25 TV Show Theme Songs Written By Popular Musicians

They are catchy, getting stuck in our heads for hours. Each time we tune in they welcome us back with their cool melodies and comforting, familiar lyrics. They connect us to the shows we love, lure us back each week, and embed themselves in our memories. We sing along in spite of ourselves. Television theme songs have become almost as iconic as the shows they represent. But who writes these brief introductions that run over the opening credits to our favorite dramas and sitcoms? Often these magical musical medleys are written by well-known bands and musicians without us even realizing it.

Stacker researched the intersection between music and TV and compiled a list of 25 TV shows with theme songs written by noteworthy bands and musicians. There is the tale of the metal band who had to speed up the melody to fit the show, that song that actually seemed as if it was written for the crime drama though it had been penned years before, that old classic hit that was reworked to explore a mother-daughter relationship, the theme song that was updated for the sitcom reboot, and the time a legendary singer's contribution simply wasn't enough to help the show make it past its first season.

These songs are not only anthems to our favorite shows, but stories about the creators and ways in which the unforgettable themes came into being. Stacker invites you to explore the artists and stories behind your favorite television show theme songs. We dare you not to sing along!

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Tom Waits
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'The Wire'

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Years on the air: 2002–2008

Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," the theme song for the show, is actually from the 1987 album, Franks Wild Years. The album is told from the perspective of the titular Frank, and the song is gospel and, according to Waits, is the story of a "berserk evangelist" attempting to convert Frank. Each season of The Wire used a version of the song performed by a different artist and the show's second season featured Waits' version.

'South Park'

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 1997–present

American metal band Primus wrote and performed the theme song from the raunchy animated series. According to its origin story, the song came about because Primus heard and enjoyed Trey Parker and Matt Stone's animated short, "Spirit of Christmas." Primus recorded the song but there were additional issues along the way, prompting them to speed up the melody and do some rerecording with the help of Primus frontman Les Claypool.

'Orange Is the New Black'

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 2013–2019

Russian-born musician Regina Spektor wrote the theme song "You've Got Time" specifically for the show. Spektor and the show's creator, Jenji Kohan, had previously worked together when the singer was tapped to cover the theme song "Little Boxes" for Kohan's show Weeds for the episode titled, "Mile Deep and a Foot Wide." Spektor recalled Kohan's response the first time she heard the song: "This kicks ass! I love it! This is awesome! This is perfect."

'The Proud Family'

- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Years on the air: 2001–2005

Solange Knowles and Destiny's Child sang the theme song for Disney Channel's "The Proud Family." Solange sang lead and wrote the song specifically for the show when she was just a teenager getting her start as an artist and just before releasing her first studio album, Solo Star, in 2003.

'BoJack Horseman'

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 2014–2020

While the show's theme song wasn't specifically written for BoJack Horseman, when executive producer Noel Bright—a noted Black Keys fan—reached out to the band's drummer, Patrick Carney, the rocker happened to have something in mind for the series. Carney and his uncle, Ralph Carney, began working on a track together, which Bright loved and was approved by Netflix to be the show's opening theme.

Carole King
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'Gilmore Girls'

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 2000–2007

Carole King's "Where You Lead," which became the theme song for the popular show about mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, was originally recorded in 1971 for her album, Tapestry. King had grown weary of the song and wasn't performing it as much anymore because she felt it wasn't empowering. Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino called King when the show was nothing more than a pilot, and the singer called her daughter, Louise Goffin, and they got together to rework the lyrics and rerecord the song.

'A Different World'

- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Years on the air: 1987–1993

Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor, who played Denise Huxtable's roommate on A Different World, was originally set to compose and sing the theme song for the popular The Cosby Show spinoff. However, singer Phoebe Snow would step in to perform the song for its first season. In its second season, Glynn Turman, the ex-husband of Aretha Franklin, joined the cast as Colonel Bradford Taylor, but it was actually the show's executive producer, Debbie Allen, who reached out to Franklin to lead the theme. She agreed, albeit with a few interesting conditions due to her fear of flying.

'The Big Bang Theory'

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 2007–2019

The Canadian alternative band Barenaked Ladies sings the theme song for this well-loved comedy. Co-creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady went to a BNL concert and were taken with a song on cosmological theory. Lead singer Ed Robertson was reluctant at first because he wasn't sure if other singers and bands had been approached to also write a theme song for the show and he didn't want to waste his time. Luckily, he was the only one. And thus, "The History of Everything" was born.

Gloria
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capitol Concerts/Getty Images

'One Day at a Time'

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Years on the air: 2017–2020

Singer Gloria Estefan sang an updated version of "This Is It" for the 2017 reboot of the popular Norman Lear sitcom that originally ran from 1975–1984. Her version featured Latin rhythms to represent the Cuban American family taking over apartment 402. When Netflix decided not to keep the show for a fourth season, Pop TV picked up where the network left off, but it had to leave the theme song behind.

'That '70s Show'

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 1998–2006

"In the Street," the theme song for the long-running comedy, was originally performed by '70s band Big Star and was released on the band's 1972 debut album #1 Record. For the show's first season, a reworked version of the track by Todd Griffin from '90s band Graveyard Train hit the air. For season two, however, the band Cheap Trick had been brought in to work the theme over with their own flavor, and it stuck until the show ended in 2006.

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'Smallville'

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Years on the air: 2001–2011

Alabama alternative rock band Remy Zero sang the Smallville theme song "Save Me." The song came from their album The Golden Hum. As an added fun fact: "Save Me" had to be shortened to just over 50 seconds to be included in the superhero series. The original song is over four minutes long.

'All That'

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Years on the air: 1994–2005

TLC sang the theme song for this classic Nickelodeon show. They were also musical guests in its first season and performed in several skits. Known as the Saturday Night Live for kids, All That was revived and returned to television in 2019 with a new cast as well as the original theme song.

Joan Jett
Mark Weiss/Getty Images

'Freaks and Geeks'

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1999–2000

Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" ran during the opening credits of the series that has since become a cult classic, despite having a one-season run. Originally released on Jett's self-released, self-titled solo album in 1980, Boardwalk Records reissued the album the following year and chose to name the album after the now-iconic rebel record. As the story goes, Jett got some help from the legendary band The Who, who let the rocker record her album at their recording facilities.

'One Tree Hill'

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Years on the air: 2003–2012

Singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be" is the theme song for the soapy teen drama One Tree Hill. It came from the artist's 2003 debut album, Chariot. For a few seasons, the show did not use the theme song but brought it back with various artists like Aimee Mann and Matthew Ryan covering the song throughout the show's eighth season.

'Dog the Bounty Hunter'

- IMDb user rating: 5.0
- Years on the air: 2003–2012

Ozzy Osbourne created and performed the theme song for Dog the Bounty Hunter. Duane Lee "Dog" Chapman made a brief appearance on the reality series, The Osbournes, and even had a lu'au with the rocker and his family.

'Entourage'

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 2004–2011

"Superhero," the show's theme song, was performed by alternative band Jane's Addiction. The song came from the band's 2003 album Strays. It included a particularly long opening sequence at one minute and 17 seconds.

'The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius'

- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Years on the air: 2002–2006

Brian Causey wrote the theme for The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, and a shorter version of the song was used and performed by Causey's surf rock band, Man or Astro-man? The band Bowling for Soup would later perform an extended version of the theme song, which would be used for the 2001 film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, both on the soundtrack and in the end credits.

They Might Be Giants
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'Malcolm in the Middle'

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 2000–2006

The theme song, "Boss of Me," was performed by the band They Might Be Giants, specifically for the sitcom after the show's creator Linwood Boomer called the group's songwriter, John Flansburgh, with a very set vision for the song. The theme song won a Grammy in 2001 for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. An extended version of the song was also featured on the soundtrack for Malcolm in the Middle.

'The Drew Carey Show'

- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Years on the air: 1995–2004

Robert "Bob" "Mad Dog" McGuire wrote "Moon Over Parma," the theme song for The Drew Carey Show, as a jokey homage to the Cleveland area. Comedian Drew Carey had discovered the song when he stopped by a local spot in Cleveland called the House of Swing. McGuire wrote it back in 1983 for a comedy show on Cleveland television, never knowing that over a decade later it would be his big break.

'Phenom'

- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Years on the air: 1993–1994

Carly Simon composed and sang "The Promise and the Prize," the theme song from Phenom. Sadly, even the songwriter's distinguished contribution to the show couldn't save the comedy before it was axed after its first season.

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'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Years on the air: 1997–2003

One of the first career-making events for rock band Nerf Herder was landing the theme song for the '90s cult classic TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Speaking to Time magazine about making the song, frontman Parry Gripp recalled: "We got the gig because they were running out of money and needed something cheap. They asked all of the small-time bands they knew to come up with ideas."

'The Affair'

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 2014–2019

Grammy-winning recording artist Fiona Apple retooled a previously unreleased song for the Showtime series' theme song "Container," which came about after The Affair creator Sarah Treem approached the musician to take on the theme. Apple agreed, and as a result, the eerie and haunting tune was born.

'Sanford and Son'

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1972–1977

Music legend Quincy Jones is responsible for composing the memorable and catchy theme song for Norman Lear's 1972 sitcom starring funnyman Redd Foxx. According to Jones, "The Streetbeater" was based on Foxx. Jones was approached to work on the theme by Lear's business partner, Bud Yorkin, who had just purchased the rights to the British sitcom, Steptoe and Son, on which Sanford and Son is based.

Mariah
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'Mixed-ish'

- IMDb user rating: 6.3
- Years on the air: 2019–2021

Mariah Carey sings the theme song for this show, which is a prequel spinoff of the sitcom black-ish. The Grammy-winning songstress, who has voiced her love for both black-ish and grown-ish, penned the song "In the Mix" to serve as the theme song for the 2019 spinoff.

'King of the Hill'

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Years on the air: 1997–2010

"Yahoos and Triangles," the theme song for the animated sitcom created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, was composed and performed by the alt-rock band The Refreshments. Lead guitarist Brian Blush said getting the gig was a bit of a fluke, saying, "Fox Television put out kind of a casting call to pretty much all the record labels."

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