…key changes in TV theme songs.
You wouldn’t think a TV theme song would be long enough to support a key change, but I’m thinking of a popular theme song that had a legitimate key change. If it matters, when I say “popular”, this might be another one of those cases where it matters that I’m a little older than everyone else and you may have never heard of the show at all. So, that’s a useful hint: think of a show you might never have heard of.
It’s a pretty good key change. The melody changes a little at the key change in an interesting way.
For some reason, I feel like there’s a key change in almost every ‘80s theme song, but I just watched a bunch on YouTube and couldn’t find one. But I did remember this one from the ’90s:
That wasn’t what I had in mind, but (a) that’s the best thing about these “can you think of a…” questions, and (b) that one has enough key changes to cover the entire decade. Not writing out all the chords, just they keys…
We're [E]tiny, we're toony ... we're invading your TV We're [Ab]comic dispensers ... get a dose of comedy So [C]here's Acme Acres ... a cartoon work of art Our [E]scripts were rejected ... is about to start They're [F]furry, they're funny ... Elmyra is a pain There's [A]Hampton and Plucky ... and Go-Go is insane At [Db]Acme Looniversity ... been getting laughs since 1933 We're tiny, we're [F]toony ... and now our song is done!
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s basically a key change every two lines, edging out Mack the Knife for density of key changes:
Oh, the [Bb6]shark, babe ... keeps it out of sight You know when that [Bb6]shark bites ... never a trace of red On a [B6]sidewalk, ooh sunny mornin’ uh-huh ... be old Mack the Knife? There's a [C6]tugboat ... old Macky's back in town Now d'ja [Db6]hear 'bout Louie Miller? ... done somethin' rash? Jenny [D6]Diver, yeah, yeah, Sukey Tawdry ... Macky's back in town I said, Jenny [Eb6]Diver, Sukey Tawdry ... Macky's back in town [Eb]Look out, old Macky is back [Eb7#9]
Oooh, I found another ‘80s theme song with a key change... here's a hint... the two songs I'm thinking of are both from ‘80s sitcoms, and if you could taxonomize ‘80s sitcoms into "sitcoms with a dramatic side" (like Rosanne) and "sitcoms that were just silly from top to bottom" (like Married With Children), we'd have one of each, and the theme songs reflect said dichotomy.
Oh, shit, Married with Children was supposed to be a random example, but it also has a key change ("try, try, try to separate them..."). Damnit.
Frank Sinatra – Love and Marriage (Married... with Children theme)
Starts in Bb...
[Bb]Love and marriage, [F]love and marriage [Bb]It's an [Bb7]institute you [Eb]can't dis[Ebm]parage [Bb]Ask the local [D]gent[Gm]ry and [Eb]They will [Bb]say it's ele[F]ment[Bb]ary
Hey look, now we're in Gb...
[Gb]Try, [Gbmaj7]try, [Gb6]try to separate them [Abm7]It's [Db]an ill[Gb]usion [Gb]Try, [Gbmaj7]try, [Gb6]try, and you will only [Bb]Come [F7]to this conclusion
Oh, no fucking way, don't tell me the Rosanne theme song also has a key change... there's hardly even anything in the Rosanne theme song, but it appears to have a key change:
Starts in E...
[E5]Bwow, ba da bwow bwow, ba da da bwow bwow [E5]Ba da bwow, da bwow, da bwow, da ba da beow
Hey look, now we're in F...
[F5]Bwow, ba da bwow bwow, ba da da bwow bwow [F5]Ba da bwow, da bwow, da bwow, da ba da beow [Gm]Daaa, da [F/A]di, da [Bb]da, da [C7]da! [F]Bwow, da da da da da da da da da da da
I picked those examples at random, so it looks like you were right with the hypothesis that key changes were near-ubiquitous in ‘80s theme songs. But I'm still holding on to the two that I had in mind, as if I had found a real treasure trove.
Sidebar: separate from the key change, "Love and Marriage" delivers a I → I7 → IV → iv, and no one loves a I → I7 → IV → iv more than me.
If I had any doubt left in my mind that all ‘80s theme songs had key changes, it's gone, because when BoJack Horseman did a parody ‘80s TV theme song, it had a key change... and you wouldn't put it in a parody if it didn't reflect the least common denominator of theme songs, right?
Chords below... aside from the key change, this chromatic bass movement through a I#dim is fantastic, as parody throwaway songs go. If BoJack Horseman wasn't already my favorite TV show of all time, I think this chord tipped it over the edge. I mean, 30 Rock is funny, but does it have a I#dim?
BoJack Horseman – Kyle and the Kids
Starts in C...
[C]Kyle [G/B]and the [Am]kids [Am7/G] [Dm7]Kyle's a dad and [G]Charlotte's married to him [C]And they've [G/B]got some [Am]kids [Am7/G] There's [Dm7]Penny, she's going to [Em7]high school She's got a [F]brother, her [F#dim]brother's name is [G]Trip They're the perfect family
Hey look, now we're in C#...
[C#]Kyle [G#/C]and the [A#m]kids [A#m7/G#] He [D#m7]loves his wife and there's [G#]nothing you can [C#]do [C#]Kyle [G#/C]and the [A#m]kids [A#m7/G#] Oh no, it's gonna [D#m7]be alright, [G#]be alright oh [C#]no
I realized I never revealed the two ‘80s theme songs I was thinking of with key changes, before we realized that all ‘80s TV theme songs have key changes...
Starts in Bb...
[F]Show me that [Bb]smile a[Eb]gain [F]Don't waste a[Bb]nother [Eb]minute on your cryi[F]n' [F/A]We're nowhere [Bb]near the [Eb]end [Bb/D]The [Eb]best is ready to be[G]gin, oooh
Hey look, now we're in C...
As [C]long as we got each other [Am]We got the world spinnin' right in our hands Baby [Fmaj7]you and me, we gotta be The [G]luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin'
As [C]long as we keep on givin' [Am]We can take anything that comes our way Baby, [Fmaj7]rain or shine, all the time [Gsus4]We got each [G]other [Gsus4]sharing the [G]laughter and [Bb/F]Love [F] [Eb/Bb] [Bb] [Bb/F] [F] [C]
Man, that is a solid theme song. I love the harmonies, I love the ‘80s guitar. Listening to that is an excellent investment of sixty-one seconds. But we're not done...
Charles in Charge (written in Bb instead of Db)
Starts in Bb...
[Bb]The new boy in the [Gm]neighborhood [Eb6]Lives downstairs and it's [F]understood [Bb]He's there just to [Gm]take good care of [Eb6]me Like he's [F]one of the family
[Bb]Charles in [Eb]charge Of our [Bb]days and our [F]nights [Bb]Charles in [Eb]charge Of our [Bb]wrongs and our [F]rights
And I see, [Eb]I [Bb]want [Cm]Charles in [F]charge of [G/D]me
Hey look, now we're in G...
[G]Charles in [C]charge Of our [G]days and our [D]nights [G]Charles in [C]charge Of our [G]wrongs and our [D]rights
And I [G]see, [C]I [G]want, [C]I [G]want [Am]Charles... in [D7]charge... of [G]me
Also solid. The melody on "Charles in Charge" is totally different before and after the key change, which is cool, and also the '80s were definitely a historical peak wrt effective use of fake horns.
Oh, man, this seriously must have been some kind of conspiracy between the networks and Big Key Change... every theme song that pops up on YouTube when the previous one finishes is more key change...
Starts in F...
I [F]bet we been to[Am/E]gether for a [Dm7]million years And I [Am7]bet we'll be to[A7]gether for a [G9sus4]million more [G9] Oh, It's [Bbm6/Db]like I started breathing on the [F/C]night we kissed And I [A7sus4]can't remember [A]what I ever [C/D]did before [D7]
Hey look, now we're in G...
What would we [Gmaj7]do baby, without [Bm7]us? What would we [Cmaj9]do baby, without [A7]us? And there [Am7]ain't no nothin' [Cm9]We can't love each [Bm7]other through[E9] What would we [A7sus4]do baby[A7], without [Cmaj7]us? [Bm7] [Am7] [C/D]Sha la la [G/D]
There's nothing not to like about that... '70s groove dropped right into the ‘80s, and iv's in two different keys! And I didn't even bother with my normal highlighting of non-diatonics, since this song is jazz-esque in its disdain for the major scale.
So clearly the sitcom scene is littered with key changes, but even in the animated department, it's key changes all over the place:
We're in the chorus here, still in E...
[E]Duck Tales, oo-oo [E7#9] [C]Every day they're [D]out there making [E]Duck Tales, oo-oo [E7#9] [C]Tales of derring-[D]do, bad and good l[E]uck tales, oo-oo [F#m7]D-d-d-danger, [E/G#]watch behind you [F#m9/A]There's a stranger [E/G#]out to find you
And here we go into F#...
[F#]What to do, just grab on to some [F#]Duck Tales, oo-oo [F#7#9] [D]Every day they're [E]out there making [F#]Duck Tales, oo-oo [F#7#9] [D]Tales of derring-[E]do, bad and good L[F#]uck tales, oo-oo [F#7#9] Not [D]pony tails or [E]cotton tails but [F#]Duck Tales, oo-oo
Holy shit, they keep coming, this is just getting silly now...
Gummi Bears (technically "Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears")
We start in Bb....
[Bb]Dashing and [Dm]daring cou[Eb]rageous and [Bb]caring [Eb]Faithful and [Bb]friendly with [Eb]stories to [F]share [Bb]All through the [Dm]forest they [Eb]sing out in [Bb]chorus [Eb]Marching a[Bb]long as their [Eb]song fills the [F]air [Bb]Gummi B[Eb]ears [Cm]Bouncing [F]here and there and [Bb]everywh[Gm]ere [Cm]High ad[F]venture that's be[Bb]yond comp[Eb]are [Cm]They are the [F]Gummi [Bb]Bears [Bb]Magic and [Dm]mystery are [Eb]part of their [Bb]history A[Eb]long with the [Bb]secret of [Eb]gummiberry [F]juice
Right in the middle of a verse, we're in C...
Their [C]legend is [Em]growing they [F]take pride in [C]knowing They'll [F]fight for what's [C]right in what[F]ever they [G]do [C]Gummi [F]Bears [Dm]Bouncing [G]here and there and [C]everywh[Am]ere [Dm]High ad[G]venture that's be[C]yond comp[F]are [Dm]They are the [G]Gummi [C]Bears [F] [Dm]They are the [G]Gummi [C]Bears
And we come out of the bridge in D...
[D]Dashing and [F#m]daring Cou[G]rageous and [D]caring ...
Also, honorable mention... no key change, but since I gave wild praise to the passing I#dim in the BoJack Horseman parody theme... it turns out the Family Matters theme has a 1#dim and a 5#dim:
It's a [G]rare condition in [F]this day and age To [C]read any good news on the [C#dim]newspaper page And [G]love and tradition of the [F]grand design [C]Some people say is even [C#dim]harder to find [A] Well then there [D]must be some magic [D#dim]Clue inside these [Em]gentle walls Cause [C]all I see is a [C#dim]tower of dreams And [Dsus4]real love burstin' out of every seam As [C]days go [G/B]by, it's the [D]bigger love of the family
And if you can’t get enough theme song breakdown, check out the Tuner podcast’s deep dive into the “Full House” theme, and its TGIF cousins:
Pingback: The Doctor (of Rock) - Believe it or Not, I'm Combinatorically Complete