Star Trek- composed by Alexander Courage
Did you know that the Star Trek theme music has lyrics? Neither did composer Alexander Courage when he signed a deal to write the music. The fine print gave the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, the option to write words to Courage's tune - and he did.
Check out these opening lines: Beyond the rim of the starlight / My love is wand'ring in starflight. Even though the lyrics were never used, Roddenberry still got half the royalties for the theme. (Photo: Listening Post)
The Simpsons - composed by Danny Elfman
From the beginning, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening wanted his show's song to be big. Here's how he put it: "The trend in TV themes for the previous 15 years had been namby-pamby synthesizer schlock that seemed to whimper, 'We can't offer you much, but please like our pathetic little show.' I wanted a big orchestrated, obnoxious, arrogant theme that promised you the best time of your life." (Photo: BMI)
To see his vision through, Groening approached composer Danny Elfman to write the opus, handing him a mix tape to help him get the idea. Highlights included The Jetsons theme, selections from Nino Rota's Juliet of the Spirits, a Remington electric shaver jingle by Frank Zappa, some easy-listening music by Esquivel, and a teach-your-parrot-to-talk record. After listening to it for a while, Elfman told Groening, "I know exactly what you're looking for." Apparently, he did. The Emmy-winning theme has been covered on screen by everyone from Yo La Tengo to Green Day.
Jeopardy! - composed by Merv Griffin
Game show maven Merv Griffin knew what he was doing when he wrote the theme song for Jeopardy. He later recalled, '[The Jeopardy theme] is only 14 seconds. So I rewrote it in another key, [repeated it], then added the 'bum-bump' to get it to 30 seconds, which was the amount of time contestants needed for the Final Jeopardy answer. Now, it's played at sporting events; I've played it with the Boston Pops. It's one of the most lucrative themes in history." In 2006, Griffin estimated he'd made $70 million in royalties from the tune. (Photo: Linda_Bisset/Flickr)
Friends ("I'll Be There For You") - composed by Michael Skloff & Allee Willis and performed by The Rembrandts
When The Rembrandts agreed to record "I'll Be There For You" for the TV show Friends, they were little-known rock band that was happy to get the gig. Overnight, the theme became a sensation, earning The Rembrandts a Grammy nomination. Years later, band member Danny Wilde reflected, "We went from being a cool, cutting-edge band to a pop flavor-of-the-month."
And just like that, the flavor was gone. By the end of the 1990s, there was so little demand for The Rembrandts' music that the band resorted to playing shopping malls, opening once for Richard Simmons. It wasn't their day, their month, or even their year.
Bonus: The Legendary Soundman Behind Hollywood's Most Famous Noises
If you've seen Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Wall-E, then you know the work of Hollywood's most legendary sound designer, Ben Burtt. (Photo: The Pixar Blog)
After taking his first (uncredited) job on the original Death Race 2000 in 1975, Burtt would go on to turn movie sound into an art. By capturing and manipulating ambient and mechanical noises, he created entirely new aural worlds. Here are a few of his trademark sounds.
R2D2's Voice: Most movie fans think that the robot's voice is an elaborate creation of computer synthesizers, but it's actually a combination of Burtt whistling and making fart noises into an old tape recorder.
The Clicks of Wall-E's Cockroach Pet: After experimenting with various synthesized animal noises, Burtt settled on accelerating the chatter of an irritated raccoon.
The Star Wars Lightsaber: The hum and the clash of the lightsaber came from two malfunctioning devices - a broken television set tuned between two VHF channels and an idling film projector.
Chewbacca's Voice: Although the fictional wookie looks all ape, his voice is based on the barks and grunts of dogs, mixed with the growls of lions and bears.
Star Wars' T.I.E. Fighter: The roar of the evil Empire's fighters (the name stands for Twin Ion Engine) is actually the roar of an elephant. To add some length to the sound, Burtt layered in the buzz of his car driving on a wet road.
Indiana Jones' Whip: The crack of Dr. Jones' whip is just that - the sound of Indiana Jones cracking his whip. During the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Burtt recorded Harrison Ford snapping the whip along a rural road in Marin County, California. To add a little more whoosh, Burtt dropped in the sound of a Harrier Jump Jet that flew by.
TV Theme Songs That Will Never Die is written by Bill DeMain, and The Legendary Soundman Behind Hollywood's Most Famous Noises is written by John Scott Lewinski. They are reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the May/June 2009 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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