Well, here we are. The top eight. The very best theme songs 20th century Nickelodeon had to offer. From Mystery Files to Secret Worlds, from Wellsville to Weinerville, we have covered theme songs 9-40 over the past four weeks. But now it is time for the best of the best. And we start with one simple question- do you have it?
8. Nickelodeon Guts/Global Guts (1992-96)
The best of the game show theme songs, Guts incorporates images of the action from the show with lyrics about the actual competition. The music gets you excited and pumped up for a physical competition. The lyrics make you want to be part of the show. Am I a “certain kind of person to keep the body working to the level of precision that’s needed to be risen to the top?” Probably not! But do I want to get up and climb the Aggro Crag after hearing this? Absolutely! Add points for this being the only Nick gameshow theme with lyrics, and we have one of the more underrated themes.
7. Kenan & Kel (1996-2000)
Kenan & Kel was not a spinoff of All That, technically, but much like how 30 Rock will always be linked to Saturday Night Live, the two shows were obviously tied together. Kenan and Kel had come straight from All That, Dan Schneider produced both shows, and both shows aired together on SNICK. If Kenan & Kel was going to be cool, it needed to at least match the coolness of All That‘s TLC performed opening. And in 1996, not much was cooler than Coolio. Coming out of his 1995 breakout hit “Gangsta’s Paradise”, the oddly braided rapper brought instant credibility with “Aw, Here It Goes,” all while name dropping from Sigfried and Roy to Magic and Kareem.
It is the end of the tune, however, which stops Kenan & Kel from living up to its sister show (spoiler). The final three seconds of the theme song have Coolio singing the instantly recognizable “nick nick nick nick na-nick nick nick” jingle, instantly preventing the series from ever airing in syndication on any other channel. Whether Nickelodeon requested the branding or Coolio added it himself, the corporate schilling decreases the value of the otherwise fantastic open.
6. CatDog (1998-2000; 2004-05)
No series has a better great theme song to mediocre show than CatDog. Another quickly-sung, lyrically-loaded opening, the CatDog theme is incredibly fun to sing. It is for this reason that YouTube is full of cover versions, and the hard to find “full version”. Best of all, the song leaves you no question as to what CatDog is about. You might watch the Rocko theme and question what makes his life modern, or leave The Angry Beavers theme wondering what the beavers are so angry about. CatDog, however, puts all of its cards on the table, telling you the full tale of this “feline, canine, little catdog.”
5. All That (1994-99; 2002-05)
Over All That‘s ten seasons, the images changed frequently with the cast. A mixture of the different openings can be seen in the 10th Anniversary opening:
Much like Coolio on Kenan & Kel, TLC was cool when they were picked to do the theme song to Nickelodeon’s signature improv show. The trio had hit #1 on the R&B chart in 1992, and had the Billboard top song in 1994 with “Creep.” Luckily for the long-running All That, TLC also had staying power; their biggest hits came with 1995’s “Waterfalls” and 1999’s “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty.”
Visually, the All That theme, especially in later years, was nothing special, simply introducing the cast. But the early seasons, particularly with the trampoline opening, showed the kids in the cast having fun. These were kids the audience wanted to hang out with, and it drew fans to the series. It also had a very low key and low budget feel to it, goes to show that costly doesn’t mean better.
4. Hey Dude (1989-91)
Hippy-ti-yi-ya. One of the factors I’ve brought up several times through this list is whether the theme song sets the tone for the show that follows. Perhaps no Nickelodeon theme is better at this than Hey Dude. Even with visuals that simply introduce the cast and their roles, the horseshoe frame, also used in the title card, sends you right to the ranch. The deep voice is instantly recognizable as part of this show, even before he ends the opening with “hey dude.” The lyrics set you up to expect something “a little wild and a little strange.” A perfectly executed version of a standard theme song.
3. Clarissa Explains It All (1991-94)
The Clarissa theme on the other hand, is nowhere near standard. Lyrically, Clarissa may have been the precedent for The Mindy Project, but this “way cool” opening set the tone for Clarissa’s uniquely singular perspective. The visuals are almost a live-action version of the Doug opening, but the relationship between each of these characters and Clarissa is far clearer than it is with Doug. (Sam, of course, being an exception, since the status of that relationship is not too clear in the series either.) The tune became so integrated with the series, CBS planned to use a remake of it for the not-ordered spinoff, despite the show being for a more mature audience.
2. Gullah Gullah Island (1994-98)
Yes, Gullah Gullah Island is a silly, semi-educational Nick Jr. show that was only good when the full body costume polliwog was on-screen. But the theme song is so cheery, so catchy, and so cheesy that you cannot help but sing along. Yes the green screen graphics behind the Daise family are cheap looking, but this show is not about that, it’s about having fun. Ron, the male lead, is so enthusiastic, the audience cannot help but follow him.
1. Salute Your Shorts (1991-92)
With all due respect to the 39 theme songs that came before, Salute Your Shorts is a gold standard for theme songs, whether on Nickelodeon or elsewhere. From the eponymous shorts opening up the theme, this intro immediately brings you in to the setting of this summer camp. As we discussed in our roundtable, these characters are so well drawn out, you can get a good sense of who everybody is just from their one-to-two lines in the song. The audience is not only transferred to Camp Anawanna while listening to this song, but flooded with their own personal memories of summer camp. There is a good reason this theme song outlived the series’ short run. Think Anawanna-wanna, speak Anawanna-wanna, live Anawanna-wanna, ug!
So there we have it. The top 40 Nickelodeon theme songs from before 2000. What do you think? Would Salute Your Shorts be #1 on your list?