Some cartoons have theme music that perfectly encapsulates a show, both the style and feeling of the animation as well as the philosophy of it. The Simpsons has a song that is both bold and timeless, the kind of music that seems familiar the first time you hear it. Ren and Stimpy has a spunky, jazz riff that seems both out of place and perfect. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a ludicrous and memorably song dripping without any sense of irony. Spider-Man had a theme song so perfect that it far outclassed the poor animation of the time and became something more. Then, well, then there are those cartoon theme songs that are really, really awful. But that special fun kind of awful that makes the music became a devilish earworm, burrowing into your soul and refusing to let go of that special place deep without your cerebral cortex reserved only for cartoon music and cereal commercials, build exclusively into your body over the course of a handful of summers spent in your underwear on the floor in front of a tube television – if you’re old like me – those formative childhood years. Yes, this is the analysis of the so-bad-they’re-good crappy theme songs and what makes them so memorable.
Bucky O’Hare came out of the whole idea that, hey, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a thing, so let’s make any comic book that has animals into a TV show. The video game for NES was way better than the show. And, when you think about it, it was sort of racist. Basically mammals and birds were at war with reptiles and amphibians. For some reason in space with a boy in a gorilla suit. The toys were cool, at least. And hey! It has a guy sort of attempting to rap over some generic, probably reused music. That was really the thing the kids were doing back in the day. Find any toy commercial made from circa 1988 to 1993 and there is a roughly 87% chance someone either plays electric guitar or rap-talks the gist of whatever it is they’re selling. In this case, the product was plastic junk made in China and shoveled onto unsuspecting kids in the form of Korean animation based on an American comic book. Capitalism!
Reboot is sort of the original CGI cartoon. It’s… not good. It was also overly complicated and, as such, the theme song was really the main character rambling about his life. If you have to have your characters explaining* in a regular voice over on top of dramatic music what the plot of your show is the, well, you’ve already lost your audience. As an added bonus you are stuck in the Uncanny Valley of early computer graphics. Characters talk but don’t really have facial expressions.
*Unless you’re Gargoyles. That show was awesome.
DENVER THE LAST DINOSAUR
This is the most late-80’s/early-90’s song ever made. It sounds like someone combined a board meeting for what the youths are into that day with a Cheap Trick song. “That’s Denver! The last dinosaur! He’s my friend and a whole lot more!” The show is utterly forgettable schlock that died a quick, painless death. The song, though…Oh boy. And the plot of the show is exactly what you’d think it would be from hearing this peppy, generic song: a skateboarding, guitar playing dinosaur comes to our time and befriends some hip kids as they speak colloquialisms and learn powerful lessons on friendship. Radical!
BUMP IN THE NIGHT
Bump in the Night was a really fun, if forgettable, claymation show about a monster that lives under the bed. Mr. Bumpy, the titular character that goes bump in said night, sings his own theme to a 50’s-ish rock song. Picture a green, tentacle eye-stalked dude eating socks and singing along to something akin to Little Richard. It’s, yeah, it’s catch as hell. It is even funnier if your replace all the times he says things like “You can bump on the ceiling! You can bump on the rug!” with a more vulgar word. Go ahead. Giggle.
To be fair, Small Wonder was not a cartoon. It was a terrible, barely comprehensible live action children’s show where a guy builds a robot that can do amazing things and is also a small girl. Keep in mind, I said robot. The theme song exclaims that she’s a miracle, made of plastic, and brings love everywhere. Now, I am not a robotics expert but… is a robot really a miracle? Do robots generally bring love? I guess if you programmed a creepy, humanoid to bring love, it might but… Don’t think too hard. This theme song is essentially the most TV show theme song-y bit of music ever crafted by mankind, as if Bach or Beethoven had been given the task of recording some crap to accompany an acid trip.
THE BOTS MASTER
I don’t remember anything about this cartoon other than the intro. Nothing. I don’t know what it was about aside from a guy named Zib Zulander (?) and some robots. Most of the robot designs looked like random piles of garbage cobbled together from rejected GoBots found in a bin at a local Good Will, combined with some 90’s ‘tude. The song is that special kind of rap rock talking junk that tells you the entire story while still confusing you, all while adding more nonsense to the plot. There are 3-D shades? Why is there a chef robot? Or a medic robot? What are these things? Ah, perfect. Awful and perfect.
Computerized keyboard sounds. Rock music breaks out! Secret raiders! That will neutralize! Spectrums got the super vision! M.A.S.K.! For what was basically Transformers but stupider or DinoRiders but lamer, M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Command… Uh, Kommand) had the best theme song. The song is like a B-side of a Van Halen cover band that released a concept album of their own music. If the M.A.S.K. theme song doesn’t make you want to drive a transforming Trans Am into the sunset of the High Desert outside of Barstow whilst wearing a tank top that changes colors and a headband, then you are dead. Dead inside. M.A.S.K. crusaders! Fighting crime!
Me: “Sweet, a Ghostbusters cartoon! Uh, is that a gorilla? Who… why is that car dancing? Where’s Billy Murray!?! Where’s Slimer?! Is that robot turning into a werewolf and a woman and…” It was at that point my head exploded. The song isn’t so much bad as it is forgettable, but when you couple the intro to the Filmation version of Ghostbusters with the fact that it isn’t the “real” Ghostbusters you are expecting with that amazingly cheesy song from the movie, then you are just in for disappointment. This was a defining moment in my life. This was the time where tiny baby The Kurt Broz learned that, no, Santa wasn’t real and life would be full of disappointments. There was no Stay Puft at the end of the tunnel.
DISNEY’S ADVENTURES OF THE GUMMY BEARS
Through some unholy abomination, some unfathomable incest event between monolithic monster Disney and deliciously disgusting Gummi Bears candies, came a cartoon. I have no idea how or why or what or which or… But, yes, it exists. Disney proudly slapped their name on a show about magical bouncing bears in ye olde times or whatever. It was utter claptrap, merely a placeholder we were forced to watch between two better cartoons after school. Ah, but the song was catchy. It could not have been more generic in lyrics and melody, basically reiterating friendship and such but then… Guuummmmi Bears! Bouncing here and there and everywhere! That part of the song will be stuck in your head until you can pry it out with some kind of metal probe or those ear worms from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Then, when you least expect it, Guuuuuuummmmi Beaeaaars! Bouncing here and there and everywhere!
WILD WEST C.O.W.-BOYS OF MOO MESA
I may be biased because I don’t like country music or poorly made rip offs of the Ninja Turtles, but this show had both! Fun fact: It was actually created by an artist for the TMNT comics, so there’s a thing. The theme song was some garbage generic country song that would make Johnny Cash give up music forever, explaining that, uh, I guess these are real cowboys because they are actually cows. C.O.W. of course stood for something because during the 1990’s everything had to be an acronym. Cowboys wasn’t JUST cowboys, it was Code of the West Boys! So, the entire show was called Wild West Code of the West Boys of Moo Mesa. I don’t even know where to begin with this. I wish I were joking. Really. It even featured characters named the Cowlorado Kid and Sherriff Terrorbull. I also have no idea why a comet caused a bunch of people to turn into animal mutants, but only cows. Why not a rattlesnake or a horse or a… a… anything else. Cows aren’t really that exciting outside of a Barnyard Commandos action figure, and even then their excitement is questionable. If you, like me, sometimes drive around in a pickup truck then I highly recommend blasting this theme song to the consternation of your neighbors and loved ones.
What's YOUR favorite BAD theme song? Let us know in the comments below!