The post 22 Artists You Didn’t Know Made Kids’ TV Show Theme Songs appeared first on Consequence.
One of the greatest challenges for any musical artist is crafting a compelling theme. But there’s a whole new level of difficulty to be found in the realm of theme songs for children’s shows, given that kids are the toughest customers on the planet, and finding a way to adapt one’s unique musical sensibility to a well-established formula is one of those tasks that sounds a lot easier than it really is.
With the premiere of the 25th (and final!) season of long-running PBS series Arthur today (February 21st), Consequence decided to unleash its inner child by looking back at the many, many times a great animated kids series got some musical help from a well-known artist, starting from the 1990s.
This list includes, as a result, a remarkably eclectic collection of artists with one thing in common: They all saw their value in bringing their talents to a genre that may not have much critical respect, but means the absolute world to younger generations.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Reverend Horton Heat – Ren & Stimpy (1991-1996)
There’s something ineffable about rockabilly staple Reverend Horton Heat’s jazzy, idiosyncratic theme tune to millennial gross-out fave Ren & Stimpy; the frenetic bongos, the surf guitar, the always-driving double bass.
The tune, called “Dog Pound Hop,” is a curiously fitting contrast to the close-up grotesqueries of Ren and Stimpy’s adventures. After all, if you’re about to see a zoomed-in shot of an anthropomorphic chihuahua’s bloodshot eyes, you’re liable to seek comfort in the tiki-bar warmth of a slide guitar. — Clint Worthington
Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO) – Rugrats (1991-2006)
Devo frontman and keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh has long since made a name for himself as a prodigious composer of film and TV, whether for Marvel (Thor: Ragnarok), Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic) or animated jaunts like The LEGO Movie and The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
But he cut his teeth writing some of the most iconic Nickelodeon themes of all time in the ‘90s, from the jaunty bassline and catchy lyrics of Clifford the Big Red Dog (co-writing with Josh Mancell), the frantic ‘90s dance-music drums of Rocket Power, or the strangely reggae-inspired theme for the Super Mario World cartoon.
Obviously, though, his biggest contribution to our collective childhoods was the deceptively simple, but eerily playful synthesizer theme to Rugrats, with its oddball, carnivalesque chirps and human sound samples. It’s a work of understated genius, of a kind he’d parlay into scores of scores hence. — C.W.
Danny Elfman – Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
This one almost feels like cheating, since Danny Elfman’s iconic theme for the TV show is largely derived from his work on the ‘89 Tim Burton classic. But the former Oingo Boingo frontman still pours heaps of Gothic brass and haunting orchestral sweep into this evolution of the theme, expanding on it in ways that Shirley Walker would run with in her moody, evocative score for the series proper. For a lot of ‘90s kids, this is the definitive theme for the Caped Crusader. — C.W.
The B-52s – Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
In between trips to the Love Shack, ‘80s new wave darlings The B-52s lent their talents to the zippy, effervescent theme to Rocko’s Modern Life. It’s a great fit: After all, Rocko, with his breathless exuberance and unceasing zest for life and adventure, feels like Fred Schneider if he a) wore Hawaiian shirts and no bottoms (!) and b) was a wallaby. (Fun fact: apparently Kurt Cobain was their second choice to pen the theme. One wonders what Grunge Rocko would be like.) — C.W.
Keith Emerson – Iron Man Season 1 (1994-1996)
Iron Man: The Animated Series didn’t last very long, only airing two 13-episode seasons in the mid-‘90s. A theme song written by Keith Emerson of prog-rock giants Emerson, Lake & Palmer suffered an even worse fate, getting axed after the first season. The progressive instrumental track played as we saw Tony Stark transform into Iron Man as he prepared to battle a slew of random villains like Hypnotia and Grey Gargoyle. — Spencer Kaufman
Little Richard – The Magic School Bus (1994-1997)
You may know Little Richard as the “architect of rock ‘n’ roll.” But to children of a certain age growing up in the mid-90s, Richard was better known as that guy who sang the Magic School Bus theme song. Its undeniably catchy, piano-driven groove screams “Actually, learning is fun,” and the surreal lyrics keep up with the overall tone of the show: “Surfin’ on a sound wave/Swingin’ through the stars/Take a left at your intestine/Take your second right past Mars.”
Sure, education is an adventure, but as The Magic School Bus proves, it’s so much more fun when accompanied by a killer soundtrack. — Spencer Dukoff
Joe Perry – Spider-Man (1994-1998)
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry put a then-futuristic spin on the traditional Spider-Man theme for the Fox Kid Network’s Spider-Man: The Animated TV Series, which ran from 1994 through 1998. The tune is actually quite experimental for a network cartoon show, with robotic vocals and some nifty guitar noodling by Perry. Fun fact: Aerosmith actually performed the theme live a few times in 2002, with Steven Tyler handling vocals. — S.K.
Ziggy Marley And The Melody Makers – Arthur (1996-2022)
If you are looking for an absolute slapper of a theme song, look no further. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers’ “Believe in Yourself,” the seminal PBS cartoon Arthur theme, is what you’re looking for. Harnessing the show’s ultimate message of the power of kindness, Marley created this theme song that teaches viewers that as long as they believe in themselves, everything will fall into place. This is a message that rang true then and certainly should be remembered now. — Erin Brady
Macy Gray – As Told By Ginger (2000-2006)
Without being told in advance, you’d know in a second that it was Macy Gray utilizing her signature raspy vocal style for the opening credits to As Told By Ginger, the three-season Nickelodeon/NickToons series about a young teen trying to reach a new level of popularity. Composer Jared Faber and series creator Emily Kapnek wrote “I’m In Between,” but Gray makes the lyrics feel relatable to all ages. — L.S.M.
Solange and Destiny’s Child – The Proud Family (2001-2005)
For Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, music is a family thing. It’s uncannily fitting that the then-burgeoning pop stars would team up on the theme song to Disney Channel’s The Proud Family, the criminally-underrated cartoon sitcom centered around the relatives of its spunky protagonist, Penny Proud.
With Solange handling lead vocals and Destiny’s Child providing backing harmonies, “Proud Family” is a sing-in-the-shower-worthy R&B stunner about the unconditional love between your kin. Add in the ultra-sleek production, and it just might be one of the best opening themes in Disney Channel history. — Abby Jones
Simple Plan – What’s New Scooby-Doo (2002-2006)
Simple Plan, the pop-punk kings of Montreal, the undisputed soundtrack to early 2000s pre-teen angst, the band that captured a generation with the simple phrase “I’m just a kid, and life is a nightmare.” Of course they performed the titular song to the 2002 WB show What’s New, Scooby Doo?
And not only that, several of their songs made the cut for some of Scooby Doo’s iconic chase scenes. As many will likely tell you, Scooby Doo and Simple Plan are a 2000s match made in heaven (or more accurately, a really good marketing department). — Paolo Ragusa
Man or Astro-Man?’s Star Crunch – The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (2002-2006)
Star Crunch, a.k.a. Brian Causey, combined surf rock and children’s television for the theme to The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, a song which spells out precisely what the show is all about; a kid with a knack for inventions, a mechanical dog, and an abnormally huge head. Simple, sweet, and to-the-point, with some rocking riffs thrown in for good measure. It’s no wonder why Bowling for Soup covered it for the theatrical film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. — E.B.
Christina Milian – Kim Possible (2002-2007)
Christina Milian’s breakout hit “AM to PM” brought her into the spotlight, but her theme song for Disney’s Kim Possible, “Call Me, Beep Me!,” may have a bit more legacy than her other singles. There are some classic early 2000s sounds and tropes, from the very tech-forward mobile phone commands in the chorus, to rhyming “trouble” with “double,” and of course, finishing with the iconic statement: you know you can always call Kim Possible. — P.R.
DJ D-Wrek – Danny Phantom (2004-2007)
Imagine being just 14 and finding that your parents built a very strange machine. This is a situation that DJ D-Wrek has us ponder in his title song for Danny Phantom, and the world is arguably better for it. The producer and Wild ‘n Out DJ outdid himself with this theme song, telling everything we need to know about this half-ghost high schooler through a sick beat and sharp rhymes. — E.B.
Wyclef Jean – Postcards From Buster (2004-2012)
While Postcards From Buster might not be as instantly memorable as its aardvark-centered counterpart, there’s no doubt that Wyclef Jean’s theme song for the series is still buried deep in your mind. An adventurous series dedicated to showing the unique aspects of our world needs to have an equally adventurous theme song, and Jean delivered. When you hear it again, you’ll want to have some fun and see what friends you’ll make. — E.B.
Jonas Brothers – American Dragon: Jake Long (2006-2007)
American Dragon: Jake Long wasn’t anything of a hit for Disney Channel, but The Jonas Brothers sure were. As Jack Donaghy would say: synergy! The JoBros lent their (at the time) pop-punk stylings to the theme song for Season 2 of the animated series. Nick Jonas is still a teeny tiny nugget in this recording, but Joe Jonas showed up that day ready to sing his heart out. — Mary Siroky
Los Lobos – Handy Manny (2006-2013)
You can rarely go wrong with Los Lobos, much less their simple yet catchy Handy Manny theme. Set to a scene of Manny and his tools making the show’s title card, what it lacks in lyrics it makes up for in accordion chords that will get stuck in your head for days. I mean, seriously. What else could you want? — E.B.
They Might Be Giants – Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (2006-2016)
40-year music veterans John Linnell and John Flansbergh, also known as They Might Be Giants, are no strangers to the offbeat. But creating a new take on the classic Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme for Disney’s 2006 revival, with its highly specific reading of M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E, was no small feat.
Still, somehow they pulled it off, building a jaunty, polka-inspired alternative that holds up as a neat what-could-have-been (even if it ages a lot better than the show’s early-bird CG versions of classic Disney characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy). — C.W.
Dr. John – Curious George (2006-present)
Perhaps a Mardi Gras vibe isn’t the most obvious answer to the question “what should a theme song about an inquisitive monkey sound like?” But once you hear iconic jazz/funk/R&B artist Doctor John’s original theme song for PBS’s Curious George, it feels like everyone involved had exactly the right idea. Poppy, spirited, and fun, it’s an all-timer riff that parents might groove to as much as kids. — L.S.M.
Bowling for Soup – Phineas and Ferb (2007-2015)
Ask a millennial/Gen-Z person of a certain age the number of days in summer vacation and there’s a pretty strong chance they’ll all the say the same thing (a hundred and four, duh), thanks to this theme from Bowling for Soup. The intro to Phineas & Ferb has had way more of a lasting impact than anyone probably expected — the band included.
The show was much funnier than it had to be, too, which has resulted in moments from Phineas & Ferb finding a second life in remixes on TikTok and consistent Twitter bits, the theme song included. Bowling For Soup seriously didn’t have to go so hard with the intro track, which is remembered as a low-key banger by those with the right combination of humor, irony, and nostalgia. — M.S.
Jeff Rosenstock – Craig of the Creek (2018)
If you told someone that the former frontman of bands with names such as Bomb the Music Industry! and The Arrogant Sons of Bitches would also be composing music for a kid’s cartoon, they’d probably be baffled. However, if you’ve heard Jeff Rosenstock’s work on Craig of the Creek, you’d realize that it’s an unlikely but great match.
Rosenstock brings his high-energy ska flair to Cartoon Network with this theme, and it probably would still sound just as fun if it were a full-length song. — E.B.
Rivers Cuomo – Green Eggs and Ham (2019-present)
Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo is no stranger to lending his musical stylings to family-friendly projects, be it Frozen 2, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run or Yo Gabba Gabba!. But his sole contribution in the realm of theme songs remains the one he did for the 2019 Netflix original series Green Eggs and Ham: “Backflip,” an energetic bop that is far better than it has any right to be.
Actually, the fact that “Backflip” is genuinely good shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Cuomo had it in the works long before Netflix came knocking and asked to use it. Melodically, it could stand alone as a solid Weezer song, but we’re glad it found a home with this delightful Dr. Seuss adaptation. — Gab Ginsberg