Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

1. The Monkees, “(Theme From) The Monkees”

The Monkees’ theme song couldn’t be more perfectly efficient, probably because it was written—by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart—as the intro to the band’s TV show. And it reveals pretty much everything you might need to know about the group: They’re here, they’re a little weird (people even say they monkey around), they’re friendly (they’re not interested in put-downs), and they’re socially conscious, but only vaguely. The band would go on to assert itself musically, though this song will surely be its most closely associated, for obvious reasons. [JM]


2. The Monks, “Monk Time”

Proto-punk weirdos The Monks were five GIs who found relief from the rigorous conformity of Army life by making some of the most renegade music ever heard, and “Monk Time” was their “Reveille.” The opening track of the group’s sole studio album, 1966’s Black Monk Time, kicks off with lead singer Gary Burger introducing himself and rallying his troops around a beat, while also officially declaring the band AWOL. “You know we don’t like the army / What army? / Who cares what army?” Burger cries, before conscripting bandmates “Dave, Larry, Eddie, Roger,” and everybody who’s listening in the new service of electrified banjo, shrieking organ, and clanking rhythm. “You’re a monk, I’m a monk, we’re all monks!” he wails, and generations of musical oddballs fall in line behind him. [SO]

3. The Gories, “Hey, Hey We’re The Gories”

Declarations of a band’s rockin’ manifesto don’t get much simpler than “Hey, Hey We’re The Gories.” The Gories are coming to your town, and they’re “gonna mess your head around.” But like all good garage rock, it’s only as abrasive and threatening as it is playful. The band’s primitive war drums accompany the assurance that you’re about to get sonically assaulted. Making that guarantee, though, are singer-guitarists Mick Collins (later of The Dirtbombs), and Dan Kroha (later of Demolition Doll Rods), who goofily wail and warble through a cheeky riff on The Monkees’ famous theme. It’s a summation—both lyric and sonic—of The Gories’ prickly lo-fi punk, with kitsch befitting a band that recorded a song about one of America’s most heinous bumwines. [MG]


4. Wilco, “Wilco (The Song)”

It took seven albums before Wilco got around to a self-titled LP, the cheekily titled Wilco (The Album). Never one to miss a good opportunity, frontman Jeff Tweedy went whole hog, writing a theme song for the band as well. “Wilco (The Song)” may not be a musical summation of the two-decade-old band, but it does offer the listener what might be thought of as a mission statement. After asking if “times are getting rough,” Tweedy commands listeners to “Stare at your stereo / Put on your headphones,” and promises that “Wilco will love you, baby.” What more could a devoted fan want? [NC]


5. The Pipettes, “We Are The Pipettes”

When The Pipettes showed up in the mid-’00s, they were a breath of fresh air, blasting aside the boy-centric rockism of the indie scene, dropping ridiculously catchy pop songs while questioning the conventions that put The Beatles and Bob Dylan at the center of rock history. On the title track of its debut album, “We Are The Pipettes,” the group demonstrates all that pop savvy and consciousness, and with a dose of cheekiness as well. The trio claims to be “the prettiest girls you’ve ever met,” while also demanding to be taken to your planet. It announces them perhaps too boldly, considering how quickly The Pipettes fizzled. [RK]


6. The Clash, “We Are The Clash”

Written for the much maligned Cut The Crap, “We Are The Clash” was Joe Strummer’s attempt to re-establish the band’s persona after losing pivotal members Mick Jones and Topper Headon. It sounds like a weak soccer anthem, proclaiming “We aren’t gonna be treated like trash / We got one thing / We are The Clash,” a sentiment that would’ve sounded stronger if it didn’t sound so desperate. (Around this time, Jones and Headon threatened to tour America as “The Real Clash,” which would’ve been sad and funny had it happened.) One of the worst songs on an album that nobody considers worthy of The Clash’s legacy, “We Are The Clash” proves that the time for writing anthems is when you’re truly confident, not backed into a corner. [NC]

7. Prince, “My Name Is Prince”
In hindsight, this 1992 mission statement reads more like a final manifesto, as the Purple One changed his name to a glyph soon after. The song covers all the bases, with plenty of braggadocio: Prince boasts about his musical talent (“In the beginning God made the sea / But on the seventh day he made me”), calls out lame imitators and asserts what he wants (it’s ladies). But “My Name Is Prince” also foreshadows his forays into religion, and underscores that being sexual and being pious aren’t mutually exclusive: “I know from righteous, I know from sin / I got two sides, and they’re both friends.” But in the end, the song is a detailed reminder that no matter what the moniker, Prince always prevails: “My name is Prince, and I am funky / My name is Prince, the one and only.” [AZ]


8. Freezepop, “Freezepop Forever”

Gamers probably know Boston-based synthpop band Freezepop best for its multiple appearances in the bonus-track listings of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, courtesy of former band member and Harmonix project designer Kasson Crooker. “Freezepop Forever,” the title track from the band’s 2000 debut album, has never appeared in a game, but it does serve as a briefly sketched autobiography of the group, giving a concise explanation of each member’s persona, with each taking a verse. The song also acts as a perfect snapshot of the band’s sound—energetic and aggressively upbeat, with occasional digressions into heavier robotic breakdowns, which appear here in a cameo from the group’s “fourth member,” the Yamaha QY70 audio sequencer. [WH]


9. Devo, “Jocko Homo”

Devo started with a concept—devolution, it’s right there in the name—and the B-side of the band’s first single offered a simple version of its vision of backward evolution. There’s nothing super specific in “Jocko Homo,” just some glancing blows about “evolving up from little snails” and “monkey men” in business suits, but it does present the band’s signature sing-along—“Are we not men? / We are Devo / D-E-V-O”—which also gave its first album a title. The band still plays the song, though often in its updated “sad version,” which slows it down and adds some twang. [JM]


10. The Mamas & The Papas, “Creeque Alley”

By the third The Mamas & The Papas album, the group had accrued enough history to tell their story in song. Creeque Alley refers to a street in the Virgin Islands (actually spelled Creque) where the group camped out to write a batch of songs that would become their first album. But the song starts earlier than that, encompassing two failed groups (The Journeymen and The Mugwumps) that preceded their band, and friends on the folk-rock scene including Byrds guitarist Roger McGuinn, “Eve of Destruction” singer Barry McGuire, and Lovin’ Spoonful bandleader John Sebastian. The tune chronicles the band’s early struggles with poverty and obscurity—the seemingly insensitive refrain, “and no one’s getting fat except Mama Cass” refers to the fact that, with a successful side career as a jazz singer, Cass Elliot was the only one of the group making any money—but by song’s end, the folk rock scene had blown up and the rest was history. [MV]


11. GWAR, “GWAR Theme”

Few bands in history have been as intimately self-engorged in their own mythology as the intergalactic space-alien mutants of GWAR. Recently departed front man Oderus Urungus, who died at the tender age of ~50,000,000,000 years young, was the humble son of a super-computer and a petri dish. He hailed from the planet of Scumdogia, and delighted Earthlings with his cuttlefish cod piece and timeless hits like “Saddam A Go-Go” and “Immortal Corruptor.” On one of GWAR’s lesser-celebrated endeavors—the 1988 album Hell-O—Urungus and his broodmates performed “GWAR Theme.” Unfortunately, the song doesn’t delve much into the empty eons adrift in the vastness of space, or the rise and fall of far-flung, corrupt space empires. Instead, the band chose to go with a more prosaic approach: “We are GWAR / And we’ll go far / We’ve got guitars / We’ll go to war!” At least it rhymes. [DT]


12. Minor Threat, “Minor Threat”

Like the band itself, Minor Threat’s “Minor Threat” is short and sweet, and propelled by the energy of hardcore youth. Singer Ian MacKaye admits that he and his D.C. compadres are not the first punks, and he hopes they’re not the last. Thankfully, MacKaye and the rest of the band, unlike many of their counterparts, have avoided the “adult crash” of selling out, still ascribing to the DIY aesthetic that defined the band in its 1980-83 life cycle. While “Minor Threat” carries the band’s name, perhaps its true theme song is “Straight Edge,” in which MacKaye outlined an outlook that was adopted by a scene: “I’m a person just like you / But I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around and fuck my head / Hang out with the living dead.” [ME]


13. Digger, “Digger”

Not many pop-punk bands start with a specific mantra in mind—that is, unless, fast, snotty songs about heartbreak and mundane suburban activities can be seen as a lynchpin. Pennsylvania’s Digger was never conceptual by any stretch of the imagination, but the opening track to its 1996 debut, Powerbait, saw the Lehigh Valley four-piece offer up as much of a mission statement as any with “Digger.” It’s a 73-second blast of lightly distorted, three-chord pop-punk that offers up calls of “Digger,” a few whoa-ohs, and a jubilant “Yeah, baby! All right!” Though meant to serve as a succinct introduction to Powerbait, “Digger” would set the course for the band’s career as well, where it offered up these simple and effective pop-punk gems until it petered out in 2004. [DA]


14. NOFX, “Theme From A NOFX Album”

Long-running punks NOFX have always delivered funny lyrics with doses of snotty truth, and that’s perfectly evident on “Theme From A NOFX Album,” from 2000’s Pump Up The Valuum. Singer Fat Mike has always been self-deprecating, so it’s no surprise that the song admits that NOFX are “professional punkers” who “come from the suburbs.” He goes on to profess a love for alcohol and various drugs, as well as an obsession with “big lesbians.” The rest of the band even gets to introduce themselves individually. [JM]


15. Public Image Ltd, “Public Image”

Though John Lydon wrote “Public Image” as a kiss-off to the Sex Pistols and their svengali Malcolm McLaren, the song doubled as a statement of intent for Lydon’s future in Public Image Ltd, when he strived to prove he was more than just a punk caricature. “You never listened to a word that I said / You only seen me from the clothes that I wear,” Lydon sneered—and while he’s specifically singing to the bandmates who never particularly cared about his lyrics, the loutish, image-obsessed punk subculture he helped spawn certainly doesn’t escape implication. Lydon may be disavowing “Johnny Rotten” as a front for a co-opted corporate illusion, like a musical extension of his famous “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” farewell. But “Public Image” is his “grand finale” and “my entrance, my own creation”—and he lobs this hello/goodbye in the musical style Pistols fans had come to expect, while warning them that what’s to come will require looking a little deeper. [SO]

16. The Roches, “We”

In his Bob Dylan-obsessive book Invisible Republic, Greil Marcus claims that folk music’s true home is the “old, weird America,” whose idiosyncrasies have been smoothed over by homogenized mass culture. But Old Weird America has at least three residents, sisters Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy (pronounced like “sudsy” without the “d”) Roche, who have been singing as a trio for 40 years, releasing a dozen albums as a trio, and as many more in ones and twos. Their live show, which combines folk standards with their own offbeat originals and always-impressive harmonies, has long been anchored by “We,” a rambling, explanatory song in which the sisters introduce themselves, insisting that, “We don’t give out our ages, and we don’t give out our phone numbers / Sometimes our voices give out, but not our ages or phone numbers,” and pre-empting the audience by asking (but not answering), “Who have we worked with? / Do we know anybody famous?” [MV]


17. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, “Believing In You”

The Trachtenburgs were a memorable family band with one of the strangest gimmicks in history—Mom ran a slide projector, Dad played guitar and sang songs about the slides (ranging from decades-old vacation photos to corporate presentations), and their elementary school-age daughter played the drums. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the band was genuinely appreciative of any audience who took a chance on this confluence of elements. The band often ended their shows with “Believing In You,” a song that directly thanks the audience “for taking time during your busy, busy day” and “for caring about some boring local scene.” They even thank the press, saying “You’ve been so kind to us / You like to write about us / In your magazines.” The song ends on a tease: “We’d like to tell you something / But we’re not going to / We’ll tell it to you at the next show that we play.” That shameless ploy worked, as the band steadily gained in popularity until the drummer turned 15 and quit to start her own band. [MV]


18. Billy And The Boingers, “I’m A Boinger”

One of the more sublime bits of nonsense in Berkley Breathed’s comic strip Bloom County was the lead characters’ band, Deathtöngue, a metal outfit with talking penguin Opus on tuba and the strip’s mangy mascot Bill The Cat shrieking and “tongue twanging.” After a Congressional hearing spoofing the PMRC hearings of the mid-’80s, the band changes it name to the less youth-corrupting Billy And The Boingers. Breathed announced a contest in the strip to write a theme song for the band, and the Harry Pitts Band stepped up with “I’m A Boinger,” which was eventually released on flexi-disc alongside the band’s big hit, “U Stink But I Love U.” Lyrically, the song takes the band back toward being a bad influence, claiming “Jimmy dropped his pants / And Ozzy dines on bats… / But if you don’t now by now / Bill bit the head off a cow.” [MV]


19. Railroad Jerk, “The Ballad Of Railroad Jerk”

Cultishly adored but commercially invisible band Railroad Jerk tells a tongue-in-cheek tale of crippling success that never actually came on One Track Mind’s “The Ballad Of Railroad Jerk.” Singer Marcellus Hall proclaims his own genius and trumpets his wiseass punk-blues combo landing “a $10 million record contract”—something that, while Matador Records was certainly doing fine in its Pavement-era heyday, seems a tad unlikely—all while narrating a tale of tarting himself up for the “Top 10 video masquerade ball” and crowds demanding supposed hits like “Glamorous Bitch,” from the band’s obscure 1990 debut. But the song’s illusions of rock ’n’ roll success—of corporate puffery, and reaching the “top of the hill” only to find it’s “really only landfill”—tell a true and familiar story to survivors of that early-’90s indie-rock boom. And the refrain’s proud declaration that the band pushed on through the doubters and double-talk turn that noble failure into a fight song. [SO]


20. The Bubblemen, “The Bubblemen Are Coming”

Spawned from a doodle Daniel Ash created during downtime from Bauhaus, The Bubblemen became a reality during Ash’s days with Love And Rockets, when he and his fellow former Bauhaus members David J and Kevin Haskins began claiming they were “discovered” by alien bees, then went so far as to don giant bee costumes to open their own shows. It was a single-serving joke—dour goth-rockers letting loose as big, smiley-faced bees—that produced a sole joke single, “The Bubblemen Are Coming,” paired with a “Bubblemen Rap” and a “B-side” that was literally the sound of buzzing bees. But really, after a musical statement as definitive as “The Bubblemen Are Coming”—in which we learn that, indeed, The Bubblemen are coming—what more need be said? [SO]


21. Minutemen, “History Lesson Pt. 2”

While the Minutemen were best known for singer D. Boon’s fast, to-the-point punk songs, bassist Mike Watt contributed meandering, thoughtful songs like this one (sung by Boon), about the band itself. It opens with the immortal line, “Our band could be your life,” and then asserts that, “Punk rock changed our lives.” Watt defends his music as art by saying, “Mr. Narrator, this is Bob Dylan to me!” (It weirdly has Boon, who narrates the song, address the narrator.) Still a relatively obscure band when the song was written, the song nonetheless places his band in the punk pantheon, claiming “I was E. Bloom, Richard Hell, Joe Strummer, and John Doe,” before Boon pauses and adds to the list: “Me and Mike Watt, playing guitar.” [MV]


22. Art Brut, “Formed A Band”

In perhaps the most self-aware theme song of all time, the British band Art Brut seems surprised at the very idea that they’ve started a band. To wit: “Formed a band / We formed a band / Look at us / We formed a band!” Singer Eddie Argos even reiterates to potential listeners that, “Yes, this is my singing voice,” and states that this newly formed band’s intention is to “write the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along.” It’s a lofty goal, but it was plenty of fun for a while. [JM]


Share This Story

Get our newsletter