TV URBAN LEGEND: The “Seinfeld” theme song once had lyrics.
Television theme songs have a very special place in our pop culture, as some of them become so famous that they’re almost more popular than the shows that they were attached to! However, not all TV themes are exactly as how we remember them. For instance, few people recall that the “Beverly Hillbillies” used to alter the lyrics to their theme song to shill for their weekly sponsor. That uncertainty came into play with reader Ken R., who wrote in to tell me about an argument he had been having with a relative over the theme song to the classic TV sitcom, “Seinfeld”. Ken insists that the famous theme for the show used to include lyrics, while his cousin said he was nuts.
So is it true? Did the “Seinfeld” theme have lyrics?
Like so many things, the answer is sort of yes and sort of no. Jerry Seinfeld, when he got his own show, famously did not want a theme song along the lines of shows like “Cheers” or “Facts of Life” or “Diff’rent Strokes.” He specifically did not want a theme song with lyrics. And thus, the Seinfeld theme that was seen on the show was a unique song that composer Jonathan Wolff would actually create fresh every week. He told the Chicago Tribune about it in 1993:
Wolff created the show’s main title theme: a mixture of lip pops, finger snaps, shakers and a funky bass line threaded throughout comic Jerry Seinfeld’s opening and closing monologues. Because Seinfeld’s routine differs each week, Wolff must adjust his theme accordingly.
“Every week, I have to match my music to fit the timing of his monologues,” said Wolff, 35. “It’s the first time I’ve heard it happening that a main title has to be reconstructed weekly.”
Wolff got the job after the comedian called to request a recognizable signature theme for the show (8 p.m. Thursdays, WMAQ-Ch. 5).
“He envisioned the opening of the show as himself doing standup material,” Wolff recalled. “I knew the music and spoken word might clash, so I created the musical theme with his voice as the melody. His delivery and timing have a quirky rhythm. I used that as the rhythm of the theme and built all the other sounds around him.”
Wolff said he made sure the electric bass line, the most prominent musical element in the theme, was in a register that was far enough away from Seinfeld’s voice that they didn’t clash.
So no, the song did not have lyrics, as it was designed to not clash with Seinfeld’s opening standup.
However, in the offseason between seasons 2 and 3, there was a bit of a change. Jerry Seinfeld had seen a scat group perform and he told Wolff that he thought that the theme song might do well with that sort of element to it. So Wolff worked up a version of theme for the Season 3 premiere episode, “The Note,” with some women scat singing over Seinfeld’s intro…
Seinfeld loved it, co-creator Larry David also loved it and Wolff loved it. So it went on the air. The problem was that they had not cleared the change to the theme with Castle Rock Entertainment, the production company of the series (a group founded by Rob Reiner and some colleagues of his), nor with NBC, the network that the show was airing on. And they very much did not love it. Wolff had already incorporated the changes into the next few episodes of the series but now had to go back and at the last second edit out the singers from the theme for the next few episodes. So there is now only a single episode of “Seinfeld” that has words with the theme song.
However, I don’t really think that that qualifies as “lyrics.” Clearly, just like how Wolff adapted the song to match Seinfeld’s tempo in his standup, so, too, would he have different scat singing for each episode. That’s not really lyrics. So while I think that it is interesting to note that the song DID have words to it for one episode, it doesn’t qualify as having lyrics, so I’m going with the legend as…
STATUS: False Enough for a False
Sorry, Ken! I think your cousin “wins”
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.
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