Whether you prefer a soap opera, comedy, drama, quiz show, news programme, documentary or reality show, they all include one thing that often makes them even more attractive to the viewer... the theme tune! There have been some brilliant theme tunes over the years with more than a few being better than the TV show itself... ahem! Some themes have also become favourites among DJs and in this article I'll explore the television archives and look at how the good old TV theme can be used as part of a DJ set.
A TV theme can be as memorable as a classic track from a well-known artist. It has the same power to evoke memories of times and places in our lives and, played at the right time, can work well for DJs. The popularity of a good theme tune is reflected in the fact that, over the past 50 years, some have even made it into the UK charts with many becoming part of DJs’ playlists on a regular basis. Themes including Baywatch, Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air are perfect examples of TV themes that can work well on a dancefloor, with the latter being one of, if not, the best example of how a TV theme can become a cult classic amongst audiences of all ages. In my career I have programmed music for a number of high-profile dance DJs who had been booked for a private event and, whilst perfectly at ease with their specialist music style, struggle with the more commercial music side of things. One such DJ had asked me for some help for a celebrity wedding he was performing at so I sent him some playlists and included the theme for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air as part of the party set. He called me up to question this track as he had no idea what it was. I assured him that it would be fine and sure enough he called me the following day to say it was one of the big tracks of the night. He now regularly ‘drops’ that TV theme as part of his sets at other private events.
TV themes really come into play as part of a themed event as they allow you to be far more creative with your music choices as most people attending are there for that style of music and will gladly immerse themselves in the era and go along with everything you play. Using the occasional theme tune as part of a warm-up set can create a unique experience for your audience. Most DJs will programme the music carefully so as guests arrive there is a selection of appropriate tunes to carefully build the atmosphere until it's time to hit the dancefloor. Adding a classic TV theme here and there will almost certainly evoke a reaction as most theme nights will include a period where guests are either stood around chatting or sat down eating food and during this time you are working hard to build things up rather than hitting them with the big floor-fillers that are usually reserved for later in the evening.
There are an abundance of TV themes that can be played as part of a warm-up set, especially as part of a theme night:
1960s – Flintstones, Steptoe & Son, Avengers
1970s – Return of the Saint, Rockford Files, Van Der Valk
1980s – Knight Rider, Treasure Hunt, Bullseye
1990s – The Clothes Show, Crystal Maze, ER
The list is almost endless and with a bit of research you can select the theme tunes that work best for you and your audience for almost any situation. You don't need to over-play them but a few selected themes make all the difference and often result in guests running to the DJ booth desperate to know what it is. Most themes are relatively short so they can be played as a bit of fun between popular hits and for the longer themes you can choose the more popular ones to use or simply play a short snippet before moving your set on. I never tire of adding a few TV themes to a theme night and watching the guests reactions around the room as they try and identify the programme or deliberate over which actor played which character or who shot JR!
TV themes can be used to great effect as show intros or as music beds for theme nights, award nights and many other events. I always like to use a theme to kick things off on a theme night as this creates a natural start and draws the audience’s attention to you, allowing a welcome to be made before launching into the first song to entice guests on to the dancefloor. Thunderbirds, TFI Friday, Hitman & Her, Joe 90, Jukebox Jury, Miami Vice and Mission Impossible are just a few examples of themes that work well as intro music options.
If the theme is 'School Disco' then an obvious choice would be Grange Hill or Top Of The Pops and because of the eclectic mix of music associated with this theme you can really go to town with TV themes including Dallas, Rupert the Bear, Scooby Doo, The Young Ones and even Black Beauty. I've used all of these, and many more, as part of School Disco events and they always hit the mark. By carefully planning which themes to use, and when to play them, I can mix them in to my set and offer my audiences something extra. I've seen audiences of all ages enjoying the big party hits from Queen, Wham and Abba go absolutely crazy when they hear the theme tune to Blockbusters, Hawaii-5-0 or Minder.
There are many TV themes that are pretty much guaranteed to ensure plenty of crowd participation, in fact it’s amazing to see how people know almost every word! Iconic themes like Cheers, Dad's Army, The Wombles and The Royle Family are good examples and I've also added Fraggle Rock, Red Dwarf, The Fall Guy and The Littlest Hobo to theme nights with excellent results. Incidentally, in order to obtain a good quality version of The Littlest Hobo theme, I ordered a copy of an album titled 'Maybe Tomorrow' by Canadian singer Terry Bush that features the theme tune he wrote and performed. He was so delighted that someone had bought a copy of the album that he called me personally to thank me and even autographed the front cover too... nice chap!
I've personally performed at a number of themed events across the UK and also enjoyed watching and listening to other DJs, noting what they play. Some DJs are really innovative and add TV themes into their sets in ways that I have found to be incredibly creative. Jules Little is a regular contributor to Pro Mobile and an excellent DJ. I have seen him use themes including Happy Days and Hi-De-Hi as part of his sets and always enjoy the way he not only plays them but how he mixes them seamlessly with other tracks to ensure the audience goes along for the ride with his music choices.
One of my crowning glories as a DJ was to play at the legendary Ibiza Rocks Hotel, albeit whilst wearing a large animal costume head! As part of an ‘80s set I'd been asked to perform I mixed up the theme tunes to Boon and Auf Wiedersehen Pet. The audience loved it, the promoter loved it, and the hotel staff… more used to seeing Craig David doing his thing… had no idea what was going on... perfect!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 104, Pages 54-57.