Cartoon Musical Intros: Top 15 of the 1980s

The 1980s were a time of greed and self-importance, where appearance was everything.  This was made ever so clear in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, when the character Gordon Gecko delivers the now immortal line “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”  This era of greed even permeated the world of cartoons, where in the past if a show was successful usually a toy line or clothing tie-in would come out.  But in the 80s, there were shows that were secondary, with a toy line planned out first and then the show would be devised to sell the toys.  But despite this the 80s were also a time of wonderful cartoons that covered every single second of Saturday morning TV.  Saturday morning was filled with shows from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

A few years ago I wondered what show from this era had the best intro theme music.  When I decided to actually try to see which of these were the best I decided to focus my attention on those shows from this era that are truly 80s show.  This, to me, is defined by shows whose original runs at some point were in the 80s and not just showing at some point in the 80s.  With these rules it means that shows like and Scooby-Doo, despite having very strong theme songs, were not eligible, making this a purely 80s list.  When judging the themes I was looking purely at the music and lyrics, the visuals for the intros to the shows played no part in the ranking of the songs.  Now some of the cartoons from the 80s tended to have a narrator giving exposition in the themes, telling viewers what the show was about, as well as inserting character dialogue in to the themes.  For me these two things do not affect the rating unless it completely affects the theme in a negative way.  Such as not matching up in any way with the music or completely drowning out the music.

15. DINOSAUCERS (1987)

Dinosaucers was about two teams of intellectual dinosaurs from outer space.  One team, known as the Tyranos, was led by Genghis-Rex and they are the villains on the show.  The heroes on the show are the Dinosaucers, who are led by Allo, an evolved Allosaurus.  The Dinosaucers are helped by the Secret Scouts a collection of four teenagers that were present at the Dinosaucers arrival on earth.

The Dinosaucers intro hits hard and fast from the start with a wonderful energy.  While it does contain some of my favorite music found amongst the 80s shows, unfortunately it does suffer a fatal flaw and that is the Tyrano dialogue that is added.  Not only does it make it very difficult for you to hear the music, but it completely fails to sound like it fits in with the music.   Even though one may think that this is just one small thing but when compared with how good all the intros on this list are it proved too large to overcome and just managed to stay on the list.

14. HEATHCLIFF AND THE CATILLAC CATS (1984-88)

In the 80s Garfield was not the only orange cartoon feline on the American television airwaves.  There was also Heathcliff, who was an even more streetwise house cat than Garfield.  Heathcliff, although just a house cat, is probably the most feared animal in the town of Westfinster, with even the toughest dogs running away when they see him coming down the street.  Heathcliff and The Catillac Cats is the 2nd Heathcliff series of the decade, this time being backed up by the Catillac Cats, a gang of alley cats based out of a junk yard.

The intro for this show is quite catchy and you will be humming or singing whichever part catches hold of you.  While this in no way is the mark of a good song, what helps to put the song this high lies within the lyrics.  The lyrics are as catchy as the music and I find them to also be some of the best at accurately describing the characters and the show.  And it is the combination of these lyrics and music that helps this intro find its way into the top 15.

13. THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS (1986-91)

Even among the other popular and recognizable titles on the list this is probably the most recognizable both visually and musically.  The series is based on the massively popular movie starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson; essentially it continues the ghostbusting escapades of this quartet and their “pet” the always hungry green ghost Slimer.

As mentioned earlier this is probably the most recognizable intro song on this list.  It is a cut down version of the Ray Parker Jr. song from the movie.  It is this fact that hurts this song’s position on the list.  While I enjoy the song, it is the similarity with little differentiating it from the movie version that makes it suffer and fall to this position.  While I understand the reasoning for having the show have such a strong musical connection to the movie, they do miss out on an opportunity to do something that harkens back to the film but has its own personal flavor to it.

12. DENVER, THE LAST DINOSAUR (1988)

As the title implies, Denver is the last dinosaur on earth when he hatches out of his egg in the presence of a group of teenagers at the La Brea Tar Pits.  Of course they befriend each other and the teens try to keep Denver safe and hidden.  Denver has two special abilities, first the amazing ability to automatically understand English upon hatching.  This is hard to believe even with the suspension of disbelief that one normally needs while watching cartoons.  Even with the ridiculousness of this maybe it is possible when you consider that his second ability is to show people what the time period that he came from looked like while holding a piece of his egg shell in his hand.  Though I was a fan of this series when I was younger, while working on this project I was able to stumble onto a couple of episodes and unfortunately it does not hold up well over time.

Now while the show itself does not hold up well the intro is still as fun and energetic as I remembered it being.  From the very start you know what sound they are trying for and they not only achieve it, they do it quite successfully.  The intro for Denver hits a perfect stride with its use of definite slick 80s rock sound that pulsates throughout the entire song.  This sound, matched with the fun and catchy lyrics, will have you singing this song throughout the day.  So, while not a great song all the pieces come together to work masterfully.

11. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS (1983-90)

By now with all the new movies and television series Alvin and The Chipmunks has become a household name again.  This series, like the rest, focuses on the three chipmunk brothers of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore along with caretaker Dave.  The series revolves around the chipmunks and their adventures with Dave trying to keep them inline.

The show’s intro of course features the quite distinctive high pitched chipmunk voices.  The downside to the chipmunk voices is that they do tend to overshadow the music a little as they tell you who they are and what they are here to do.  That being said, the intro is very strong in its own right with a marvelous steady driving beat and sound that isn’t normally found in an intro for a television program.  A very nice combination and though the chipmunk voices make the song seem a bit childish, it is well deserving of its position.

10. INSPECTOR GADGET (1983-86)

Ah, Inspector Gadget, the animated series about a likeable but surprisingly ineffective top police inspector that is seemingly a cyborg with all of his many gadgets that give him his name.  Despite all of these gadgets he is only able to thwart the plans of the evil organization known as M.A.D. because of the help provided by his Niece Penny and their dog Brain, without his knowledge.  The ingenious combination of many different private eye and secret agency shows and characters help to make this a show enjoyable even with the passage of time.

A blare from a police siren opens this intro alerting you the type of show that is about to come on.  This leads into the standard sounding sneaking spy music, which morphs into a more modern synth infused version.  This then builds into a pleasing and whimsical take on police chase music with the cheering on of the inspector with “Go, Gadget Go” the only lyrics other than the repeated Inspector Gadget.  From there it transfers back to the previous modern sneaking music then to an ominous reveal music that quite literally ends with a bang.  While the intro does not have a singular sound, all the different sounds smoothly blend together at the change-overs.  While the music is slightly simplistic, the way everything is blended together so masterfully helps it to this position.

9. DANGER MOUSE (1981-92)

Though Danger Mouse first ran in the 80s it has a fantastic feel of a show that came out in the 60s.  This is probably due to two factors, the first being the look of the animation with colors and designs being reminiscent of the 60s.  The other facet being that of the story in itself which centers on a secret agent in London that tries to protect the world from an evil organization.  This was the basis of many popular 60s shows.  The main character, as stated by the title, is Danger Mouse, a mouse that does battle with the agents of an evil Toad, Baron Silas Greenback, who is bent on ruling the world.

The Danger Mouse intro also keeps to this 60s theme that the show has with both the music and lyrics that also harken back to the 60s  The intro does a great job of creating urgency and intrigue in nearly half the time of most intros.  Not only does it have a dynamic feeling without seeming rushed; it does a fantastic job of transporting you back to the 60s, which is just what you want when you are trying to prep the viewer for a show made in that era’s style.

8. JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS (1985-90) (Original Intro)

Jem and The Holograms was the rock, albeit pop-rock, cartoon of the 80s.  The show centers on Jerrica Benton, who with her friends and younger sister are the rock group Jem and The Holograms.  But thanks to an advanced computer called synergy no one knows that Jerrica is Jem.  After her father’s death, Jerrica must fight two battles on two separate fronts.  The first of these battles is trying to keep the Starlight Foundation, a foster home for girls, open.  And the second, battling Eric Raymond for control of Starlight Music and after finally getting full control, keeping it running as Eric Raymond and his creation/discovery, The Misfits, try to sabotage Jerrica’s efforts.  A special feature to this series was the fact that a majority of the episodes featured a 1-2min. song or two performed by either Jem and The Holograms or by The Misfits.  The inclusion of these “music videos” helped to make the show the rock cartoon of the 80s.

The Jem and The Holograms intro is wonderfully put together and is nicely polished and balanced and was a strong contender for the top spot on this list.  But, it did suffer slightly from the intrusion of the Misfits.  The intro writers did manage to create separation between the Holograms and the Misfits when switching from one to the other and back again by creating endpoints for each.  The Misfits portion is decently put together for the particular sound of the band, but their sound is vastly different from that of the Holograms and this, I believe, does slightly hinder the overall quality of the song, costing it a higher spot on the list.

7. THUNDERCATS (1985-89)

Thundercats is probably one of the most recognizable animated shows from the 80s.  The Thundercats are a cat-like humanoid species from the dying world of Thundra.  The Thundercats find themselves on a planet called 3rd Earth, battling their people’s enemies, the Mutants of Plun-Darr, who are now working for 3rd Earth sorcerer Mumm-Ra.  Mumm-Ra leads the Mutants in an effort to acquire the Eye of Thundra located in the sword of the Thundercat’s leader Lion-O, the possession of which Mumm-Ra believes will help him to rule the entire planet.

If you are looking for an energy rush, look no further than the intro to the Thundercats.  This intro is the fastest paced song that I came across from the 80s.  It launches you into high speed from the very start and does not let up for even a second.  This urgency is most clearly recognizable with the blistering guitar solo, which is very appropriate for an 80s intro with a fast pace and of course the 80s predilection for guitar solos.  The urgency that is being pushed forward by the music is also present in the limited lyrics as well as the lyrics loose no ground to the music.  This is a fantastic combination of lyrics and music both moving at breakneck speed and they never slip helping to propel the intro into the top half of this list.

6. ULYSSES 31 (1981-82)

Ulysses 31 is the only show that made this list that I had never heard of before I started this project.  Ulysses 31 is a fine combination of the past and future.  The show takes place in the 31st Century and combines futuristic space travel with the Mythology of Ancient Greece.  Though the show uses the Roman Ulysses instead of the Greek Odysseus, the story and other character names are from the Greek story including the gods of Olympus.  Just like in the Odyssey, the story starts with our main character battling a Cyclops but in the Odyssey, Odysseus blinds the Cyclops Polyphemus angering Poseidon, the Cyclops’ Father and he curses Odysseus to wander the Mediterranean Sea.  But in Ulysses 31 it is the destruction of a robotic Cyclops that angers the gods of Olympus, which leads to the crew being put into perpetual slumber and wipes out their computer’s memory of the way home forcing them to wander aimlessly until they reach the Kingdom of Hades.

As I previously mentioned, before I started this project I had never heard of Ulysses 31.  This actually was beneficial as it was a blank slate to me.  I had no positive or negative memories about the song when I listened to it.  Ulysses 31 was one of those shows from the 80s that had exposition in the intro telling viewers what the show was about.  This did not affect the rating for this show as it does not completely dominate the music that is playing under it.  The music can still be heard perfectly clear and the only way it would have disturbed it, is if it had a complete negative affect on the music.  The intro also contains show dialogue along with the exposition and it does not hinder the music either.  This helps keep Ulysses 31 from suffering the same fate that befell Dinosaucers.

Ulysses 31’s intro is an intriguing combination of synthesizer and standard instruments creating a multitude of different sounds including an ethereal sound and an electronic driving beat that, though different, work quite nicely with the music and are sung in a manner that matches up  well with the accompanying music.  This also helps make some of the lyrics quite catchy and you might find yourself singing them later.  Of course the most important thing is not the catchiness of the intro, but that even with all these different parts, it all comes together and works very well.  This helps give the song the needed cohesion to climb to this position on the list.

5. CHIP ‘N DALE: RESCUE RANGERS (1988-90)

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers was the second animated Disney show to feature established classic characters following DuckTales, which came out the year before.  Chip and Dale were joined by two mice, female mechanic Gadget, Monterey Jack, and a housefly named Zipper.  The Rescue Rangers’ job, as described in the intro, seems to be taking on crimes and mysteries that are missed by normal law enforcement.  It is easy to see how these crimes “slip through the cracks” as their clientele seems to be made up of children and other animals.

With a flash of lightning the intro to Chip ‘n Dale’s: Rescue Rangers begins.  From here it breaks into song in a manner that I like to think of as a stutter step approach.  I describe it this way as the first couple of lyrics are delivered with a pause between them.  These pauses though are synced perfectly with the music in the intro.  The music, with an action-adventuring quality, is a perfect companion to the show’s style this is one of the rare occasions where both the music and lyrics are in seemingly perfect harmony, while also being a perfect match for the show.

4. M.A.S.K. (1985-86)

M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) was a show about a squad of individuals that possess helmets each with their own special abilities and their own vehicles that transform from a normal vehicle into another.  Such as from a car into a plane, or from a motorcycle into a helicopter.  This squad works to thwart the efforts of the criminal organization known as V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem).  V.E.N.O.M.’s members also possess both helmets and vehicles like those possessed by the M.A.S.K. team.

If you had been wondering what was hidden behind the masquerade it was one of the best intros for an 80s animated series.  The intro for M.A.S.K. starts out with one of the hallmarks of 80s music with the use of just a synthesizer.  The intro then builds with the introduction of other instruments into one of the best 80s intro songs.  This song seems to be able to perfectly blend all the instruments used along with a seemingly perfect synchronization with the lyrics.  The lyrics matches spike and bite that come about from the music perfectly, with a near perfect balance between the music and lyrics neither one overpowering the other.  It is this balance that places this intro in the upper echelon of 80s intros.

3. GALTAR AND THE GOLDEN LANCE (1985-86)

Galtar and the Golden Lance is a throwback to the old fashion sword and sorcery films.  The primary heroes are Galtar, Princess Goleeta, and Zorn (Goleeta’s brother).  They battle to stop the progression of Tormak, a ruthless warlord that has not only conquered most of their world, but is also responsible for the death of Goleeta and Zorn’s parents.

Just like the show itself, the intro for Galtar is a marvelous throwback to a bygone era when the score seemed to convey a story all its own with passion, excitement, and drama.  If you close your eyes while listening you can actually see the action unfolding in your mind.  At the beginning of this project I was not expecting Galtar to make this list.  But with the mixture of driving drums and horns pushing the tempo of the intro and building with tension and excitement Galtar not only surprised me by making the list, but by making it to a top three position.

2. BEETLEJUICE (1989-91)

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!  With these three words and a little rhyme Lydia Deets is transported to The Netherworld, where she hangs out with a Beetlejuice that is vastly different from the one in the movie.  This Beetlejuice maintains the movie version’s prankish nature, minus the very aggressive near murder style found in the movie.  This is replaced with a more fun loving character that plays pranks on all of his neighbors and other occupants of the Netherworld, while Lydia helps to keep him in check.

As I pointed out with the Real Ghostbusters intro it suffered from the fact that it was essentially just a trimmed down version of the song found in the movie with no changes made to it except the trimming down.  But with the intro to Beetlejuice, while they are using the theme from the Beetlejuice movie, it isn’t in its entirety but instead just used as a base.  Danny Elfman revisits his theme and turns it into a fast-paced thrill-ride that makes use of the fun but spooky theme as you are taken on a roller coaster ride that is markedly different from the movie theme.  The producers could have taken the easy route and just have reused the movie theme, but they let Elfman run with it and it works out amazingly.

1. DUCKTALES (1987-90)

DuckTales was the first of the animated Disney series that used characters from their animated movies and comics.  As the name implies the main characters came from the duck portion of characters.  While Donald is the most famous of Disney’s duck characters he only appears in a couple of episodes.  But the main characters are his relatives in the form of his Uncle Scrooge, and his Nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  The majority of the show consists of adventures that take the characters all around the world with engaging stories.

DuckTales is one of the more enjoyable intros on this list that will crawl into your brain and get stuck causing you to sing or hum it over and over again.  But unlike most of the others, this one does it without trying to overpower you and beat you into submission.  It features a great blend of both lyrics and music that don’t try compete with each other but instead work and blend together masterfully.  This helps to enhance the effect of making you remember both aspects of the intro instead of focusing on just one or the other.  And it is this fact that resulted in DuckTales earning the top spot for Greatest Intro for an Animated 80s Cartoon.

And that concludes the list!  While I didn’t imagine working on this would be easy, it was a bit more difficult than I expected.  Overall it was an enjoyable experience and compiling the list helped bring back fond memories of watching a lot of these shows (even if the intro was nowhere near as good as I recalled.)

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