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Whatever Happened to Theme Songs?

Reading today that Fiona Apple has contributed an original song to the movie This is 40 brought back a thought I had during the whole “Here’s Adele’s Skyfall song” thing at the start of the month. Namely: Whatever happened to movies with theme songs?

To be fair, Apple’s new song isn’t named after the film; it’s actually called “Dull Tool”, and sadly Judd Apatow isn’t willing to please me by renaming his movie Dull Tool in response. But listening to “Skyfall” for the first time, two thoughts struck me:
1. Adele isn’t the new Shirley Bassey, sadly.
2. It’s kind of wonderful, how awkwardly she works the name of the movie into the chorus, especially because she works the name of the movie into the chorus.
I miss the days when movies didn’t come with accompanying soundtracks filled with random songs with no connection to the movie, but instead were accompanied by songs written especially for the movie that were part of elaborate opening titles to make the most of the musical accompaniment. I mean, even beyond all the classic Bond themes, you have things like this:

or this:

or even this:

There’s something particularly charming about the theme songs of old, and about the idea that having pop music used in movies was once more than just a way of selling the accompanying soundtrack or tossing unused B-sides onto a compilation without any particular amount of thought. Is this simply being old-fashioned, or longing for some past idea of a cohesiveness to all parts of filmmaking that just isn’t there anymore…? I can’t quite decide, but nonetheless, I’m hoping that the way that producers managed to make the release of the Adele track into a surprisingly successful attempt to promote Skyfall the movie might mean that more filmmakers start to think about music in a different way. Wouldn’t it be nice if all five of the Best Song nominees in the Oscars at some point in the future were actually theme songs again…?


  • Celephais

    While I find many of those songs charming, I think the word you’re looking for is nostalgia.

  • GordoftheNorth

    No I really think he means charming.

  • JozefAL

    It’s a bit ironic that you hold up “Ghostbusters” for its theme when the song itself is full of controversy.  For starters, there was Huey Lewis’s accusation that Parker simply rewrote “I Want a New Drug” for “Ghostbusters” (of course, this was the second Parker song in a row that was accused of plagiarism–his previous single, “I Still Can’t Get Over Losing You,” was alleged to be a rip-off of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”).  Then, there was the fact that Parker could NOT work the title into the song as a natural lyric (and the film’s producers demanded that the film title be included in the lyric), so he simply “borrowed” the movie’s catchphrase, “Who you gonna call?  Ghostbusters” for the song.  (Incidentally, the song has no basic structure as a song.  It’s a set-up line, followed by the catchphrase and there is NO chorus.

    As for your asinine “criticism” about the “Best Songs all being theme songs,” believe it or not, buddy, as far as I can tell, that’s happened exactly ONCE (in 1962, but 2 of the songs “cheated”:  one was “Love Song from ‘Mutiny on the Bounty'” and the other was “Song from ‘Two on the Seesaw'”.  Some of the greatest Oscar-winning songs were NOT “theme” songs:  “Over the Rainbow” (where’s the direct reference to “The Wizard of Oz” anywhere in the song?); “White Christmas” (it’s from a film called “Holiday Inn”–no mention of a “Holiday Inn” anywhere in the tune); “When You Wish Upon a Star” (the song completely ignores any reference to Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket or a Blue Fairy); “Swinging on a Star” (from the film “Going My Way”–that phrase doesn’t appear in the song); “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” (from “The Man Who Knew Too Much” but the song doesn’t talk about even use that phrase); “Moon River” (from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”–never mentions “breakfast” or “Tiffany’s”); “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”–a pair of names that doesn’t appear in the song even once).

    Most movie songwriters actually try to create a song that can be performed OUTSIDE the movie, and–even better–can become a “standard” that dozens, if not hundreds, of other musicians will record. 

  • coalminds

    tl; dr

  • Jimmy

     You are an angry man. Chilax

  • Mr_Wayne

    I feel that way about all the new animated shows that come out. Namely “Young Justice”, “Green Lantern”, “ThunderCats”…

  • JohnB10

    II think its tv thats moving away from theme songs. A lot of shows these days just start or have very short openings and it sucks.

  • Dave

    I think that’s an issue with the amount of breaks American TV has, notice how HBO shows still tend to have proper intros and theme music because they air uninterrupted so they don’t have to preserve air time.

  • Lyle

    Television shows definitely have gone away from theme songs. I agree with the one poster’s view that they are preserving time, but I think it also has to do with the fact that a lot of these tv shows are collected on dvd sets, and, unless the song is really, really good, it starts to get annoying if you are one of those people who watches one show after another for a whole day.
    My favorite theme song now is probably Phineus and Ferb’s, and I like Psych’s theme song (and their willingness to change the theme song from time to time to fit the episode). I liked the Avengers theme first season, and really find their new opening to be annoying.
    As for why no theme songs for new movies, that is really a wonderful question. I notice that most of the music I hear for movies ends up during the closing credits, or at least these are the only songs that have a chance of being hits. Then again, I notice a lot of my favorite movies out now are independent films, and they probably do not have the budget for a truly pro theme song.

  • Jimmy

    the last Theme Song I can recall is “Goldeneye” by Tina Turner and that was 1995 … coincidentally the same year that “Kiss from a Rose” was released from Batman Forever … and a virtual lifetime since Prince did the Batman soundtrack

  • Peacemaker

    Yes very angry.  Good info but too angry.  (Hey, what about Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”?!!!!!  No, I was just kidding.  Have a nice day.)