Everybody's a music critic and during the bonus features of season 3, TV producer/writer David Simon was put on the spot for changing the opening theme songs from seasons 1 and 2.
"I'd like to know why you changed the opening theme song from the Tom Waits version to The Neville Brothers version," an audience member asked Simon during the Q&A session with David Bushman and New York Magazine's TV critic Ken Tucker from The Museum of Television & Radio.
"We changed it after the first year because we were going to a different part of the city to tell a different story," Simon responded. "We needed to capture the voice of that part of the city. It was a way of saying that while the show in its elemental purpose remain the same that the story was going to be different."
Some of today's shows skip right past the opening theme music and get straight to the nitty gritty. "Scandal" is the first that comes to mind. With '90s shows, such as "The Cosby Show," the music started off as the driving force. But by the second season, Bill Cosby and the rest of crew were as exciting to watch dance along to the music as the actual show was all eight seasons.
But with "The Wire," Simon did something a little different. The lyrics of "Way Down in the Hole" stayed the same; the singers just changed.
The first season it was The Blind Boys of Alabama. The second season it was Tom Waits. The third season it was The Neville Brothers. The fourth season it was DoMaJe. The fifth season it was Steve Earle.
It's fascinating to hear five different artists/groups sing the same song and have dramatically different moods.
The one with The Blind Boys of Alabama sounds like a jam session that could be heard on any street corner, subway station or neighborhood nightclub. It has a down-home feel.
The Tom Waits version has a bluesier feel. It's darker, and minus the sound of broken glass and sirens, the beginning sounds like something that could be heard in church.
The Neville Brothers version leans moreso towards reggae or an island feel. As strange as it may seem, the singers sound almost like they're smiling while they sing about keeping the devil way down in the hole. And the saxophone towards the end can borderline make someone want to get up and do the two step.
DoMaJe's version was by far the most depressing version of the five. The sound of youth was apparent, and with random dial tones and someone instigating in the background about "he ain't nobody," this set viewers up to know this season was not going to be anywhere close to worrying about "Wonder Years" or "Blossom" happy teen TV issues. And the sound of a school alarm is about as appealing as hearing someone's alarm clock repeatedly go off.*
Steve Earle's version had the same uplifting tone as The Neville Brothers' version, but it sounded like something that should've already been on an uptempo oldies station. Not quite R&B. Not quite rock. When Steve Earle says "jeeez-zus," it almost leans towards country. This version seemed to be a mix of a few genres and was another danceworthy version.
Which opening theme song was your favorite?
* Confession: I raced to the television to fast forward past the fourth season's version. It was too glum. I never skipped past Steve Earle's version. This was the version I turned up and listened to straight through each time.
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