Stranger Things & the Power of the Theme Song

Stranger Things. Inspiring more than just nostalgia, a fondness for waffles and renewed conspiracy theories about wayward government experiments, the Netflix show has one killer opening score which has prompted remixes and interpretive dance numbers the world over. The discovery of an extended, ten minute version of the synth number has some fans putting it on loop, running for hours on SoundCloud. 

The band responsible for the entrancing track is one with a pretty well-defined niche audience. SURVIVE are an experimental noise band who have two albums to their name and, while they are considered quite big in Austin, they think it’s a “relative term”. Suddenly, they’re now experiencing a much larger demand for touring. That’s part of the magic of a good theme-song.

The simple red lettering harkening back to the film titles of the decade it’s set in (the 1980 for those who are yet to delve in) offset by the wordless instrumental (though there is a video floating around of cast members ‘singing’ along to it) has reminded us of just how powerful an opening sequence, and in particular a song or score, of a television series can become. In Stranger Things, the recurring references to The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go is just as much a symbol of the show as the fairy lights or Eggos and reminds us both of the unspoken duty of older siblings to pass down music and how linked sound, like smell, can be to memory and nostalgia.

Here, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites opening credit sequences and theme-songs (Weeds, True Blood) and some that remain instantly recognisable and frankly, iconic (Sex and the City, The Simpsons) regardless of whether or not you’ve even watched the show.

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

No matter how big his movie career becomes, to this day, Will Smith cannot escape The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air nor the rap he performed for the show. Not that he seems to mind all that much. When talking about the show, Smith discussed the difference between movies and television and how connected people become to things like the characters and the songs within a show through a much more intimate, personal experience.

When appearing on The Graham Norton Show, the movie star didn’t miss a single beat when he jumped up for an impromptu performance of the show’s iconic opening sequence, minus the brightly coloured outfits or taxi. In fact, it seems like the only person who isn’t aware of the song was a school receptionist in the United States who once misheard the lyrics on a student’s voicemail and sent the school into lockdown.

The OC

If you were anywhere near a TV during the years 2003-2007, chances are you caught a glimpse of the everlasting dramatic masterpiece that was The OC. Hey, even if you didn’t, you probably heard a whole lot of the show’s theme-song, California (though it might as well be “Califoorrrniaaaaaaaa”) by Phantom Planet, which will perhaps be forever referred to as “the OC song”. 

Chances are that California is also probably the only song by the band that ever really had any success, becoming a  Top Ten hit in a number of countries. There’s a distinct, nostalgic emotion invoked by those first few opening bars of that unforgettable piano riff that tugs maybe not necessarily at the emotion of the show itself, but the time during which it took over our screens and inspired other ‘cheaper’ knock-offs (Summerland, anyone?).

Even if you didn’t watch it, there’s a chance that you still know the words and that very specific images of McMansions and sunset-lit beaches spring to mind when you hear it.


Often referred to as ‘daring’ for being so out of the box as a theme-song, there are fewer pieces of TV music more iconic than the bass line that plays over Jerry’s monologue each Seinfeld episode. Except… It wasn’t actually recorded on a bass guitar. Sure, the internet might be crawling with covers and How-To-Play videos of the  riff that are spot on, but the version on the show was actually played on a synthezier as the composer, Jonathan Wolff is a pianist.

The music underneath however, changed with every episode so that it fit with the timing of Jerry’s stand-up performance, meaning that sometimes, it took up to six hours to score. What’s the deal with TV theme songs anyway?

Sex And The City

If the fuzzy HBO intro isn’t enough, the network has been home to many an iconic title sequence. None other perhaps than that of Sex And The City, in which we see Carrie Bradshaw go from bright-eyed to flustered as she wonders throughout NYC. The visuals of the credits underwent a change post-9/11 when they removed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre where Sarah Jessica Parker’s name was shown, replacing them with the Empire State Building.

With the city itself such an intrinsic character and the theme-song so instantaneously recognisable, it’s little wonder there are numerous instances where documentaries about New York City feature watered-down versions of the song. Having said that, we can’t help but wonder if the theme-song itself being a rip-off of the Stevie Wonder song Don’t Worry Bout A Thing.

The Simpsons

With one of, if not the most recognisable theme-song to ever grace television sets, the first few notes of The Simpsons even sounds like the heavens parting. Though the visuals have changed over the years and of course a new and ever more creative ‘couch gag’ at the end of nearly every sequence, the song itself has remained virtually untouched (even if everything after about season nine has been pure trash).

From Lisa’s saxophone solo to the bustling noises of Springfield to the urgent scurry to get home to the television, the opening song creates a strong visual image even without the bright cartoons and will most likely remain one of the most iconic opening sequences in television history.

The Sopranos

Another feather in the HBO cap, the opening song for The Sopranos s something of a cinematic masterpiece, lending itself to something fitting for the big screen. The song, Woke Up This Morning by English band Alabama 3 is what truly set it apart from the gangster movies that came before it. Compared to the near operatic instrumentation of The Godfather theme-songWoke Up This Morning is so far removed from it’s predecessors within the genre and anything but ostentatious.

It tells us that Tony Soprano is a new kind of mob boss: one who  does and takes things for himself (“got yourself a gun”) and as the song progresses, we see fragments of the city (kingdom) and of the man (king) himself.

True Blood

While the show might have turned out to be questionable in quality, if there’s one outstanding masterpiece True Blood gifted us with, it was the opening credits sequence. The subject of actual scholarly articles in real, academic publications, the song alone (and the visuals that accompany it) is instantly evocative of Southern Gothic and hard to both ignore and forget.

It’s got the eerie organs, winding guitars and percussion that punctuates it, all offset by those heavy vocals and creating in itself a thrilling, contemporary classic. Heralded as one of the greatest opening sequences to come across small screens in years, it almost makes up entirely for the increasingly ridiculous plots as the seasons wear on.


Before Orange Is The New Black had Regina Spektor, another Jenji Kohan creation, Weeds, had Malvina Reynolds. Such a huge part of the show was the opening song Little Boxes, that when it came to Season Four and Nancy Botwin was out of her little box and the song was nixed, fans were left a little unsettled, questioning whether or not their beloved title track would return.

It wasn’t until Season Eight, the final in the series, that the song made a triumphant comeback. In total throughout the show’s run, there were 37 versions of the song featured, including covers by Death Cab For Cutie, Regina Spektor and Linkin Park; however, none were more iconic than the original 1962 version by Reynolds, which was used throughout the entire first season to map out the suburban hell the characters found themselves trapped in.

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