The art of the TV theme song is somewhat of a dying one. The world no longer moves to the beat of just one drum and the era of a lengthy ditty played over shots of a photogenic cast is all but over. It’s no wonder, fewer and fewer people watch TV live and instead prefer to watch on a DVR or a computer where opening credits are easy enough to fast forward through. That being said, there are a few current TV themes that are definitely worth your notice. While they may not all have been written expressly for their shows, they are all performed by artists that have an impressive and enjoyable catalogue worth exploring. So if someone catches you with any of these nine songs on your playlists, don’t be embarrassed. They’re impossibly catchy.

Shameless— “The Luck You Got” by The High Strung
Everything about this delightfully depraved Showtime series is not safe for work. Oh yes, including the opening credits. But the theme song by the Detroit-based indie group The High Strung is good old fashioned fun. The High Strung may sound familiar to fans of “This American Life” for their episode titled “The Dewey Decibel System.” Check out another one of their tracks, the more sedate Standing At The Door Of Self-Discovery to see if The High Strung is more than a one hit wonder.

Justified— “Long Hard Times To Come” by Gangstagrass feat. T.O.N.E.-Z
There couldn’t be a better fit for the Kentucky neo-noir Justified than this rousing hick-hop song from Gangstagrass. Even author Elmore Leonard is a fan, crediting the group with doing “nothing short of creating a new form of music.” So slap on a Raylan Givens Stetson and wriggle into your tightest Wranglers; this track will make you feel both citified and countrified at the same time.

Community— “At Least It Was Here” by The 88
Cult-favorite Community may not be long for this world. Facing both the departure of series creator Dan Harmon and NBC scheduling woes, the future ain’t looking too bright. But we’ll always have this fun pop intro from indie rockers The 88.

Boardwalk Empire— “Straight Up And Down” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
San Francisco’s own The Brian Jonestown Massacre provides the anachronistic opening music for HBO’s jazz age gangster drama. This psychedelic band has been around since the 1990s and were the subject of the fantastic 2004 documentary Dig!, so if you’re not already a groupie, you should get on that.

Parks & Recreation— “Theme For Parks & Recreation” by Gaby Moreno
The bright and brass-heavy theme for this NBC sitcom is just the tiniest slice of what Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno is capable of. If you listen to her great NPR desk concert, however, you’ll recognize some of the same infectious and fun beats.

Mad Men— “A Beautiful Mine” by RJD2
This sample-happy electronica DJ will both wind you up and cool you down. While the rest of RJD2’s work may not exactly set the existential Lucky Strikes and bourbon mood, you’d be hard-pressed to find a smoother groove than “Ghostwriter.”

Luther— “Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack
I know you know who Massive Attack is. I know you didn’t survive the 90s (or eight seasons of House) without having Teardrop branded on your brain. But in case you’ve never given the rest of their work a listen, here’s the theme to BBC’s bloody and satisfying mini-series.

Game Of Thrones— “The Rains Of Castamere” by The National
This one’s a bit of a cheat, of course. But if you’re the type who likes to sing along to the real opening credits to Game of Thrones, well, you’re in good company. I include this track from The National because it’s such a rare and perfect blend of indie modern music and timeless Westeros-friendly balladry. So satisfy your inner D&D nerd without losing a single iota of indie cred. Heck, The National even made this “Bob’s Burgers” Thanksgiving song sound hip.

New Girl— “Hey Girl” by Zooey Deschanel
If you’ve somehow managed to miss the fact that Fox “It Girl” Zooey Deschanel is an accomplished singer-songwriter, congratulations. That means you’ve also avoided walking into a Starbucks since early 2008. Deschanel is, of course, the lady half of the duo She & Him and her music has been heard on film soundtracks and in Cotton commercials alike. Some might find her whimsiquirkalicious brand of music too saccharine, but you can’t deny that, unlike most actresses, Deschanel has the pipes to give her passion project some credibility.

9 TV Theme Songs You Wouldn’t Be Ashamed To Have On Your Playlist 20 January,2015KQED Pop

  • Amy

    I’ve never heard the full version of these, these are great.

  • After finally giving New Girl a shot two weeks ago and subsequently watching all of season one in three days, I now randomly sing “It’s JESS!” to myself. And then wish that I still lived with my roommate of the same name. Oh the fun I would have had.

    Also, I totally have the theme song from Rescue Me by the Von Bondies AND the one from Veronica Mars on my iPod.

    • PerpetualIntern

      “We Used To Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols from VM is one of my favorites.

    • my sister when first started watching that show would sing it to her cat but instead of “hey girl” she would change it to “hey boy”

  • Woo! Massive Attack! They were the first ones who popped into my brain reading the title of this.

  • VM is great, and don’t forget “How Soon Is Now?” from Charmed!!

    Excuse me, I need to go straight iron some floppy bangs over my eyes now.

  • TheOtherGreg

    Well, now I’m a huge Gaby Moreno fan. Thanks!

  • I have a crapload of 80’s TV theme songs on my playlist that I probably should be ashamed of, but they rock my world. #knightriderthemeonloopplz

  • Good list.

    I’m like 25 years too late to lobby for the Family Ties theme song, right? That’s o.k. It’s not on my iTunes or anything…

  • I’ve loved “Paradise Circus” ever since it was used in a pivotal scene in series 2 of Misfits. But I’ve gotta disagree with your “New Girl” choice. I love Zooey but I can’t stand that song or its insipid lyrics.

    I’ve always been a fan of 30 Rock’s theme. I’ve been known to sing (scat, really) along with it.

  • I love TV show theme songs. The themes to The New Girl and Community are definite earworms.

    Also, sometimes I will go for days on end with the theme from Wonderfalls going through my head. That one is definitely on my iPod.

    • I love Wonderfalls and Andy Partridge was perfect for the theme.

  • lowercase_ryan

    This is so Pajiba adjacent, it feels riiiiiiiight.

    Great list. My one suggestion: Massive Attack -Splitting The Atom was the theme for Luck and still my favorite.

  • Great list!

  • Snath

    Massive Attack is like the go-to band for moody TV soundtracks. I think “Angel” has been used in about one billion TV shows in the past few years. I may need to round that number up.

  • I always loved the VLA’s When I Am Done with You (Damages)…

  • If we extend this list to include cancelled shows we would have to include the IT Crowd and Veronica Mars.

  • literaticat

    love it. *downloads everything forever*

  • MrB

    Great post. Little frustrating though to get all the way through the Gaby M slot and NO Parks and Rec theme.

  • Dont forget the Theme song to Psych!

  • Bert_McGurt

    The only TV themes I actually DID have and listen to regularly are from shows no longer airing. Of course “Woke Up This Morning” from The Sopranos is a classic example, and I’m sure I’ve listened to The Black Keys’ “I’ll Be Your Man” probably three times as often as I actually watched Hung.

  • Rooks Nine

    The Greenback Boogie, people. It’s moved in to my head and will probably never move out again. Motherf*cking boogie.

    I’ve also always loved E.S.Posthumus’ Nara (from Cold Case), even though the woman’s wail at the beginning there kinda makes the whole song. Anyway. Listen, the pretty bass.

    Then there’s The Pierces “Secret” which apparently is the opening song for
    Pretty Little Liars, which is completely irrelevant, and pretty effing cool, which isn’t.

    Furthermore, for your consideration:
    Jace Everett – Bad Things
    The Dandy Warhols – Used to be friends (clap clap)
    Yoko Kanno & The Seatbelts – Tank!

    … aaaand I have all of these on my playlist. Goood.

  • Brandon Roberts

    i like new girl and no offense to these other theme songs but where is vikings theme song



KQED Pop is a daily blog edited by Emmanuel Hapsis that critically examines the social and cultural impact of music, movies, television, advertisements, fashion, the internet and all the other collective experiences that make us laugh, cringe and cry. We focus on local, national and international experiences with a Bay Area lens. We don’t do reviews.

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