The 15 best songs on TV

From the harmonica wails of The Sopranos to the clap-claps of Friends — here are the best songs used as TV theme tunes

An intro song can have a huge impact on the way we approach, or remember, a TV show. Choosing an existing track as a main theme can also help us associate any new series with a certain era, tone, feeling and aesthetic. Sometimes they’re also just bangers.

We’ve put together 15 of the best existing tracks that have been enlisted on hit TV series from the past few decades.

PJ Harvey – ‘Who By Fire’ from Bad Sisters

Bad Sisters : Season 1 - Official Opening Credits / Intro (Apple TV+' series) (2022)

Though normally few can rival the breathy moodiness of Leonard Cohen, on this cover for the recent Irish dark comedy whodunnit on Apple TV+, PJ Harvey amps up the atmospheric drama while keeping some of the track’s fundamental folkiness. Unfortunately it’s now impossible to listen to it without seeing a load of taxidermal glass eyes.

Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Cold Little Heart’ from Big Little Lies

"Big Little Lies" Opening Titles

Though born in North London, Michael Kiwanuka’s soulful bittersweet songwriting lent itself finely to the opulent drama of Monterey Bay in the David E. Kelley’s TV adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. Such was its cinematic effect that it became quite the TikTok sensation.

They Might Be Giants – ‘Boss Of Me’ from Malcom In The Middle

Malcolm in the Middle - Opening Titles

Some series opt for tracks with direct lyrical associations, while others might choose one to set the general mood or reflect the context of the show. ‘Boss Of Me’ from Malcom In The Middle ticks all those boxes, a slice of turn-of-the-millennium ska-punk oozing in almost humorous rebellion and teenage despair: “You’re not the boss of me now, and you’re not so big/ Life is unfair.”

Harvey Danger – ‘Flagpole Sitta’ from Peep Show

Peep Show Opening Credits 2010

It’s a little puzzling why the producers of Peep Show went for a 90s Seattle alt. rock hit to soundtrack such a distinctly British sitcom, but it clearly stuck. That said, it does have a happy-go-lucky sloppiness to it that seems to aptly sum up Mark and Jez’s friendship and lifestyle.

Lazlo Bane – ‘Superman’ from Scrubs

Though they only snipped together about 15 seconds of it for the opening credits, so perfect was its hook, the creators of noughties hospital sitcom Scrubs must have known they were on the money when they found this endearing banjo bop from Lazlo Bane.

Washed Out – ‘Feel It All Around’ from Portlandia

Portlandia - Opening sequence

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s sketch show spoofed the hipster haven of Portland and its wacky and trendy inhabitants, so it was only right that they had the hipster anthem of the time, Washed Out’s chillwave classic ‘Feel It All Around’. Context aside, it’s such gorgeous and blissful track that even though the skip intro option was yet to be added you never would have anyway.

Tom Waits – ‘Way Down In The Hole’ from The Wire

The Wire - Season 2 Intro (HD)

The team behind the classic crime drama The Wire loved Tom Waits’ ‘Way Down in the Hole’ so much that it was used for each of its seasons. Waits’ own version came on the second series, and his hoarse, soulful blues would, like the show itself, serve as an inspiration for many a soundtrack years down the line.

Nick Cave – ‘Red Right Hand’ from Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders Opening Title Sequence - Gold Open

One such artist inspired by Waits’ track is surely Nick Cave, whose ‘Red Right Hand’ features the same moody blues shuffle and an almost identical bass line. The producers of the BBC’s Birmingham gangster hit Peaky Blinders really hit the jackpot with this one, finding a track that hinted at the vengeance that fuels much of the series while harnessing the prestige and respect of The Wire.

Phantom Planet – ‘California’ from The OC

The O.C. - Intro (HD)

It didn’t matter where you’re from, when that piano line from Phantom Planet hit we were all Californian (it helped that lead singer Alex Greenwald sang in an accent so nasal and American it sounded like an impression).

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – ‘Bad Reputation’ from Freaks And Geeks

Freaks & Geeks Title Sequence

A cult classic from Judd Apatow and featuring fresh faced Jason Segel, James Franco, Seth Rogan and Linda Cardellini, Freaks And Geeks was the prototype for all the teen high school sitcoms that followed. This Joan Jett punk rock anthem said it all, it’s bouncy pace somehow capturing the feeling of running late to class.

Massive Attack – ‘Teardrop’ from House

House M.D, Opening Theme - HD - WideScreen [ WARNING : Flashing Images ]

This trip hop classic was well known and established long before the making of this medical drama, but it’s pretty lucky the creators managed to secure its use. Allegedly, the song’s original video inspired much of the visual aesthetic for the show.

The Handsome Family – ‘Far From Any Road’ from True Detective

True Detective - Intro / Opening Scene HD

For all the Southern Gothic darkness of the seminal first season of True Detective, its theme song is actually pretty peppy on first listen. But lean closer and you’ll find poetic lines of looming shadows, thorny bushes and trembling hands that foreshadow the series’ bleak happenings closer than first imagined.

Gigolo Aunts – ‘Where I Find My Heaven’ from Game On

Another very American-sounding track used on a very British feeling sitcom, Gigolo Aunts’ 90s slacker anthem ‘Where I Find My Heaven’ nevertheless captured the scruffy twenty-something flatshare vibe of Game On.

Alabama 3 – ‘Woke Up This Morning’ from The Sopranos

The Sopranos Opening Credits Theme Song | The Sopranos | HBO

Another boss level series with a boss level theme tune, this bluesy, sultry, acid-flecked piece of electronica had been around for a couple of years before David Chase brought it in for his pioneering show. Its quirky groove just seems to fit the tone of The Sopranos really well.

The Rembrandts – ‘I’ll Be There For You’ from Friends

Friends Opening Credits

You might not have heard this one.