From Friends to the Fresh Prince, a theme tune can be as immortal as the show itself

Hannah Jane Parkinson

“So no one told you life was gonna be this way?” You mean, living in lockdown while a pandemic rages? No, I can’t say I did see it coming. But I know a lot of people have been taking pleasure in the opening line – and zealous hand claps – of the Friends theme tune this spring.

I’ve seen Friends so many times that viewing an episode now feels akin to a head injury, but its theme tune still induces a sugary rush of nostalgia. It is, along with those of Cheers, Happy Days, The Simpsons and, oh my word, Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air rap, one of the most famous themes of all time. One doesn’t even need to have seen the show to recognise it; it has been absorbed into the pop culture membrane.

A show’s opening music is really the theme to preparing a bowl of snacks, throwing oneself into an armchair, and pressing play. It is the entrée to something delicious, but flavourful in itself. You can play Vonda Shepard’s Ally McBeal opening at my funeral.

More frequently, opening music is bespoke. A perfect recent example: Isobel Waller-Bridge’s grungy opening music for Fleabag; all dark riffs and clashing cymbals that reflected the chaos of the protagonist’s personal life – like day-old mascara bleeding from the speakers. Other times a track is brought in to serve as the show’s mascot, and becomes indelibly linked.

Belle & Sebastian’s The Boy With The Arab Strap and Teachers; perfectly mirroring the cheek and levity at the heart of it. There was a period when I listened to Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger (the song that opens Peep Show) on repeat. It helped that its first line was “I’m not sick but I’m not well”, and I was going through a very confusing period at the time. That song gave me a lot of joy in a dark time.

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Opening themes and title art can be key members of a show’s ensemble cast. Angelo Badalamenti’s dreamy theme for the Twin Peaks’ title sequence – the slow pan across the mountainous landscape; the neon green lettering – makes my mood twinge just thinking about it. You can smell the coffee.

Sometimes I prefer opening titles to the actual programme (The Morning Show, and your brilliant, jaunty animated dots, I am looking at you). Of course streaming gives you the option to skip opening titles. I do, often, but not every time – because I will always relish a curtain opening when it’s perfect entertainment in itself. For The OC fans among us: California, here we come.