By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The last era of great television themes was the 1990s.
While there are a few gems in the 2000s and 2010s, the ’90s was a time for sounds that made a lasting impact. That decade was a blender of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
The 1990s featured classic instrumentals similar to the ’60s like the “X-Files,” “Roseanne” and “Seinfeld.” The themes from 20 years ago reminded you of the 1970s, explaining the premises like “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Smart Guy” and “Pinky and the Brain.” Then the ’90s continued the 1980s’ tradition of getting top-notch artists to perform a theme like TLC singing “All That” and Brandy performing her show’s theme in “Moesha.”
But what made the 1990s stand on its own was the decade of the sports entertainment theme. ESPN and all the major networks invested in sports broadcasting, leading to a need for timeless music. So my top 10 for the 1990s will have a couple of sports-related themes in it.
The 1990s, television on steroids. That is not a dig at Major League Baseball from that era. The shows, game shows, cartoons, dramas, soap operas, documentaries, special programs and sports all got bigger. Here are my honorable mentions before we get into the top 10: “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper,” “Melrose Place,” “NFL on Fox,” “New York Undercover,” “WCW Monday Nitro,” “NFL on NBC,” “CBS Major League Baseball,” “ABC College Football,” “Olympic Games on NBC,” “Friends,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Clarissa Explains It All,” “Doug,” “Married With Children,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Rugrats,” “All That,” “Boy Meets World,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Pokemon,” “Blossom,” “Smart Guy,” “The Wayans Bros.,” “The X-Files,” “Roseanne,” “NYPD Blue,” “Living Single,” “Martin,” “South Park,” “ER,” “Quantum Leap,” “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Law and Order,” “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You,” “Moesha,” “Home Improvement,” “7th Heaven,” “Sister, Sister,” “The Nanny,” “Party of Five,” “The Sopranos,” “Twin Peaks,” “Baywatch,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Ally McBeal,” “Picket Fences,” “Chicago Hope,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “Diagnosis Murder,” “Northern Exposure,” “Supermarket Sweep,” “Family Feud,” “Nickelodeon Guts,” “Wild & Crazy Kids,” “Ghostwriter,” “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego,” “Salute Your Shorts,” “Love Connection,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “MadTV,” “A Different World,” “NHL” on ESPN, “Reading Rainbow,” “Dragon Ball Z” and “Cops.”
10. “Full House,” “Family Matters” & “Step by Step”
Jesse Frederick, U.S. Americans owe you a debt of gratitude for being the welcoming voice to ABC’s TGIF lineup back in the 1990s. We all know your singing style and enjoy the echos of your pipes. It seems if it was a Miller/Boyett Production, you were the man they called on to deliver the theme. The three-way tie for No. 10 goes to you because these songs almost sound the same. “In a rare condition…,” you sometimes wonder “What ever happened to predictability?” Maybe it’s all gone because of “The dream, wide broken.”
Frederick kicked off the trio of songs with those words. But his main intro to America through ABC was with “Perfect Strangers.” The man was the sound of our Friday nights. Some might say he’s a cheap ripoff of Randy Newman. I say he is Newman with more passion wrapped in compassion.
Like the “Step by Step” theme concluded, “We’ll make it better, the second time around.” Frederick was back at it in 2015 with Fuller House. Greatness never dies.
9. “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
Breaks down the premise … check.
Performed by a Grammy-winning artist … check.
Has a great instrumental and sound … check.
Oh yeah, memorable lyrics … all checks. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince pinned and performed the most iconic theme of the decade. No matter where you are from, your background, religion or political affiliation, once you hear “In West Philadelphia, born and raised …,” your amateur rap skills will become public.
Quincy Jones let me shout you out for your contribution in writing the song. Will Smith gave the perfect delivery displaying his acting skills in the filming of the video. And DJ Jazzy Jeff, the music is playing in my head as I type. Perfect collaboration for my No. 9 pick.
8. “American Gladiators”
Olympic theme meets rock is the best way to describe the American Gladiators theme. This sports entertainment program would take everyday athlete people and pit them against super large athlete human beings called Gladiators. So once that trumpet started playing on my television set Saturday evening, I was pumped to watch events like “Breakthrough and Conquer,” “The Joust” and “The Wall.”
As I researched the theme, it became apparent quickly why I love this song. It was produced by Bill Conti. A name that should be familiar. Ever heard of “Rocky?”
7. “In Living Color”
The 1990s was definitely a hip-hop era. The genre of music became mainstream and penetrated our television themes. So Keenan Ivory Wayans knew the perfect way to introduce his sketch comedy program to the masses on Fox He called on Heavy D and Eddie F to bring to life “In Living Color.”
The Fly Girls would dance to the song before Wayans would appear to kick off the half hour’s insane comedy.
Still today I get excited when I hear Heavy D’s voice ask, “How you livin’?”
Speaking of comedy, during my middle school and high school days, I raced home to watch a cartoon. But this show featured recurring jokes, catchphrases, parodies, songs and jokes for a more mature audience. Say “Helllllloooooo nurse” to the Animaniacs. If you don’t know who they are, just listen to the theme. Explains each character down to the last laugh.
The show created by Tom Ruegger started a series of wacky characters with the Warner Bros. and the Warner Sister being the featured stars. Yakko, Wakko and Dot sing the theme, telling their back story and giving us a breakdown of the rest of the cast. The song gets you ready for a variety show, animation style.
“Da, da, da … Da, da, da.”
I could just stop there. But for so many red-blooded men throughout the 1990s, those six Das indicated important sports news, updates, highlights, detail features, entertainment and a reason to live. ESPN struck gold with John Colby’s masterpiece. Colby is the accomplished Grammy-winning composer who crafted the SportsCenter theme song.
We’ve heard different versions over the years. But the peak of this theme came in the mid-1990s. The anchorpeople, era of sports and the need for the show was the perfect storm. We didn’t have alerts on our phones, FS1 and that friend who fancies himself as Dan Patrick giving his breakdown on all things sports.
So when the SportsCenter came on, it was must-see TV. From seventh grade until I graduated from The University of Memphis, my alarm was the timer on my TV. “Da, da, da … Da, da, da” was my introduction to each day. It was the Folgers in my cup.
4. “CBS NCAA Basketball Theme”
The guru of television sports themes makes this countdown. Bob Christianson is known as the John Williams of the genre. And back in 1993, Christianson brought us a timeless classic with the “CBS NCAA Basketball Theme.” There isn’t a March we don’t hear this iconic instrumental. Once your ears are tapped by the sweet tune, you’re pumped for upsets, comebacks and those one shining moments.
3. “Beverly Hills, 90210”
This song help put mainstream teen dramas on the map. OK, mainly a cast of nearly 40-year-old people pretending to be teens on “Beverly Hills, 90210” help usher in this genre of show. But the composition by John E. Davis added to his distinguished resume. He was also behind 1988’s “Mission: Impossible.” But most people my age would give him a salute over the instrumental from the Fox show in the 1990s.
The song was the perfect backdrop to sunny skies, puffy beaches and super-hot actors and actresses rotating toward the camera with a sexy grin.
2. “Saved by the Bell”
Anybody who has ever been in school can relate to the lyrics from “Saved by the Bell.” Author and composer Scott Gayle captured the pains and joys of U.S. American teenagers dealing with high school perfectly.
The song was so good that it help change the name of the show. Originally called, “Good Morning Ms. Bliss,” the revamped edition of the show was christened “Saved by the Bell.”
The theme is an ideal song-along with a catchy tune. NBC was striking on all cylinders with this show. It grabbed a new Saturday morning audience of pre-teens. It had characters that would help define the decade with Zack and Screech. The cherry on top was the theme that even parents could identify with.
1. “NBA on NBC”
The best theme of the 1990s came from the world of sports and the greatness of John Tesh. Leaving himself a voice recording on an answering machine (look it up kids), Tesh got back home and composed “Roundball Rock.” NBC would adopt that bad-boy into the NBA on NBC theme.
This helped continue the strong tradition of great sports themes at NBC. “Roundball Rock” joined the Olympic theme and NFL on NBC library.
“Roundball Rock” has been sampled and used in various shows. It is synonymous with Michael Jordan and the dominance of the Chicago Bulls. I can still hear Marv Albert’s calls of great plays or the voice of Bob Costas narrating over the sweet melody.
To summarize the 1990s, the “NBA on NBC” does it for me. It is a great tune with energy and flare. It’s so good, people have a petition to bring it back and make it the official theme of the NBA.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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