Let's Review Bear McCreary's Most Famous TV Themes and Make Mixtapes Out of Them!

With the recent Season 2 debut of Starz's Black Sails, television not only welcomed back pirates who wear cool sunglasses and have business meetings, it also welcomed back the sweet aural eargasms of composer Bear McCreary, the man behind the Black Sails theme song. Not that he'd been absent for all that long, as he's one of the industry's most prolific creators of TV theme songs and scores. In fact, he was welcomed back again just a couple weeks after Black Sails returned, when The Walking Dead kicked off Season 5B, and his work will continue to ring out in your living room throughout the next few months as shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Outlander, Da Vinci's Demons, and Defiance return to the schedule.

So we thought now might be a good time to take a stab at critiquing McCreary's most famous television themes. And while we're at it, how about compiling a five-song mixtape of our favorites? Great idea, TV.com! Here we go...


Battlestar Galactica

Housekeeping notes first! There's a bit of confusion over which theme is THE Battlestar Galactica theme, because there are technically two. North American broadcasts of Season 1 began with this tune, but from Season 2 on, the show used the theme embedded above. (Broadcasts in other regions always used the one above.) We're going with the more widely known option as the BSG representative.

TIM: I'm going to attempt (in vain) to separate the theme from the show it represents, because I experience a Pavlovian response whenever I hear it. BSG was far and away the best show that Bear ever wrote music for, and I can't help but think my love for BSG influences my feelings about its theme song. The melody features a great collision between the underlying spirituality and military reality of BSG, but I'm not hankering to throw my money at it. Probably because choral pieces put me to sleep. Love dem drums, doe!

KAITLIN: I cannot separate this theme from the show itself, which is how I know it's served its purpose well; this theme IS Battlestar Galactica to me. First, the soft instrumental sounds flood my brain with warm memories of how the show made me feel every week, reminding me of the deep personal connections between its characters. Those feelings eventually give way to a rush of adrenaline and excitement when the taiko drums kick in. To me, the abrupt switch signifies the show's many clashes—between human and cylon, science and religion, military and civilian. It might not work for you, but it works on nearly every level for me.


Caprica


TIM: Since Caprica is a spin-off of Battlestar Galactica, there's obvious overlap in the auditory palette between the two. But Caprica's theme sounds like it was remixed by Enya. This one probably resonates better with the crystal-carrying crowd than it does with me. Skip! 

KAITLIN: Whereas Battlestar's theme has two distinct sections—a clear separation of its themes—Caprica's theme overlays sweeping instrumentals and the drums, illustrating the idea that the human Zoe still exists inside that metal body, not separate from it. It's not nearly as memorable as BSG's theme, but it has its moments, like the sound of the cylon scanner at the end. LOVE THAT.


Black Sails


TIM: Most of Bear's works are meticulously crafted and beautiful, making Black Sails' drum-circle jam sound like it was thrown together by blind, drunk pirates in the hull of a ship... in the best way possible. In contrast to the sci-fi sagas Bear also scores, the explicit time frame of Black Sails corners him into a specific historical context, and this theme proves that can rock it out no matter the era. It makes me want to guzzle rum, buy a parrot, and stick a fork in my eye, and that means it works. 

KAITLIN: Having never watched Black Sails, I have no reference point for this theme, but I also don't need one. It instantly paints a raw and evocative picture of gritty and dirty pirate life, one that brings to mind drunken sea shanties and pillaging ports in the Caribbean. It's harsher than the orchestral themes I'm used to, but it certainly demands your attention, and the hurdy gurdy he uses is wonderfully unique.


Da Vinci's Demons


TIM: The backstory on this one blows me away. Because Da Vinci's Demons is about Leonardo Da Vinci, Bear did a little research on the famed multi-hyphenate and modeled the show's theme music on Da Vinci's ability to to write backwards. And if you play it backwards, you'll hear a new take on the same music. I'm guessing that if you play both versions simultaneously, a secret passage to Da Vinci's hidden laboratory opens up and reveals the guy's commercial jetpack technology. But even without the palindromic extras, it's a gorgeous piece of work that highlights creativity and progress, both hallmarks of a great inventor.

KAITLIN: Even without knowing how this fancy orchestral piece was created, I found it sweeping and inspiring; the way it builds to that final crescendo almost feels like one of Da Vinci's intellectual breakthroughs. Just like he did with Black Sails, Bear had to create a score that fit a historical setting, and I think he accomplished that without producing anything too dated.


The Walking Dead


TIM: Even after watching more than 60 episodes of The Walking Dead, this theme still sends chills down my spine. The series has never portrayed life in a zombie apocalypse as comfortable, and the opening violins of its theme song buzz in your ears like a pesky mosquito that won't die. That immediately puts me into a state of nervous paranoia, which is exactly how viewers should be feeling while watching such a terrifying series. Bear really nailed the mood with this one, which is unlike anything else he's written for television. 

KAITLIN: The tempo of The Walking Dead's theme is the key to its success for me. Those violins in the beginning mimic a racing heartbeat, which makes my own heart beat faster and faster, as if I'm the one running for my life from a bunch of zombies. My brain kicks into "holy shit, you're about to die" mode, and a general sense of dread and foreboding lingers long after the song ends. This is actually the theme that should play whenever you have to drive anywhere in Los Angeles. You want to go fast, but you can't, just in like every nightmare you've ever had. 


NEXT: Outlander, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Defiance, and more

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Nov 03, 2015
He's a treasure. The main reason I'm watching Outlander is the fact that his name is attached to it. Wherever he goes, I can be sure that a wonderful theme/score will follow.

Can we get more composer articles? Like Ramin Djawadi. I will freely admit that I practically worship him. His work is amazing and I've been known to watch things because I know he did the music. That's actually why I saw Pacific Rim, which got me started down the Charlie Hunnam rabbit hole and led me into Sons of Anarchy. So I can thank Ramin Djawadi for the fact that I got into SoA.

Blake Neely could also use a feature. I think the scores for Arrow and Flash are both spot on and thoroughly enjoyable.

And Steve Jablonsky, for sure, even though his TV composer credits are really only for Desperate Housewives. That was a pretty great score.

And you can't forget Brian Tyler! Hawaii Five-0, Sleepy Hollow, Terra Nova, Scorpion... (I might also kind of worship him as well, though not to the extent that I love Djawadi.)

I'd also suggest Klaus Badelt if he did more TV, because he's kind of fantastic as well.
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Sep 21, 2015
Love his music...great stuff!
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Jun 11, 2015
This was actually pretty interesting to read. You kind of forget about the themes sometimes, and I usually skip them when I'm watching shows. However, I never fail to watch Black Sails opener, I *love* Bear's theme on that show, it feels like the ultimate drinking song, and I always have the urge to grab a pint of something to watch the show with when that theme comes on.

I would love to see you guys do the same with Ramin Djawadi, who is also very prolific with amazing TV opening themes (Game of Thrones, Prison Break, Breakout Kings, Person of Interest, the Strain, etc).

P.S. Also: "Also, I miss Human Target, it was a damn fine action show." I miss it too, Tim. That show as fantastic. =(
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Mar 06, 2015
Bear creates some excellent opening themes for the series he works on but other pieces from those series' scores are blood brilliant as well. From off the top of my head, some Human Target, The Sarah Connor chronicles and Battlestar Galactica tracks are works of art. Heck add the Governor and Prison themes from The Walking Dead to that list.

Also, say what you will about Defiance's plot or content but the Defiance theme is awesome.
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Mar 06, 2015
My favorite is the cover he did of "All Along the Watch Tower" for the last 2 seasons of BSG. Not only did it become the theme for the significant dramatic parts of the show but the song itself actually played a part in the story on multiple occasions. It is definitely the best cover of the original ever.
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Mar 05, 2015
you skipped my fav completely.. sarah connor chronicles. I like the walking dead one too.
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Mar 04, 2015
Human Target is the best theme tune from the last 10 years. He also did the full score and it lifted the whole series up to a high level. I beleive it still holds the record for largest orchestra used on a TV series. They chose not to use him for season 2. The music was bad and the series lost all its luster.
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Mar 03, 2015
1. Outlander
2. Battlestar Galactica
3. Constantine
4. The Walking Dead
5. Da Vinci's Demons

...but why did you guys skip Eureka?
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Mar 03, 2015
1. Battlestar Galactica
2. The Walking Dead
3. Constantine
4. Black Sails
5. Defiance
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Feb 27, 2015
Outlander
Black Sails
DaVinci's Demons
My top favorites, but am shocked at how much I have enjoyed his music for other series and didnt even know he wrote it.
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Feb 27, 2015
Great story - brings to mind the old TV themes that became radio hits - Peter Gunn, Secret Agent, Hawaii Five-O, Mr. Lucky...
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Feb 27, 2015
How is Sarah Connor not on the list?Though apparently there are a few shows here I didn't know he did and now feel compelled to watch (but I assume he did only the theme for SHIELD?got to look it up. and it so explains why I like that short opening of Constaintine .) unfortunately network shows don't list their composers in the forefront opening credits. Which is a shame since music is such the essential part of a show or film. it can make it or break it.
Yes,I do give shows a chance just because I know he is the composer.

I feel Defience's theme kinda blows cause his heart is not in it. And I don't blame him cause Rockne S O'Bannon disappoints me with that show too.

And its one of the reasons Starz shows kick ass, because they virtually have him as their in-house composer.
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Feb 27, 2015
This guy makes the best music I've ever had less than 59 seconds to listen to, I even bought the Defiance theme.
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Feb 27, 2015
I only watch here The Walking Dead. I listen to all the videos without watching the visual.
Battlestar Galactica It seems ok, but not much to impress me.
Caprica Already forgot it
Black Sails Too pompous. Too long (still going on?)
Da Vinci´s Demons It´s nice, intense. Not the best end.
The Walking Dead The best here. One of the best around.
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Feb 27, 2015
Um HOW is Terminator: SCC NOT on this list?? for real, i ran to my computer and purchased the TSCC soundtrack the minute it hit itunes!
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Feb 27, 2015
Personally, I think that the theme to the original Battlestar Gallactica was far superior to either of Bear's.
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Feb 27, 2015
So why doesn't TV.com commission their own theme song?
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Feb 27, 2015
1. Black Sails (really no contest if you ask me)
2. Da Vinci's Demons
3. The Walking Dead (just as Tim said, 5 seasons in, still tickles my spine every time)
4. Terminator: TSCC (Overlooked and underrated as always)
5. Human Target (I enjoyed the S1 intro, but the S2 intro matched the series much better)
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Feb 26, 2015
Bear McCreary has ruined my response to bagpipe music. I envision myself walking in the grey corridors of the Galactica all the time! It's supposed to be the Scots in kilts and whisky!
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Feb 27, 2015
That happened to me with Fantasia and some classical pieces ROFL!
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Feb 26, 2015
Isn't his job just so close to "Charlie" that we have to wonder if he has a brother and a nephew ;-)
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Feb 25, 2015
Bear is a magnificent composer. I could wax on and on about his work but that is what it boils down to. He's just brilliant.
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Feb 25, 2015
My hat's off to the man, and his genius, and also to the TV.com crew for this article (and others like it). Since before I was in high school I used to watch most movies to the end of the credits, and while I never tried to memorize all the names, of course, I thought they deserved the respect of at least taking a look. As I've gotten older and watched things faster, I've failed to even remember the actors names who play the main characters in a lot of shows (could be more about my memory than anything), and needless to say I haven't really checked into those 'behind the scenes'. So, I appreciate this chance at redemption and letting me know who is the genius behind these scores mentioned and more. I have never seen Da'Vinci's Demons or Caprica, but this makes me want to at least check out the opening credits.

The opening score for Black Sails is absolutely one of the greatest moments of the show, and on television in how it gets you totally psyched (and I'm with Tim on how I want to break off a table leg and make myself a peg, drink some grog, and wear an eye-patch), and of course the scoring for BSG was fantastic.
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Feb 25, 2015
And My ultimate favourite

PERFECT




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Mar 01, 2015
I love this soundtrack, would play it on loop back when the show was still on. Love Bear's dreary, ominous vibe present in almost all of the tracks. This one specifically.
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Feb 25, 2015
The third season of TWD ends with a beautiful theme called Reconciliation. I would kill to have this song, but I can't find it
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Feb 25, 2015
Also BSG season 2 had two incredible pieces of Score




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Feb 25, 2015
How have you missed Terminator TSCC off of this list (more evidence that this show was so underrated and should NOT have been cancelled)

i LOVE the end theme



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Feb 25, 2015
Let's just agree the whole Terminator TSCC OST is just magnificent.

Fox you had a true tv gem and you cancelled it just as you did with Firefly...
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Feb 26, 2015
TV GEM is right, loved it from start to finish, and i still bring it up whenever someone mentions shows cancelled too early
Yet production companies keep churning out the terrible Terminator sequels, why not make a movie starring TSCC cast :/

I am a self-confessed guilt free fan of The Following, but it actually makes me sick that FOX has renewed it for 3 seasons, when it clearly would have been great as a one-and-done season yet shows like TSCC/Firefly had stories that could stretch for years and yet the get cancelled, American Networks Execs really need their heads examined sometimes......
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Feb 25, 2015

1. Black Sails
2. Outlander
3. Da vinci's demons
4. Constantine
5. The Walking Dead

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Feb 25, 2015
Thinking of BSG just makes me miss awesome shows set in space.
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Feb 25, 2015
This is my ringtone

Also like The music from Terminator tSCc.



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Feb 25, 2015
Every time I hear Sarah Connor's Theme I wonder how is it possible that Terminator TSCC was cancelled...
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Feb 27, 2015
Blame it being yet another victim of the writer's strike.
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Feb 25, 2015
i still miss this show so much!
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Feb 25, 2015
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Feb 25, 2015
1. Battlestar Galactica (with S3 end theme)
2. Black Sails
3. Outlander
4. Da Vinci's Demons
5. The Walking Dead
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Feb 25, 2015
Battlestart Galactica is definitely Bear McCreary's best work, and I believe the series gained a lot because of it (at least in my opinion). In fact, I think the opening theme is one of the more average themes heard on BSG, my personal favourite is "The Shape Of Things To Come", though the cover of "All Along The Watchtower" is also a great one.

Regarding Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I disagree with the opinions in the article; I quite enjoy it, even though it screams Marvel from 100 miles. Still, it creates some kind of adventure vibe, something similar to the Indiana Jones theme. I could compare this to the opening theme of Game of Thrones - it didn't quite win my appreciation at first, but I grew to like it, and now I get that fuzzy feeling when I hear it, in expectation for another great hour of television.

Naturally, I would put The Walking Dead theme above the one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., because it represents excellently the life-or-death premise of the series. It has that urgent feel, which keeps you on your toes. I no longer watch the series, because I believe its quality dropped, but I still think it has one of the best soundtracks out there.

I had forgotten that Bear McCreary had written the theme for The Human Target, but it speaks even more to his proficiency. I fondly remember the first season of the series, which I believe is superior to the second (though I don't hate Ames), and the music only contributes to that.

Wrapping up my soundtrack list would be Outlander, where I think McCreary once again shines. It's far from the opening theme, the entire musical background is great and contributes a lot to the series. I can only hope that McCreary keeps writing music for television, after Micheal Giacchino moved on to cinema (say what you want about Lost, but its music was always amazing).
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Feb 25, 2015
Interesting post. Nice to learn a bit more about the musical aspect of TV shows. I didn't know McCreary though I have constantly been amazed by his work in:

Battlestar Gallactica
Black Sails
The Walking Dead
Outlander
and
Defiance

C
heers for a good post!
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pjt
Feb 25, 2015
The SHIELD theme is not a song, it's dark and mystical. You can find the long version on YT, it's one of his best. But then I like music that doesn't try to grab my attention in the first two seconds. So I listen constantily to music other people call "boring".
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Feb 25, 2015
Going outside the Theme tunes, McCreary's reworking of All Along the Watchtower has to be on there. Not just for the song itself but also the way he worked bits of his version of All Along the Watchtower in half of season 3's soundtrack. And then there is "Gaeta’s Lament" which is just amazing, who knew he could sing?


Da Vinci's Demons
Battlestar Galactica
Black Sails
The Walking Dead
Caprica
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Feb 25, 2015
OUTLANDER I just love listening to this song and I turn it up when it's on just so it's impacts me so much more, I could listen to this over and over again.
i miss human target and the Cape...........................
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Feb 25, 2015
Not really the point here, but Rackham has gotten rid of the sun-glasses.
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Feb 25, 2015
Bear McCreary is my favorite TV composer, and one of my favorite composers in general. A good score he did recently was for the film "Europa Report".

I can't seem to get the video embed link to work, but here's a URL.
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Feb 25, 2015
Much of the foundation of Da Vinci's Demons and Defiance is the same song. Check 'em out one after the other.
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Feb 25, 2015
Are there longer versions of these theme songs?
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Feb 25, 2015
1. BSG
2. Outlander
3. Constantine
4. Agents of SHIELD
5. The Walking Dead

Plus he also did the theme for The Sarah Connor Chronicles

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Feb 25, 2015
1. Battlestar Galacitca
2. The Walking Dead
3. Constantine
4. Defiance
5. Shield
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Feb 25, 2015
1. Da Vinci's Demons
2. Black Sails
3. Battlestar Galactica
4. Constantine
5. Defiance

I am torn between the "Black Sails" theme and the "Da Vinci's Demons" theme but the the 'Da Vinci"-ness of the '"Demons" theme (that it can be played backwards or forwards) puts it over the top for me.
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Feb 25, 2015
Loved his uptempo and playful theme for the sadly departed "Eureka".
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Feb 25, 2015
Between the theme and the awesome visuals of the characters/ship, BLACK SAILS is number one for me and it is not even close.

To round it out though:
TWD
Human Target
The Cape
Defiance

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Feb 25, 2015
This man has made some phenomenal music. BSG is my favorite, not just intro but entire album. Black sails comes second for me. And then Constantine.
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Feb 25, 2015
Bear McCreary is a genius and a god of music (his wife Raya Yarbrough is also awesomesauce)

My top 5 Bear's tunes:

1. BSG
2. Outlander
3. Black Sails
4. Defiance
5. Caprica
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Feb 25, 2015
I totally forgot about Terminator TSCC - it should be between Black Sails and Defiance. Thx @edge1710!
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Feb 25, 2015
My favorite BSG entry by him was the All Along The Watchtower cover~

Course, the feels because of end of S3 in general plays a definite role in my fondness


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Feb 25, 2015
PERFECT!!!
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Feb 25, 2015
Absolutely! This is on my best songs ever list.
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Feb 25, 2015
He's phenomenal.
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Feb 25, 2015
I didn't know he did Constantine!! That theme is great!
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