I just can’t help myself.
Any time someone mentions Cleveland in passing, or mentions that someone they know is from Cleveland, or talks about a trip to Cleveland or namedrops former President Grover Cleveland (and who among us hasn’t?), I have the same response.
“Do you know what I’ve heard about that place? (pause for dramatic effect) I heard that it rocks.”
It’s a bad joke. I know it’s a bad joke, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
It’s almost involuntary.
While this unfortunate affliction of mine is ultimately a testament to Ian Hunter’s 1979 tribute to what some unfairly refer to as “The Mistake by the Lake,” it also is indicative of the lasting power and memorability of television theme songs.
Few people outside the Buckeye State remember the original release of Ian Hunter’s “Cleveland Rocks,” but if you were alive in 1998 and owned a television, you knew every note of The Presidents of the United States of America cover of the song, which opened ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show.”
In fact, I remember little about “The Drew Carey Show” other than thinking its makeup department had to have used a fire hose to apply mascara and eye shadow to actress Kathy Kinney’s face and how ingenious it was that Drew had concocted a beer-coffee hybrid beverage and was producing it in his garage.
The memorability of “Cleveland Rocks” is hardly an isolated case of a television theme song being able to burrow its way into our subconscious only to embarrassingly resurface whenever someone mentions a Rust Belt city or the 22nd (and 24th, what’s up, history dorks?) president of the United States.
Throughout television history, there have been theme songs that have become as beloved, and often more so, than the on-screen action and actors they precede.
The opening montage of “Dallas” included the opening credits paired with footage of cattle, oil rigs, a flyover of the original Cowboys Stadium, John Parker’s sweeping score and remains, in my mind, far more memorable than any single moment in that show’s illustrious run. Sorry, I don’t care who shot J.R.
“The Cosby Show,” “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son” and “M*A*S*H” are all achievements in episodic television, in part, because they had great theme songs.
While we’ve come a long way since the Ewings and the Huxtables, the importance of the television theme song remains no less important today.
This week’s playlist features eight songs that were not written for television but whose use on some of TV’s best shows completely altered our understanding and appreciation of them.
For the record, Cleveland does rock. So does Grover Cleveland, who, as it turns out, is not even from Cleveland. He’s from New Jersey.
• Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” — For fans of Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” this hit song has become known as that “Song They Play Before the Sea Shepherd Crew Again Fails to Find That Pesky Nishin Maru.”
• The Von Bondies, “C’Mon, C’Mon” — I hear this song and think about what could have been had FX’s “Rescue Me” ended about two or three seasons sooner.
• Phantom Planet, “California” — This was for “The O.C.” what John Parker’s theme was for “Dallas.”
• Lazlo Bane, “Superman” — A perfectly quirky theme song to open “Scrubs,” a perfectly quirky television show.
• The Allman Brothers, “Jessica” — A rambler of a song, a portion of which is used to open the BBC’s massively popular car show “Top Gear.”
• Tom Waits, “Way Down in the Hole” — Is there anything I can write about HBO’s “The Wire” that hasn’t been written already? Didn’t think so.
• Massive Attack, “Paradise Circus” — A song so perfect for BBC’s “Luther” that it might as well have been written for the show.
• RJD2, “A Beautiful Mine” — The most famous television theme song of the moment — from “Mad Men” — might one day join the list of the all-time greats.