?Not every great show has a great theme song. Some bad shows have great theme songs, and some great shows have bad theme songs. But nearly every great nerdy TV show has a great theme song running in front of it. And like the best products on screen, on shelves, or on the ‘net, there’s usually a brilliant mind behind them.
Granted, some of the best shows take the easy way out and either take an existing song and repurpose it (The Dandy Warhols’ theme from Veronica Mars is hawt), or they just hire Danny Elfman. There’s nothing wrong with doing either of those things, but for this list, I wanted to focus on music created specifically for nerdy TV series that wasn’t made by Elfman — partially because I wanted to make it a little challenging for myself, and partially because there are some really cool minds behind this music — some you might not have realized.
12) Craig Wedren, Reno 911
Being the go-to music guy for every side project of the members of The State worked out well for Craig Wedren. He’s done the themes for The State, Reno 911, Wainy Days, The Whitest Kids U Know, and Stella. But outside of scoring films and television, his band Shudder to Think produced some of the most out there kickass alternative rock of the ’90s. Leaping from hardcore one minute to glam the next and then over to sweet melodies, STT rocked out five outstanding studio albums and crafted the soundtracks to a few movies, including Velvet Goldmine.
11) Mark Mothersbaugh, Eureka and Sliders
For the three of you who weren’t aware, Mark Mothersbaugh is the twisted, obsessive mind behind Devo, the band-that-has-done-so-much-more-than-“Whip-It.” He’s a non-stop musical dynamo and he’s created music for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Rugrats, and Big Love. He’s even appeared as an artist on Yo Gabba Gabba! And while I’ll stick to my Smooth Noodle Maps, I have to say that the eerie whistling intro from Eureka is beautiful.
10) Nerf Herder, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The theme song from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a spooky instrumental that lifts into full ass-kicking mode, coming to a crashing conclusion. Did you think that was written by some guy who sits in a studio and cranks out TV themes all day? It wasn’t — it’s the product of California geek rock band Nerf Herder. They got the gig when star Alyson Hannigan played some of their stuff for Joss Whedon, but they didn’t rest on their Buffy laurels. They put out five albums (including an awesome cover of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”) and they’re still together!
9) Lalo Schifrin, Mission: Impossible
His name might not ring as many bells as Mark Mothersbaugh, but if you scan the credits of Enter the Dragon, The Amityville Horror, and THX 1138, Lalo Schifrin’s the man behind the music. Sure, that’s cool, but I could have just as easily said Jerry Goldsmith, who did a bunch of Star Trek and Alien. No, he’s part of the list because he was the original composer for The Exorcist. And his score was deemed too scary. He revealed that during a preview of the six-minute trailer, audience members had to leave to throw up. And that was only six minutes. Legend has it that the reels of his score were thrown out into the parking lot by director William Friedkin.
8) J.J. Abrams, Fringe and Alias
What what whaaaaaaat? But J.J. Abrams is a writer! A producer! A director! He did that Star Trek reboot! And Lost! And he… writes music? No shit, TV fans. He was the hand behind the themes of Alias, Fringe, and Lost, even though that last one was just a sustained F#. When the man gets involved in a show, he sits down at a keyboard and writes a beautiful music box song.
7) They Might Be Giants, Daily Show and The Drinky Crow Show
They Might Be Giants are like the fungus of the music industry (in a good way). They grow everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. They do themes like “Dog on Fire” for The Daily Show and the weirdly catchy chant of Tony Millionaire’s Drinky Crow, as well as contributing soundtrack songs for tons of small screen shows. And yes, including Malcolm in the Middle.
6) Delia Derbyshire, Doctor Who
Who? Yes, Ron Grainer may have written the original Doctor Who theme, but it was electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire who mixed the knobs, spliced the tape, and arranged one of the greatest sci-fi themes ever. But she wasn’t just some nameless BBC drone — Delia was a true pioneer of electronic music, constantly developing and evolving the art form. She cut an album with her band White Noise that is easily 30 years ahead of its time as far as sampling, and acted as one of the mad scientists in the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, a studio devoted entirely to sound effects and sonic modulation. In 2008 over 250 never-before-heard tapes of her audio experiments were discovered in her attic, adding a whole new dimension to her already impressive life.
5) Andy Sturmer, Teen Titans and Batman: Brave and the Bold
One of the faces behind the pretty faces of Puffy AmiYumi, Andy Sturmer had a rock background way before he got into the soundtrack game. With Jason Falkner and Roger Manning he started the ’90s power pop band Jellyfish, releasing two influential albums and earning an MTV music video award nomination. The band even did a song about Mario for the Nintendo compilation album White Knuckle Scorin‘. Moving from rock to soundtracks, he wrote the theme to Teen Titans, which was sung by Puffy AmiYumi, Ben 10, the jazzy score for Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and rewrote the theme for The Batman, originally done by…
4) The Edge , The Batman
Okay, he used to be cool, prior to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. He’s going to need to put in time on a few more Live Aids before he’s forgiven. But he’s had an incredibly durable career with U2 and his theme song for The Batman is appropriately grim, a nice contrast to the more heroic Danny Elfman theme of the original animated series. So far, it’s the only theme song he’s written, but it’s pretty damn cool.
3) Joe Perry, Spider-Man
I remember being a kid when the ’90s Spider-Man cartoon came out on Fox. It was right when I started to get into rock music on my own, and for some reason I gravitated towards Aerosmith. When I heard that Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry had scored the opening theme, I was pretty psyched. It’s got some great guitar in it, along with the creepy robot voice. And who’s cooler than Aerosmith? Don’t answer that.
2) James Lipton, ThunderCats
?Ha ha! This is a hoax. I only put it as an entry because I know 90% of you were expecting it.
1) Stewart Copeland, Droids
This one isn’t. Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police, actually wrote the theme song to the Star Wars spin-off Droids, called “Trouble Again.” It really sounds like a Police throwaway, and has less of a sci-fi vibe to it than an island beat. But it was 1985 and he was branching out into his own stuff, so I’ll give him some points for that.