Nostalgia is a powerful son of a biscuit. It’s an incredible thing that we humans have the capacity to experience warm and fuzzy love from the memory of the way a thing was. Especially if it’s a thing from our childhood. It goes without saying that these feelings are amplified if the object we’re recalling is a thing (TV show, movie, Hi-C Ecto Cooler not tasting like sludge), a person, or any combination thereof. Early imprint is nothing short of magic.
But we here at Temple of Geek have a theory. In fact, it’s less of a theory and more of a declaration. An accusation of sorts to all of our nostalgia-starved brethren who sing their praises for cartoons of yesteryear. The shows you claim are better than new ones today. Shows your nostalgia-starved mind is convinced were incredible shows lifted to heights of perfection that nothing else today can reach.
You don’t remember the show.
You’re remembering the theme song.
Website like Ranker and Buzzfeed have list upon list of Best Cartoon Theme Songs of All Time. And they’re not wrong because hell, some of these songs overlap those lists. And they’re undeniably awesome! But as cartoon junkies here, we’re going to conduct a little experiment. Come along with us, won’t you? Without peeking, cheating, or checking Wikipedia, we’re going to link the opening theme song of an old cartoon, say whether or not we know all the lyrics, discuss how much of the show we saw as kids, then break down how much we remember. Then we ran the results by others to gauge whether or not they remembered any episodes either. All right, ready?
Experiment 1: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Percentage of Theme Song Memorized: 150%, hands down. Not only do we know every lyric of this song, but we can sing it imitating the singer, plus making the voice of each turtle as they get to sing their little bit. In fact, one time during trivia night at a bar, Loryn pulled her friends to the front and forced them to dance while she sang this song acapella. It won the table free shots. It was awesome. That’s a fact, jack.
Amount watched as a kid: Medium. The show came on in the mornings before school and on weekend mornings, so it was easy to catch.
Amount of cartoon actually remembered: Basically nothing, and that’s not an exaggeration. The only standout episode is the one where Shredder was hypnotized or had amnesia. He was docile and gentle, hanging out all friendly with the Ninja Turtles. The only time he would slip back to his evil wiles was by hearing the word Shredder. The standout line is where Michelangelo is making a pizza and asks the bad-baddie to hand him a cheese shredder. The word shredder echoes through Shredder’s head and he turns evil again. This is literally the only memorable scene of the series, other than everyone standing around talking.
On the Friendship Scale: We asked a friend who watched copious amounts of TMNT as a kid and collected all the toys if he was able to remember any full episode plotlines off the top of his head. He said no.
Conclusion: Unless you were a hyper-fan or re-watched the series after its early 2000s DVD release, you don’t remember the show. You’re not a fan. You don’t like it. You’re remembering the theme song because it was awesome.
Let’s keep going.
Experiment 2: Duck Tales
Percentage of Theme Song Memorized: One=hundred-billion-infinity percent. The Duck Tales theme is groovy, amazing, has all those woo-oohs, can be sung in the car, and has a three minute full-length version to keep us happy.
Amount watched as a kid: Almost none. Duck Tales was boring and non-engaging. It suffered from its twenty-two-minute format and felt like a field trip through a history book.
Amount of cartoon actually remembered: The characters are easy to remember. The three little nephew ducks, Uncle Scrooge and his money-pit (him swimming through that thing is the most memorable part of the show). Little Webby had a doll of herself, and that thick-necked swole duck had a plane. There were baddies that looked like Peg-Legged Pete from the old Goofy cartoons, and Donald Duck showed up once for a flashback episode. Oh, and an evil witch duck that looks like Donald in drag.
On the Friendship Scale: Don’t listen to your friends- no one can give you a full episode breakdown of Duck Tales.
Conclusion: That theme song rules.
Experiment 3: Inspector Gadget
Percentage of Theme Song Memorized: 100%, but that might be cheating because the only lyrics are “Inspector Gadget” “hoo-hoo” and “Go Gadget Go!”
Amount watched as a kid: Medium-high. As a kid, there was a DIC block on some local channel where Heathcliff, Inspector Gadget, and maybe something else played back to back every single day.
Amount of cartoon actually remembered: Inspector Gadget was formulaic, so we’re unsure if we’re remembering actual episodes, or if it’s all part of a fever dream. Plot lines are kind of lost, but we know Chief Quimby would pop out of somewhere with a mission for Gadget. He’d answer his glove-phone, the letter would explode, Penny had her book, and Brain had his computer dog-collar. Dr. Claw would “get Gadget next time”, and Gadget’s car would transform from a van to a French-looking vehicle that no one can really identify. Gadget had a jacket that inflated, a flashlight in his finger, and a helicopter in his head. Then he accidentally outsmarted criminals, but not really, because Penny and Brain followed him every day.
On the Friendship Scale: Our friends can’t believe we remember this much.
Conclusion: That was one awesome theme song, yeah?!
Experiment 4: Count Duckula
Percentage of Theme Song Memorized: 50% at best. Those lyrics barely make sense and everything is kind of garbed. But it’s still neat looking, right?
Amount watched as a kid: Count Duckula came on just about every afternoon on Nickelodeon after its initial butt-crack-of-dawn run in the 80s.
Amount of cartoon actually remembered: Duckula sure spent a lot of time with those two old ducks.
On the Friendship Scale: “Wait, you’re talking about the vegetarian vampire duck?” one friend said, confused. We had nothing else to say after that.
Conclusion: In a world filled with Duck cartoons, (Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Howard the Duck…no wait…) Count Duckula may be the most forgettable of them all.
But that opening theme is sick, right?
Experiment 5: Beetlejuice
Percentage of Theme Song Memorized: This is cheating because there’s no lyrics, but that opening shot of Beetlejuice’s corpse being resurrected gets a million on the gnarly scale. Talk about nightmare fuel.
Amount watched as a kid: Obsessive fervor. This was an afternoon show that aired after Tiny Toons Adventure at some point to make sure it was getting as many ratings as it could.
Amount of cartoon actually remembered: Clare Brewster said “Like” a lot.
On the Friendship Scale: Friendship says “I only remember the opening theme. None of the episodes.”
Conclusion: Our point exactly.
Experiment 6: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Percentage of Theme Song Memorized: Every damn lyric. In Japanese. Especially after a beer. Fight us.
Amount watched as a kid: Evangelion was an anime-lover’s anime. It was one of those 90s Oldtaku shows where you couldn’t call yourself a true anime fan unless you loved Evangelion too! Well, that’s not realistic for anyone. Not everyone is a fan of a thing. Especially a show with the most pretentious opening sequence (save for the song) in history that doesn’t even let the mecha show up for the first sixty seconds of the thing.
Amount of cartoon actually remembered: We remember what Shinji did to Asuka’s passed-out body at the hospital in the movie. And Kaworu’s head was snapped off by an Eva, right? Oh, and naked Reis. All the naked Reis, floating. Don’t forget Gendo folding his hands. Yes, that happened too.
On the Friendship Scale: Don’t talk to your friends- they’ll just say you’re a jerk for not being obsessed with Evangelion, too. But you tried, damn it! You tried so hard and you wanted to love it because you loved anime and it was important because everyone who liked anime liked Evangelion and how do you explain to them that the only parts you liked were Unit 0:1 and the opening theme song! But liking an opening theme song doesn’t mean you’re a fan of the show! But when you’re a kid, you think that’s enough! You act like it’s enough and you BS your way through the plotlines and synopsis and lie because you want to be accepted and you don’t want anyone to question you because adolescence is hard enough as it is!
Conclusion: That theme song was pretty cool.