Thirty years ago this week, a rising but not-yet-ubiquitous kids network by the name of Nickelodeon launched its first original animated series. Introduced on August 11, 1991, under the brand of “Nicktoons,” Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren & Stimpy Show would quickly become hits and change the course of animation, television, and popular culture at large. To mark the anniversary, The Ringer is looking back at Nick’s best-ever characters and the legacy of the network as a whole. Throughout the week, we’ll be publishing essays, features, and interviews to get at the heart of what made Nick so dang fun—and now so nostalgic.
Throughout The Ringer’s Nickelodeon Week, we’ve examined, in exhaustive detail, the hallmark characteristics of the network: the series, the style, the nostalgia, and the characters. But a key element we haven’t touched upon to this point is the theme songs. The opening credits of a Nick show served as an invitation to worlds that are now relics of our childhood. The best ones hooked you in with visuals or infectious melodies. They prepared new viewers for what to expect; for returning watchers, they stirred anticipation for what would follow.
To honor those humble (but significant) 30 to 60 seconds, we decided to compile a definitive ranking of the best Nickelodeon theme songs. To do so, we identified several key characteristics that make a Nick intro stand out. They are as follows:
- Slap Factor: How good is the song? Is it catchy and groovy, does it make you wanna nod your head? Do the lyrics—where applicable—serve a purpose, or are they interesting in any way? And, as a mark of longevity: Would you listen to the song outside of the context of the TV show?
- Accompanying Visuals: Is the imagery paired with the music striking? Beautiful? Distinctive? Funny?
- Nostalgia Rating: The X factor. Does the theme song provoke any yearning for the past? Do the credits viscerally transport you back to a specific period of your life or in popular culture at large?
- Bonus Points: Throughout the rankings, I’ll dole out additional points to random details that stick out, like stylistic choices or the inclusion of certain characters.
A couple of final housekeeping notes: We mostly selected theme songs that feature lyrics, since that’s generally a big part of contemporary music (and we needed to narrow this down from 50-plus intro sequences—sorry!). We did make a few exceptions for some especially iconic tunes, however.
Now, let’s begin:
20. “My Life As a Teenage Robot Theme” by Jennifer Karr (My Life As a Teenage Robot)
Slap Factor: From the moment you hear the first guitar chord in the My Life As a Teenage Robot theme, your ears perk up. “Oh word?” you think to yourself. “Is that Paramore??” This song is kind of a bop, I’m not gonna lie. It’s conceivable to imagine it landing on the Billboard Hot 100 with different lyrics—at least back in the height of the pop-punk era. The lyrics are pretty amusing: “With the strength of a million and seventy men, I guess I really shouldn’t complain / Still I wish I could go for a walk, without rusting in the rain / It’s enough to fry my brainnnnnn.” It’s been ages since I’ve heard this one; a pleasant reintroduction. 7/10
Accompanying Visuals: My Life As a Teenage Robot’s animation style always felt a bit crude to me, so it’s gonna be tough to impress in the visual department. Still, taking the content of the theme at face value, there’s enough interesting stuff happening here as XJ-9—or “Jenny Wakeman,” she preferred to be called—demonstrates her superhero abilities. Middle of the road with this one. 5/10
Nostalgia Rating: Did anyone consistently watch this series? Sources say … no, not really. Hard to miss something I—and many others, it seems—never really experienced. 2/10
Bonus Points: 0
19. “Leave It All to Me” by Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly)
Slap Factor: “Leave It All to Me” is a deceptively catchy track. It starts out like a basic pop tune, opening with bright vocals that sound like they were engineered in a Swedish laboratory for radio play. Miranda Cosgrove’s lyrics (“Live life, breathe air / know somehow we’re gonna get there, and feel so wonderful”) are about as pedestrian as the monotonous marching band drums. I’ll be real: I detested this song through its opening 20 seconds. But then something wonderful happens: The bridge kicks in with a zippy guitar riff before swelling into a triumphant chorus. Some Beach Boys–esque harmonizing adds a lovely feeling of cohesion and togetherness. The closing repetition of “Leave it all to me, just leave it all to meeeee” is a nice cherry on top. Not bad. 6/10
Accompanying Visuals: The opening credits are by no means impressive, but they effectively convey the series’ premise. There’s some decent editing with the sliding and flipping transitions, and the scenes genuinely make these characters seem like a charming group. Overall, though, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill sitcom stuff. 5/10
Nostalgia Rating: Let’s see, we’ve got an early 2000s Internet Explorer–ish browser as the opening shot, and Cosgrove—who’s still relatively famous—frozen in time as a teenager. Other than that, this isn’t really pulling at my nostalgia heartstrings. 3/10
Bonus Points: 1. Because I forgot how delightful Jerry Trainor is in this show.
18. “Theme From CatDog” by Peter Hannan (CatDog)
Slap Factor: This song does not slap. It actually kinda sucks. I don’t know, maybe I’m just one of those “I listen to everything but country” people. But weirdly, the CatDog theme is still pretty catchy? It makes you want to replicate the Southern twang of the singer until you perfect the accent yourself. For that, I will stop myself from giving this a lower score. 4/10
Accompanying Visuals: I always thought this show was a bit too bizarre for my preference. And kinda gross. The CatDog hate continues. Come on, man, I don’t want to see a conjoined feline cough up a hairball in the intro—from the dog’s side. Actually, that’s sorta clever. Again, CatDog manages to sneak in a silver lining. 4/10
Nostalgia Rating: As you can guess by now, I’m not personally nostalgic for CatDog, but I concede that a fair amount of ’90s kids probably are. It certainly has the aesthetic and feel about it. 7/10
Bonus Points: 1. Creator Peter Hannan wrote and performed the theme song for his own show. I can respect an auteur.
17. “If That’s Not Love” by Nat Wolff (The Naked Brothers Band)
Slap Factor: This is some pretty advanced songwriting by a young Nat Wolff. “If That’s Not Love” was released in 2007—the same year the Naked Brothers Band’s TV series came out—which means Wolff was just 12 years old at the time. Impressive! And for any age range, the song isn’t half bad, you know? There’s a clear progression from verse to chorus with a decent hook and piano notes spread throughout. Wolff’s voice is a little too airy for my taste, but I’m gonna chalk that up to puberty. 6/10
Accompanying Visuals: Eh, it’s the typical sitcom style of varying shots showcasing characters doing silly things—broken up by scenes of the band playing together with the New York skyline in the background and the band on the red carpet. It more or less reinvents the wheel, but what can you expect from a rock mockumentary aimed at preteens on Nickelodeon? 3/10
Nostalgia Rating: Weirdly, this doesn’t activate any nostalgia on a Nickelodeon level—I sparingly watched the show as a kid—but the same scenes I mentioned in the previous section do touch on a general yearning for youth. Shots like the brothers horsing around on the beach at sunset, the kiss on the cheek and the awkward school dance (young love!), and the general tomfoolery of the band and their friends takes me back. We can ignore the fact that all of these people are actors on a major television network and experienced a radically different childhood than most. 6/10
Bonus Points: 2. Because I live in New York and Hollywood really doesn’t make enough shows that take place here.
16. “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius Theme Song” by Brian Causey (The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius)
Slap Factor: Jimmy Neutron’s theme is one of the more traditional songs on this list in that it sounds like a song that could play on the radio in the mid-2000s, highly specific lyrics aside. That’s a perk that helps a theme song earn longevity past the television show’s run. The song itself is … OK? I certainly wouldn’t call it a “jam” or anything, but if I heard it playing in the supermarket I wouldn’t frantically dig in my pockets in search of AirPods to drown it out. 5/10
Accompanying Visuals: Definitely not boring! While the visuals are pretty straightforward in explaining what the show is about, the main character of the show lives a pretty extraordinary life. Like damn, OK Jimmy, I see you fending off alien invasions. Enough is going on here to get me interested in what I’m about to watch. 6/10
Nostalgia Rating: I never truly loved watching Jimmy Neutron, but it was entertaining enough. I don’t miss it, but it was a moment in time. 6/10
Bonus Points: 1. I love that Brian Causey is like, “Yup, this is indeed a theme song I’m singing.”
15. “Danny Phantom Theme” by DJ D-Wrek Feat. Guy Moon (Danny Phantom)
Slap Factor: Just one listen to the “Danny Phantom Theme” and this much is clear: DJ D-Wrek has bars. This guy not only flows shockingly well for a TV-Y7 program, but he also explains the premise of the series in clear terms. The rap makes the barrier to entry nonexistent, and because of it, Danny Phantom is an accessible, man-of-the-people king. But let’s talk about the music itself. What is this genre? Sure, there’s rapping, but there are also synth beats and backing rhythm guitar chords? Whatever you wanna call it, it’s mostly working—though it does come off a little Linkin Park Meteora-y. (Revisit “Breaking the Habit” and you’ll understand what I mean.) Whether or not that’s a good thing probably comes down to how much of an emo kid you were in the early 2000s. 7/10
Accompanying Visuals: It’s a strong opening as colorful, fluorescent images of Ghost Danny flash across a black screen. I’m immediately drawn in. The theme gets bogged down a bit with the exposition scenes of Danny’s parents, but before long he’s uppercutting spirits and walking through walls. Pretty engaging stuff! 7/10
Nostalgia Rating: Any nostalgia derived from this theme is strictly because I was in a very specific age bracket to appreciate this show in its prime. This is an inherently subjective ranking system, but when I take a step back and look at it with as little bias as possible, I’m not feeling much old-school sentimentality. Perhaps it’s because of the series’ futuristic sci-fi elements. 5/10
Bonus Points: 0
14. “SpongeBob SquarePants Theme Song” by Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, and Patrick Pinney (SpongeBob SquarePants)
Slap Factor: Determining the Slap Factor of SpongeBob’s theme is a bit tricky. I wouldn’t say the song slaps, per se, but it’s definitely a fun listen. It’s not a song I have any urge to hum, but once you’re listening, you’re committed to the cause. You might even want to sing along with Painty the Pirate. 6/10
Accompanying Visuals: This is where the SpongeBob theme shines. Much like the show as a whole, it’s absurd—in the best way. The colorful Hawaiian shirt patterns and the completely motionless fish—save for its mouth—singing the lyrics gets me every time. Just a good time all around. 8/10
Nostalgia Rating: In a different timeline, SpongeBob’s intro could have been very nostalgic. It has all the ingredients. It’s so random, bizarre even, that you could see someone watching it 30 years after its debut and being like, “Who the fuck approved this? What a time that was.” But nostalgia is yearning for a time no longer. And in our current timeline, SpongeBob is still the king of Nickelodeon and more or less just … around, ya know? There are multiple new shows and spinoffs on Paramount+ and a never-ending cache of SpongeBob memes on Twitter. I realize that doesn’t fully fall on the theme song itself, but it still dampens its rating. 5/10
Bonus Points: 1. For SpongeBob’s nose-flute solo at the end.
13. “Follow Me” by Jamie Lynn Spears (Zoey 101)
Slap Factor: Hold up, did you know that Britney Spears cowrote this song?! I guess that’s not surprising in hindsight given she is (a) Jamie Lynn’s older sister, and (b) pretty good at the whole songwriting thing. But boy, it’s tough for this information not to influence my ranking. I’m gonna have to stick to my convictions and tell the truth about this song … which is that it’s a very average track. But, spoiler alert: I will revisit Britney in the bonus points. (Forgive me, Britney stans!) 5/10
Accompanying Visuals: Nothing spectacular here. Similar to iCarly, the sliding transitions are neat, but definitely not original. Because Zoey 101 takes place in sunny California and the scenery looks so picturesque, it gets one additional point. 6/10
Nostalgia Rating: Man, I loved watching this show as a kid. It stands out in my memory more than any other mid-2000s TeenNick series. Maybe because its opulent boarding school setting was a totally unachievable fantasy for someone of my economic background? Maybe because the show was possibly, actually, pretty good? I’m not about to rewatch it to confirm that—but I do know the themes of tight-knit friendship and navigating adolescence were resonant at the time. Plus, look! There’s young Victoria Justice. 7/10
Bonus Points: 3. Britney deserves it all. Plus, it’s awesome she helped write a Nickelodeon theme song.
12. “Dora the Explorer Theme Song” by Joshua Sitron, Billy Straus, and Sarah Durkee (Dora the Explorer)
Slap Rating: Oh my God, I am addicted to this song. I’ll just say what many adults are too afraid to admit: The Dora the Explorer theme is FIRE. Remove the lyrics and I’d sign up for a salsa class just to dance to this song. You could put the lyrics back in, too—I mean, in that case I’m not gonna dance to it, because this is an educational children’s program—but “Do-do-do-do-da-Dora!” is wonderfully infectious. I don’t know how I failed to appreciate this music as a kid, but armed with my elder wisdom, I have seen the light. 10/10
Accompanying Visuals: OK, back to Earth. The transition from the (admittedly inviting) den to the computer screen is … sorta neat, I guess. But once we’re inside the computer I remember this is a show made for toddlers. The saturated colors are pleasing and all, but why are the characters moving like pixels in a 1970s Atari game? 4/10
Nostalgia Rating: It’s hard to argue against Dora being pretty nostalgic. She and Boots were successful enough to launch a media franchise and they’ve been around in recent years, but I certainly haven’t engaged with Dora in any way. The show remains an artifact of my childhood, and I suspect many other millennials feel the same. 7/10
Bonus Points: 1. “Swiper, no swiping!” is iconic.
11. “Theme From Rocko’s Modern Life” by the B-52s (Rocko’s Modern Life)
Slap Factor: Upon relistening to the Rocko’s Modern Life theme song, my first thought was, you know, this is a really strange tune. Like, even for Nickelodeon’s standards. Then I looked up the artist and it all made sense. The Rocko’s theme is definitely among the more memorable Nick songs, from the whimsical woodwinds to Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson crooning the show’s title. All in all, I like it! Change up the lyrics and add a chorus and I might listen to it just for fun. 7/10
Accompanying Visuals: If someone never saw the show before, I can’t imagine they’d watch this and have any idea what the series is about. What is going on here?? Looks like a bad acid trip, to be honest. But it’s definitely distinctive, and for that, I can respect it. 7/10
Nostalgia Rating: It doesn’t get any more peak ’90s Nick than this. The Rocko’s theme doesn’t stimulate a sentimental sort of nostalgia for me, but it’s a deep-rooted memory from an era we all miss. 9/10
Bonus Points: 0
10. “Clarissa Explains It All Theme Song” by Anthony Battaglia and Willa Bassen Feat. Rachel Sweet (Clarissa Explains It All)
Slap Factor: We’ve reached the first of the elusive theme songs without lyrics. That is, unless you count “Na-na-na-na-na” as lyrics. With all due respect to my elder millennials, this song doesn’t really do it for me. It’s a tad catchy, but at no point does it make me think “Yo, this is a jam.” Apologies to any Nick fans born in the 1980s. 5/10
Accompanying Visuals: Strong family sitcom energy here. Love the wacky angles and pastel coloring against the white background. Impressive special effects for the time period! 8/10
Nostalgia Rating: I’ll freely admit I never watched Clarissa as a child, but after seeing the intro credits, I’m outraged this wasn’t selected as the ’90s homage in WandaVision. It’s perfect—but just one slight mark against it because I don’t personally feel any longing for it. 9/10
Bonus Points: 2. I’m into the “All right, all rights” and the “Just do it!” at the end. Those still don’t count as lyrics in my book, but they deserve to be acknowledged.
Total Points: 24
9. “I’m in Between” by Macy Gray (As Told by Ginger)
Slap Factor: I know that voice anywhere—Macy Gray, you’ve done it again! What a lovely little tune this is. In the first half of As Told by Ginger’s first season, the series used a rock-oriented version of “I’m in Between” before switching to Gray’s rendering for the remainder of the show. Cree Summer’s rendition isn’t bad by any means, but Gray’s soulful take elevates it into something more. I can’t explain how exactly, but it just fits the tone of the series—a more mature, introspective approach than we’re used to seeing from a Nick show. I’m kind of shocked Gray never recorded a full version of this song; if this one minute is anything to go by, she probably would have had another hit on her hands. 9/10
Accompanying Visuals: As Told By Ginger’s got a bit of an unflattering animation style, which may be one reason it never really took off and ended after just three seasons. But as the theme progresses, there are a couple of clever transitions, particularly from the makeshift doghouse laboratory up to Ginger’s room, where we conclude with her writing in her diary. It nicely plays off the meaning behind the show’s title. Damn, am I suddenly a staunch As Told by Ginger advocate? I barely watched this show. 7/10
Nostalgia Rating: Watching the As Told by Ginger intro reminds me of a time in my life when I was way too busy playing Pokémon and drawing with chalk to give a fuck about the social anxieties of high school. I was 9 years old when this show came out. Now that’s nostalgia. 8/10
Bonus Points: 1. Ginger’s best friend Darren is a mellow Black kid who enjoys wearing flannel, riding bikes, and was picked on relentlessly in junior high prior to a glow-up down the line. As someone who fits this exact description, I have no choice but to stan.
8. “Aw, Here It Goes!” by Coolio (Kenan & Kel)
Slap Factor: How dope is it that Nickelodeon got Grammy Award–winning Coolio to do the theme song for Kenan & Kel? And not just in a “Sure, you can use my song for the intro,” kind of way—Coolio’s spitting Kenan & Kel–specific bars from “This ain’t the Hardy Boys or a Nancy Drew mystery / It’s just Kenan and Kel in your vicinity” to the timeless ending, “Somebody’s in trouble? Aw, here it goes! / On Nick-na-Nick-Nick-Na-Nick-Nick-Nick.” To answer my initial question: It’s very dope. But is the song actually good? It’s solid: great bass line and bars that flow. With different lyrics, I could see this track going down reasonably well in the club at the time. I’m not blown away by any means, and I wouldn’t set the track to repeat even with new lyrics, but all in all a decent offering. 7/10
Accompanying Visuals: Coolio didn’t have to actually appear in the opening credits, but there he is, instantly elevating the visuals with his presence. I imagine it added major street cred to Kenan’s and Kel’s names—come to think of it, those two must have been some of the coolest teenagers in America at the time. (I was only 9 when the show ended and had no concept of what swagger was, so feel free to fact-check me on this.) This is a music video, essentially, in which the trio appears to be dancing in front of a Hard Rock Cafe and inside the Queens 1964 World’s Fair Unisphere. OK … they were actually at Universal Studios City Walk in L.A. But those are still some indelible shots. 8/10
Nostalgia Rating: I have to give this high marks just for seeing baby-faced Kenan and Kel back in their Nick heyday. I do, I do, I do-oooooooh. 8/10
Bonus Points: 3. Because Kenan would go on to become a Saturday Night Live legend.
7. “The Fairly OddParents Theme Song” by Ron Jones and Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents)
Slap Factor: Is the Fairly OddParents theme one of the greatest showtunes of our time? I’d take it over 90 percent of Broadway songs. This song is a certified classic—catchy as hell, with a rousing horn section and absurdly entertaining lyrics. There’s just one problem: I don’t listen to songs from musicals outside of musicals, and I would never listen to the Fairly OddParents theme outside of watching the show, or—as a 30-year-old adult—doing this assignment. A theme song cannot truly slap if you wouldn’t listen to it outside of its base TV show. That’s the difference between this theme and, say, Lazlo Bane’s “Superman,” and the only thing holding back The Fairly OddParents from a perfect score. 9/10
Accompanying Visuals: Is it the most beautiful television opening I’ve ever seen? Nah. Is it one of the most visually stimulating themes on Nickelodeon? Absolutely. At one point Timmy Turner is perched on the back of a polka-dot brontosaurus. This theme has everything—literally everything: obtuse, rubber goose, green moose, guava juice, giant snake, birthday cake, large fries, chocolate shake. It moves so fast, too; it’s like a twisty wooden roller coaster that ends up being way more fun than the giant steel one on the other side of the park. A master class in pacing. 9/10
Nostalgia Rating: For a certain subsection of millennials, The Fairly OddParents is iconic—and I happen to be among that demographic. But does this affect me in a Don Draper “Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound,’” sort of way? Not quite. 7/10
Bonus Points: 2. For Vicky’s “Bed, twerp!” and “Yeah, right,” which not only are comical one-liners, but also serve as legitimately effective ad-libs. Take notes, Migos!
6. “Doug Theme Song” by Fred Newman (Doug)
Slap Factor: Another intro in which Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do are the extent of the lyrics. But Doug’s theme doesn’t need lyrics—the layered instrumentation and sound effects are more interesting without words. And this theme is infectious, one you can summon from memory decades after hearing it. That sentence might sound like it belongs under the Nostalgia Rating, but this is different. It’s just good music. 9/10
Visuals: The imagery of Doug’s intro is a little sparse, but that’s definitely intentional. As for the main gimmick—the drawn-in pencil line—I love it. Not only is it a smart use of animation, but it also, in hindsight, points to the larger legacy of Doug’s animation as one of the original three Nicktoons. When you watch this theme song, you’re looking at the morphing pencil line that helped change television animation forever. 8/10
Nostalgia: Maybe it’s the grainy visuals, or maybe it’s what I just said about Doug’s long-term impact, but this theme just screams “early 1990s.” Nostalgia can be a hard emotion to define, but the Doug theme is a time capsule. 9/10
Bonus Points: 2, For the creator’s name being Jim Jinkins. We more or less have the same last name so I ride for my homie! (Am I unfairly skewing this ranking by dolling out random bonuses for things not related to the music? Yes. Do I care? No!)
5. “Rugrats Theme Song” by Mark Mothersbaugh (Rugrats)
Slap Factor: Hear me out now: The Rugrats theme song … SLAPS. I demand you put some respect on the xylophone’s name. I can’t be alone in thinking this song is super catchy. The Devo frontman layers in sounds from the marching cat robot as the rest of the toy instruments come together one by one. I could get some ridicule for this take, but I’mma stand on it. And if the instrumental alone isn’t enough, the sample in this Mya, Blackstreet, and Mase track should leave you convinced. Universal appeal. 9/10
Accompanying Visuals: In 2021, Rugrats’ animation style looks positively archaic. But that doesn’t take away from some really deft filmmaking tricks. It’s like watching a Fellini movie in your “easy” elective cinema studies class—like, sure, it’s in black and white, but that dude was out here directing. I’m not sure enough people realize how cleverly Rugrats utilizes camera angles to portray the POVs of its baby protagonists. Then there’s all the swerving pan and mirror shots. I’m nothing short of impressed. 8/10
Nostalgia: Rugrats is without a doubt the most nostalgic theme song in all of Nickelodeon’s catalog. Ignoring the fact that this is peak ’90s Nicktoons, Tommy and the gang are the literal embodiment of youth and innocence. 10/10
Bonus Points: 2. For Phil and Lil. The twins didn’t get into our Nickelodeon Character Bracket, so I’d like to pay tribute to them here.
4. “Rocket Power Theme Song” by the Wipeouters (Rocket Power)
Slap Factor: The Rocket Power theme is one of the best examples of the difference between “slapping as a television theme song” and “slapping outright as a song in the real world.” Would you ever catch me throwing this track onto a Spotify playlist for any imaginable situation—a morning run, cleaning the apartment, throwing a party? I’m not even going to entertain the question. Even bike-riding at a high speed, which is obviously featured in this intro and is something I actually, frequently enjoy doing around the loop of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, would never merit playing this song. Now that we’ve established the core requirement for success, we know for certain the Rocket Power theme can’t earn a perfect 10. The question then is: Does the song still slap for what it needs to accomplish for this television show? Dude, absolutely. This is a show about a group of extreme sports athletes. Listen to those high-octane guitar riffs; the BUM-BUM tom drums; the “We are ridersssss” lyrics. It’s all so good. 8/10
Accompanying Visuals: Incredible. From the moment Otto Rocket and the gang drop down a halfpipe on neon-lit skateboards you know this show is going be great. It … might be the most thrilling intro in the history of Nickelodeon? I mean these kids are doing it ALL—surfing, snowboarding, using a fuel-powered dirtboard to leap across a gorge with flowing water at the bottom. 10/10
Nostalgia Rating: Yo, kids these days don’t even do the most mundane of activities included in this theme (riding a Razor scooter). They’re all on the iPads! This was a different time. And this was one of the most exciting, unique shows to ever appear on Nickelodeon. I miss it. 9/10
Bonus Points: 3. Rocket Power’s characters got shafted pretty hard in our Nick Bracket. Otto, Twister, Squid, Tito, and Raymundo all had legitimate claims to belong in the tournament, yet only Reggie made it in. This is my way to make up for it.
3. “Hey Sandy” by Polaris (The Adventures of Pete & Pete)
Slap Factor: Pete & Pete’s theme song is one of the few in this ranking that stands on its own without any association to the television show. Not only did the band write the song for the show, but they later went on to tour off the strength of it after it became a cult classic. It stands to reason that “Hey Sandy” is a pretty solid track. Light and airy, with a classic indie ambiance, this is the rare Nick song I would definitely listen to on my own time. I can’t decipher roughly 70 percent of the song’s lyrics, but who cares—listen to that guitar solo! 9/10
Accompanying Visuals: The close-up of Big Pete’s face followed right after his mother twirling in circles in the field? Chef’s kiss. Pete & Pete was before my time—I’ve never watched an episode, but including it in the ranking was suggested by colleagues—and now I’m definitely going to. Genuinely one of the cooler TV intros I’ve seen in a while. 9/10
Nostalgia Rating: I can’t feel nostalgic for this personally, but boy does this just feel like 1993. Gonna trust my gut here. 9/10
Bonus Points: 4. My Ringer colleague Kjerstin Johnson tells me Polaris also appears in “Hard Day’s Pete,” when Little Pete stumbles across the garage band and hears a song that changes his life. “Sometimes you don’t find a favorite song,” narrates Big Pete. “Sometimes, it finds you.” Pretty neat.
2. “Hey Arnold! Theme Song” by Jim Lang (Hey Arnold!)
Slap Factor: The last of the theme songs without lyrics. As we wrote earlier this week, Arnold is a man of culture—a man of jazz. He doesn’t need lyrics to carry his theme, just Helga’s repeated cries of “Hey, Arnold!” It doesn’t hurt that the Hey Arnold! theme is a really groovy tune. It’s got some Grover Washington Jr. smooth jazz elements about it, and I always love when guitar is incorporated into the genre. Would I listen to this song, sans Helga, on my own time? Perhaps. Would I greatly enjoy it if I heard it at a jazz club on a Saturday night in the West Village? Definitely. 8/10
Visuals: Hey Arnold! is the only cartoon I can remember that so prominently featured urban life, to the point that its location almost feels like a living, breathing character. That’s on full display here, as the intro encapsulates what makes city living so weird, exciting, and unique. In 45 seconds you get a highlight reel of the diversity one can encounter in a place like this pseudo NYC. It’s the essence of this entire show, really—a slice of life—and I love it. Also, the boys vs. girls face-off prior to Helga’s “Move it, Football Head!” is gold. 10/10
Nostalgia: Does anyone else feel like Hey Arnold! hit its prime in the late ’90s and then sort of disappeared afterward? I can’t recall seeing many reruns in the 2000s, whereas a show like SpongeBob remained ubiquitous well after its peak. Hey Arnold!’s theme feels like a very specific snapshot in time. 10/10
Bonus Points: 4. For Gerald’s hook shot. So smooth it’s worth double the points.
1. “All That Theme Song” by TLC (All That)
Slap Factor: I can state with scientific certainty that not one person has ever heard the All That theme song and said, “You know what? I don’t like this.” Just listen to that beat! I-C-O-N-I-C. This beat is so good that if you were frozen in a cryogenic ice chamber in the early 1990s prior to All That’s premiere, emerged today, and went to a summer cookout and heard this song playing in the background, you wouldn’t notice anything at all because it sounds like an actual R&B jam that was made for purposes outside of a children’s television show. But then wait … you learn that TLC is performing this song? That’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes dropping bars like it’s nothing?! Stop the presses! The only mark against this song is that there’s no catchy hook—yes, the “Allllllll, All Thaaaaaat”s are melodic, but they’re not infectious enough that I want to play the song over and over again. 9/10
Accompanying Visuals: These opening credits might be better than any of SNL’s opening credits in its 46-season run. The slow-motion trampoline bouncing? The waving of a massive All That flag like the cast are members of a World Cup–winning soccer team? The big blocks of red capital letters? Lori Beth Denberg standing on top of what we as kids probably thought was the mouth of the Grand Canyon? 10/10
Nostalgia Rating: Just look at that ’90s fashion! It’s a bit unfair that animated series couldn’t employ it in the same way, but nothing more needs to be said, really. Also, these credits resemble the vibe of a Reasonable Doubt–era Jay-Z music video—just without the sketchy vans and whatnot. I’m giving this theme just the slightest of negative marks because, again, I believe the most powerful nostalgia contains a hint of sorrow. Nothing about the All That theme makes me sad in the slightest—and for literally any other situation besides this ranking, that would be universally a good thing. 9/10
Bonus Points: 5. Because the copious amount of Kangol hats is particularly snazzy.