12 Songs Given Second Lives as Famous TV Show Themes
HBO has rescued a lot of songs from the dustbin of history
Mad Men is ending, and while the show’s opening credits are inseparable from RJD2’s haunting theme, there was a time when that beat was known only as “A Beautiful Mine,” by RJD2 and rapper Aceyalone.
Matthew Weiner originally wanted a Beck song to play as the show’s opening theme, but the singer turned down every offer from the show’s producers. Weiner was driving and listening to NPR one day when he heard “A Beautiful Mine” played as segue music between two stories and was immediately struck by it, though the version that ultimately was used was so different from the original that RJD2 didn’t recognize it when he first heard it. He’s probably okay with it now, though.
Here are 15 more instances of songs that gained a second life once they were selected for use as a television theme. These aren’t songs specifically commissioned for the show, but rather songs that already existed that have gained wider recognition thanks to their use as a theme.
‘A Little Help from My Friends,’ The Wonder Years
For many people, their first introduction to Joe Cocker‘s rendition of this Beatles tune wasn’t on the soundtrack to Woodstock, it was in the opening credits of The Wonder Years. The ’60s anthem was featured alongside some flickering Super-8 footage, wonderfully setting the show’s wistful tone.
‘Far from Any Road,’ True Detective
Alt-country husband-and-wife band The Handsome Family had been trucking along for almost 20 years when True Detective‘s music supervisor T Bone Burnett selected their 2003 tune “Far from Any Road” as the opening theme to the 2014 series. Singer Brett Sparks’s deep, Cash-ian baritone and surreal lyrics proved to be a great fit for the show’s moody opening credits.
‘Woke Up This Morning,’ The Sopranos
It’s hard to believe that A3’s “Woke Up This Morning” wasn’t written for The Sopranos, but in fact it was released in 1997, nearly two years before the show premiered. It’s harder to believe that A3 are solidly English, so associated the song has come to be with The Sopranos‘ New Jersey and N.Y.C. environs.
‘My Life,’ Bosom Buddies
Billy Joel wrote “My Life” for his 1978 album 52nd Street, and the song was a big hit, so we guess it wasn’t technically “rescued” by the show. The show also used a different vocalist for its version, and home releases and syndicated broadcasts have replaced it entirely with a version of the closing theme, “Shake Me Loose,” sung by Stephanie Mills.
‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket,’ Chuck
Cake’s irrepressible jam from 2001, “Short Skirt, Long Jacket,” peaked at No. 7 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, but that was about as high as it got until NBC’s Chuck resurrected it six years later for the show’s opening credits.
“Superman” actually made its first appearance on the soundtrack for the film The Tao of Steve, though curiously, it wasn’t featured in the film itself. Zach Braff suggested it to showrunner Bill Lawrence, and the rest is history.
‘Bad Things,’ True Blood
Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” didn’t chart when it was released in 2005, though it did rocket up the charts in Norway, Sweden and the U.K. after it was selected for the theme of True Blood in 2009.
‘Temptation Sensation,’ It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The upbeat “Temptation Sensation,” by German composer Heinz Kiessling, jars strongly against the Always Sunny gang’s horrible exploits, but it’s hard to imagine the show without the tune and some of Kiessling’s other compositions. Most of the show’s instrumental picks are from Cafe Romantique, an album of production music compiled by Sony.
‘Little Boxes,’ Weeds
Malvina Reynolds wrote “Little Boxes” in 1962, and it became a hit for Pete Seeger a year later, eventually becoming something of a folk-music standard. Then its popularity lapsed for some time, until it was picked as the opening tune for Showtime’s hit Weeds, where it was covered by other artists as the show went on. Fun fact: According to Christopher Hitchens, satirist songwriter Tom Lehrer once described “Little Boxes” as “the most sanctimonious song ever written.”
‘We Used to Be Friends,’ Veronica Mars
The Dandy Warhols released “We Used to Be Friends” in 2003, and it failed to chart in the U.S. despite hitting No. 18 in the U.K. A year and a half later, it became considerably better known as the theme to Veronica Mars, though a moodier piano-based version replaced the original in the third season.
‘Save Me,’ Smallville
Remy Zero’s “Save Me” reached No. 27 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock tracks when it was released in 2001. Since then, it’s become indelibly linked with the Superman-in-high-school drama of Smallville.
‘Love and Marriage,’ Married … with Children
The way the sprightly bounce of “Love and Marriage” butts up with Married … with Children‘s acerbic comedy might well have been an influence on the It’s Always Sunny gang’s music selection. Sinatra recorded two versions of the tune, both arranged by his longtime musical partner Nelson Riddle. The show uses the Capitol version.
‘Feel It All Around,’ Portlandia
Given that Portlandia stars two musicians, it’s unlikely the selection of the show’s theme went lightly. And the Washed Out song that opens the show, “Feel It All Around,” had been around for about two years before the show aired, so the band’s songwriter and producer Ernest Greene probably has Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen to thank for at least a portion of his success.
The Minutemen song “Corona” is a protest song from a seminal California punk band, so it’s a bit of a tragedy that it’s been indelibly associated with a show that featured a bunch of people purposely hurting themselves and others in a variety of idiotic ways. But hey, that’s show business.
‘Way Down in the Hole,’ The Wire
The first voice you heard singing “Way Down in the Hole” on The Wire wasn’t the song’s writer, Tom Waits. Instead, it was the version popularized by The Blind Boys of Alabama. Waits’s version would pop up in the second season, as the show would mirror Weeds‘s tactic of having different versions in different seasons.