Certain Songs #1224: Mystery Science Theater 3000 – “Love Theme From Mystery Science Theater 3000”

Album: Clowns in the Sky
Year: 1988

There has never been a TV show more in the spirit of indie rock — at least the indie rock with which I grew up with in the late 80s / early 90s — than Mystery Science Theater 3000. Totally self-produced, and self-contained, the evil geniuses at MST3K had full artist control of every aspect of their production, from set design to theme song.

A theme song that I think is one of the greatest — and most underrated, as it never makes any of the occasional lists of great TV theme songs — to ever grace any TV show.

So why is the MST3K theme song so great? Several reasons.

First off, it clearly lays out the otherwise confusing premise of the show: regular schlub shot into outer space by evil mad scientists in order to fulfill a vaguely defined series of experiments involving watching bad movies.

So the ones I originally watched — the Comedy Central Joel episodes — all started like this:

In the not-too-distant future
Next Sunday A.D.
There was a guy named Joel,
Not too different from you or me
He worked at Gizmonic Institute
Just another face in a red jumpsuit
He did a good job cleaning up the place
But his bosses didn’t like him
So they shot him into space

Another reason it was so great was that it was malleable: when Joel Hodgson left — in the middle of Mitchell, remember — and was replaced by Mike Nelson, the theme song changed as well, by now assuming that the viewers had at least heard of it.

In the not-too-distant future
Way down in Deep 13
Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank
Were hatching an Evil Scheme
They hired a temp by the name of Mike
Just a regular joe they didn’t like
Their experiment needed a good test case
So they conked him on the noggin
And they shot him into space

Over the original decade, as TV’s Frank left, and Dr. Forrester was replaced by his even more evil mother, the theme songs It was also catchy as hell: vaguely surfy synth-pop with perfectly placed backing vocals, especially as they get to the verse where the actual scheme — and the Joel-built robots — were introduced.

We’ll send him cheesy movies (ooh-hoo-hoo)
The worst we can find (la-la-la)
He’ll have to sit and watch them all (hoo-hoo-hoo)
And we’ll monitor his mind (la-la-la)
Now keep in mind Joel can’t control (hoo-hoo-hoo)
Where the movies begin or end (la-la-la)
Because he used those special parts
To make his robot friends

Because they don’t show up until the second verse, those “ooh-ooh-hoos” and “la-la-la” are always kind of surprising, and totally and completely pure pop, turning it from just a theme song to great song. Also turning into a great song was the utterly joyous “ROBOT ROLL CALL!” which introduced each robot both visually and verbally, as they got to mutter something as they were being shown.

My favorite — and one of my favorite meta moments for a show that was always pretty fucking meta — was the robot roll call after Bill Corbett replaced Trace Beaulieu in the eighth season:

Robot Roll Call!
Cambot! (You’re on!)
Gypsy! (Oh, my stars!)
Tom Servo! (Check me out!)
Crooooow! (I’m different!)

And they changed it up again for the Netflix season — bringing Gypsy into the theatre (and introducing a hilarious visual gag in the episodes where Gypsy appeared in silhouette delivering supplies — but outside of the the 4:3 ratio of the original series, therefore implying she’d always done that — and tossing in a riff) — and giving us a flying Tom Servo, to boot. But even in this series, the last verse was the same as it ever was.

If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes (ooh hoo hoo)
And other science facts (la la la),
Then repeat to yourself, “It’s just a show
I should really just relax”

For Mystery Science Theater 3000

With the visual gag of the bads popping up in outer space to deliver one last “la la la” this last verse was the way they pretty much justified all of the crazy shit they did over the years, and always ended the song and began the show on a complete up.

Supercut of all of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 openings

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