SoundTreks | All the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Theme Songs
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are perhaps the strangest idea to have even struck a chord with the popular consciousness. While the Turtles have been an active invading force in the minds of children since 1987 (when the first TMNT television series debuted), and have come to pervasively dominate nostalgia for generations, one can still easily admit that, well, the idea of four sewer mutants named after Renaissance artists who do battle with ninjas is wholly bizarre. It’s almost as if the consumers of the Turtles forcibly made them popular on a dare, and no one ever expected them to get this big.
But big they have become. The Ninja Turtles are currently enjoying the release of their sixth theatrical feature film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which is also, by my count, at least the ninth canonical iteration of the characters. And that’s not counting the innumerable video games to feature them. And, with the release of every new movie and every new TV show, there is going to be at least one notable pop song about the Turtles themselves.
We here at SoundTreks, Crave’s regular series devoted to movie and TV music, tracked down all of the officially sanctioned Ninja Turtles songs, and present them herein to you.
The Theme Song (1987)
It’s been said that the best TV theme songs require two things to be considered great: They must have a catchy earworm melody, and they must, in no uncertain terms, lay out the premise and the characters from the show with very clear lyrics. There’s a reason we all still remember the theme songs to long-ago shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. If these are the criteria for a great theme song, then the 1987 original is one of the best. It repeats the title enough to be remembered, it describes the four main characters and their known traits, and it lays out what they do: fight the evil Shredder.
It’s hard to unmesh the 1987 TV theme song from the nostalgia it holds over this author.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells (1990)
Yes, this was real.
“T-U-R-T-L-E Power” by Partners in Kryme
Partners in Kryme were a rap duo from New York who got their big break in 1990 singing the narrative rap to play over the credits of the first Ninja Turtles movie. Partners in Kryme, it should be noted, never released an actual record, and can only be found here and there on various soundtrack records. Their other notable hit was a contribution to the movie Cool as Ice. They recently reformed and, in 2015, recorded a new song about the Turtles called “Rock the Halfshell.” It’s not really worth mentioning. Partners in Kryme are like a limp version of Run-DMC. Clumsy flow, silly lyrics, too friendly to succeed.
I do kind of dig the silly simplicity of “T-U-R-T-L-E Power,” and I appreciate his Noo Yawk accent. Although – and many have taken exception to this – the rappers refers to Raphael as the leader of the group. All good Turtle fans know that Leonardo is the leader of the group.
“Ninja Rap” by Vanilla Ice
Although I have little interest in his silly, often bad music, I am fully in support of Vanilla Ice. He fought a tough fight, occupied a weird place in popular culture, and eventually fought his way back from depression, theft, and drugs. His oddest collaboration was on the soundtrack to the 1991 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze wherein he rapped this repetitive and notorious ditty. No adult would want to hear this one, but I can declare confidently that it’s perfect for 9-year-olds.
“Turtle Jam” by Psychedelic Dust, feat. Loose Bruce
Few have any admiration for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time, as it is cheap-looking, and features some truly awful filmmaking. I can find no information about Psychedelic Dust, the group behind that film’s over-the-credits narrative rap, but I can say that “Turtle Jam” is, from an objective standpoint, better than “T-U-R-T-L-E Power” and “Ninja Rap.” It has a better groove, better lyrics, and a more talented frontman. It even has a reference to Wilson Pickett. There are wit and fun here. It’s time we dug this one out of mothballs and boxed up the other two.
Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997)
This was a live-action TV series that featured actors in animatronic suits, and a fan-angering rejiggering of the Turtles myth, including the inclusion of a fifth central Turtle in the form of Venus de Milo. The show was spun out of a concept that was intended to be a fourth feature film that was never to be made.
The theme song is a kind of grating pop metal tune with squishy vocals, a rushed lyrical premise, and the deliberate exclusion of the “Teenage Mutant” part of the mythology. The bad theme song may be indicative of the show as it was canceled after one season. It was to be the first time the Turtles weren’t active on the air in a decade. It would take five years before they were revived.
Theme Song (2003)
You may notice that the preferred musical genre for Ninja Turtles has been, to date, hip hop or rap, the 1987 series notwithstanding. I can’t say why rap seems to be the best musical venue in which to explore these characters, however. I suppose, as teenagers, the Turtles should be listening to whatever teens are listening to at the time. It can be posited, then, that kids were consuming less rap and getting more into broad arena rock in 2003. Because this 2003 theme song is certainly of the Angry White Boy genre. It shouts out “cool” affirmations and forced catchphrases. It’s not so catchy as it is shrill and repetitive. I can’t speak to the show – I haven’t seen it – but I can say that I dislike the theme song.
“Shell Shock” by Gym Class Heroes
The Turtles were resurrected in 2007 in the form of this CGI animated film – called simply TMNT – which was reviewed vaguely positively, but doesn’t really stick in the memory. Gym Class Heroes are a New York rap/funk/reggae group with six records to their name. They are intense and wordy and ultra-produced. “Shell Shock,” as far as I can tell, isn’t expressly about the Turtles, but was included in the movie for its evocative lyrics. You can tell by the dark tone of the song that TMNT was meant to be more hefty and violent and dramatic than the previously playful versions. I’m not sure if “intensity” is really the note one should strike with the Ninja Turtles, however.
Theme Song (2012)
The 2012 TV revival of the Turtles was a CGI creation that played a little lighter than the last show, and had a catchier theme song. This song is a fast-paced rap that borrows samples and motifs from the 1987 theme song. The song is largely uninteresting until it gets to the character breakdown, wherein we get very clear character descriptions for the four main heroes. That’s an impressive bit of rapping. But that’s not much of a compliment, I realize. I’m waiting for someone to crack the brain open the same way the 1987 song did.
“Shell Shocked” by: Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, and Ty Dolla $ign, feat. Kill the Noise & Madsonik
When the Turtles were resurrected for the big screen in 2014, everything was made to look and feel more intense. The Turtles themselves were made into ultra-detailed motion-capture monsters, the tone of the movie was more cluttered, and the soundtrack, naturally, featured bigger, noisier, poppier music. “Shell Shocked” is a huge song that, when compared to the quaintness of the songs so far, it feels like it could be the best. It seems like the most thought, wit, and energy went into the creation of “Shell Shocked.”
But, here’s the funny thing: This track is, in its own way, just as silly and simplistic as Partners in Kryme. The lyrics are simple and dumb and describe the four heroes, while occasionally inserting the usual vapid modern rap trend of including one’s own wealth. Once the song ends, it sort of vanished from your head. It’ll take a few listens. Then it will be stuck forever.
“Turtle Power” by CD9
This song, recorded by a Mexican boy band that was formed in 2013, is merely a high-pop cover of the 1987 TV theme song. This is the first time a cover of a TV or movie theme song has been repeated within the Turtles universe (Heaven knows there are hundreds of bands who have covered Ninja Turtles songs). It’s one of the poppiest, slickest, safest, most kid-friendly rock songs I think I have ever heard. And, like a lot of kiddie pop, It’s distressing how easily one can consume this sugary confection.
Is it good? For the same reason that I cannot comment in the 1987 original, I have to abstain. Too much nostalgia.
Which Is the Best?
Most would agree that it never got better than the 1987 theme, and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. It’s an earworm, it’s descriptive, and it’s fun to listen to. It builds, has a variety of vocals, and it leaves you with an oddball premise (and title) clearly described. That’s no small feat. Imagine being those songwriters, and having to somehow write that four-word phrase musically. These people did it. The only harder job may have been writing a theme for Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go!
But, when it comes to complete works with good lyrics, more wit, and a more solid production, the forgotten “Turtle Jam” may actually be the best of this lot. A controversial view perhaps, but I encourage you to listen again. Appreciate the relative complexity of that song, and come to appreciate it more. It’s a narrative rap with a good-enough leading frontman, a fun soul groove, and a good dance beat. Maybe it’s time is still coming.
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.