Top 10 songs made famous as TV themes

By Zennith Geisler

Apr 07, 2011

You know when you hear "So no one told you life was gonna be this way -- your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's D.O.A...." and you immediately think of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe?

Well, plenty of TV shows take their theme from a legitimate song release. Here are our favourites.

Friends: I'll Be There For You - The Rembrandts

With Friends producers David Crane and Marta Kauffman, as well as The Rembrandts band members Phil Sōlem and Danny Wilde involved in the writing process, this is possibly the most famous TV-theme-turned-pop-song. Originally 45 seconds long, the composition was later re-recorded as a full-length song about a year after the show's premiere -- and seven years after the series ended, it is still played all over the world. Some people are still trying to get the timing of the "clap clap clap clap" right....

Scrubs: Superman - Lazlo Bane

Executive producer Bill Lawrence credits star and narrator Zach Braff with nominating the song as the show's theme. Braff later directed the music video for Lazlo Bane, which features behind-the-scenes footage from the show's set.

True Blood: Bad Things - Jace Everett

Country singer-songwriter Jace Everett released "Bad Things" on his self-titled album as well as a single in 2005 but it failed to chart. After being chosen as the vampire drama's theme in 2008, the song became a hit, charting in Norway, Sweden and the UK in 2009.

How To Make It In America: I Need A Dollar - Aloe Blacc

Rapper, singer and producer Aloe Blacc lent his incredibly catchy track to the HBO series that premiered free on YouTube and iTunes last year. Both parties must be happy with the outcome, as the musician credits the show for giving him more exposure, and a second season of the dramedy is currently in production.

King of the Hill: Yahoos and Triangles - The Refreshments

Besides the single "Banditos" from their 1996 album Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, The Refreshments are best known for this theme song, which was traditionally one of the tracks the band would play during sound checks.

Community: At Least It Was Here - The 88

Indie rock band The 88 are no strangers to lending their music to television. Besides supplying the theme for Community and the short-lived Fox sitcom Free Ride, their songs have appeared in numerous TV shows, movies and advertisements including the How I Met Your Mother season one episode "Best Prom Ever" where they appear as a wedding band and perform three of their own songs as well as The Verve Pipe's "The Freshman" and "Good Feeling" by The Violent Femmes.

The Wire: Way Down in the Hole - Tom Waits

Tom Waits wrote and performed this song which appeared on his 1987 album Franks Wild Years, but it is noted for being the theme of HBO's hit crime drama, The Wire. Each of the show's five seasons feature a different recording of the song against a different opening sequence including The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tom Waits, The Neville Brothers, Steve Earle.

Entourage: Superhero - Jane's Addiction

Featured on Jane's Addiction's third album Strays, "Superhero" is well-recognised as the opening theme from Entourage -- it arguably received more exposure than the single "Just Because" which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2004.

The Monkees: (Theme from) The Monkees - The Monkees

Written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart for The Monkees, this 1966 song was intended as the show's theme and also appeared as a track on their self-titled album. However, it was later released as a single in Australia and became a hit on its own -- it is still played often on "oldies" radio stations.

M*A*S*H: Song from M*A*S*H" (Suicide is Painless) - Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman

Best known as the theme for the movie as well as the television series, Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman penned this song which was performed by uncredited session singers John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Ron Hicklin and Ian Freebairn-Smith. In 1970, it appeared on the film's soundtrack credited to The Mash and in 1980 became a #1 hit in the UK. Manic Street Preachers released a cover version in 1992 which peaked at #7 in the UK singles charts.

Honorable Mention

Weeds: Little Boxes - Malvina Reynolds

Malvina Reynolds' 1962 song "Little Boxes" wasn't technically made famous as the theme from Weeds; however, it did give it a new lease on life and allow many artists the opportunity to cover the hit (as with The Wire theme). The original was used for the first season; each episode of season two and three featured a different cover, including Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie, Ozomatli, Randy Newman, Angelique Kidjo, Linkin Park, Pete Seeger and many more. French, Spanish and Russian versions were also included.

Do you like when TV shows use a "real" song as their theme, or does it ruin the song -- or the program -- for you? Can you think of something to add to the list? Sound off below!

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  • MsBoonzie Mar 26, 2012

    Frieeeeeeeeeeeends :''D<3

  • djboy77 Nov 15, 2011

    The theme from Friends doesn't count. It started as a TV theme, became famous and was turned into a full-length song later, only on the back of it being famous. Making it a "TV theme made famous as a song", not the other way around.

  • d_henderson1810 Jun 29, 2011

    Too much modern stuff. Where are song themes from older shows, such as "Welcome Back" by John Sebastian (from "Welcome Back, Kotter"), "Believe It Or Not" by Joey Scarbury (from "The Greatest American Hero"), and "With A Little Help From My Friends" by Joe Cocker (from "The Wonder Years"?

  • BrianKatcher Jan 13, 2012

    Um, you realized 'Little Help From My Friends' was a hit before that show, right?

  • OzDrDj Jun 14, 2011

    Cleaveland Rocks - The Drew Carey Show, Five Oclock World - The Drew Carey Show ( I wonder what i am watching at the moment)

  • ali_tv_fan Jun 04, 2011

    Save Me - Smallville

  • BenjaminCooke May 06, 2011

    unfortunately the gavin degraw track was famous before oth. now oth has absolutely mutilated that song! anyone unlucky enough to still be watching oth, myself included, will know the humiliation of the cover tracks at the start of every episode. don't get caught watching oth...it's embarrassing

  • djboy77 Apr 30, 2011

    Um, "Smallville"? "Charmed"?

  • mautie Apr 24, 2011

    Big Love used Beach Boy's God Only Knows well, I always think of Veronica Mars when I hear We Used To Be Friends by The Dandy Warhols, Joan Jett's Bad Reputation always brings Freaks & Geeks to mind, 5 O'Clock World recalls Drew Carey's show and Wheels On Fire reminds of Ab Fab.

  • ChipsTheButler Apr 19, 2011

    Good work splitting the article up into 3 pages to increase your commercial hits.

  • Jaykeson Apr 17, 2011

    I can recall a few more - what about: 1) Joey Scarbury - Believe It Or Not [The Greatest American Hero] / 2) They Might Be Giants - Boss Of Me [Malcolm In The Middle] / 3) BJ Thomas - As Long As We've Got Each Other [Growing Pains] / 4) The Bodeans - Closer To Free [Party Of Five] / 5) Pet Shop Boys - Absolutely Fabulous [Absolutely Fabulous] / 6) Vonda Shepherd - Searchin' My Soul [Ally McBeal] / 7) The Presidents Of The USA - Cleveland Rocks [The Drew Carey Show] / 8) Paula Cole - I Don't Want To Wait [Dawson's Creek] / 9) Full Blown Rose - Free Me [Tru Calling] / 10) John Sebastian - Welcome Back [Welcome Back Kotter] / 11) Andrew Gold - Thank You For Being A Friend [The Golden Girls]

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