In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of our Best Of TV 2013 coverage, our favorite TV theme songs.
I had more options to choose from than usual with this category, owing to a lifelong fascination with film and TV scores. My first-ever cassette purchase with my own money was the Miami Vice soundtrack. I spent hours as a teenager learning how to play the themes from Beavis And Butt-head on guitar. Based on my love of The Kids In The Hall theme, I bought two Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet CDs. In recent years (alternating with music from Blade Runner, Vertigo, and Suspiria), my ringtone has been set to the themes from Knight Rider, Angel, Deadwood, and even Night Court. So I found picking a favorite TV theme more difficult than any other Hear This challenge yet—and I’m still not convinced I shouldn’t have gone with Mystery Science Theater 3000.
And yet, if you judge a TV theme by how it can set the tone of a series with just a few bars, I’d have to give it to “Falling” from Twin Peaks. The importance of Angelo Badalamenti in establishing the mood of David Lynch’s work cannot be overstated, and nowhere is this more obvious than in those reverberating guitar notes that open over Twin Peaks’ picturesque Pacific Northwest backdrop. The genius of Badalamenti’s score is that his syrupy synth-orchestra swells contain all the melodrama of an ordinary soap opera—like Twin Peaks’ show-within-a-show Invitation To Love—but they’re undercut by those deep, heavy-lidded notes that create the hypnagogic noir state where Twin Peaks lives.
I’m also a fan of the full, vocal version of “Falling” that Lynch and Badalamenti co-wrote with Julee Cruise, as well as “Into The Night,” “The Nightingale,” and the other songs from their collaborative Floating Into The Night album. And I loved the way Lynch used Cruise’s performances at the Roadhouse—and Cruise’s fragile, gossamer voice—to represent Laura Palmer’s lingering presence, a ghost whose yearning to be heard was still capable of bringing people to tears and conveying messages from beyond. But the lyrics of “Falling” are superfluous (not to mention a little banal). Everything you need to know about the waking dream you’ve entered is contained in just a few bars.