It has been far too long since I’ve done a music-themed Top 7 list on Iridium Eye. Truth be told, I get a bit scared of making these kinds of lists because I have bad memories of being made fun of for “only” being a music fan during my college days even though I didn’t talk about my other interests as much lest I get insulted even more. Sigh…I never had the best comebacks and struggled with being a people pleaser. Oddly enough, the first Top 7 list I ever did on this blog was the one about musicians who should score movies. Later on, I made a list of anime theme songs that I like involving series I’m not a fan of. I try not to overdo these kinds of lists even if they have something to do with movies or series.
Theme songs can be quite fun and instantly connect a movie or series to a song especially if it involves the name of it or at the very least make explicit references to characters, locales, or jargon used in that media. It’s not hard to think of a few that instantly come to mind. As soon as someone says “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was…”, then you will instantly finish the lyric much less the whole Pokemon theme song after the fact. If I were to just say “DuckTales“, then I wouldn’t be surprised if someone were to chime in with “Woohoo!” and instantly turn it into a singalong session. You could name so many other examples here. Weirdly enough, there are various theme songs that don’t get that kind of attention and it’s time to change that. I decided to make a fun and positive list that I think some people can enjoy whether anyone knows anything about my entries or not.
Here are my guidelines for this list:
-These have to be vocal works and not instrumental pieces of music.
-The songs have to either use the name of the movie/series, characters, concepts, and world-building elements in the lyrics or at the very least the title of the songs.
-These examples can come from TV shows, movies, or animated works.
-No covers! Original songs only!
-Most of these will be lesser-known works, but I do have some more well-known examples. You’ll see why in my explanations.
-I don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the series or movies on this list, but I have to have seen the movie or series where the theme song is from.
It does feel good to make a music-oriented list without anyone’s permission. Let’s turn this up to 11 as Spinal Tap would say.
7: “Song of the Sea Theme” by Lisa Hannigan and Kila from Song of the Sea
Okay, I know Song of the Sea was a critically acclaimed work and it is easily my favorite movie Cartoon Saloon has done so far, but I’m surprised a lot of people don’t talk about this song even if they’ve seen this movie. I wasn’t too familiar with Lisa Hannigan except for her duet with fellow Irish musician Damien Rice in the song “9 Crimes”, but I wanted to listen to her more when I heard this song or the other soundtrack examples where she lent her voice. It was awesome how this was recorded in both English and Gaelic, so I decided to put both versions of the theme song on here. The soundtrack itself is beautiful and it’s a shame that so many other Western animated soundtracks overshadow this score. Come on, if this song was in a Disney movie, the people would eat this crap up and it would win all the Oscars and Grammies. I certainly think this song let alone the soundtrack is better than overrated movies like Frozen (FIGHT ME!). Seriously, this ballad is so exquisite and better than a lot of theme songs from both animated and live-action works.
6: “WBX ~Double Boiled Extreme~” by Aya Kamiki ft. Takuya from Judy and Mary from Kamen Rider W
Look at that! I actually got something tokusatsu-related on this list. There’s a first time for everything. I’m not knee-deep into Kamen Rider and my first experience with that is (sadly) the AWFUL American adaptation of Masked Rider during my childhood. Years later, I discovered an online critic by the name of EZ Rider (sadly, he retired from reviewing recently) on a whim and he reviews tokusatsu exclusively. I checked out his top Kamen Rider theme song list back then and this song was an honorable mention only because W was still going on at the time of the original video, but he said that would’ve been #1 if it already ended. I can definitely see why and that was my gateway into checking out this film-noir/detective take on Shotaro Ishinomori’s premiere superhero. The guitar work is top-notch, a fun jazzy horn section, and some sweet male/female harmonies as well as countermelodies like the pre-chorus singing/rapping combo. WBX really pumps you up to see this fused detective hero solve crimes and kick butt. I will admit that the “Welcome to Windy City” lyric is funny to me because I think of Chicago instead of the in-universe wind-punk town of Fuuto (which literally means Windy City in Japanese), but that’s beside the point. Anime fans might know Takuya since he was the guitarist for Judy and Mary who are responsible for the song “Sobakasu”, the first opening theme from Rurouni Kenshin (Again, not excusing that devil Nobuhiro Watsuki, but I’m just stating a fact). Kamen Rider W has a banger of a theme song and I may have to watch some toku in the near future.
5: “Arrietty’s Song” by Cecile Corbel from The Secret World of Arrietty
Another Celtic-based song on this list? Why the heck not? I was really impressed with the music from The Secret World of Arrietty as it sounded like no other Ghibli work I could think of. The harp, hand drums, and flutes really mixed well with the aesthetics. Cecile Corbel wrote this song from the perspective of the title character and recorded versions in multiple languages. She also has the distinction of being the first non-Japanese musician to score a Ghibli movie which is a big deal. No disrespect to Joe Hisaishi, but he can’t do everything by himself for every movie from the house Hayao and Isao (RIP) built. The instrumentation is just stunning and it really stands out to me compared to other theme songs from various anime movies. I would like to see Cecile Corbel get into scoring more movies especially after hearing her work in the Arrietty film. Seriously? How is she not getting more composing deals for various movies? Maybe if Hiromasa Yonebayashi wants to use her talents in the next Studio Ponoc movie, then that could be a good place to start.
4: “Kaze no Nemuru Shima” by Yuko Miyamura, Yuuko Sumitomo, and Eri Sendai from Neo Ranga
Can you believe it’s been over 4 years since I did that review for this obscure work from Studio Pierrot? Even though this anime suffered from having a mediocre 2nd season despite having a much stronger 1st season, I will still defend the anime’s soundtrack which was one of the highlights of this work. Neo Ranga had a diverse range of music from Noh-style chants, avant-pop, and some Indonesian gamelan rhythms. Both opening themes were great and even the 2nd theme “Kami to Nare” totally slaps, but it won’t be on this list because it’s an instrumental piece. The initial opening theme features the Shimabara sisters’ seiyuu singing this song really set the tone. It has this mix of subtle synths, thunderous tribal drums, and background chanting. There’s a great usage of dynamic and instrumental changes. I really like how the verses start out as serene before slowly escalating to a rousing chorus like someone is being summoned which is appropriate given the subject matter. I was even surprised by how good Yuko Miyamura’s singing voice was with her handling the lead vocals. Yes, that’s the same person who’s best known for being Asuka from Evangelion and Aisha from Outlaw Star for those that weren’t aware. For those who aren’t familiar with this anime and why a song like this counts for this list is because the Ranga character is a divine mecha figure that the sisters control and his name is mentioned multiple times in the chorus. This is certainly a creative theme song that really fits the mysterious and supernatural atmosphere of the series. I do wish the series as a whole would be wonderful instead of just good as the 2nd season was inconsistent. At least there were good tunes in Neo Ranga though.
3: “The Beautiful World” by Ai Maeda from Kino’s Journey (2003)
I was seriously wavering between this and my previous entry as my #3 choice. Since I like Kino’s Journey a lot more than Neo Ranga, this ending theme song managed to edge out this one. Also, I wanted to break up the flow since I had multiple slower songs in a row. Much like the previous entry, this theme song involves voice actresses who played the characters. I can easily interpret this as Kino themselves singing as the lyrics are perfectly in character with them. Even though this may not seem like an obvious choice from a lyrical standpoint, the title of the song is named after the official subtitle of the anime and original light novels, so this still counts. Ai Maeda has a lovely voice as well and I’m surprised she doesn’t have a bigger music career, but I guess she seems okay with acting at the moment. Anyways, the mix between flutes, strings, and hand drums was a nice touch. I think the song could work as a stress reliever after the more intense episodes (the 2nd episode and the Colosseum arc come to mind). Kino’s Journey is so slept on and this had great musical choices in addition to being a very cerebral series in general. Makes me wonder if the remake had music this good, but I’m still passing on that particular iteration at this time.
2: “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” from Rockapella from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (game show)
The Carmen Sandiego game show has one of the best theme songs ever and I will hear no word to the contrary! Some of you already know that this was one of my favorite things I watched when I was a little kid. If I didn’t say this before, then I’ll say it again: If I didn’t watch this show or play the games when I was a child, then there may not have been an Iridium Eye. I loved geography since I learned so much from various Carmen Sandiego media, but the game show was the MAIN reason that kept me interested. My love for learning about other countries and cultures goes into my other interests. Why do you think I cover tons of international works on here? Rockapella just killed it as the in-house acappella band providing the background music and even various sound effects for the show! Whenever the show would start or end, I would make sure to sing along. Having an example like this partially gives away my age, but anyone who was around and watched Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? back in the day when they were a child, I guarantee you they wanted to be in that show, make it to the bonus round, win the grand prize vacation, and finish the episode by shouting “DO IT, ROCKAPELLA!” while pointing at the camera. These guys just slay this song with their tight harmonies and beatboxing. I even underestimated how clever the wordplay, rhyming schemes, and geography references are in the lyrics. One example includes the lines “She’ll make Antarctica cry uncle. From the Red Sea to Greenland, they’ll be singing the blues”. Come on, you couldn’t have thought of lyrics like that. There would be no Pentatonix if there wasn’t a Rockapella! Of all the 90s theme songs out there, I rarely hear anyone talking about this song which is a shame and a half. This should be in the same conversation as other theme songs from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Friends, Power Rangers, or the X-Men theme to name a few. Maybe this is me being overly nostalgic, but this isn’t just one of my top theme songs for a list like this. I’d put it in my favorite theme songs of all time. Period. I might even argue with others if I have to since I feel that strongly about it.
If I can be critical of one thing, it’s that Czechoslovakia is no longer a country when it comes to the lyrics, but everything else is fantastic!
…and to think this is only my #2 pick for this particular Top 7 list.
1: “Neria” by Oliver Mtukudzi from Neria
While the Carmen Sandiego theme is a certified banger and full of nostalgic value for me, if we’re talking about more serious songs for a topic like this one, then I would put Tuku’s work on here any day of the week. I knew who Oliver Mtukudzi was since I was in high school, but I never knew the “Neria” song was an actual theme to a movie until not long before I watched and reviewed that movie. This is such a hauntingly soulful song about the title character losing her husband and telling her to stay strong no matter how nightmarish everything is. He actually performs it as the Jethro character in the movie, but this totally can stand alone as a beautiful song even if one doesn’t know anything about that film. There are multiple versions like this recording for the Neria film, a stripped-down one where’s just him solo on guitar, and a rerecording with South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Every time I hear this song, it just really hits me in the feels in or out of context of that Zimbabwean movie. Before I knew what the lyrics meant in Shona, I could tell this was a very powerful work. The fact that I don’t see ANYONE talking about this theme song in some “top movie theme song” lists is a travesty. This is so much better than a ton of Hollywood and indie movie themes. It’s also amazing that an actual Zimbabwean musician got to score a movie directly in his home country, so there’s a very authentic aspect instead of just being exploited by Hollywood for his abilities.
RIP, Tuku. Even though not many film critics or music fans know about your work, I do and you deserved to be more known even as you’re with your ancestors and able to reunite with your son Sam. Okay, I think I’m tearing up a bit here. Oliver made such amazing music. You will still be missed and you were one of the people to get me into legitimate African music.
So what do you think? What are some overlooked theme songs that involve the name of a movie or series in the title or lyrics themselves?
All videos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The music note picture is from Pinterest.