Whatever Happened To The Theme Song?

This is a topic that keeps popping up in my conversations as of late. In recent film and television productions there is a great lack of great theme songs. For most of film and TV history a great theme song was crucial to a successful project. The trend of licensing songs has killed this. Instead of composing a great theme for a character or for the opening of a movie we are left with films that attempt to cram as many “cool” songs into their runtime as they possibly can. Of course John Williams is the probably the most successful at this. His scores are inseparable from the films they back. But would “Robocop” really be itself without this:

I honestly can’t think of Robocop without thinking of that piece of music. That’s the power of a great theme. That’s why we ALL know the Star Wars music. Sure, LOST’s anti-theme is great and works for the show, but not EVERYBODY has to do it. Wouldn’t all cop related projects if they had cool theme songs? I think so:

Of course the song that really kicked this off for me was the main theme of “The Long Good Friday,” a british gangster movie from 1980. Now this one, while incredibly well known in England, was an art-house film in the states. Something like this is a great example for the power that a theme song can have, though. As soon as the music starts over the credits you really get a feel for the mood of the movie, it guides your mind to where it will need to be for the next two-and-a-half hours. This song, composed by Francis Monkman, is maybe one of my favorite movie themes ever:

It’s not so much that these songs went well with things though. It is more so that these themes were integral to the entity that was the film or TV show. This is something I wish media could regain, I can’t remember the last time I left a theater remembering the music. A real shame. Not all specially composed themes are instrumentals either. “Suicide Is Painless,” was composed for MASH (the film) by Robert Altman’s son. This song was a pretty big hit when the movie came out. Clearly it was an instant reminder of the movie, evidenced by the fact that the TV show continued to use an instrumental of it for it’s opening.

If I were elected King of Hollywood, my first order of business would be ensuring that every movie had a memorable piece of music to go along with it. I would make sure that Sebastien Tellier and Thomas Bangalter would be guaranteed  a chance to do as many of these as they pleased. In 2003, Tellie scored a film entitled “Narco,” a movie I have still never seen but whose score I have listened to endlessly. I’ve listened to it so much that I don’t even feel like seeing the movie anymore, I’ve constructed my own version in my head. Same for Banglater’s score for “Irreversible.” Frankly, the score is all I need for this movie, I tend to avoid movies with unflinching eight minute long rape scenes, but that’s just me. Here are Tellier’s “La Ritournelle” (the original 7+ minute version from the score) and Bangalter’s main theme from “Irreversible.”



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One response to “Whatever Happened To The Theme Song?

  1. I was just having this same conversation the other day about theme songs and jingles. long live king john of hollywood.

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