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Greatest Forgotten SF and Fantasy TV Theme Tunes

Whenever anybody runs a poll for “Best Ever SF and Fantasy TV Theme Tunes” you always get the same old suspects: Doctor Who , The Prisoner , Star Trek … And yeah, they do all have great theme tunes. But they’re also the shows that win “Best SF and Fantasy TV Show” polls as well. They have an in-built advantage.

Which we thought was a bit unfair on some great theme tunes that just happen to have been written for forgotten or under-appreciated shows. Or downright clunkers.

So here, SFX is giving a big-up to those sadly forgotten theme tunes that deserve a second hearing, in no particular (except number one). They’re numbered mainly so you can keep track of where you are in the article.

FROM THE SFX ARCHIVES: A slightly-edited and updated version of two articles from September 2010.




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18 Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)

Sung by Nina Persson of Swedish pop combo The Cardigans, the music for the Vic and Bob remake of the ’60 series about a cop and his ghostly partner was written by David Arnold, who’s been in charge of the Bond music since The World Is Not Enough . And doesn’t it sound like it? Even the piano riff at the very end sounds like it’s going to burst into the 007 theme. But it is effortlessly cool and well deserves another hearing.

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17 Eureka

A cross between The X-Files theme, the music from an advert for butter, a hurdy-gurdy and a slight hangover, this random ditty by Mark Mothersbaugh is perfect for the distinctly odd Syfy show.

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16 Dead Like Me

Composed by Stewart Copeland of The Police, the jazzy theme to Dead Like Me remains oddly melodic despite sounding, at times, like a bunch of musicians in a race to see who can reach the end of the song first. It’s also accompanied by one of the greatest ever opening title sequences too… SF, fantasy or otherwise.

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15 Battle Of The Planets

To be honest, the opening music from this ’80s cartoon sounds like a rejected theme from Dallas or Dynasty , but wow, does it sweep you up and take you on a ride. The way the music swells at one point convinces you that this “Sandy Frank” person, whose name looms up in the credits, must be one of the most important people in the history of existence!

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14 Millennium

The extended mix here gives you a chance to fully appreciate a beguiling theme tune that never really had a chance to make an impression when chopped down for TV. It’s not as immediate as some, but let it wash over you, and after a while you are totally immersed in its mysterious rhythms and enchanting melodies – it’s a distant relative of the Twin Peaks music (but then, isn’t a lot of Mark Snow’s output?) with odd little moments when it threatens to break into The Last Of The Mohicans , before drifting off into something else completely. Whether it quite fits the dour and hardboiled show it was written for is another question – sounds more like a theme for The Mists Of Avalon or The Dragonriders Of Pern to us.

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13 Ulysses 31

Look, personally, I loathe this theme tune. Not so much for the theme tune itself, as for the fact whenever you mention the name of the series, you suddenly get a room full of people all tunelessly singing, “Ulyseeeeeeeeeeeee-Ehhhhhh-Ehhhhhh-Ehhhhhhh-Eeeeessssssssssss!” Argh! But yeah, there’s no denying it’s the catchiest theme tune ever written, and loads of you lot clearly absolutely adore it. If you haven’t heard it before – be warned: if you click on the clip above you won’t get it out of your head for days. It’ll just stay there like a wasp buzzing around in an upturned jam jar.

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12 Kingdom Hospital

The show must rate as one of the dullest telefantasy series ever – a US adaptation of Lars Von Triers’ The Kindgom , it moved at a glacial pace. The theme tune, though, called “Worry About You” by Ivy, is wonderfully odd, like the musical equivalent of amusing eccentric who always seems on the borderline of going totally psycho.

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11 The 4400

Sung by Amanda Abizaid, an American Lebanese singer-songwriter, and co-produced and co-written by Bosshouse, this track had the feel of a pop song that had been co-opted as a theme, but was actually specially composed for the show. Which probably explains why there are so few lyrics (they only had to fill out a 90-second slot). File under haunting… which is presumably what the producers were after.

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10 Saving Grace

While a track by a white, rocker/rapper isn’t the first kind of music that springs to mind for a show set in Oklahoma, somehow the raspy, grungy theme to Saving Grace with its mock-gospel lyrics suits the series perfectly. Writer/performer Everlast was the lead singer of House Of Pain, most famous for “Jump Around” which, thankfully, hasn’t been used for the theme to anything.

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9 seaQuest DSV

Presumably composer John Debney’s commission said something along the lines of, “Can it sound a bit like Battlestar Galactica but a bit more underwater, please?” Because, indeed, this majestic theme does threaten to break into the mighty theme from the original Galactica at any moment. Still, that's no bad comparison. Amazingly, considering how often The X-Files theme turns up in “best theme tune” polls, this theme for the Spielberg-produced submarine sci-fi adventure, actually beat Mark Snow’s pulsating classic of paranoia to nab the 1994 Emmy for Main Title Music. Should it have won? Possibly not, in retrospect, but it remains a stirring, mighty piece of orchestration.

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8 Star Fleet

starfleetopening.mp3

We all know who wrote the Star Fleet theme don’t we? Yeah, that guy from Queen with the hair and the badger fixation. Well, um, no. It was actually that guy from The Moody Blues, Paul Bliss (well, not the classic Moody Blues, to be honest, he only joined them in the ’90s, but hey, it provided a good journalistic link). Most people recall Brian May’s guitar-driven rock cover version of the Star Fleet theme which made the charts, but the original was written and performed by Paul Bliss on what sounds like it may have been a Stylophone. No, that's mean; it's an early synth classic, the pulse-pounding melody and arrangement somehow soaring above the inherent tinniness of early ’80s keyboards.

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7 Demons

Demons is so universally reviled that it’s easy to dismiss the bizarre, indie-pop theme tune as yet another of its crimes against TV. But let's look at this dispassionately; the theme, “Eyes Of The Night” by Oklahoma’s Starlight Mints, is the one, single, surprising, original, idiosyncratic choice the producers made. The rest of the show was a tedious, by-the-numbers retread of ideas, characters and themes we'd all seen many times before, so you'd expect a similarly identikit theme tune. Instead we get a odd, playful, jaunty, immensely foot-tapping oddity that, when you started watching the first episode, seemed to promise a quirky, intriguing, daring show that we never, ever got.

Sadly there’s no sign of the theme being used in situ with the opening credits on YouTube (maybe the band wanted to distance themselves from the show), so above is the official video for the song instead.

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6 Airwolf

It would be too easy to dismiss the Airwolf theme (composed by Hungarian Sylvester Levay) as a mere Knight Rider rip-off. And, yes, it also suffers at one point from an absolutely hideous chord progression ( K-9 & Company did the same trick). But there is some weird, indefinable power to the Airwolf theme that overcomes its ’80s roots and finally wins you over. Perhaps it's the pulsing “helicopter blade” bass line, or maybe it’s the soaring, bombastic melody, but somehow, you can’t help feeling pumped up by the end of it.

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5 Buck Rogers In The 25th Century

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Opening and Closing Theme from TeeVees Greatest on Vimeo .

An irresistible fusion of ’70s funkiness and John Williams-esque pomp. For the original TV movie (and the version released theatrically in the rest of the world) there was also a version of the theme tune, called “Suspension” written by the show’s producer Glen A Larson, with lyrics sung (apparently through his nose) by Kipp Lennon which you can hear here: 02-Song_from_Buck_Rogers-Suspension.mp3 . But we'll warn you, it’s a pretty nauseating experience, and once you here the lines, “What am I, Who am I, What will I be? Where am I going and what will I see?” you'll never be able to hear the theme again without them running through your head.

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4 Forever Knight

Forever Knight is the sadly largely-forgotten ancestor to Angel , Moonlight and Blood Ties , a brilliant vampire cop series that deserves some re-assessment. It also had a wonderfully brooding theme by Fred Mollin – part John Carpenter, part Tubular Bells , it’s understated but immensely moody; almost the musical incarnation of spooky shadows.

Mollin also created the theme for Friday The 13th: The Series which is equally a triumph of mood over tune. You certainly couldn’t hum it and expect anyone to recognise it.

 

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3 The Lone Gunmen

Hmm, anyone else think this music could just as easily be the theme form Chuck ? A delightfully silly pastiche of ’60s spy themes – Bond, Mission: Impossible , The Man From UNCLE – it's the prefect musical intro to Chris Carter’s light-hearted spin-off from The X-Files .

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2 Adam Adamant Lives!

Surely the greatest Bond theme that never made it onto a Bond film? Kathy Kirby powers her way through a theme song as ’60s as Carnaby Street, belting out some quite awesomely clunky rhyming couplets like they’re Shakespearean sonnets. Hearing this is like bathing in the essence of grooviness.

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1 Earth Final Conflict

Back in the ’60s Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek made wailing female voices the soundtrack for space travel. So it seems only fitting that this series, which he “created” but wasn’t actually produced until after his death, put wailing vocals back into the pantheon of US theme tunes ( Heroes definitely owes it more than a little debt). The Earth Final Conflict theme is a thing of immense beauty, far, far too epic, and emotional, and multilayered for the rather middling show it was created for. Close your eyes and try to erase the series from your memory and just listen. What images does it conjure up for you? Different things at different moments perhaps? There’s a touch of Stargate . A hint of Rivendell. A suggestion of Krypton. An echo of Arrakis. And an overall feeling of grandeur and wonder and exotic.

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