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I often complain about the “HBO formula” which involves violence, sex and the “titty quota,” a requirement to show a woman topless or naked in virtually every episode. But one thing HBO gets right is the music. Have you ever noticed the impact of a show’s theme song? A good song sets the tone and puts you in the right mood to watch. My favorite theme songs are these…

True Blood. The disturbing video for “Bad Things” by Jace Everett juxtaposes roadkill with sexual and religious imagery. It perfectly complements the lyrics, about a man who meets a woman and feels a strange compulsion to do things he knows he shouldn’t. Before the night is through. With HER. I knew nothing about Jace Everett before hearing this song, but his looks remind me a bit of Ewan McGregor. And he has a very sexy baritone voice with only a slight country twang (for me, limiting the twang is a plus).

The Sopranos. In my opinion this was the best thing about The Sopranos. (I liked the actors too, especially Lorraine Bracco in Season 1.) The song, a hybrid of hip-hop, blues and gospel, is by ironic “acid house” English band Alabama 3. Inspired by a woman who killed her husband after suffering his abuse for two years, the song cleverly reverses some of the misogynist tendencies of traditional blues with lyrics that sound very traditional indeed: Woke up this morning, got yourself a gunBorn under a bad sign

Game of Thrones. I have mixed feelings about the show, but not about the music, which is spectacular. The main theme is by Iranian-German composer Ramin Djawadi who was given only ten weeks to write the music after Stephen Warbeck left the project. According to a review by Richard Buxton, the title theme “falls agonizingly short” of the possibilities evoked by the computer-animated images of the opening credits. I could not disagree more. The credits are absorbing to watch, with their quasi-organic, quasi-mechanical city models blossoming over the map of Westeros, and that mysterious, burning solar vehicle gliding over the planet’s sky. But it is the music which gives the intro sequence its emotional depth. The first notes sound vaguely like Renaissance music, with the combination of string and drums, but the low pitch of the cello makes them melancholy. Slowly the tune is augmented with layers of orchestration until it becomes a grand processional, the march of history in this mythical place.

Rome. This is my all time favorite intro to a TV show. We know very little about what ancient Greco-Roman music sounded like, and it probably diverged greatly from modern tastes (the “reconstructed” samples I’ve heard do not sound particularly appealing). Composer Jeff Beal (who also did the music for House of Cards) had free rein to do whatever he liked, and to me the Rome theme is sheer genius. Its melody and complex percussion are reminiscent of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, yet accessible and seductive to the modern ear. The music makes it easy to imagine the sights and sounds of an ancient city. In the video, the city “comes to life” in eerie, amusing and unexpected ways. The final, dramatic chorus of male voices sounds like the chanting of pagan priests, with a hint of menace (GoT uses a similar effect). In all, it evokes both the familiarity of ancient Rome, which is ancestral to the modern West, and its utter alienness.