22 Artists You Didn’t Know Made Kids’ TV Show Theme Songs

Wyclef Jean and Rivers Cuomo have at least one thing in common

Kids Show Theme Songs
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    One of the greatest challenges for any musical artist is crafting a compelling theme. But there’s a whole new level of difficulty to be found in the realm of theme songs for children’s shows, given that kids are the toughest customers on the planet, and finding a way to adapt one’s unique musical sensibility to a well-established formula is one of those tasks that sounds a lot easier than it really is.

    With the premiere of the 25th (and final!) season of long-running PBS series Arthur today (February 21st), Consequence decided to unleash its inner child by looking back at the many, many times a great animated kids series got some musical help from a well-known artist, starting from the 1990s.

    This list includes, as a result, a remarkably eclectic collection of artists with one thing in common: They all saw their value in bringing their talents to a genre that may not have much critical respect, but means the absolute world to younger generations.

    Liz Shannon Miller

    Reverend Horton Heat – Ren & Stimpy (1991-1996)


    There’s something ineffable about rockabilly staple Reverend Horton Heat’s jazzy, idiosyncratic theme tune to millennial gross-out fave Ren & Stimpy; the frenetic bongos, the surf guitar, the always-driving double bass.

    The tune, called “Dog Pound Hop,” is a curiously fitting contrast to the close-up grotesqueries of Ren and Stimpy’s adventures. After all, if you’re about to see a zoomed-in shot of an anthropomorphic chihuahua’s bloodshot eyes, you’re liable to seek comfort in the tiki-bar warmth of a slide guitar. — Clint Worthington

    Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO) – Rugrats (1991-2006)

    Devo frontman and keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh has long since made a name for himself as a prodigious composer of film and TV, whether for Marvel (Thor: Ragnarok), Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic) or animated jaunts like The LEGO Movie and The Mitchells vs. the Machines.


    But he cut his teeth writing some of the most iconic Nickelodeon themes of all time in the ‘90s, from the jaunty bassline and catchy lyrics of Clifford the Big Red Dog (co-writing with Josh Mancell), the frantic ‘90s dance-music drums of Rocket Power, or the strangely reggae-inspired theme for the Super Mario World cartoon.

    Obviously, though, his biggest contribution to our collective childhoods was the deceptively simple, but eerily playful synthesizer theme to Rugrats, with its oddball, carnivalesque chirps and human sound samples. It’s a work of understated genius, of a kind he’d parlay into scores of scores hence. — C.W.

    Danny Elfman – Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)

    This one almost feels like cheating, since Danny Elfman’s iconic theme for the TV show is largely derived from his work on the ‘89 Tim Burton classic. But the former Oingo Boingo frontman still pours heaps of Gothic brass and haunting orchestral sweep into this evolution of the theme, expanding on it in ways that Shirley Walker would run with in her moody, evocative score for the series proper. For a lot of ‘90s kids, this is the definitive theme for the Caped Crusader. — C.W.

    The B-52s – Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)


    In between trips to the Love Shack, ‘80s new wave darlings The B-52s lent their talents to the zippy, effervescent theme to Rocko’s Modern Life. It’s a great fit: After all, Rocko, with his breathless exuberance and unceasing zest for life and adventure, feels like Fred Schneider if he a) wore Hawaiian shirts and no bottoms (!) and b) was a wallaby. (Fun fact: apparently Kurt Cobain was their second choice to pen the theme. One wonders what Grunge Rocko would be like.) — C.W.

    Keith Emerson – Iron Man Season 1 (1994-1996)

    Iron Man: The Animated Series didn’t last very long, only airing two 13-episode seasons in the mid-‘90s. A theme song written by Keith Emerson of prog-rock giants Emerson, Lake & Palmer suffered an even worse fate, getting axed after the first season. The progressive instrumental track played as we saw Tony Stark transform into Iron Man as he prepared to battle a slew of random villains like Hypnotia and Grey Gargoyle. — Spencer Kaufman

    Little Richard – The Magic School Bus (1994-1997)

    You may know Little Richard as the “architect of rock ‘n’ roll.” But to children of a certain age growing up in the mid-90s, Richard was better known as that guy who sang the Magic School Bus theme song. Its undeniably catchy, piano-driven groove screams “Actually, learning is fun,” and the surreal lyrics keep up with the overall tone of the show: “Surfin’ on a sound wave/Swingin’ through the stars/Take a left at your intestine/Take your second right past Mars.”

    Sure, education is an adventure, but as The Magic School Bus proves, it’s so much more fun when accompanied by a killer soundtrack. — Spencer Dukoff

    Joe Perry – Spider-Man (1994-1998)


    Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry put a then-futuristic spin on the traditional Spider-Man theme for the Fox Kid Network’s Spider-Man: The Animated TV Series, which ran from 1994 through 1998. The tune is actually quite experimental for a network cartoon show, with robotic vocals and some nifty guitar noodling by Perry. Fun fact: Aerosmith actually performed the theme live a few times in 2002, with Steven Tyler handling vocals. — S.K.

    Ziggy Marley And The Melody Makers – Arthur (1996-2022)

    If you are looking for an absolute slapper of a theme song, look no further. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers’ “Believe in Yourself,” the seminal PBS cartoon Arthur theme, is what you’re looking for. Harnessing the show’s ultimate message of the power of kindness, Marley created this theme song that teaches viewers that as long as they believe in themselves, everything will fall into place. This is a message that rang true then and certainly should be remembered now. — Erin Brady

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