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Cartoon Theme Songs Sure Were Weird

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEx9r5enZsk&w=615&h=461]

Last September was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the landmark superhero cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series. Twenty years! Boy, I feel old. Because of this, I rewatched the series on DVD and it absolutely holds up. Every part of it is a masterpiece, from the animation to the voice acting to the music. The theme music is particularly great and I think I know why: NO LYRICS.

batmanIt doesn’t attempt to come up with some kind of ridiculous song that, while catchy, is stupid and makes no sense. Either that, or a song that attempts to, in 45 seconds, tell you the entire premise and backstory for the show you’re about to watch. During my formative cartoon-watching years, the ’80s and ’90s, themes of this nature existed in absurdly-high numbers, especially in the action genre. Here are some of my favorites.

(NOTE: This has nothing to do with the quality of the program; this is strictly about the effectiveness of the theme song.)

THUNDERCATS
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LihbdtfJ7Y&w=615&h=346]

Thundercats was a huge part of my very young childhood. There’s a very strange phenomenon in shows like this where apparently the only people who exist in the realm in which it takes place are the heroes and the villains. No normal people (cats) at all. At any rate, that theme song, while catchy, is very much a product of its time. It doesn’t have many lyrics, but the ones it does have are weird.

“Thundercats are on the move/Thundercats are loose

Feel the magic, hear the roar/Thundercats are loose.”

So, they’re loose; were they to be locked up at some point and we just never saw it? And has anyone ever said, “Oh shit, you guys; the Thundercats are loose! We better high-tail it!” This is a song that doesn’t need any lyrics, despite the double-length of the opening. It’s cool animation and a decent tune, mucked up a bit by the need to have silly words.

SILVERHAWKS
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzAQu23t19A&w=615&h=461]

Silverhawks was essentially the exact same cartoon as Thundercats, only in space and with bird features instead of cat features. I had all the toys for this too. I was an action figure junkie when I was a kid. I’m clean now, though; I swear. There are more lyrics to this song, but they’re still quite stupid.

“Wings of silver, nerves of steel/Silverhawks

This bit is accurate.

Partly metal, partly real/Silverhawks

The point is that they’re cyborgs with both robotic and human components, but “partly metal, partly real” implies that metal isn’t real; like it’s a figment of our imagination or perhaps something theoretical.

Soaring through the highways of the heavens in their flight

Silverhawks, a rainbow in the night.”

There are highways in the heavens? Are there traffic jams at rush hour? “In their flight” is totally unneeded except to rhyme with “a rainbow in the night” which doesn’t mean anything either. Rainbows aren’t known for lighting up nights. In fact, rainbows are totally contingent on light hitting them. They don’t exist without light already being present.

 

TRANSFORMERS
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLS2N9mHWaw&w=615&h=461]

Another mainstay of my childhood (and, being honest, now, too). Everybody loves the Transformers theme song, but most people choose to just focus on the first bit:

“Transformers, more than meets the eye.” and “Transformers, robots in disguise.”

That’s pretty cool, granted. But for the next bit, they try to cram the show’s whole premise into a single line.

“Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons.”

What is the time signature on that? I appreciate the desire to get it done quickly, but come on. Not that I could do any better trying to get the word “Decepticons” into a song, of course.

 

M.A.S.K.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2Z1yLO9C-Q&w=615&h=461]

I have no attachment to this cartoon at all, but it does illustrate the opposite of the Transformers problem of cramming info into too tight a space. This theme song goes on, and on, and on, and on.

“Masked Crusaders, Working Overtime,
Fighting Crime, Fighting Crime!

Who is paying them? What kind of terrible boss doesn’t solve this apparent staffing issue?

Secret Raiders Who Will Neutralize,
As Soon As They Arrive, At The Site

The intransitive verb “to neutralize” implies that they will themselves commence neutralization. And if it doesn’t mean that, and they’re neutralizing bad guys; if they’re neutralizing them “as soon as they arrive at the site,” then why are they putting in so much overtime? How many bad guys are there in this town?

Trakker’s Gonna Lead The Mission,
And Spectrum’s Got Such Super Vision!

I get it cuz his vision is super and he also supervises. It’s a pun. I hate puns.

M-M-M-M.A.S.K.!!
Is The Mighty Power That Can Save The Day!

That’s debatable.

M-M-M-M.A.S.K.!!
No One Knows What Lies Behind The Masquerades!

That makes them sound a little too festive for my liking. I don’t want harlequins doing any sort of crime fighting on my behalf. Also, “masquerade” does not mean “mask.”

M-M-M-M.A.S.K.!!
Always Riding Hot On V.E.N.O.M.’s Trail!

Okay, liars; if they’re always on V.E.N.O.M.’s trail, then they don’t neutralize the second they arrive at the site. It can’t be both! Either you’re perfect and bad guys immediately lose, or you’re always working overtime!

Come See The Laser Rays!
Fire Away!”

NO! I will not see any “laser rays,” thank you very much. You’re supposed to be saving us from bad guys; don’t invite us to see it like it’s some kind of carnival attraction. Also, the agreed-upon term is “laser BEAMS.” The only people who say “laser rays” are parents trying to connect with their comic book-reading kids.

 

HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yeA7a0uS3A&w=615&h=461]

Here’s an example of there being almost no theme song at all. It’s literally just He-Man explaining to camera about what goes on during the show. I particularly enjoy that he has to explain how his giant green, yet weak and terrified, tiger becomes a slightly larger, meaner tiger. Is it really worth having a secret identity if you look exactly the same in both forms, sans shirt? The only people who know his secret are the exact people who live in the castle also. That’s handy.

The best bit, though, is that at the beginning and end, for no reason at all, there’s the singing of the name “He-Man.” Did somebody just make a bunch of money off of that? It’s like one of the head mucky-mucks at Filmation mandated that there can’t just be talking at the beginning; there needs to be singing as well. I guess he got his wish. It’s the “By Mennen” of the cartoon theme song world.

So, I guess the point I’m trying to make with all this is that cartoons don’t need complicated theme songs. I don’t ever remember needing to know the origins of all of these cartoons every time I sat down to watch it. These are merely some of my favorites. What are yours? The goofier the theme song the better.

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23 comments

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  • One that I’ll never be able to put out of my head is the theme to Robotech.

    But what really scrambles my brain is the original Japanese theme song to Macross… with lyrics… sung by a dude.

    This is the new, reanimated, HD opening with the original theme:
    http://youtu.be/3N7AhJlO1eM

  • Best non-lyric cartoon…Jonny Quest! Such a well composed theme that sounded kick ass and not all kiddy. The Challenge of the Superfriends was also quite beefy. But, if you want the worst examples of a theme song telling you EVERYTHING about the show, refer back to the 70′s Sid & Marty Kroft shows. HR Puffnstuff, Sigmund & the Seamonsters and probably the worst, Lidsville! It’s like 2 minutes long. It’s like listening to a book on tape…beginning/middle/end. Wow!

  • The Big O theme is a total rip off of Flash Gordon. It’s almost painful to listen to. I keep wanting Freddy Mercury to yell “Flash!”

    What about Spider-man and his Amazing Friends? Or the other Filmation cartoons like Tarzan, Zorro, or the Lone Ranger.

    And of course there’s the Ralph Bakshi cartoons, everyone knows the Spiderman theme, but the Mighty Heroes is where it’s at. Oh yeah….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72rYHuWidSM

  • The first TMNT theme song is very catchy, but it has some lines I find highly questionable.

    “Heroes in a half shell. TURTLE POWER!”
    Or is it “on the half shell”? What are they, oysters now, being served up on a fancy plate? And what’s half about it? They’ve got the full shells with plastrons and everything. Makes very little sense, that line.

    “Donatello does machines.”
    He makes machines. Sometimes fixes or alters machines. This line makes it sound like he has sex with them.

    “Raphael is cool, but crude.”
    Rude? Prude? I never could make out for certain what that line says. But what kind of description is that anyway? In the comics, Raphael was the immature hothead with overly violent tendencies. In the show, he was the sarcastic wisecrack (because hotheads are a bad influence or something). I don’t remember much crudeness, and weren’t Leo and Mikey the ones more prone to keeping cool? This, however, is nothing compared to “T.U.R.T.L.E. Power” by Partners in Kryme, from the movie sound track, which describes Raph as “the leader of the group”, which, to anyone who has watched the movie, is very obviously Leonardo.

    I do like the comics more than the show (more than any of the TMNT shows, or movies for that matter), but that first theme song always makes me smile. Even though it doesn’t make sense.

  • The opening to Fonz and the Happy Days Gang had it all – 50′s Doo Wop, time travel, an anthropomorphic dog voiced by the awesome Frank Welker, and WOLFMAN FUCKING JACK.

    Godammit I’m old….

  • Oh right, something else that popped into my head:

    Both Thundercats and He-Man had reboots and their themes were changed significantly:

    Thundercats did away with the theme song entirely, though you get a hint of the “Thunder… Thunder… Thunder…” music when the episode title comes up.

    The 2002 He-Man series starts as a re-do of the original opening, then interrupts itself with action, letting you know exactly where the show is going.

    Beast Wars, while not a reboot of Transformers, did away with most lyrics, but kept vocals of the title being said in dramatic fashion upon occasion.

    That said, the most unusual opening theme I can think of is that of “The Big O”, an anime that is more of less Batman with a giant robot. http://youtu.be/AdA6iRk94Hc

  • The Thundercats were actually sealed up in stasis pods for a portion of the first (multi-part) episode. Lion-O’s pod malfunctioned, causing him to age physically while his mind slept. (He was actually the same age as Wily-Kit and Wily-Kat. This gimmick allowed for young viewers to connect with him as the main character).

    Anyway, after the pods crash land on Third Earth, the mutants find them and are preparing to do something evil when Lion-O performs his signature move with the Sword of Omens, resulting in one of the mutants saying “The Thundercats… they’re loose!”, and the theme song kicked in – in the middle of the episode.

    Unrelated, why does the spell checker in Firefox know Wily-Kit and Wily-Kat as words? If I lowercase the k’s, it complains, but when I uppercase them, it decides they’re find.

  • Oh man, I love all of these shows and had toys from most of them!! I agree on the awesomeness of the Animaniacs, but I see you are going more for an 80′s very early 90′s vibe with this…

  • Wow, you watched some crappy cartoons as a kid. I was slightly too old in the 80s to fall for the cheap nasty toy-advertising cartoons (though I did love Batman). Instead I watched and loved British fare like Dangermouse and Count Duckula (and Terrahawks), and the Warners and Disney oeuvre like Gummi Bears, Duck Tales, Tiny Toons, and Animaniacs.

    All of those shows had great theme music.