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.


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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