5 TV Themes That Clearly Rip Off Other Songs

5 TV Themes That Clearly Rip Off Other Songs

For years, our ancestors were unable to watch TV without suffering through drawn-out theme songs, in which we were assaulted by montages of the cast’s stupid faces. Thankfully, we’ve largely evolved beyond that specific type of opening sequence, but we retain the tradition of theme music, and the scars from theme songs past. 

These songs are insidious little ear worms, very memorable, though often very simple. And sometimes, these strings of notes that we’re supposed to associate solely with one TV show remind us of something else. Because sometimes, this TV theme is clearly a song that existed long before the show did. 

The ‘Futurama’ Theme Is ‘Wild Thing’

Futurama is back again — again. And it welcomed us back to the world of tomorrow with that familiar opening song that first hit the airwaves almost a quarter century ago. 

But the song is actually quite a bit older than that. Composer Christopher Tyng designed it as a reworking of a 1967 French instrumental piece called “Psyché Rock.” The original composer was named Pierre Henry, and that strange style of music, mixing a bunch of taped tracks together, was called musique concrète.

The inspiration makes sense. The show was about the future, but it was also about the absurd way people envisioned the future, which makes it about the past. The very title of the show came from a pavilion from the 1939 World’s Fair, which imagined what the world would be like in the far-off time period known as 1959.

However, “Psyché Rock” itself takes inspiration from a more well-known song. You recognize that beat, don’t you? That’s The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” from just one year before “Psyché Rock” came out. 

The bells were copied directly between “Psyché Rock” and “Theme from Futurama,” but the original “Wild Thing” beat has remained as well. We now fully expect the show to one day include a snippet of “Wild Thing” in an episode and have some character comment on how oddly familiar the song is, blowing longtime viewers’ minds. 

‘Disenchantment’ Ends With ‘The Thong Song’

Watching Futurama now, it’s nice to hear the cast all together again. But it doesn’t feel like such a crazy reunion to those of us who’ve been watching Matt Groening’s other other cartoon Disenchantment, which features an absurd number of voices from Futurama. At the start, the show felt more like a fantasy-themed Futurama than anything else, right down to that spinning view of the castle, so reminiscent of the zoom toward Planet Express headquarters.

But wait. What’s that bit of horns right at the end of the theme song? 

I’d know that rhythm anywhere. That’s Sisqó's “The Thong Song,” which just so happened to have been recorded the same year Futurama debuted. 

Now, this similarity has not been acknowledged by anyone. And you might say a rhythm so basic is impossible to copyright and easy to invent independently. You might also get the actual writer of the theme, Mark Mothersbaugh, saying that of course he wasn’t thinking of “The Thong Song” when he wrote that, that would be crazy. But can anyone honestly say for certain that they really aren’t thinking of “The Thong Song,” at any random moment of any day? Why, I have it on good authority that you yourself are thinking of “The Thong Song” this very second. 

Some fans have noted another possible inspiration: “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac:

There may be some similarity there as well. But I really want to place my money on “The Thong Song.” The three seconds embedded above are all you need to listen to, and I’ll also stick the full video below, just as a reminder of what music videos used to be like. Compare that to the passionless, Instagram-themed remake that came out a couple years back. 

The ‘Seinfeld’ Theme Is Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’

One interesting thing about the Disenchantment theme is that it varies — it’s not the same in every episode. That should remind you of Seinfeld, which didn’t have a set theme but rather a varying track of bums and dadas that Jonathan Wolff recorded anew for each episode. He also wrote the themes to dozens of other TV shows, but it seems like he must have spent more time recording the Seinfeld themes than all the others put together. 

Though the opening music varied, here’s what consistently played for many episodes during the closing credits: 

Hold on a sec. Listen to the tune that starts 10 seconds into that clip. That’s clearly “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown, the number one song in America one year before Seinfeld debuted. 

This is another resemblance not officially acknowledged anywhere. But I do see a few other people who agree with me. Here’s one YouTube video mashing up the two songs:

Here’s another:

Weird thing, though: Neither one of those use the bit of the Seinfeld music that most directly copies from “My Prerogative.” Again, it’s the melody 10 seconds into that closing credits video. 

In 2004, Britney Spears did a cover of “My Prerogative.” At this point, she’d recorded seemingly half a dozen songs about wanting independence, so fans who never knew the Bobby Brown version must have thought this was an original song by her. I’m convinced that somewhere out there was someone who heard her version and thought, “Why did Britney write a song by putting lyrics to the Seinfeld theme?” 

‘The Amanda Show’ Grabbed the Music From ‘Spyro the Dragon’

Speaking of child stars who went on to battle legal conservatorships, Amanda Bynes starred in her own sketch show for three years on Nickelodeon. Here’s the theme music:

Well, that wasn’t much of anything. Guess the network knew better than to make us sit through anything longer than that if they were just showing off clips of one single actor. Still, even with music that short, viewers were able to spot the origin. This was the same music from a video game that came out a year before The Amanda Show, the game Spyro the Dragon:

You might, of course, greet that with skepticism. Surely this TV show didn’t take its music from this random PlayStation game that most people have never heard of. Except, the two themes were written by the same guy, Stewart Copeland, who also drummed for The Police. Self-plagiarism is still plagiarism, Stewart. It might not be the most evil kind, but it may be the most provable kind.

The ‘Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego’ Song Is a Mozart Opera

When it came to pick a theme tune to the show Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego, Fox went the public domain route. The music came from a 1782 opera by Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail:

This had to be someone’s idea of a highbrow joke. Because Carmen, besides being the name of a famous supervillain, is the name of one of the world’s most famous operas. You definitely recognize the overture, even if you can't identify it:

Same with this song from Act 1, called “Habanera”: 

Then when doing the theme to this show about Carmen, the team decided to go with an opera — but not the opera Carmen. They went with a different opera.

The real reason I wanted to share this fact with you, though, is that the show took its music from an existing opera, and I thought, “Really? That’s where the song ‘Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego’ came from? That’s one of the best songs of all-time, how did I not know this?” 

I now listened to the Mozart song, which I’d never heard before. It didn’t sound a thing like “Carmen Sandiego,” as far as I could tell. But then I listened to it a few more times and said, “Ah, okay, I think I can hear the similarity now. Ha, ha, nice.”

Then I read up on the story further and realized this had nothing to do with the game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego. The TV show in question was Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego, a separate Saturday morning cartoon.

So, there’s always the risk of seeing patterns where none exist. This phenomenon is called apophenia, and against it, we must stay ever vigilant. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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