Jazzy. No, this is not going to be a lesson in a style of music. It is being used as a term or adjective of emotion. Now before you look away, give me a paragraph or two. I like to apply jazzy as an uplifting, feel-good style that even brings it to memorable. And that is what some of the animated TV shows when I was growing up had as their introduction into the show.
The Theme Song. A 30 second to sometimes a 60-second piece of music that may or may not have included lyrics. Lyrics, those words that catch the viewer at the beginning of each show to watch or not as it starts. There have been a significant number of shows that had great themes, but this is where it gets personal. I will be your DJ for the next few minutes. I will be the one pulling the tunes out of the past and evoking either memories of days past or curiosity to investigate these theme songs. And if you have not watched any of these animated shows, well after you finish reading this, go check them out. Yes, some are very popular and some more obscure.
There have been some live action versions of what I am about to discuss, but this is animation. I draw the line at anything live action. Animation is where we will stay.
There have been many shows and many themes. I will be brief but yet slightly detailed in my dissertation. All themes listed can be found on a little website called YouTube. So, sit back, relax and as the saying goes. Enjoy the show. I’m not going to regurgitate or even paraphrase information people can find online, but what I am presenting is my experiences and insistence that if you haven’t seen them, go find them. Even buy the DVDs and add them to your library.
The Flintstones. A modern stone age family. The theme that I am speaking about is from the second season. This one came with lyrics, drums, and horns. This show in its initial run and syndication chronicled the daily issues of a family living during pre-historic times. Episodes filled with excellent characterizations and situations, all memorable and quotable.
The Jetsons. A futuristic family. A typical family of the future. Orbiting buildings. Flying cars. Kids and Shopping. Typical family strifes. Paper money. Okay, for a futuristic show, they got this one wrong. But the theme, they got it all in under a minute with Horns and Lyrics.
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse was a direct parody of Batman and Robin by Bob Kane. It had a quick theme made it ever so memorable in the time it took the duo to leave The Cat Cave and get on the scene of the crime. But that underlying Bass instrument got me hooked to watch whatever was going to happen next in the episode.
The Bugs Bunny Show. Overture. Curtain Lights. This is it. The Night of Nights. That vaudeville style theme no matter how many times I watched it I had to look at them all walk on that stage. I never watched Bugs and his friends at night. It was always during a Saturday morning cartoon time or afternoon when I got home. If Looney Tunes was on, I was there. This repackaged those cartoons that were just over 6 minutes into the half hour and hour long blocks of animated genius.
Top Cat. An alley cat with smarts and cunning abilities. Always scheming, but a theme song that would have you singing along. Horns and drums that drove you to appreciate what he was going to do that day.
Jonny Quest. A boy. His friend. His dad. His dad’s friend. And his dog. They raced around the globe every week in fantastic dramatic adventures. Some so creepy, even for animation, that they gave me the chills when I first watched them. Even though I knew it was animated.
Underdog. A mild manner shoeshine dog who protects his city. There may be goofs and gaffes, but in the end, he got the villains and brought them to justice. Another one of those themes was that even if the stories ended up slightly comedic, it drove a dramatic tone of impending doom.
The Incredible Hulk 1966 Segment (Part of The Marvel Superheroes Show). Marvel had an animated series of multiple heroes. But the one that caught my ear and most times my eye was The Hulk. They took a raging green giant and made him lovable. And in 23 seconds, you got his whole origin to help you get right into the episode.
George of The Jungle. With the sound of kettle drums beating out the theme and several misplaced trees, our hero swings into the scene. As he swings into frame, you know what you will be getting into watching along with his friends from the show.
Spider-Man. 1967. Those vocals. Those lyrics. That theme. Just watching one, no more than three episodes of that show had me singing that tune in my head for the rest of the week. Just hearing the first few bars of music now sends my memories of Spidey watching into overdrive. I didn’t care that the suit didn’t have all the webbing. I didn’t care that I saw him swinging down the same avenue multiple times in the same episode. It was cool. Very Cool!
We now pause for a brief interlude in almost live action but still animated. Puppetry may have practical props and sets, but still their movements are inspired. And a group of large animals who introduce a few animated segments to their show ranks with themes that will always be memorable.
Thunderbirds. A famous countdown. “5…4…3…2…1… Thunderbirds Are Go!” The designs and rescues that followed in this series were spectacular. But it was the theme that just would hold me to my seat as the show began. Full orchestration followed, introducing all the main characters and the vehicles they flew or operated. The puppets and props just made it one of the best shows then and now. Gerry Anderson was an amazing creator of this and other properties.
Stingray. “Stand By For Action!”. Another puppet property from Gerry Anderson. The lyrics and musical score along with action sequences that help you captivated. And as the show says “Anything can happen in the next half hour.” A submarine and underwater creatures. What else can one ask for?
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. This show was one that had live action characters who raced around with slapstick precision. The pandemonium of these four looney creatures ensued. And the theme, a lively tune of Tra La La La La La sang so many times it drilled into your brain, and you couldn’t be anything but happy. They would set up the mini-shows that would populate their show in a serial nature; each week would have a new chapter. And animated segments would be included too.
We now return to the animated portion of the article.
Josie and the Pussycats. An All-Female Musical Group. Friends who followed as they went around the world playing gigs and solving crimes. The theme song once again gave you exactly what you would be expecting in the next half hour. Travel. Music. Mayhem. The lyrics were straightforward and the tune catchy. Catchy enough that you could still be singing it in your head hours or even days after watching the week’s episode.
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. When growing up and able to stay up late and getting to see an adult animated show like this was a treat. Especially when sneaking your portable B/W (Black and White) TV under the blankets and watching this or any show. This show represented topical news and issues of the times. But the theme echoed the point that no matter what you did, you would have to hear it from your father. And don’t move a muscle. Wait until he gets home to deal with you. The theme, a jazzy number that crescendos with horns and the dad raise the roof in reply.
In the ’60’s, ’70’s and ‘80s, Japanese animated series arrived at the US shores. English dubbed and action filled. These are a few of the series that I watched had a theme that stuck with me after the TV set was turned off and I went outside to play again. In some cases, sound effects and actions from the shows followed me into my outdoor play.
Speed Racer. A race car show filled with action and even comedy relief. But it was again, its theme that revved you up for the show newest episode. A car filled with gadgets that could get it out of any literal or figurative traffic jam. The lyrics and upbeat tune made it become a memory that I will unlikely ever forget.
Gigantor. A Giant Robot. A Remote Control. Right against Wrong. And come to think of it, my first experience in animated form of a remote control. A battle drone. Space age was not as prepared as this robot was. The beating of the Conga drums and flute music and the pulsating simple lyrics made it one that is stuck deep in my memories.
Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers). A former WW II Battleship made space-worthy. An ecological disaster of planetary scale. An alien enemy. Oh, did I mean the ship has a really BIG gun? Well, with an upbeat tune that includes lyrics that explains the whole situation, the viewer is ready to go on this ride. A series that had action and impact and a message.
Back to Saturday Morning Cartoons, the following one sums up the kookiness of the cartoons I watched around that time. Before heading to the backyard to have outside adventures, I usually caught this one.
Hong Kong Phooey. A mild-mannered custodian. A helpful cat companion. And Scatman Crothers. A jazzy tune that married kung fu, slapstick and scat singing. It made you just want to jump into the nearest file cabinet and come out a crime fighter.
Tiny Toon Adventures. Young Looney Tunes students? Cutting remarks? When I first read this show was going to be on, I was skeptical. Then that tune hit my ears; it’s upbeat, frantic pace. The cramming of ideas and concepts that would be the basis of the show all within 60 seconds. And I would watch it whenever it was on. Even letting the tune, replace all the other nonsense noise that I heard during the day.
Darkwing Duck. Having an enjoyment of Disney and Batman comic books, this cartoon caught my eye. And when I heard the catchy tune used for the theme song, I was hooked. Now, I was no real adventurer, so I let him “Get Dangerous”. Oh, there was that time involving a cliff, no ropes and a misty autumn afternoon but that doesn’t matter right now. What is important is with a little preview of comedy, which never hurts, the theme preceded the animated action that would follow. And it was entertaining.
Animaniacs. From the moment they burst out into song, literally and figuratively, the cast had me hooked. From Xylophones to a former president playing the Saxophone, the pace, the snippets and the actions at such a frenetic pace don’t leave you confused but leaving you wanting more of it.
Batman: The Animated Series. Full orchestration. Every instrument used to bring the action to the next level. And in 60 seconds, I was ready for a dark, brooding Batman. The first time seeing this on the TV screen had me glued to it. This is an example of what cartoon themes should strive for; not a single note is wasted, not a single note extraneous. A pure unadulterated action that makes the viewer not want to move a single muscle. The audience needs to see what happens next.
Gargoyles. When the orchestra starts in and then the voice of Keith David providing the backstory of the characters, I just fell right into the story. Of course, that voice-over in the theme didn’t happen until season 2 but it added so much more. Again, this is one of those animated series themes that will have you transfixed. The voice of the characters grabs you by the neck and keeps you focused on an emotional spectrum. Even the voice is an instrument in this theme. And it is played expertly. The range of emotional content that moves within this 60 second period is by hands down one of the best, if not the best-animated series themes. No, I’ll make it one of the best themes in any genre. If you haven’t watched this series, watch it now! And now, at the rate Disney is producing Live Action versions of their animation classics, this show would be a natural to get itself a Live Action reboot. And it has the best chance for a franchise of subsequent films. Imagine sitting in the theater, up comes the theme as the lights dim. It gives my imagination chills down my back just thinking about that possibility, far-fetched remote possibility, but stranger things have happened in the past. Okay, I have sidetracked and almost went off the rails on this train of thought..
So, there you have it, cartoon themes that have made an impression on me. Jazzy ones that kept my ears tingling when listening to each and every one of them. I will say again; this is my list, but still you will not be disappointed after watching them. I promise. And you might go and watch the entire series of some of the animated shows. The styles and genres are full, but they are still connected through animation. Just cross the line and enjoy the time.