Last September was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the landmark superhero cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series. Twenty years! Boy, I feel old. Because of this, I rewatched the series on DVD and it absolutely holds up. Every part of it is a masterpiece, from the animation to the voice acting to the music. The theme music is particularly great and I think I know why: NO LYRICS.
It doesn’t attempt to come up with some kind of ridiculous song that, while catchy, is stupid and makes no sense. Either that, or a song that attempts to, in 45 seconds, tell you the entire premise and backstory for the show you’re about to watch. During my formative cartoon-watching years, the ’80s and ’90s, themes of this nature existed in absurdly-high numbers, especially in the action genre. Here are some of my favorites.
(NOTE: This has nothing to do with the quality of the program; this is strictly about the effectiveness of the theme song.)
Thundercats was a huge part of my very young childhood. There’s a very strange phenomenon in shows like this where apparently the only people who exist in the realm in which it takes place are the heroes and the villains. No normal people (cats) at all. At any rate, that theme song, while catchy, is very much a product of its time. It doesn’t have many lyrics, but the ones it does have are weird.
“Thundercats are on the move/Thundercats are loose
Feel the magic, hear the roar/Thundercats are loose.”
So, they’re loose; were they to be locked up at some point and we just never saw it? And has anyone ever said, “Oh shit, you guys; the Thundercats are loose! We better high-tail it!” This is a song that doesn’t need any lyrics, despite the double-length of the opening. It’s cool animation and a decent tune, mucked up a bit by the need to have silly words.
Silverhawks was essentially the exact same cartoon as Thundercats, only in space and with bird features instead of cat features. I had all the toys for this too. I was an action figure junkie when I was a kid. I’m clean now, though; I swear. There are more lyrics to this song, but they’re still quite stupid.
“Wings of silver, nerves of steel/Silverhawks
This bit is accurate.
Partly metal, partly real/Silverhawks
The point is that they’re cyborgs with both robotic and human components, but “partly metal, partly real” implies that metal isn’t real; like it’s a figment of our imagination or perhaps something theoretical.
Soaring through the highways of the heavens in their flight
Silverhawks, a rainbow in the night.”
There are highways in the heavens? Are there traffic jams at rush hour? “In their flight” is totally unneeded except to rhyme with “a rainbow in the night” which doesn’t mean anything either. Rainbows aren’t known for lighting up nights. In fact, rainbows are totally contingent on light hitting them. They don’t exist without light already being present.
Another mainstay of my childhood (and, being honest, now, too). Everybody loves the Transformers theme song, but most people choose to just focus on the first bit:
“Transformers, more than meets the eye.” and “Transformers, robots in disguise.”
That’s pretty cool, granted. But for the next bit, they try to cram the show’s whole premise into a single line.
“Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons.”
What is the time signature on that? I appreciate the desire to get it done quickly, but come on. Not that I could do any better trying to get the word “Decepticons” into a song, of course.
I have no attachment to this cartoon at all, but it does illustrate the opposite of the Transformers problem of cramming info into too tight a space. This theme song goes on, and on, and on, and on.
“Masked Crusaders, Working Overtime,
Fighting Crime, Fighting Crime!
Who is paying them? What kind of terrible boss doesn’t solve this apparent staffing issue?
Secret Raiders Who Will Neutralize,
As Soon As They Arrive, At The Site
The intransitive verb “to neutralize” implies that they will themselves commence neutralization. And if it doesn’t mean that, and they’re neutralizing bad guys; if they’re neutralizing them “as soon as they arrive at the site,” then why are they putting in so much overtime? How many bad guys are there in this town?
Trakker’s Gonna Lead The Mission,
And Spectrum’s Got Such Super Vision!
I get it cuz his vision is super and he also supervises. It’s a pun. I hate puns.
Is The Mighty Power That Can Save The Day!
No One Knows What Lies Behind The Masquerades!
That makes them sound a little too festive for my liking. I don’t want harlequins doing any sort of crime fighting on my behalf. Also, “masquerade” does not mean “mask.”
Always Riding Hot On V.E.N.O.M.’s Trail!
Okay, liars; if they’re always on V.E.N.O.M.’s trail, then they don’t neutralize the second they arrive at the site. It can’t be both! Either you’re perfect and bad guys immediately lose, or you’re always working overtime!
Come See The Laser Rays!
NO! I will not see any “laser rays,” thank you very much. You’re supposed to be saving us from bad guys; don’t invite us to see it like it’s some kind of carnival attraction. Also, the agreed-upon term is “laser BEAMS.” The only people who say “laser rays” are parents trying to connect with their comic book-reading kids.
HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Here’s an example of there being almost no theme song at all. It’s literally just He-Man explaining to camera about what goes on during the show. I particularly enjoy that he has to explain how his giant green, yet weak and terrified, tiger becomes a slightly larger, meaner tiger. Is it really worth having a secret identity if you look exactly the same in both forms, sans shirt? The only people who know his secret are the exact people who live in the castle also. That’s handy.
The best bit, though, is that at the beginning and end, for no reason at all, there’s the singing of the name “He-Man.” Did somebody just make a bunch of money off of that? It’s like one of the head mucky-mucks at Filmation mandated that there can’t just be talking at the beginning; there needs to be singing as well. I guess he got his wish. It’s the “By Mennen” of the cartoon theme song world.
So, I guess the point I’m trying to make with all this is that cartoons don’t need complicated theme songs. I don’t ever remember needing to know the origins of all of these cartoons every time I sat down to watch it. These are merely some of my favorites. What are yours? The goofier the theme song the better.