When Bands Tackle TV Themes

When you think about it, the history of bands tackling TV theme tunes is hardly a noble one.

For example, when MC Hammer parlayed the ‘Addams Family’ theme into ‘Addams Groove’ in 1991, his big-trousered, sub-Bobby Brown clowning wasn’t so much creepy and kooky as just plain shonky.

Similarly, Emerson Lake & Palmer’s flabby, gelatinous remoulding of the ‘Peter Gunn’ theme – performed live with drummer Carl Palmer backed by two gargantuan gongs – demonstrates more eloquently than any Sex Pistols song why prog rock had to die.

Some theme tunes inspire a nerdish devotion that’s entirely out of step with the actual merit of the song. Who knew, for example, that the ‘Spiderman’ theme had been covered by The Ramones, The Distillers and Aerosmith?

Similarly, it’s difficult to know what drove bands as technically accomplished as The Who and The Jam to reproduce the ‘Batman’ theme, which essentially involves bellowing one word repeatedly, like a berk, accompanied by a brainless three-note guitar riff. It’s hardly ‘Going Underground’.

Other artists have tackled the same tune with more imagination. Witness Flaming Lips’ frazzled, edge-of-collapse version. Or Snoop Dogg’s radical overhaul, in which Batman is re-imagined as a low-ridin’, blunt-smokin’ vigilante who’ll “get wicked on your case” – although one suspects this ultra-laid back Caped Crusader might have had too much gin’n’juice to be much use fighting crime.

Are there any truly great TV theme covers? Well, Green Day’s gallop through ‘The Simpsons’ theme has a certain ramshackle charm, and Manic Street Preachers’ take on ‘Suicide Is Painless’ (the theme from ‘MASH’) has the honour of being one of the bleakest songs ever to reach Number 7 in the UK charts – even if they ruin it by going all Bon Jovi at the end.

For me, though (and I’m not even sure if this counts as a cover, it’s really more of a sample), the most creative use of a TV theme is The Timelords’ (aka KLF) 1988 novelty Number One hit ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’.

Channeling Gary Glitter, Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster!’ and Harry Enfield’s ‘Loadsamoney’ character (as well as the ‘Doctor Who’ theme), it’s an unashamedly cheesy, yet boundlessly affectionate, love note to ’70s/’80s popular culture.

Bill Drummond, who co-wrote the song, called it “the most nauseating record in the world” – and then promptly wrote ‘The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)’, explaining how laughably easy it was to write a pop smash. Oh, for a touch of that post-modern playfulness in today’s arid pop landscape.