Skip

Name a theme song that catapulted the artist to fame
June 1, 2011 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Are there any musicians who hit it big after being "discovered" when a song of theirs was licensed for a TV show theme?

All of the TV show theme songs my friends and I can think of seem to fit into three categories:

1) Songs commissioned - MASH, Sesame Street, and The A-Team are some examples here.
2) Songs licensed from big artists - i.e. CSI and its spinoffs, That 70's Show, Married with Children.
3) Songs licensed from unknown artists who never became big (other than that one song/album) - i.e. Friends, Scrubs, The O.C.

After a bunch of brain storming, the best we could do is The Monkees and Hannah Montana, both of which feel like cheating. (Not just because both were ABOUT the musician, but also because The Monkees didn't have any records do very well after the show ended and Hannah Montana apparently just had its finale a few months ago, so her future success is still in question.)

Has there ever been a band or an artist who had no hits until a song was picked as a theme song, at which point they had some sort of future prominent musical career?
posted by Plutor to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Rembrandts?
posted by jbickers at 10:02 AM on June 1, 2011


Please read the whole question. The Friends theme song by the Rembrandts was one of my examples for category #3. They've had no albums go gold and no singles hit the Billboard top 100 since then.
posted by Plutor at 10:05 AM on June 1, 2011


Hmm. Sorry about that.
posted by jbickers at 10:07 AM on June 1, 2011


Vonda Shepard (Ally McBeal)
Dido (Roswell)
posted by mkultra at 10:14 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think doing the theme to the "Dukes of Hazzard" helped Waylon Jennings' career, but I also think he was a fairly major country star before that so it probably doesn't count.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:15 AM on June 1, 2011


Does that damn Daniel Powter song (which American Idol used as their exit song one season) count? I'm not clear if it was already on its way to being popular before AI, or if AI is what made it so big.
posted by scody at 10:16 AM on June 1, 2011


Remy Zero? who had this used as the theme to Smallville. You could argue however that they were already sort of in the ascendancy.
posted by dougrayrankin at 10:16 AM on June 1, 2011


Nerf Herder, for the Buffy theme?
posted by gerryblog at 10:18 AM on June 1, 2011


I second Dido / Roswell.

I can't remember whether Paula Cole was already popular when Dawson's Creek came on.
posted by thebazilist at 10:18 AM on June 1, 2011


I thought of Paula Cole, but she (and that song) was definitely already popular before Dawson's. "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" was a pretty big hit before it too.
posted by litnerd at 10:21 AM on June 1, 2011


Looking at List of television theme music, it's hard to see many. Most definitely fall into 1) because you want the song to serve your show, not catapult some musician's career 2) you want your show to bask in the glory of a memorable song.

The first artist I thought of being catapulted by tv was Feist, but that was prominent usage of a non-commissioned song for a tv advertistment.

Now, 3) is interesting because maybe those artists never became big, but it seems to me The Rembrandts are successful musicians. They are making a living at music, largely because of the popularity of that one song. Are they "big" -- no, but that song probably gave them career longevity they would not have had otherwise.
posted by artlung at 10:21 AM on June 1, 2011


Dido's theme to Roswell is a fantastic answer. She didn't really toil in obscurity before that, and her career (at least in the US) was probably helped more by Eminem's sample, but she fits pretty well.

Vonda Shepard hasn't had nearly as much prominence. And Waylon Jennings had several albums go gold before the Dukes of Hazzard premiered.
posted by Plutor at 10:25 AM on June 1, 2011


They Might Be Giants were already big when Malcolm in the Middle came out, but I think that show introduced them to a more mainstream audience. I don't think it really qualifies based on your criteria, but I thought I'd throw it out there.
posted by bondcliff at 10:26 AM on June 1, 2011


How to Make It in America premiered in February 2010 with this theme ("I Need a Dollar" by Aloe Blacc); the single/album both were released later and have been fairly successful.

Best track record for non-theme music becoming popular would have to be Grey's Anatomy, right?
posted by acidic at 10:30 AM on June 1, 2011


Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but Bear McCreary's work on Battlestar Galactica really brought him into the spotlight, and he's gone from relative obscurity to composing for many TV shows and movies as well as doing concerts at the Roxy Theater.
posted by Addlepated at 10:31 AM on June 1, 2011


It seems like the question is really geared toward pop music, rather than people who do scoring/theming for tv and film. True?
posted by artlung at 10:34 AM on June 1, 2011


acidic: "How to Make It in America premiered in February 2010 with this theme ("I Need a Dollar" by Aloe Blacc); the single/album both were released later and have been fairly successful."

I'm looking more for future work to be successful. The single or the album that the theme song is on doing well isn't tough. You get thousands of hours of free advertising!

acidic: "Best track record for non-theme music becoming popular would have to be Grey's Anatomy, right?"

Scrubs is way up there, too. There's gotta be a term for the kind of show that frequently uses moderately-obscure music as incidental music. No, not "medical drama".
posted by Plutor at 10:36 AM on June 1, 2011


Veronica Mars used The Dandy Warhols, but I'd argue the show is more obscure than the band.

It's possible that House has given Massive Attack a boost and CSI hasn't hurt The Who any.
posted by maryr at 10:39 AM on June 1, 2011


It kind of feels in the same category as Hannah Montana, but The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air definitely repopularized Will Smith.
posted by karminai at 10:40 AM on June 1, 2011


(Sorry, I see that CSI was in your example. I did read the question, I swear.)
posted by maryr at 10:42 AM on June 1, 2011


Here are 2 that are stretches at best:

- John Tesh's NBA theme song for NBC. I think that was one of his 1st ventures into the musical space.

- Inner Circle who did the "Bad Boys" theme song from "Cops". I think they had a few hits after that.
posted by glenngulia at 10:52 AM on June 1, 2011


Explosions in the Sky scored the movie Friday Night Lights, and then went on to provide music for the critically acclaimed television series, which had much more mainstream penetration. While I wouldn't say the band was "discovered" because of this, it raised their profile considerably.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 AM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Came in here to mention Explosions in the Sky/Friday Night Lights, but I can say, going to an Explosions in the Sky concert before Friday Night Lights vs. after highlighted what an amazing turnaround that was -- at least in the size and packedness of a venue.
posted by Gucky at 11:01 AM on June 1, 2011


Doing the theme song for King of the Hill seemed to boost Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers' popularity for a bit. (I know, RC, as the lead singer of the Refreshments already had fame.)
posted by notsnot at 11:06 AM on June 1, 2011


Here's an interesting case -- Sonny Curtis was a member of Buddy Holly's band The Crickets, and wrote a few hit songs for others (e.g. I Fought the Law) but his biggest fame came when he wrote the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The show was a massive hit throughout the 70s, and the song was released as a single in 1974 and 1980. It's been covered several times. Curtis then went on and both released more music, and continued to write songs for others.

So, again, while he certainly wasn't discovered, he had his biggest hits with the theme song and several works after.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:10 AM on June 1, 2011


You know who we're forgetting here? Will Smith and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Yes, Will Smith was wildly successful before the show. But a little known story is that Smith had blown all of his music money (bankrupt, with the IRS on his ass), and the television show was a comeback of sorts. And his superstardom came because TV showed he had some acting skill to go with the rapping.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:17 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not so much, Cool Papa Bell.
posted by litnerd at 11:23 AM on June 1, 2011


Whoops. ;-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2011


Sonny Curtis had four different charted singles in the 60s, and his 1968 album "The 1st of Sonny Curtis" peaked at #21. I think he and Will Smith fall into a category #3.5: Established artists whose careers were revitalized by a theme song.
posted by Plutor at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2011


There's a commercial jingle/song called No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In by the T-Bones. My mom (who was there, man) always told me that this song was used in an Alka-Seltzer commercial. I can't find an exact confirmation of this online, so I'm unclear if it was a commercial jingle first and then the T-Bones turned it into a song or if the song was created by them for the commercial jingle.

Anyway, this is the original Alka-Seltzer commercial.

This is the song by the T-Bones, which was their first (only?) hit.

But! The guys in T-Bones re-formed a few years later under a new name: Hamilton, Joe Frank, & Reynolds, who did quite well for themselves hit-wise in the 70s.
posted by phunniemee at 11:42 AM on June 1, 2011


There is, I think, a bit of a problem with the premise here. For an undiscovered or only moderately known artist, licensing a song as the theme song of a major TV show is just as good as or better than becoming a popular music act. A licensing deal like that can pay a ton of money and sort of eliminate the incentive to do all the stuff that really sucks about being a pop star, like touring, press stuff, trying to get radio play, etc. Ecen if you really like live gigging, there's no reason to do the really punishing and expensive touring that you might do if you didn't have another way to monetize the music. Some people still want that life even after making a decent living through licensing, but that's unusual. You also have to consider the doors that are opened to a songwriter in that situation. It is a lot nicer to make a living producing and writing for other artists than it is to roll the dice and see if you can become a pop star. Licensing a song for a major show opens those doors and you see a lot more people going that direction than people who decide they'd rather not have a steady income and a nice house in Palisades instead of living out of a van on tour for a few years.
posted by The World Famous at 11:48 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't want to say this, because I despise this singer, but I think Gavin DeGraw got a big break when a song of his was selected for the theme to One Tree Hill.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 11:51 AM on June 1, 2011


And what about Bobby McFerrin? I think "Don't Worry, Be Happy" would be considered his first major mainstream hit, but I think the Cosby Show theme came before that and introduced him to a huge new audience.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2011


The Von Bondies, who became pretty big in Europe, were put on the map when their single "c'mon c'mon" became the theme for the Dennis Leary fireman drama "Rescue Me"
posted by to sir with millipedes at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2011


He hasn't hit it big yet, and he definitely may end up being in category 3, but Jace Everett, the guy who did the True Blood theme, has credited the exposure for giving him a second chance at a music career.
posted by craichead at 12:20 PM on June 1, 2011


But the Friends theme was commissioned for the series, wasn't it? This song was written by Michael Skloff and Allee Willlis and originally offered to the Rock groups They Might be Giants and REM. It was then passed to the Rembrandts who usually wrote all of their own songs. The song was not recorded as a single until a Tennessee DJ looped the short version of the song into a full-length track. link
posted by Ideefixe at 2:07 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not a theme song, but Stephen Merritt contributed several songs to the series Pete and Pete as both the Magnetic Fields and the Gothic Archies years before achieving indie prominence with 69 love songs.

(I'm not sure how related their presence on Pete & Pete was to their success--but I know that they sounded pretty damned familiar to me when I first heard the Magnetic Fields in my early twenties, and have wondered how much Pete and Pete had to do with my enjoyment of them.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seconding The Dandy Warhols and Veronica Mars. I only started listening to them because that dang theme song got stuck in my head.
posted by tacodave at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2011


Joey Scarbury is no legend, but "Believe it or Not (Theme from Greatest American Hero)" made it to #2 on the Billboard charts in 1981.
posted by holterbarbour at 5:09 PM on June 1, 2011


What did the Big Bang Theory theme do to the Barenaked Ladies? I was obsessed with them as a kid, but it feels like they'd disappeared for awhile until BBT.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:45 PM on June 1, 2011


Pretty sure EitS did not write music for the Friday Night Lights TV Show. Indeed, they did for the movie, and did have some songs on the soundtrack cd of the tv show but the music for the show has always been credited to WG Snuffy Walden who was obviously extremely inspired by EitS's music.
posted by dobbs at 11:47 PM on June 1, 2011


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: "What did the Big Bang Theory theme do to the Barenaked Ladies? I was obsessed with them as a kid, but it feels like they'd disappeared for awhile until BBT."

Stunt in 1998 and Maroon in 2000 both went Platinum. I can't believe you never heard "One Week" from Stunt or "Pinch Me" from Maroon on the radio. Five of their last six albums have hit the Billboard top 100. They're textbook moderately-successful.
posted by Plutor at 6:09 AM on June 2, 2011



Stunt in 1998 and Maroon in 2000 both went Platinum. I can't believe you never heard "One Week" from Stunt or "Pinch Me" from Maroon on the radio. Five of their last six albums have hit the Billboard top 100. They're textbook moderately-successful.


I did hear 'One Week' on the radio. Stunt was one of the first albums I bought. I also heard Pinch Me. But I seem to remember them disappearing for a few years before Big Bang Theory.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:49 PM on June 2, 2011


"Thank You For Being A Friend", by Andrew Gold was the theme for the "Golden Girls". Andrew Gold started as a guitarist for Linda Ronstadt's band and eventually went off on his own. He had a hit record with "Lonely Boy" from his second album. He also sang (but I don't think wrote) the theme song for the Paul Rieser show "Mad About You" call the "Final Frontier". His Wikipedia entry says that this song was used as the wake up call to the Mars Pathfinder space probe in 1996. Gold was a well known talent within the industry, although it is arguable if he ever made it big to the general public.

It should also be noted that Gold's song "Lonely Boy" was covered by the band, Lazlo Bane whose song "(I'm no) Superman" is the theme of the series "Scrubs". So there is another connection to TV theme songs.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:12 PM on June 4, 2011


« Older I'm being hired as a sub-contr...   |  I have a huge bag of yellow sp... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post