The top 50 80s kids’ TV themes
From Bananaman to Grange Hill, join us in a spot of TV nostalgia as we celebrate 50 great 1980s kids' TV theme songs...
There comes a time to turn away from the horrors of the world and retreat underneath the soft, comforting duvet of nostalgia. That time is Friday. That metaphorical duvet is below.
Here are fifty of the best kids’ TV theme songs (spread over two pages and in arbitrary order) of the 1980s. Some, like Alan Hawkshaw’s distinctive Grange Hill intro, are unarguable classics of the era, while others, like Mike Harding’s Count Duckula, only started in the late-eighties and spent the rest of their run in the next decade.
Obviously, there being only 50 on this list, we may have missed out your favourite (deliberately or otherwise). Let us know if so, but remember that links may take a while to appear in the comments thread because Simon has to shimmy up the outside of the BT Tower and hit an antennae with a spanner to make that happen.
1. DuckTales (Mark Mueller)
Now, this is obviously not a universal experience, but I don’t know a single person who actually remembers an episode of DuckTales. Admittedly few people are expecting to be quizzed on this subject, but nonetheless, the episodes themselves don’t seem to have stuck with anyone especially. This is not unique to Ducktales, but it’s a good example of how a lot of these theme tunes lodge in our head more than the stories do.
2. Knightmare (Ed Welch)
Knightmare was broadcast more in the Nineties than the Eighties, it’s true, but the original 1987 theme tune is the best one. It’s less cluttered than later versions, the individual tracks stand out more, and so the main melody (the one people remember if you ask them to hum the Knightmare theme) is more prominent.
3. M.A.S.K. (Shuki Levi and Haim Saban)
That the acronym M.A.S.K. actually stands for ‘Mobile Armored Strike Kommand’ is a work of gordion-knot cutting genius. This efficient toy-flogging vehicle struck its first blow against your parents’ income with its theme tune, back in the days before moral complexity and emotional turmoil replaced ‘Having loin-twirling bombast bookend the adventure’ as the main requirement of superhero stories.
4. Thundercats (Bernard Hoffer)
I don’t feel like I need to explain this one.
5. Poddington Peas (Geoff Stephens)
Originally broadcast in 1989, Poddington Peas was clearly a work of great initial inspiration followed by hours of eking out pea-related puns (there’s some brilliant ones in there, and then there’s Wee McPea). It ran for one series, but will always be remembered for its theme song, rather than the many, many questions a garden settlement of sentient peas raises.
6. The Raggy Dolls (Neil Innes)
Former Monty Python page, Rutle, and current Bonzo Dog DooDah Band leader Neil Innes also wrote a lot of children’s telly in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Being Neil Innes, he also wrote the theme tune and sang the theme tune for these, and did so very well. The Raggy Dolls is a simple catchy melody with great staying power.
7. Huxley Pig (Herbert Chappell)
A ramshackle paean to optimism and adventure. With pig noises.
8. Henry’s Cat (John Hyde/de Wolfe ltd.)
Of the several theme tunes Henry’s Cat has to offer, this is clearly the best, and I’ll tell you for why:
1. Its melody reminds me of the Shaun The Sheep theme.2. It best suits the show’s whimsy.3. It has a tiny dubstep breakdown.
9. James The Cat (Gary Yershon)
The genius of this theme song is that it really makes you want to watch, if only to find out how exactly James has known fame, money and all that. Composer Gary Yershon would later go on to score several Mike Leigh films, including an onscreen appearance in Topsy Turvy.
10. Bertha (Bryan Daly)
Despite the fact that I can easily imagine Alan Partridge singing this one, I think it’s impressive that Bryan Daly has managed to craft a sincere and passionate song about a piece of machinery on an industrial estate.
The bridge is surprisingly intense.
11. Charlie Chalk (Mike Redway)
I wonder if Charlie Chalk would make it past a pitch meeting today, because it’s hard to summarise in a way that doesn’t make it sound like a fever dream. However, it did have a theme tune that explained the basics of the show while sounding like the best Status Quo song never written. Maybe they just played that to a CBBC producer in 1988 and got a series.
12. The Family Ness (Roger and Gavin Greenaway)
Similar to Poddington Peas in its ‘Pun Name = Dominant Personality Trait’, but with more terrible Scottish accents, The Family Ness is one of three Maddocks Cartoon Productions that feature in this list. All of their theme tunes were written by the Greenaway Father/Son combo, and all of them were belters. This one’s probably the most memorable though, and I’d have absolutely no problem with it being adopted as a national anthem.
13. Around The World With Willy Fog (Guido and Maurizio de Angelis)
Originally performed by a splintering Seventies Spanish pop group, and dubbed into English by parties unknown, this song would undoubtedly win Eurovision if it had been entered. Indeed, Mocedades – the band who performed the song – came second in 1973.
Someone has very kindly compiled a website of Willy Fog theme songs from across the world. Sadly, the disco version link has been taken down.
14. Alvin And The Chipmunks (Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman)
Yes, Alvin is clearly an insufferable helmet, but this is still a tune.
15. Finger Mouse
Full disclosure: this is mainly in here because I’m still immature enough to find the words ‘Finger Mouse’ amusing.
16. Postman Pat (Bryan Daly)
Jolly, bumbling and faintly sinister (the laughter is ambiguous at best), this came from an era of children’s TV which portrayed Britain as a quaint countryside village harking back to a simpler time (everyone had the keys to each other’s houses, adults were all trustworthy and respectable, postmen lived alone with cats and drank no gin whatsoever). It was all very lovely, and bore no resemblance to suburbia whatsoever. This remains ideal music to play while you’re watching bumble bees fly.
17. Fireman Sam (Ben Heneghan, Ian Lawson and Robin Lyons)
Fireman Sam’s theme made you aware of the heroism of firemen without the show ever being able to confirm quite how dangerous their job was. It was more about how they got to slide down a metal pole and drive a huge red truck while the music played on like a less aggravating siren, and so the job seemed hugely appealing. Then we saw London’s Burning and it lost its allure somewhat.
18. Bananaman (Dave Cooke)
The key to a good parody is that you need to be able to pass, at first glance, for the thing you’re parodying. While you are unlikely to glance at the Bananaman theme (unless you’re able to access the sheet music), it does tread the line between parody and genuinely heroic sounding. If anyone out there has the time and inclination to recut the Man Of Steel trailer with the Bananaman music, I suspect it might still work pretty well.
19. Grange Hill (Alan Hawkshaw)
The original Grange Hill theme is a piece of library music called Chicken Man, recorded in thirty minutes by Alan Hawkshaw, who has since stated that he wasn’t really sure what he was doing. Despite this, it’s ingrained thoroughly into the memories of most viewers, as the earlier series were repeated on weekends throughout the Nineties. If I write ‘the last four notes of the Grange Hill theme’ there’s a high chance they’ll appear in your head.
20. Stoppit And Tidy Up
This show disturbed me greatly as a child, and despite being co-funded by The Tidy Britain Group all it really achieved was to put me into a state of nervousness rather than any state of zealous cleaning or environmental awareness. Its theme music reflected this, as it sounds like Kraftwerk falling down the stairs. I have been unable to find out its composer, despite numerous optimistic emails.
21. Penny Crayon (Roger and Gavin Greenaway)
A cartoon there must never be a gritty reboot of, Penny Crayon was a girl with the voice of Sue Pollard whose drawings came to life. Coming from the same reliable Greenaway combo as The Family Ness, this romps along like a C86 band trying for commercial success, but failing to chart in the Top 40.
22. Superted (Chris Stuart and Mike Townend)
If they ever do a new series of Superted I would like it to have Chris Morris as the narrator, if only to hear him say the line “They threw him away like a piece of rubbish”. And also all of the other lines. Just when you think the next line can’t improve on the previous one, the premise of the show gets even more bizarre, and then to top it all Superted rips off his skin to find he has a superhero costume ready underneath. A fantastic intro, if only because it has the nerve to be so incredibly weird with a straight face, and as such we never noticed this as children.
23. Ulysses 31 (Denny Crockett and Ike Egan)
The Nineties saw an improvement in terms of lyrical exposition, whereby the premise of the series was explained via its theme music. In the Eighties, there was a trend towards dramatic monologues underscored by equally dramatic synths. Here though, it was more like someone was playing an Erasure b-side underneath the exposition instead, and you’ve got to give them more than a little respect for that.
24. Fraggle Rock (Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee)
Goes from Talking Heads homage into cult indoctrination song with effortless elan.
Those handclaps though.
25. Johnny Briggs (J.A. Greenwood, played by Colin Buchanan but not the one from Dalziel And Pascoe)
List continues on page two.
26. Going Live (Peter Gosling)
The theme to Chucklevision was cut very much from the same cloth as the theme to Going Live. I say cloth, it feels more like thin primary coloured nylon.
27. Gummi Bears (Michael and Patty Silversher)
It’s easy to be cynical – when David S. Goyer’s name appears in the credits, for example – but the sincerity with which the Gummi Bears theme is sung means I’m incapable of being scornful about it and would now like it sung at my funeral.
28. Mysterious Cities Of Gold (Haim Saban and Shuki Levy)
The most Simon and Garfunkel-sounding kids TV theme ever.*pauses**considers that Simon and Garfunkel might have written a kids TV theme that I don’t know about**does internet search*The most Simon and Garfunkel-*considers possibility of another Simon and Garfunkel sounding kids TV theme**gives up, sends in copy, makes another coffee*
29. Silverhawks (Bernard Hoffer)
Something that’s been demonstrated time and time again in these lists is that it doesn’t matter if your premise is clearly cynical or tired or ludicrous, just as long as your theme tune is confident. Silverhawks is clearly an attempt to recapture the same audience as Thundercats but without being quite as brazenly desperate as TigerSharks, but the theme music doesn’t betray any of this, instead it soars as if this is the peak of all humanity’s creative endeavours. Maybe it is. There are worse things it could be.
30. Count Duckula (Mike Harding)
Rumours abounded that this synth-funk behemoth was actually written by Prince, but no, it was definitely The Rochdale Cowboy himself, Mike Harding. Harding wrote several theme tunes for Cosgrove Hall, but none of them managed to rhyme ‘Transylvania’ with ‘Hall of fame, yeah’, an achievement which would have been a career peak for lesser men.
31. Jimbo And The Jet Set (Roger and Gavin Greenaway)
A simple triumphant melody as animals and humans join in celebration of a machine creature who literally rises above them, as they raise their arms aloft and sing in tribute. Then, at the end, a subtle hint that our robotic overlord is not the benevolent creature the previous praise makes them out to be.
Isn’t it depressing how this title sequence actually makes a much better Terminator film than the one that’s out in cinemas right now?
32. Danger Mouse (Mike Harding)
Perhaps slighter and less dramatic than you remember, it’s still a better Bond song than The World Is Not Enough. I mean, can you even remember The World Is Not Enough? Not even Garbage remember The World Is Not Enough. Do you remember the Danger Mouse music? Of course you do. QED: Mike Harding should do the theme song for Spectre.
33. Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends (Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell)
John Lennon wrote Imagine. Ringo Starr narrated Thomas The Tank Engine. There’s no contest, really.
I also feel it’s worth pointing you towards the existence of this version of the theme tune.
34. Tugs (Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell)
This is possibly the most jarring contrast of sound and image I have seen all year.
35. Transformers (Jonny Douglas and Robert J. Walsh)
I have gone for this version of the theme because it contains all the elements you remember (the vocodered vocals and main melody) but also had additional Barry Gray style brass flourishes and an epic guitar solo surprisingly low in the mix. I suspect, based on the rhythms here, there’s an absolutely amazing funk version of this tune to be had.
36. Monkey! (Godiego)
If you’re taking this seriously, and are unable to change your mind in that respect, this could be a thorny issue. Technically the final series of Monkey! debuted in Japan in 1980, but more importantly I just really wanted to put it in the list. This is why so many journalists lie.
Anyway, this is the Monkey! theme tune, Monkey Magic by Japanese band Godiego, and it does not sound like you’d expect from the intro voiceover.
37. Defenders Of The Earth (Robert J. Walsh, Tony Pastor Jr. and Stan Lee)
The main problem with this theme – besides it sounding like it could have been writtten and sung by Trey Parker – is that it bigs up its heroes so much that it almost feels suplerfluous watching the show. Frankly, they all seem incredibly capable and there’s clearly not going to be any tension here.
38. Inspector Gadget (Shuki Levy and Haim Saban)
It starts off as a plausible theme tune for a detective show, and then it descends from a serious-sounding ‘Ooh crime’ type theme into a silly harpsichord melody. Without using many words, you get the hint that this show is less about a technologically enhanced man fighting crime well, and more about an endearing idiot who is rescued on a constant basis by a girl genius.
It can’t help but make you wonder if this was a subconscious influence on JK Rowling.
39. Rude Dog And The Dweebs (Hank Saroyan)
If you haven’t seen Rude Dog And The Dweebs, it was a sort of prototype Entourage except with dogs instead of Jeremy Piven and better theme music. This is another show where I can remember the theme music more clearly than the actual episodes of this short lived spin-off of a sportswear company’s advertising mascot. Admittedly it’s unfair comparing individual episodes with theme music on many levels, because you can’t really hum a plot.
40. Tripods (Ken Freeman)
Who needs Vangelis when you’ve got Ken ‘Inventor of the String Synth/Guy who played keys on Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds and composer of the Casualty theme music’ Freeman?
41. The Munch Bunch (Brian Wade)
This is just on the right side of endearing, even if it does look a bit like a yoghurt company approached Dean Learner to make a tie-in series. However, these are based on the original books, before the whole thing became part of Nestlé, and the lesson here is that it’s deeply satisfying to constantly interrupt someone by repeatedly saying ‘Munch bunch’, a lesson I hope Matt Edwards will take on board during the next Den of Geek podcast.
42. Chocky (John Hyde)
If we can be proud of anything as a nation, we can be proud of our ability to produce really, really unnerving theme music for child-friendly Science Fiction series.
43. Dogtanian And The Three Muskehounds (Guido and Maurizio De Angelis)
Should you wish to sing along:
One for all and all for oneMuskehounds are always readyOne for all and all for oneHelping everybodyOne for all and all for oneIt’s a pretty storySharing everything with funThat’s the way to beOne for all and all for oneMuskehounds are always readyOne for all and all for oneHelping everybodyOne for all and all for oneCan sound pretty cornyIf you’ve got a problem chumThink how it could be(Dumdedum dumdedum)They cross their hearts and pray(Dumdedum dumdedum)They cross their swords night and day(Dumdedum dumdedum)They drink their beer and swear they’re faithful to their King(Dumdedum dumdedum)No matter what you say(Dumdedum dumdedum)They’re never far away(Dumdedum dumdedum)They’re always ready to fight or to sing
And so on.
44. Tigersharks (Bernard Hoffer)
Well, Tigersharks isn’t the greatest show ever, but nonetheless Bernard Hoffer decided not to phone in the theme tune, producing something distinctive. If you took the vocals off it could work on the front of a light entertainment show, but instead it’s on an attempt to replicate the success of Thundercats.
45. Teen Wolf (John Lewis Parker, Barry Mann)
Not to be confused with Teen Worf, which is a fan fiction James Hunt doesn’t want you to find out about, this is a surprisingly positive song about being a werewolf, and certainly a contender for being one of the Most Eighties Things Ever.
46. Happy Families (Richard Attree)
This is one of those themes that you don’t remember that you remember, but as soon as you hear it you find yourself saying ‘Oh yeah, this one.’
47. The Chronicles Of Narnia (Geoffrey Burgon)
Still for many people the definitive take on the story of Aslan the magic lion, Geoffrey Burgon’s beautiful theme does have an elegiac quality that it shares with the best hymns, making it an appropriate take on Lewis’ epic fantasy lesson: ‘Don’t shag anyone or your family dies’.
48. Woof! (Paul Lewis)
Again, like Brum, this one is here as part of our campaign to feature Birmingham in as many articles as possible. In the Eighties Woof! was filmed in Moseley, the home of Ocean Colour Scene and Tolkien. It sounds like it could be incidental music in Last Of The Summer Wine, so has a warm and safe quality to it which is no bad thing.
Also: is anyone else jealous that Eric has an entire room kitted out in Real Ghostbusters stuff?
49. Ika I Rutan (Lars Demian)
It may look like one woman’s attempt to make purgatory bearable, but it’s actually the title sequence to Ika I Rutan, a Swedish TV show that roughly translates as “Ika In The Box”.
50. Heathcliff (Saban and Levy. Again)
The final entry in this list, and it’s one where I would like to distance the song from the accompanying images and sound effects. I like this song. I find the title sequence still managed to do a thorough and permanent job of making sure I never watch this show ever again. Whoever put all the comedy sound effects that high in the mix deserves to have their boiler broken for a month. That doesn’t alter the fact that if Arcade Fire did a cover of this tune Pitchfork would absolutely cream themselves.
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