Created By: abateman on December 15, 2013 Last Edited By: abateman on January 11, 2014
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Variations on a Theme Song

A show's normal theme song is modified based on the content of the episode.

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A show's theme song is an important way that a show distinguishes itself and set's the tone for the series. It also gives a chance to feed the ego of the stars. But sometimes the regular theme song doesn't fit an abnormally serious episode, or the show is doing something special and wants to highlight it with a new arrangement.

In this case, the creators will replace the stock theme song. But the important thing that makes this different from Evolving Credits is that they then return to the original theme song. If the theme song changes for nearly every episode, then it's a Couch Gag.

Compare to Credits Gag, Couch Gag, and (not to be confused with)Theme And Variations

Contrast with Anime Theme Song and Evolving Credits

May overlap with Variable Mix if the song changes mid-tune.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Guilty Crown uses a Dark Reprise of Bios, the anime's main theme song (as in not the opening) for the more emotional scenes in the anime.
  • Episode 21 of Attack on Titan uses a Triumphant Reprise of ATTACK ON TITAN when Eren The Rogue Titan gives a beatdown to the Female Titan. this was immediately after Eren witnesses the death of his fellow squadmates under Levi. The version cuts several lines of lyrics and made the trumpets more prominent. also cuts the first five syllables from the chorus (Ist das der Zerstorer... skips directly to —storer)
  • Angel Beats!: During Yui's introductory episode, fitting to her personality, she sings a rock version the opening My Soul, Your Beats! (originally an upbeat pop song) at the end of the Cold Open.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The second season uses the second verse of the full Sora Iro Days as it's opening song, the previous Season used the first verse for the opening.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • In the musical episode (S6-E7), the usual theme song by Nerf Herder is changed to an classical styled orchestral version.

  • 3rd Rock from the Sun
    • The Theme song was replace with a version by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy during season 5. In season 6, they returned to the original theme.
    • Alternate versions were used during Christmas episodes
    • In Season 6, a alternate jazz version of the song was used for the two-part episode

  • Game of Thrones
    • Key phrases of the theme song are entwined throughout the score at pivotal moments, such as when Rob Stark beheads Rickard Karstark for treason in S3:E5 or when Daenarys emerges from the fire in S1:E10

  • Neighbours
    • Has two versions of its theme song - the usual, upbeat version and the stripped-down piano version reserved for when someone dies.

  • CrossRoads
    • In the British soap Crossroads, particularly dramatic episodes sometimes used the cover version of the theme tune done by Wings on their Venus and Mars album.

  • How I Met Your Mother
    • S9-E11 - The theme song is modified to sound like a children's music box.
    • S7-E14 - Barney claims to be the leader of the gang, and the song's words are changed, as well as the photos in the opening credits. Then later in the episode, the them song is sung again in Russian when Stripper Lily joins the group.
    • S6-E21 - After Barney claims the group is in a band, the theme song is sung by the main cast.

  • Psych
    • S2-E10, S3-E9, S5-E14 - A Christmas variation on the theme song.
    • S2-E13, S7-E4 - The theme song is sung in Spanish.
    • S2-E6, a Bollywood variation on the Theme Song.
    • S4-E7, S6-E13 - The Boys 2 Men a capella version
    • S5-E8 - Curt Smith recorded a version of the song.
    • S5-E12 - The Julee Cruise version of the song
    • S6-E4 - A superhero-themed version
    • S6-E11 - A theme song tribute to The Shining

  • The Drew Carey Show

  • Warehouse13
    • The theme is changed for Christmas specials

    Other 
  • ""The Archers""
    • Although long-running BBC radio soap The Archers always uses the same piece of music as its theme tune, which passage is used depends on whether the episode is ordinary or dramatic.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Treehouse Of Horror episodes usually have the closing credits music replaced by an arrangement for organ and theremin. The music for the Gracie Films logo, instead of the usual piano riff with a woman going "Shhh!", is the same riff on organ with a woman screaming.
    • When a rock band are the guest stars, sometimes they do the closing theme.
    • Season 9 episode 1, The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson, replaced the usual closing theme with "New York, New York" sung by Frank Sinatra.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation - The characters sing about how they plan to spend (and at the end, spent) their summer vacation.
    • "Two Tone Town" - The Two-Tones sing about their new show and their home town.
    • "It's A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special - The characters sing a Christmas-themed version of the song. Also, in the alternate timeline, Plucky is the star of Tiny Toon Adventures and sings his own lyrics describing him as the star.
    • When Plucky got his own spin-off (which mostly consisted of recycled "Tiny Toons" shorts with one original episode), the lyrics described Plucky as the star in a manner similar to the example above.
    • The CD "Tiny Toons Sing" has the theme song sung in different languages.
    • "Spring Break Special" - The characters sing about how they plan to spend (and at the end, spent) their spring break, similar to the Summer Vacation example.
    • "Night Ghoulery" - The characters sing about what they have planned (at at the end, the results) for their halloween special.
    • In Tiny Toons How I Spent My Vacation Buster plays a Dueling Banjos version with a possum banjoist. Buster plays his tongue.

  • Teen Titans
    • Teen Titans had its theme song sung in Japanese at least once per season. There was also a one-time rendition of the song by an alternate-reality Robin (aka "Larry"), also in Japanese.

  • Animaniacs
    • The theme song had a different line ending in the "Ay-nee" sound effect depending on the episode. Later episodes of the show also had "We pay tons of income tax" in place of "While Bill Clinton plays the sax", and "Meet Ralph and Dr. Scratchn Sniff, say hi to Hello Nurse" in place of "Meet Pinky and the Brain who want to rule the universe".

Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • December 15, 2013
    FlyingDuckManGenesis
    Here are two Western Animation examples:

    • Tiny Toon Adventures:
      • Tiny Toon Adventures How I Spent My Vacation - The characters sing about how they plan to spend (and at the end, spent) their summer vacation.
      • "Two Tone Town" - The Two-Tones sing about their new show and their home town.
      • "It's A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special - The characters sing a Christmas-themed version of the song. Also, in the alternate timeline, Plucky is the star of Tiny Toon Adventures and sings his own lyrics describing him as the star.
      • When Plucky got his own spin-off (which mostly consisted of recycled "Tiny Toons" shorts with one original episode), the lyrics described Plucky as the star in a manner similar to the example above.
      • The CD "Tiny Toons Sing" has the theme song sung in different languages.
      • "Spring Break Special" - The characters sing about how they plan to spend (and at the end, spent) their spring break, similar to the Summer Vacation example.
      • "Night Ghoulery" - The characters sing about what they have planned (at at the end, the results) for their halloween special.

    • The Animaniacs theme song had a different line ending in the "Ay-nee" sound effect depending on the episode. Later episodes of the show also had "We pay tons of income tax" in place of "While Bill Clinton plays the sax", and "Meet Ralph and Dr. Scratchn Sniff, say hi to Hello Nurse" in place of "Meet Pinky And The Brain who want to rule the universe".

  • December 15, 2013
    abateman
    Added. I'll wait to namespace until we have more examples, unless someone else wants to set that up in advance.
  • December 15, 2013
    abateman
    Crap, I just found Special Edition Title, which seems to be this. Anyone disagree?

    If not, I'll include these examples, which are missing from Special Edition Title and discard this one.
  • December 15, 2013
    TheTitan99
    Well, this seems more for the audio, whereas that is more broad. Maybe this could be a Sub Trope, I guess? That's probably overly narrow, though.
  • December 15, 2013
    Howzers
    Neighbours has two versions of its theme song - the usual, upbeat version and the stripped-down piano version reserved for when someone dies.
  • December 16, 2013
    DAN004
    Compare Variable Mix when the variation happens while the song still plays.
  • December 16, 2013
    ElectricNova
    Live Action Tv:

    In the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer the usual theme song by Nerf Herder is changed to an classical styled orchestral version.
  • December 16, 2013
    Trueman001
    Live Action TV: In the British soap Crossroads, particularly dramatic episodes sometimes used the cover version of the theme tune done by Wings on their Venus and Mars album.

    Radio: Although long-running BBC soap The Archers always uses the same piece of music as its theme tune, which passage is used depends on whether the episode is ordinary or dramatic.
  • December 16, 2013
    JohnnyCache
    Teen Titans had its theme song sung in Japanese at least once per season. There was also a one-time rendition of the song by an alternate-reality Robin (aka "Larry"), also in Japanese.
  • December 16, 2013
    Owen547
    In Warehouse13 the theme was changed for every Christmas special
  • December 16, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Also in Tiny Toons How I Spent My Vacation Buster plays a Dueling Banjos version with a possum banjoist. Buster plays his tongue.
  • December 16, 2013
    abateman
    Ok, so it seems like people want to keep this as it's own thing. So how about this:

    We clean up Special Edition Title a little bit to include other examples besides the theme song (They mention the WB logo, but give no examples, like The Matrix), then make Variations On A Theme Song a sub-trope to that.

    I also think the title of Special Edition Title needs to be changed if we are to include film examples like special use of corporate logos. But I don't have a proposal.

    Trueman001's The Archers example is a great reason why this should be separate, IMO. Because it's an ongoing variation, not just a special edition.

    Thoughts?

  • December 16, 2013
    abateman
    Also, do we want to include ending credits in this, as well? I can think of a few examples from Family Guy where the instrumental version of the Theme Song played at the end of the episode is modified.
  • December 16, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    The Drew Carey Show: In one episode the Real Songtheme Tune "Cleaveland Rocks!", normally sung by The Presidents Of The United States Of America, is sung by The Go Gos. The final season has the theme performed differently every episode.
  • December 16, 2013
    abateman
    Updated the examples from the comments and put them in folders. I'll wait to order them til (if?) launched.

    We don't have any anime examples yet, but that probably because of the Anime Theme Song issue.

    Still need input on where this should ultimately go, if anywhere.
  • December 16, 2013
    Paycheckgurl
    Name's a bit clunky, but other than that looks good. (And also I can't think of a better name so...)
  • December 17, 2013
    Snicka
    Very common in a Christmas Episode or a Halloween Episode to give the theme song new, holiday-themed lyrics.
  • December 18, 2013
    DAN004
  • December 18, 2013
    abateman
    I still like my original pun, but I realize its not concise. Something like that could work?. I like "Moody". What about Theme Song Mood Ring?
  • December 18, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    You want anime examples? I'll give you anime examples.

    Anime and Manga
  • December 22, 2013
    abateman
    I added those examples for now, but I'm not sure either of them fits, since it is music used in the episode, not the opening or closing credits.

    On a separate note, no one has objected to this being launch but people aren't "hatting" it either. I need opinions on whether to keep working on this or not.
  • December 22, 2013
    justanotherrandomlurker
    We kinda-sorta already have a YKTTW for this, only it's mainly for when shows have episodes where the closing theme is replaced with another song, or a piece of score from the episode, or something different altogether.
  • December 26, 2013
    Trueman001
    (Western Animation)
    • The Simpsons:
      • Treehouse Of Horror episodes usually have the closing credits music replaced by an arrangement for organ and theremin. The music for the Gracie Films logo, instead of the usual piano riff with a woman going "Shhh!", is the same riff on organ with a woman screaming.
      • When a rock band are the guest stars, sometimes they do the closing theme.
      • Season 9 episode 1, The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson, replaced the usual closing theme with "New York, New York" sung by Frank Sinatra.

  • December 26, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    @abateman — ??? does it really have to be openings when it comes to anime?

    anyway i know another:

    • Angel Beats: During Yui's introductory episode, fitting to her personality, she sings a rock version the opening My Soul, Your Beats! (originally an upbeat pop song) at the end of the Cold Open.
    • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The second season uses the second verse of the full Sora Iro Days as it's opening song, the previous Season used the first verse for the opening.
  • December 29, 2013
    abateman
    If it's background music during the actual story, than it fits better into Theme And Variations. I don't object to including it in this also, which is why I added it, but I wanted to point that out for discussion.
  • December 29, 2013
    abateman
    We have plenty of examples and no one seems to object, so I would like to go ahead and launch, but we don't have consensus on the name, yet. Do we want to vote, or should I just lunch as is?

    There is also still the question of what to do with the Special Edition Title page if we do launch this one.

    This will be my first contribution to the site, so feel free to chime in. I don't completely know what I'm doing.
  • December 29, 2013
    DAN004
    Does this count?
    • In Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped, the theme for the bonus stages is the same, but with different instruments to match the stage theme (prehistoric era, medieval era etc). Same goes with the secret routes.
  • December 29, 2013
    sharkticon
    I hate the name.

    Maybe Modified Theme Song?
  • December 29, 2013
    Synchronicity
    • Phineas And Ferb often changes the opening theme lyrics for special occasions, often for the winter-themed and Halloween-themed episodes.

  • December 29, 2013
    gallium
    The name is excellent.
  • December 29, 2013
    xanderiskander
    compare Leitmotif
  • January 6, 2014
    abateman
    OK, there's five hats and no real objections. I'll be launching this in the next 24-48 hours.

    Unless a mod decides to make a crowner for the title. Because that's the only thing that still seems to be in dispute and there hasn't been a new proposal that has consensus of any sort.
  • January 6, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
  • January 7, 2014
    randomsurfer
    More Simpsons
    • In the middle of an episode where they go into Witness Protecition and become the Thompon family, we see a variation of the theme where the chorus goes "The Thompsons" and Homer pulls up to their new home, a hosueboat.
    • When a hurricane comes through town, the chorus sings "The Hurricane" and the letters on screen get blown away by the hurricane's wind.
  • January 7, 2014
    robinjohnson
    • Red Dwarf did this twice:
      • In one episode, there was a throwaway gag about Rimmer teaching the service robots to play Hammond organ. The closing theme for the episode is rendered on the Hammond organ, with Rimmer giving instructions in voiceover.
      • For the "cowboys" episode "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", the theme is given a Western makeover on honky-tonk pianny and The Good The Bad And The Ugly-esque ocarina.
  • January 7, 2014
    robinjohnson
    Also, "Variations on a Theme Song" is a really good name, a shining example of Clear Concise Witty.
  • January 7, 2014
    xanderiskander
    I would talk about Leitmotif in the description somewhere as a related trope, because they're very similar tropes, and the differences between them should be explained. This might even be a subtrope of Leitmotif.
  • January 7, 2014
    StarSword
    Compare Theme Tune Cameo, where the show's theme makes an appearance as In Universe music.
  • January 7, 2014
    robbulldog
    In an episode of Monk, guest starring Snoop Dogg, the title theme was redone as a rap song.
  • January 11, 2014
    abateman
    Launched. Woohoo. My first one.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=9myelzbibkwflutyvb2vc6w4&trope=VariationsOnAThemeSong