We got into a spirited argument last week about cartoons in the Cartilage Free Captain writer’s Slack channel. As one does. And that’s what prompted this week’s theme. All of us, naturally, are self-proclaimed experts at the cartoons we watched as youths, so the subject invariably turned to cartoon theme songs.
This is the result.
On the heels of a somewhat lackluster 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur win over Southampton, let’s rank the players to the theme of cartoon theme songs.
DuckTales is a damn near perfect theme: catchy, singable, and listenable. It’s minor lyrical faults (“Duckburg” does not, in fact, rhyme with “duck blur”) can be forgiven because everybody loves the music so much you can forgive a couple of lyrical groaners. But the backing musicians are fantastic: a cartoon theme with a power horn section? Wonderful! The rebooted series has huge (duck-sized, you might say) shoes to fill. Hopefully David Tennant is up to the job. Maybe he’ll sing?
Alas, no Tottenham Hotspur players quite came up to the heady heights of the DuckTales theme.
Several people in Carty Free Slack lobbied the hell out of this for 5 stars, and for good reason. The Inspector Gadget theme is masterful. It’s an ear-worm that doesn’t make you want to drive an ice-pick into your brain. The upbeat, modal theme (essentially a jazz version of Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”) complements the bumbling spy-master premise perfectly, conveying a sense of danger and menace, but also mystery and action. And I am really impressed by how much mileage the lyrics get out of three words: “Inspector,” “Gadget,” “Go.”
Christian Eriksen: His goal was a thing of beauty, his pass to Son in the third minute was fantastic. He’s my Man of the Match, though he faded somewhat in the second half while Southampton had the numbers advantage in midfield.
I was never that into Rescue Rangers, but I can’t deny that it’s got a pretty fantastic theme song. Disney clearly spared no expense when hiring songwriters for their late ‘80s/early ‘90s cartoons. Melodically and harmonically adventurous (like the protagonists!), the theme works pretty well on its own, but the musicologist in me grimaces at a theme that plows through five different key centers in 60 seconds. You know that it’s really a four-minute song with multiple verses that’s been cropped town for television. I’d rather hear that song.
Mousa Dembele: Strong on the ball, as usual, spent much of the match higher up the pitch than what I normally associate with him, and got an assist. Not always progressive with the ball, but almost always safe.
Dele Alli: With Kane out of the match, Southampton focused most of their attention on trying to stifle Dele, making his job a lot harder. Still worked hard, earned a penalty, took it well, and frequently rotated across the front three.
Jan Vertonghen: On balance, probably Spurs’ best defender on the day. Had a number of nice tackles and ranged forward a number of times, even setting up one big chance in the first half. Solid outing from Super Jan.
The hallmark of a truly good theme is how thoroughly it saturates the public consciousness in a variety of generations and demographics. Even Olds like me who never watched SpongeBob know the SpongeBob theme, and for ‘90s kids it’s cartoon catnip. The call-and-response aspect of the song works marvelously, the overall piratical nautical genre is appropriate, it’s just sheer unabashed fun. The best part is, you don’t have to even know how to carry a tune to sing it. Just scream the title! Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?!
Son Heung-Min: He wasn’t actually bad, but he’s not the same kind of player as Harry Kane, and he doesn’t do the same kinds of things that make Kane such an impactful target man. Sonny needs space to thrive and he didn’t get much against Southampton’s defenders. Put him on the wing (or the bench) and give Janssen a shot?
Hugo Lloris: A typical Lloris match, meaning he didn’t have to do too much but did enough when it mattered, couldn’t do anything to stop Southampton’s goal, and continues to showcase his somewhat limited distribution.
Victor Wanyama: Had the touch of a marble column for much of the match, but was extremely adept at running around midfield breaking things and was quite useful in that regard. I feel like I’m repeating myself here.
Harry Winks: It’s not that Winks did anything especially noteworthy against Southampton, but it’s more that bringing him in helped solidify midfield, which made Spurs play better. No, I was more impressed with Winks squaring up to a definitely taller Sofiane Boufal after a hard challenge. Winksy’s a hard-ass mofo, and I love it.
Another classic cartoon theme from the 1980s, M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) is another theme with a great hook and a chorus that modulates to the minor key, which is kind of unusual in the world of cartoon theme songs. It’s firmly entrenched into the hair metal power ballad genre of the times, which makes it good, but not great, and definitely dated. Docked points for its utterly inane lyrics: “Always riding on Venom’s trail / Come see the laser rays / FLY AWAY”
Toby Alderweireld: This was, if I recall the stat correctly, the first time he’s made an error that directly led to an opposition goal in his Spurs career. I think we can forgive him this one. Dependably solid otherwise.
Eric Dier: Not terrible defensively, but was a little... loose with the ball at times. Picked up a yellow card for another dumb challenge that could’ve been red.
Kyle Walker: Had a pretty decent battle with Ryan Bertrand. Got forward a lot, but the end product wasn’t always the best. Picked up a yellow card when his defense failed him.
Look, I know it’s a classic and all, but this theme is a mess. It starts with a 20 second introduction, and then just repeats the same short theme while modulating up a step every time. It’s like the composer was on a deadline, got stuck and just said “f*#k it, it’s Flintstones in Space, let’s just sing about the characters.” It’s a pop culture touchstone for the Boomer generation, but let’s not pretend it isn’t still a trash song.
Ben Davies & Kieran Trippier: We need to buy new backup fullbacks. These two have expired. Related: how much does Schalke want for Nabil Bentaleb?
In order to capitalize on the soaring popularity of the X-Games and other adjacent action sports culture, Nickelodeon came up with a very good cartoon idea, Rocket Power. The show itself was pretty good, but holy crap, they mailed in the theme. It’s as if they rushed it out in a day because an executive was screaming “WHERE THE F— IS MY F—ING SKATEBOARDING CARTOON THEME SONG??? WE NEED TO GET THIS OUT NOW WHILE SKATEBOARDING IS STILL HOT!” There’s no melody, nothing engaging, and the lyrics are truly inane. There was an opportunity to create an iconic theme that tapped into young people’s enthusiasm for action sports culture in 1999, but the Rocket Power theme failed miserably. —Kevin McCauley
No Tottenham Hotspur players were as bad as the Rocket Power theme.
In my original ratings, Gummi Bears was the 3.5 category instead of SpongeBob. I was overruled by the remainder of the writing staff. They’re wrong, so as a protest vote I’m putting it here.
The Gummi Bears theme is great. I don’t know many people that actually liked Disney’s Gummi Bears cartoon, but EVERYBODY knows the Gummi Bears theme song, even if only the chorus. It’s also an exceptionally well-crafted Disney cartoon theme with a high production value, though its verses are somewhat superfluous to its inspired chorus. Love it or hate it, at its core Gummi Bears is a damned effective theme. It took a sub-standard cartoon about roly-poly woodland creatures and made it a part of 1980s pop culture. Bonus points for the “crowbar” whole step modulation before the final chorus. Everybody together now: GUMMI BEAAAAAAARRRRS...
Vincent Janssen: I wanted to rank Vincent Janssen too, despite him only playing six minutes, because he earned four fouls for the club while time-wasting. That’s wonderful, and deserves recognition. But I was overruled there too. Vincent Janssen is the Gummi Bears theme of Tottenham Hotspur. All the gummi-berry juice went to his ass.