The internet has gifted to the world the collected totality of human knowledge and creation. It’s like a modern-day Library of Alexandria, only with more Biden/Obama memes and cat videos. Some of these creations include the best cartoon theme songs of the 1980s and 1990s, just waiting for our listening pleasure. Prepare yourselves—these earworms are next to impossible to forget.
Throwback Cartoon Theme Songs that You Won’t Be Able to Get out of Your Head
The Ducktales theme opens with a bass riff pulled almost note-for-note from Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True”, and it sets the tone for the rest of the song and the show. Those punchy backbeats, the great animation, the Indiana Jones-ish vibe—what more could you want from an opening minute of a show?
If your response is, “Intricate rhyme schemes and slavish devotion to and emphasis on the word ‘duck,’” you’re in luck. “Duck-blur” is rhymed with Duckburg, “good luck tales” with “Ducktales,” and the singer ends the song mockingly crowing, “Not pony tales or cotton tales but Ducktales!” And good luck getting that “Woo-ooo!” out of your head for the rest of the week.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
I know this isn’t a cartoon, but bear with me. Considered a bona fide cult classic nowadays, The Adventures of Pete & Pete has a theme song worthy of a spot in any Spotify playlist. “Hey Sandy” is a genuinely good one minute song, sounding like a more upbeat Toad the Wet Sprocket B-side without sacrificing the deeply quirky nature of the show.
They even manage to sneak in a surprisingly long, awesome guitar solo. This is because it was written by real band-turned-fictional TV band Polaris, whose penchant for nearly indecipherable lyrics (seriously, can anyone actually tell what the words to the third line are?) and long, luxurious locks makes them prime candidates for boyfriend-of-the-week on an episode of Gilmore Girls.
With a 1950s doo-wop beat and the best background singer this side of Frankie Lymon or the Skyliners, this Jim Henson classic sounded like a blast from the past even during its mid-80s heyday. This isn’t accidental—much like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the high priests of 1980s movie culture, Henson was an ardent disciple of vaudeville, movie serials, and radio shows.
Seriously, this song could be playing in the background of a scene from American Graffiti and no one would be the wiser. One of the loveliest things about Jim Henson’s M.O. was his sincere belief in the uplifting potential of television, and the Muppet Babies theme carries the flag proudly by emphasizing the power of imagination (although poor Beaker looks like his imagination trip might be a little too strong).
Thundercats might be the Holy Grail of nerdy TV theme songs. As the ‘Cats emblem flickers onto the screen a primal roar sounds, a trumpet issues the clarion call, and the drummer drops an absolutely sick tom fill—audibly communicating that whatever comes next is bound to be gnarly.
Over the next minute or so, we are introduced to everything we need to know: awesome good guys, evil bad guys, explosions, cool vehicles, spectral mentors, the works. During all of this, the drums keep pounding, and the best 80s guitarist not named Oz Fox joins the fun, adding some blistering fretwork to an already rocking song.
All of this would be enough for any other show, but it’s time to introduce the actual bad guy: the dreaded Mumm-ra, who gets to hog the final twenty seconds of the credits pushing Lion-O around and lording over his sweet pyramid/castle stronghold. Between the theme song and the top-notch animation of the opening credits, the first minute was probably the most expensive part of the entire episode.