performed by the Seatbelts, the part jazz, part ’70-style action television show the high energy and sassy sequence stays true to “Tank!,” the original opening theme of the anime series, both in sonics and in visuals. Unlike the bloated approach to the series, keeping the theme music tight and concise maintains its appeal.
“The Mandalorian” (Disney Plus)
The multiple award-winning composer Ludwig Göransson met the Star Wars challenge head-on with his theme song for the space Western, “The Mandalorian.” The “Tenet” and “Black Panther” composer, who has won two Emmys for his score for “The Mandalorian,” kept it simple when it came to the theme song choosing acoustic instruments to retain a classic Western feel while keeping the dramatics expected of music associated with Star Wars.
“Nine Perfect Strangers” (Hulu)
If the kaleidoscopic, psychedelic intro theme song to this limited series sounds familiar, that’s because you likely have heard Unloved, the group behind the song “Strange Effect,” on “Killing Eve.” Unloved rules the sonics of “Killing Eve,” both with their original songs and by heading up the music supervision for the series, but they seem custom-made for “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Soundtracking the saturated colors of the opening credits, and with lyrics predictive of the series’ mysterious nature, the song is actually a cover of an unreleased tune by the Kinks from 1965.
“The Politician” (Netflix)
The choice of the Sufjan Stevens song “Chicago,” from his 2005 album, “Illinois,” seems like an odd one for the music-heavy Ryan Murphy series. considering the first season is set in Santa Barbara, California and the second in New York City. Yet the song’s soaring orchestration and complex beat patterns work extremely well with the Emmy-nominated outstanding main title design, and the refrain of “all things go” is a smart match for the titular character’s conniving political ambitions.
The theme song for “Ramy” sounds like a Middle Eastern take on electronic lounge. The work of Egyptian group El Masreyen (which translates to the Egyptians) and composer Hany Shnouda, the composition, “Music Laounga 79,” uses both modern studio elements and indigenous Egyptian instruments to accurately represent the titular character of the series, who is caught between the traditional ways of his parents, religion and his Western environment and lifestyle.
“Shadow and Bone” (Netflix)
Prolific composer Joseph Trapanese is in his element for this period fantasy series based on the YA novel series from Leigh Bardugo. He explores a mythical 19th century Russia in both its untamed grandeur and its gritty darkness with the Budapest Art Orchestra (“Shadow and Bone” is filmed in Hungary). For each of its eight episodes, a different, very brief snippet of Trapanese’s score is used, signaling the tone of that particular show, both majestic and foreboding.
“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV Plus)
Composers Marcus Mumford and Tom Howe have said their intention with their Emmy-nominated theme song for “Ted Lasso” was for it to represent both London, where the series is set, and Kansas, where the lovable namesake character is from. Mission accomplished as the “Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh” in its chorus blends well with the football chants of the fictitious team AFC Richmond, around which the series revolves.
“WandaVision” (Disney Plus)
The husband-and-wife composer duo of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez had their formidable creativity put to the test with the multiple decade-based theme songs for “WandaVision.” They took their cues from signature sitcoms of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s into “Agatha All Along” to create almost stereotypical theme songs for each era. The songs are a perfect accompaniment for the opening credits’ visual styles and manage to retain the four-note theme of “WandaVision.”
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