It’s easy for me to get nostalgic for the 90s. All it takes is a “Remember this?” Buzzfeed list and I’m longing for my childhood. But what hits me hardest in the nostalgia feels is hearing cartoon theme songs from my childhood. Some themes are so fun, so catchy, and just plain good, they’re burned in my memory. Sometimes I liked the theme better than the show itself. And surprisingly, famous musicians are behind many of these songs. So let’s get comfy and take a look back at some cartoon theme songs performed by famous musicians.
“Believe In Yourself” – Arthur theme song by Ziggy Marley
Arthur has always been one of my favorite 90s shows and it’s something I still enjoy watching. It’s so chill and positive thanks in part to its iconic theme song. The upbeat music, Ziggy Marley’s smooth vocals, and the undeniably catchy hook are what makes this theme so great. It’s so simple – the hook is easy to remember and fun to sing and it’s just so damn happy in general. It’s impossible to feel bad after listening to this song. After 23 years, the theme still holds up never sounding dated or cheesy. The song is so good, Chance the Rapper put his own spin on it. The show later remixed it for the end credits of newer episodes, but it doesn’t live up to the simplicity and joy of the original.
“Hey, Buster!” – Postcards from Buster theme by Wyclef Jean
Postcards from Buster, the Arthur spinoff, was never as good as the original. It focused on Buster traveling the world and showing the lives of different kids. The theme song by Wyclef Jean tried so hard to pull off a similar vibe as Arthur but it doesn’t work. It’s still pretty catchy with a hook of “Hey Buster! Where you off to now?” but it’s not as memorable. I didn’t even remember what it sounded like until I looked it up again. And the rap by wannabe Will Smith is too lame even for Will Smith. You can tell it wants to recapture the wonder and joy of the Arthur theme, but it falls short.
Super Mario World theme by Mark Mothersbaugh
Mark Mothersbaugh is best known for his work in the influential Devo, but I’ll always remember his weird, quirky music for Rugrats. He managed to capture the innocence and odd nature of the show in his score. Mothersbaugh has done music for other cartoons, like Clifford the Big Red Dog, but none are as unique as his Rugrats score. Case in point, his theme for Super Mario World is pretty forgettable. It’s not even charming and fun like The Super Mario Brothers Super Show theme. It’s bland and typical, something you’ll forget as soon as it’s over. It doesn’t feel like a Mothersbaugh score. It’s just standard cheap Saturday morning cartoon music.
“Call Me, Beep Me!” – Kim Possible theme by Christina Milian
I was never a fan of Kim Possible. Aside from Ron’s antics, the show never struck a chord with me. But its theme was so awesome I always stuck around for the opening credits. The song is an irresistible jam with Christina Milian’s sassy attitude and the catchy R&B flow. But the best part was the hook, which is burned into the minds of those who grew up with the show: “Call me, beep me, if you want to reach me.” If there’s one thing you remember about the song, it’s the hook, which is perfect especially with the four beeps that follow. The theme is so popular, it’s been covered by numerous artists. They even remade the theme for the ill-fated live action movie, but the less said about that the better.
Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius theme song by Bowling For Soup
Jimmy Neutron is another show I never got into. The animation was weird and ugly and I found all the characters annoying. But even I admit the theme song is pretty cool. The surf rock inspired riff, the rockabilly groove, and Bowling For Soup’s nonchalant delivery make it the best 30 seconds of the show. It has such a slick unforgettable groove. The band also did the theme song for Phineas and Ferb, but it’s not as good. Maybe it’s because I never watched the show, but I find it annoying. There’s nothing memorable about it and the whiny vocals are grating to listen to. It reminds me why I don’t like Bowling For Soup in the first place.
Rocko’s Modern Life Theme by The B-52’s
A lot of shows from the 90s have memorable themes, but one that’ll always be my favorite is Rocko’s Modern Life. Season one had a simple, unnotable theme full of weird voices and clips of Rocko screaming. It’s not bad, but my favorite will always be the second theme performed by the B-52’s. The band’s quirky vibe, unique sound, and vintage style fit perfectly with the show’s opening. The theme is super catchy even though it just repeats the name of the show over and over. It’s a bonafide jam. When you heard it you knew you were in for a show unlike any other during Nickelodeon’s golden age.
“Ride on the Magic School Bus” – The Magic School Bus Theme by Little Richard
When you’re making a song about the world’s most eccentric teacher, it only makes sense to get one of music’s most eccentric musicians to sing it. Though the show hasn’t aged all that well, the theme performed by Little Richard is timeless. The song is nothing but fun with its upbeat jazzy piano, catchy hook, and Little Richard’s flamboyant delivery. Hearing this always made me excited for the show, which is what a good theme song should do. Unfortunately, Lin-Manuel Miranda theme for the terrible reboot is lackluster. For such a talented guy, the new version is flat and bland. It doesn’t have the same excitement and flair of the original. And the less said about the show itself the better.
“Yahoos and Triangles” – King of the Hill theme by The Refreshments
King of the Hill has always been one of my favorite shows. Who knew the lives of a propane salesman and his family and friends would be so entertaining? Whenever the opening riff of the show’s theme played, I practically ran to the TV. Its theme proves you don’t need lyrics to make a killer theme song. “Yahoos and Triangles” by The Refreshments perfectly captures the setting of Arlen, Texas. With the hooting, hollering, and wild triangle solos it sounds like a rowdy good time. It’s a mini country jam and that’s what makes it so infectious. It’s a good time all around even if Hank and friends look less than thrilled during the title credits.
The Proud Family theme by Solange and Destiny’s Child
I don’t have as much nostalgia for The Proud Family or its theme, but I still remember it from the few times I actually watched the show. It’s a cute, heartwarming song about the strength and bonds of your family, even if they do annoy you. And to drive the message home, Solange performs the track with Destiny’s Child making it a true family affair. It’s a catchy song that still resonates with fans of the show to this day as a 2017 Solange concert showed when she performed the song and a massive sing along.
South Park theme by Primus
South Park’s been on for over 20 years and while the lives of Eric, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny are burned into my memory, I can’t picture the show without its quirky theme. It not only captures the weirdness of the town, it also captures is low budget origins. When the show first started the animation was rough and no-frills. The song feels the same like it was made on the fly for a few bucks. It’s had minor updates over the years adding electric guitars to beef up the sound, but it still has the same vibe of the original. Primus also performs the jangled end credits theme, which is actually the original theme song. According to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, they wanted something faster, but Primus didn’t have time to re-record the theme. They opted to speed up the recording instead.
Which of these is your favorite? What cartoon themes by musicians did I miss? Let me know in the comments!