One of the most memorable aspects of a television show is often its theme song. The teen dramas, of course, were no exception.
In fact, TVLine did a whole series revisiting iconic TV theme songs last year, and both “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Dawson’s Creek” were on the 1990s list. And “The O.C.” and “One Tree Hill” both made the cut for the 2000s list. But what about “Gossip Girl” and “90210”? Well, that’s where things get tricky.
Grab your headphones and get your complete guide to the teen drama theme songs below!
Beverly Hills, 90210
Instrumental Theme Music by John E. Davis
The “Beverly Hills, 90210” theme song, while no doubt cemented in pop culture, wasn’t actually used for the first few episodes of the series — as you can see in the first video below. And then when it did start kicking off the show, the opening sequence wasn’t in the style that we all came to know and love, as you can see in the second video below. It wasn’t until season 2 that the individual shots of each cast member posing in front of a blue background entered the mix, part of an almost-yearly photo shoot that Tori Spelling (Donna) and Jennie Garth (Kelly) discussed on their “9021OMG” podcast last month. It was also then that the opening credits first featured Jason Priestley (Brandon) famously doing the pow-pow move to Luke Perry (Dylan).
From then on, the episode footage, actor portraits, and group shots would vary over the years (with Spelling and Garth’s hand-holding at the end beginning with season 5), but the theme song was there to stay, though different versions of it were used. The song was even included on “Beverly Hills, 90210: The Soundtrack” in 1992 and “Beverly Hills, 90210: Songs from the Peach Pit” in 1996 (though it wasn’t on the album that came in between those, 1994’s “Beverly Hills, 90210: The College Years.”)
In 2019, Davis opened up about creating the track after a last-minute request from executive producer Aaron Spelling, and told Variety that its endurance makes him feels like “the luckiest guy in the world.” He also worked with the mega-producer on other shows, and Davis’ theme work gets production credits on “90210” (more on that later!) and “BH90210” (the third and fourth videos below), even though he wasn’t directly involved with either series.
“I Don’t Want to Wait” by Paula Cole
The story of the “Dawson’s Creek” theme song includes not one, not two, but three different songs. Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” was initially chosen to be the music for the series’ opening, but the singer ultimately wasn’t on board and the rights weren’t secured. Producers then asked a number of artists to compose a theme, including Jann Arden, before it was decided to use Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait,” which The WB had licensed. But because Sony didn’t make a deal to use the track — which became a massive hit after the show debuted — for airings beyond the series’ first run in the U.S. and syndication, they had to pay to license it for the season 1 and 2 DVD releases. Starting with the season 3 DVD, they decided to no longer shell out the cash and instead swapped in the music Arden had composed, which had already been in use for international airings of the show. That music, called “Run Like Mad,” is not even a full song, but it’s actually my favorite of the three songs! (The series finale, however, still has “I Don’t Want to Wait” as the opener on the DVDs.)
Many people weren’t introduced to the replacement theme until “Dawson’s Creek” started streaming on Netflix in 2012, and the saga was explained in a Huffington Post feature that included interviews with executive producer Paul Stupin (whom I interviewed for the original TDW in 2009) and Arden. As for Cole, she weighed in on the situation with a 2018 essay in which she said she felt like she was “being erased from the association with ‘Dawson’s Creek’ due to (what feels to me like) corporate greed.”
The controversy resurfaced last fall when “Dawson’s Creek” returned to Netflix after being on Hulu for a number of years and fans who had no idea about the theme song change lit up social media with negative reactions. As I shared in “Teen Drama Links” last month, Cole recently said fan outrage is why she’s now “in discussions” with Sony to restore “I Don’t Want to Wait” for future streaming, although it would be an updated version of the song that was recorded a few years ago.
It should be noted that Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” didn’t get completely left in the dust. It’s featured in a scene in the series finale, where Pacey (Joshua Jackson) shows Jen (Michelle Williams) an old video he found, which is actually a montage that was originally created to promote the series when filming began in 1997. Of the three songs, though, only “I Don’t Want to Wait” is on the show’s 1999 soundtrack, “Songs From Dawson’s Creek.”
Check out all the theme songs below, along with a video of the cast talking about “I Don’t Wanna Wait” during their reunion to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary three years ago.
“California” by Phantom Planet
While “The O.C.” is often credited with introducing bands like Death Cab for Cutie to the mainstream, it was a Phantom Planet track that was chosen to open the series… quite literally. In the first few minutes of the pilot, the song plays as Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) is kicked out of his home and struggles to find a place to stay until his public defender Sandy (Peter Gallagher) picks him up and takes him to the Cohen family’s mansion in Newport. As TV critic and “O.C.” expert Alan Sepinwall reported in 2007, executive producer Josh Schwartz chose “California” to be the show’s theme precisely because he loved so much how it worked in that pilot scene.
The song is included on 2004’s “Music From The O.C.: Mix 1,” and a so-called “mellower” version of the song called “California 2005” was used in the third season and appears on that year’s “Music From The O.C.: Mix 5.” A cover of the song by Mates of State is also on 2006’s “Music From The O.C.: Mix 6” and was featured in season 4. See the pilot opening and the subsequent intros below.
One Tree Hill
“I Don’t Want to Be” by Gavin DeGraw
Song titles are used as the episode titles for every installment of “One Tree Hill,” a series that gets its name from the U2 song. But it’s DeGraw’s track that is the most synonymous with the series. “I Don’t Want to Be” was used for the opening credits in seasons 1-4, and DeGraw himself performed it on the show in episode 1.10, “You Gotta Go There to Come Back.”
The song, however, was discarded for season 5 — with now-disgraced showrunner Mark Schwahn blaming a combination of licensing expenses, the plot’s four-year time jump, and time constraints — until the season finale, which opens with Jackson Brundage (Jamie) singing the song as DeGraw accompanies him on the piano. Then in season 8, the majority of the episodes featured “I Don’t Want to Be” as covered by different artists, including Kate Voegele (Mia) and Wakey Wakey, which is fronted by Mike Grubbs (Grubbs, whom I interviewed in 2010 for the original TDW). Another cover was done by Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, which had previously performed on the series twice in season 3.
Then in the series finale (which was actually titled “One Tree Hill”), DeGraw performs the song in honor of the 10th anniversary of Tric, with the characters all singing along in the crowd. Meanwhile a live version of “I Don’t Wanna Be” is featured on 2005’s “One Tree Hill – Music from the WB Television Series, Vol. 1.”
The videos below showcase the song in some of the various openings, plus the series finale. Also, I have to say, I’m kinda of amused right now that we have the similarly titled “I Don’t Want to Wait” and “I Don’t Want to Be” as two of our teen drama theme songs.
“Steps of the Met” by Transcenders
So, as I said above, this is where things get tricky. “Gossip Girl” doesn’t have a traditional theme song like the opening songs for its teen drama predecessors. However, there is a part of an instrumental track composed by Transcenders that’s played for less than 15 seconds at the start of each episode, over which narrator Kristen Bell is heard saying, “And who am I? That’s a secret I’ll never tell. You know you love me. XOXO, Gossip Girl.” Also unlike the shows that came before it, no images of the cast appear in the “Gossip Girl” opening.
Below you’ll find the opening sequence and the full version of “Steps of the Met” (of which only the last portion is used for the series). Also be sure to check out this 2009 post from the original TDW in which I highlighted fan-created “Gossip Girl” openings done in the style of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “The O.C.,” and “One Tree Hill.” They’re pretty perfect.
Instrumental Theme Music by John E. Davis
Since “90210” was a spinoff of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” producers apparently decided that instead of having a brand-new theme song, they would recreate Davis’ original track. As noted above, Davis had no actual involvement in this. They simply created a remix without his input, and when it debuted, I hated it. The song and the title sequence were changed further for the second season of nu90210, and I disliked that too. But now… I must admit… it’s grown on me, as has the clever way the revamped opening credits depict the numbers of “90210.”
The second remix also appears on 2009’s “Soundtrack 90210.” So how much theme song credit does “90210” deserve if its inspiration came from the original series? Check out the nu90210 versions below and decide for yourself.
Which of the teen dramas has the most memorable theme song(s)? Vote by clicking on the show of your choice below!
Beverly Hills, 90210
One Tree Hill
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I remember back when it was being hyped ahead of its series premiere, The CW used to air promos of nu9-Oh with a version of the theme song thatscreamed "edgier teen drama punk anthem" than the one used for Season 1, and it was the only one out of the three versions with a full length extended version, which I was able to have my hands on, courtesy of Limewire. I can't recall though if the CW had it downloadable from the website first before it hit the pirate shelves.