It’s time for another easy-to-write, stat-boosting injection of nostalgia, kids! Last week, I listed my favorite video game songs—this week we’ve got a similar countdown. It’s my favorite cartoon theme songs. Like video games, revisiting my favorite cartoon theme songs really just gets me thinking how incredible that much of my crucial stages of childhood development were spent immersed in modern culture’s stinking piss-trough …
OK, OK, I’ll be honest—I still really love some of these songs. All of the stuff on this list is from the ’80s and early ’90s. I know there’s other great themes out there, but for me personally, that’s the era when I was actually watching cartoons so I have a lot of emotions wrapped up in the music. You have to admit—cheap synthesizers and digital were a huge creative boon for television theme songs. Before I get on to my list, though, I want to give out some honorable mentions to a few themes from cartoons that I never watched as a kid, but stumbled upon in my research and just had to list …
Three themes to cartoons I never watched but wish I had:
For starters, I’ll say that any TV theme song whose lyrics describe literally what the show is gets some immediate points in my book. The theme to Teen Wolf mixes spoken exposition in with the theme song, a common device used in cartoons (think G.I. Joe and He-Man). It’s not exactly my favorite type of cartoon theme. But Teen Wolf puts its exposition over a rockin’ ’80s song with totally cool, totally relevant lyrics about “gettin’ hairy” and “feelin’ mean.” And the totally ’80s animated photography style thrown in the mix doesn’t hurt. Too bad I never watched this show.
Another example of a theme song literally explaining the plot and circumstances of a show.
Do kids’ shows still go for the completely unbelievable, multicultural, politically correct group of friends and/or crime fighters theme that used to run rampant in the ’80s? I never saw Kidd Video, but from what I can tell from the intro, it follows in a proud tradition of inclusive friends groups a la Captain Planet and The Burger King Kids Club.
OK, on with the main event …
My Top 10 Favorite Cartoon Theme Songs:
10. TIE: Darkwing Duck and TaleSpin
Two of the lesser of the late ’80s/early ’90s Disney Saturday morning cartoon lineup. I can hardly remember what TaleSpin was about or what went on in it, but I remember liking it. The theme has a nice island vibe, and, again, I can really appreciate that because the show was about animals flying planes on islands or something. And the stuff about “friends for life”—that’s good for the kids.
Darkwing Duck has a great New Jack Swing-style theme, and, of course, “Let’s get dangerous” is a great tagline. I never really got how Drake Mallard fit into the whole duck family tree.
09. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
As a kid, I was a TMNT maniac—I had the toys, I had the VHS tapes—I even read the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventure Comics (published by Archie Comics) until my mom felt they started looking too violent. So this song is a natch for my list. I think I’ve probably just heard it too many times for it to be up higher. I have grown to appreciate the lyrics, especially the second verse:
Splinter taught them to be ninja teens (He’s a radical rat!)
Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines (That’s a fact, Jack!)
Raphael is cool but crude (Gimme a break!)
Michaelangelo is a party dude (Party!)
“Donatello does machines”? That’s weird. Raphael definitely was too cool for school.
08. Alvin and the Chipmunks
The ’80s reboot of Alvin and the Chipmunks totally fit in with the radical new decade of the 1980s right down to its synth-propelled theme song. “It’s been a while / but we’re back with style!” If their gimmicky sped-up voices aren’t annoying enough for you, just play this dangerously catchy song a couple of times and you’ll hear them singing in your head all day! I used to love me those Chipettes, too. Hotties.
This is the only instrumental theme on my list. The adrenaline-filled lead melody, dramatic strings and explosion sounds just really get you pumped to see what those X-Men are going to do, right?
06. TIE: My Little Pony and Care Bears
That’s right—I’m a girly man. I totally watched My Little Pony and Care Bears and collected related toys. This was when I was around 3 or 4 years old, mind you, so it’s not like I had that much agency in the whole process, right? Still, these tunes are right up my alley. The My Little Pony theme has a great soft-rock melody. Care Bears theme is another great example of getting you real pumped for the show. Who are those Care Bears going to care about this time?
The My Little Pony theme also has and a sweet line: “Where will you wander / hither and yonder?” I hope more kids started using the phrase “hither and yonder” because of that song.
05. Muppet Babies
Muppet Babies was a fantastic show, and the doo-wop style theme fit it perfectly. Remember how they’d mix in live action with the animation? Shit was trippy! I need that on DVD …
04. David the Gnome
The theme to David the Gnome, much like the theme to Care Bears, taught kids the important lesson about believing. If you just “look around you,” there are many magical things about—”if you believe:”
Trolls and wizards and fairy kings
Birds that talk and fish that sing
and if your heart is true
then you will find them too
03. Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers
Similar to how Leonardo’s no-nonsense character was contraposed with Michaelangelo’s chillaxed, party animal ‘tude, Rescue Rangers’ Chip played the straight man to Dale’s screwball goof (note his Hawaiian shirt). But the truth of the matter was that neither of them were wearing pants.
Oh, I also had a huge crush on Gadget Hackwrench. I guess I just had a thing for cartoon she-rodents.
02. Gummi Bears
The show wasn’t the best, even amongst its Disney contemporaries (that honor would go to Rescue Rangers and DuckTales), but damn if this theme song wasn’t an operatic muzak masterpiece. The chorus soars along with the lyrics just like those Gummi Bears bouncin’ on trolls’ heads. Best line: “Magic and mystery are part of their history / along with the secret of Gummi Beary Juice.” Check it out in Japanese, Russian, and Slovak.
Yep, once again it’s a blowout for DuckTales. This song is an undeniable kids cartoon classic. Everything from the soft funk/pop vibe to the chorus’ masterful use of the formidable couplet: “Tales of derring-do, bad and good luck tales / Not pony tails or cotton tails but Duck Tales.” All for a cartoon about a rich, old Scottish duck who loves to swim in a pool of money located inside of a skyscraper.