Turning a song into a TV show theme song can be both a blessing and a curse for the artist. On one hand, the song has the capability to transcend chart success and generational lines to become a truly essential staple of popular culture. On the other hand, it can also reduce the band to novelty or one-hit wonder status, doomed to be recognized only as “that band with (insert TV show here) theme song.” Still, some theme songs are so closely associated with their respective shows that it would be disingenuous to ignore the connection. Plus, they make great additions to a party soundtrack.
Ignacio — Joan Jett, “Bad Reputation” (“Freaks and Geeks”)
Judd Apatow’s one-season wonder, “Freaks and Geeks,” wasn’t even allowed to air all of its episodes during its original NBC run. Since then, the teen dramedy has achieved cult classic status to match the universal critical acclaim it received back in 1999. Apart from serving as a launchpad for the careers of several actors such as James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, the series also had a fantastic intro. It’s been parodied in many different forms, most recently in emo band Modern Baseball’s documentary for their upcoming new album. One of the show’s most prominent themes is the inner turmoil of a teenager’s struggles with identity, and Joan Jett’s rebellious anthem about casting off others’ opinions about you fits the show perfectly.
Kristin — Paula Cole, “I Don't Want to Wait” (“Dawson’s Creek”)
I'm too young to have actually watched “Dawson's Creek” when it originally aired on TV, but my sister and I still refer to Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” almost exclusively as “the ‘Dawson’s Creek’ theme song. It actually wasn’t supposed to be the theme song at all — Jann Arden wrote a song called “Run Like Mad” specifically for the show after producers failed to secure the rights to Alanis Morissette's “Hand in My Pocket.” At the last minute, the network scored the rights to “I Don't Want to Wait,” but only for on-air use. When the show was put on DVD, they had to use “Run Like Mad.” This caused an uproar when the show became available for streaming, as fans missed their iconic theme song.
Rachel — DJ Raff, “Latino & Proud” (“Broad City”)
If the lyrics “four and three and two and one” immediately make you think of two best friends living in New York City, you’re probably completely hooked on Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” The show, made by real-life best friends Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, follows the two young women on their 420-friendly shenanigans through Bed Bath & Beyond and public transportation. Now in its second season, the show perfectly introduces its explosive energy with its theme song, “Latino & Proud” by Chilean DJ Raff. Although the animated intro only features seven seconds of the song, the punchy beat immediately brings to mind Ilana dancing in her Latina hoop earrings (which were smartly addressed as cultural appropriation in a recent episode).
Jennifer — Phantom Planet, “California” (“The O.C.”)
I fell in love with this song as soon as I stumbled across it, completely unaware of its TV show connection. Imagine my shock when my cousin’s face lit up as she said, “Oh my God, do you watch this show?” Sure enough, it was the theme song for the critically acclaimed teen drama, “The O.C.,” which follows the lives of wealthy teenagers and their families in Newport Beach. The show put the spotlight on both the song and the band, as it became a Top 10 hit in Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. “California” was eventually released as a single from the Phantom Planet’s second album, “The Guest,” in 2002.
Tess — Carole King, “Where You Lead” (“Gilmore Girls”)
I grew up watching “Gilmore Girls” every evening after school, and still often find Carole King’s “Where You Lead” stuck in my head. But it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a $5 copy of King’s landmark “Tapestry” album at a record store this year that I realized she was responsible for the iconic song that has become a fixture of my childhood. I often listen to that album as I cook dinner or clean my apartment, and each time “Where You Lead” comes on, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia and the urge to binge on “Gilmore Girls.” I’m sure that even when I’m 50, I’ll hear the song and instantly be whisked away to my childhood, when I hoped I would grow up to be like Rory Gilmore.
Bryan — The 88, “At Least it Was Here” (“Community”)
Another ORANGE Music Roundup, another week of me raving about a Donald Glover-related project. Seriously, though, the 88’s “At Least it Was Here” is one of the most undeniably catchy theme songs — or pop songs in general — that I’ve ever heard, without ever slipping into completely saccharine territory. This is largely due to its deceptively grim lyrics (“We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year”) that, if I had to guess, probably sum up the feelings of many community college students who are dying to get out. “I can’t count the reasons I should stay, one by one they all just fade away,” the chorus triumphantly blasts. And yet, despite the short-lived exit of series creator Dan Harmon and the departures of several main characters, “At Least it Was Here” was one of the numerous reasons I kept coming back to “Community.”
Amy — The Rembrandts, “I’ll Be There for You” (“Friends”)
It’s an unspoken rule that no list of this nature can exist without this song. It’s part of what makes “Friends” so lovable. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock or don’t have a Netflix subscription, the sitcom revolves around six friends (three men and three women) who live in New York City and find themselves in the most absurd day-to-day shenanigans. The Rembrandts’ legendary theme song, filled with jangly guitar riffs, cheesy vocal harmonies and — wait for it — hand claps, perfectly aligns with the opening credits montage. Rachel, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler and Ross all play in a fountain, goofing off and splashing each other, but they all end up snuggling together on a couch. You know why? Because they’ll be there for each other.