The telly is always there, isn't it. The glowing rectangle in your childhood home that all the furniture is arranged to point towards; the thing you talk about things happening on despite not actually owning one because the internet; the thing your nan is always on about when she's explaining the advert she thinks is "brilliant" and asks if you've seen it, which, no, you haven't—you never have. Anyway, sometimes good stuff happens on the telly and sometimes that is accompanied by theme songs so undeniably huge you could drop them in a DJ set between Future and Ultrabeat without upsetting the consistency of the set.
Speaking of which, I'm not sure if you've seen the UK charts recently, but there are like 12 Ed Sheeran songs in it. Rag'n'Bone man is there. Entries by Kendrick Lamar and Harry actual Styles are being beaten by someone who won X Factor in 2012. It is a sorry state of affairs and we are sorry. We are sorry, world, for the absolute state of it. We Brits did, however, give you some really good telly music in the past. And so, to remind you of this important fact, we decided to collect the very best of them, in the list below, for your nourishment.
What we have here is a classic 80s theme tune full of righteous axe shredding, an oppressive horn sample and a man who sounds like he's stuck under a tractor wheel wheeze-singing about "power" and "strength." It's really more of a 'song to enter the ring to' than a 'song to snog to under the unforgiving glow of the club house lights'; more of an "Everybody" by Backstreet Boys than an "As Long As You Love Me" by Backstreet Boys. However, for that very reason it is the perfect sesh anthem. "The speed!," sings the haggard but determined male vocalist as you order a stick of 12 flavored shots from Vodka Revs. "The strength!," he continues as your friends shake their heads and tell you that shit is like 85 percent sugar and 15 percent evil and you call them "just a bunch of wetties." "The heart to be a winner!" you hear somewhere under the enormous roar of laughter as you neck the one that tastes like chilli, and spew gracelessly into a pint glass.
BOB THE BUILDER
This song is completely wild. I can't get more than eight seconds in without feeling like my brain has been liquified, sucked through my nose and replaced with sentient blancmange. I'm not convinced the man singing is a real person. Why does he sound so honking and damp, like a wet sock stuck in a trumpet? Why is there an emotional key change? Someone had to record live drums for this. The only thing that rescues it from reaching Mr Blobby levels of insanity is the fact that the lyrics make some sort of cohesive sense, which also makes it inherently better than anything Robert Plant has ever written. Wild. 7/10 British banger.
I love slumping in front of Trisha (now known as Trisha Goddard and aping Jerry Springer-style antics since the early 00s) on a sick day with some rich tea biscuits and a tinned soup as much as the next Gogglebox nan, but answer me this: how does one theme tune contain so many different components—at least three melodies, layers of horn sections, all those ferocious, thwacking drum beats—and still come out sounding like… well, nothing? The Trisha theme tune is the sonic equivalent of emptying your spice drawer onto the chicken and it still tasting like a plain chunk of flesh when you release it from the oven. For real though, it's not just Trisha—all daytime television themes in Britain sound like this, to the point that you cannot differentiate one from the other—and for that reason, they are a special kind of magic. What is this sorcery? From whence do I find it?
Trying to explain the cultural significance of the 'duh... duh... duh... duh, duh, duh-duh-duh-duh's at the beginning and end of Eastenders to someone who doesn't already know is like trying to explain the taste of bananas to aliens. I will, however, attempt it: The cast of Eastenders do not talk or behave like anyone you've ever met in London's actual East End, but instead like characters from a Dickens novel who have been brought to life and forced to wear bleached bootcut jeans and learn 21st-century slang in a very short space of time. They live in a small, morbidly grey town that looks like London, but without the tube or various ethnicities or more than one pub. And, crucially, everything dramatic that happens (like a slap, or a house fire at Christmas or someone dying from crack) must be punctuated by these loud, thudding drum beats, before the credits roll.
Here in the UK, Eastenders has been running every week for over 30 years, and therefore these drum beats are woven into the very fabric of our collective being. Honestly: I'm pretty sure that they are the first thing we hear as we tumble out our mother's vagina during birth, and the last thing that plays as our heart slows during death. The Eastenders theme tune is everything—it is the exclamation point of life itself, which is why it one of the very best.
LIVE & KICKING
May I present to you the Live & Kicking theme tune—remember Live & Kicking? I know, it really went downhill after Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston left to go tango dancing and do bondage sex, respectively—which contains all of the following, in literally, very literally, no particular order: a plinky plonky piano, a few little finger clicks that appear at random over some honking, a whizzing gun sound, what I think is best described as "neeeh nooor," some hollow drums pounded at a frankly manic pace, an unexpected key change. No, it hasn't been sped up—this is the speed it's supposed to be played at. I don't know who is responsible, either. I have Googled relentlessly in a bid to track down the composer but, for reasons I can't possibly understand or fathom, they do not want to be found, ever.
I'm not being funny but the Holby City theme tune is fucking LIT. Within the first few seconds, they have already turned the literal sound of human heartbeats into some extremely powerful 80s drumbeats. They take the beeping from an electrocardiogram machine—an electrocardiogram machine—and transform it into a kind of synth-y, electro club track. I am floored by the audacity and inventiveness of this creation. I am also thoroughly convinced that British medical dramas did in fact invent the club. What is the name of this genre? Medical core? Hospital house? Because it is a genre.
For those who were not of age in the UK before 2008 when the show eventually ran its 30-year course, BBC kids' drama Grange Hill was a program set in a north London school in which children with names like "Zappo" and "Gripper" were addicted to heroin and complicit in dinner money extortion schemes respectively. That only makes the fact that it's so profoundly uplifting it's basically DJ Khaled in sonic form all the more incredible. Listen to this and tell me you don't immediately want to body your taxes and give up bread. It's a motivational TED talk in 40 seconds. Jeremy Corbyn probably has it as his alarm clock. I think its greatness has something to do with the fact that it pooh-poohs traditional song structure and opens at the exact moment a song should peak, but I can very much see Carly Rae Jepsen wailing over these beautifully programmed drums and it going straight to the top of the charts.
Every time I hear this intro I am torn between pouring out three quarters of a bottle of Kick, filling the rest with Glen's vodka and getting a bus to the nearest club, or killing myself. I'm curious to know what the brief was for this, the most abrasive composition in living memory, but it's safe to assume the words "toon" and "shots" appeared in bold and all-caps. The thing about this nonsense electro-fart which reeks of fake tan and whose only lyric is "party", is that it is so intrinsically linked to Geordie Shore every millisecond is a trigger for a scene from the show.
What you're actually listening to isn't music at all: it's James Tindale in a V-neck deeper than the ocean saying "the drinks are flo-in'." It's perfect angel Charlotte Crosby sat—legs apart, tits out—on a beach in Cancun screaming and being sick at the same time. It's Gaz Beadle punching an inanimate object every time he has a feeling. This is exactly the sound your brain makes after someone asks you "what happened last night" as it struggles to piece the incoherent memories of shouting and body fluids into a narrative. Is there a more accurate snapshot of Britain's particular 'well up for it' brand of nihilism in regards to the sesh? I don't think so. For better or worse, we are it, and it is us. After we banter the planet into oblivion I hope this somehow survives as a stand-alone relic of our many achievements.
GET YOUR OWN BACK
Tbqh, I hated Get Your Own Back when it was on in the 90s. I was an extremely sensitive child, so the thought of publicly humiliating someone for TV entertainment made me want to cry. I really did not get the fact it was a joke that they were all in on. I would imagine my own mum, her eyes wide with shock and sadness as neon green gunge slowly enveloped her face to a chorus of hisses and boos, and would be so overwhelmed with guilt I would have to change channels. That said, this theme tune fucking bangs. It's like that happy hardcore shit they blast out at half-broken fairgrounds in rural towns during the summer and it makes me feel like furiously shoving chunks of candy floss in my mouth with one hand and fist pumping for dear life with the other.
Don't tell anyone, but apparently Dani Harmer (the actress who played Tracy Beaker in the early-00s children's drama Tracy Beaker) has been seen running around east London trying to skip club queues by screaming at the bouncer "I'm Tracy Beaker… BITCH!!!"—which, to be quite honest lads, fair enough. Tracy Beaker was an icon of our times. Anyway, onto the theme tune: it's called "Someday" and it's by R&B singer Keisha White whose biggest claims to fame are, according to her Wikipedia, the fact this appeared on the opening credits of Tracy Beaker and the fact she went to school, in Barnet nonetheless, with someone from S Club 8. The track itself sounds very much like every single girl band release from that era mushed together, all of which is to say: every time I hear this intro, I am overwhelmed by the urge to slather on some strawberry-flavored lip gloss, stretch a glittering spaghetti strap crop-top from Tammy Girl over my grown-ass, now 24-year-old self and buss out a slick dance routine.
Sorry, is this a fucking eskibeat I'm hearing? Is this literally a grime song? Was Casualty, which aired in 1986, predating Wiley's career by over a decade, actually a formative influence? If it isn't exactly 140bpm then it's really fucking close. We already had that Oxide & Neutrino track couched in a slowed-down sample but if Kano hasn't freestyled over the original I'm going to need that to happen immediately so it can get an eternal reload.
Here we go. Here we fucking GO, lads. This is it. As well as being the single greatest British theme song, this is also also arguably the single greatest piece of British music released this side of the millennium. Yes, Eastenders and Bob The Builder have both made appearances in the UK charts thanks to official single versions of their themes and, in what was truly a dark time for Britain, Teletubbies also managed to reach number one with a three and a half minute cut of "Teletubbies say 'Eh Oh'!." But the Big Brother theme became a UK British Singles Chart mainstay by virtue of being a stone cold fucking banger. No additional vocals, no celebrity features, just three to 11 minutes (depending on which mix you listen to) of aggressive house music that drills a hole through your skull and provides a direct access line to everything that has ever happened to you in your British life.
This is a flagon of White Lightning and a bottle of poppers. This is your nan shouting "MILK" over the sound of a loudly boiling kettle. This is matching lads' holiday shirts. This is unconditional love for Robbie Williams. This is wearing your school tie so short it looks like one of the arrows on the recycling sign. This is getting "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead" to number 2 when Margaret Thatcher died. This is an old Facebook photo of you on pingers at a psytrance rave in the countryside. This is you sitting with your comedown outside a train station that doesn't open for another hour and a half. This is a kebab. This is "Daddy or chips" and Pint Baby and Jeremy Kyle screaming "PUT SOMETHING ON THE END OF IT." This is the only pure thing about this furious little country and it should honestly be the National Anthem. Why else do you think it made such a perfect accompaniment to a show about trapping a group of beautifully regular strangers under one roof and filming them as they sleep?
(Lead image by Ged Carroll via Flickr)