Currently on its twenty-second season in as many years, South Park is one of the longest-running and most cherished programs still airing on Comedy Central. Greenlit all the way back in 1997, the comedy was there since day one, but the theme song wasn’t.
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Opting to outsource the song’s development, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker tapped funky rock icon Les Claypool of Primus fame to pen the notoriously-twangy jingle we all recognize today. Though the theme has gone relatively unchanged over the past twenty-odd years, there are a few weird ways in which it has evolved over the show’s 283 aired episodes.
10 Primus's Theme Was Originally Rejected
As previously mentioned, singer and bassist Les Claypool lent his talents to South Park's notorious theme song before the show first aired. However, the original track he recorded for Matt and Trey didn't fly with the network, as they found the thirty-second clip to be too lengthy.
The intro was eventually re-worked to fit Comedy Central’s requirements, but the first draft managed to find its way into the show, and it can still be heard as the credits play during the outro of every episode. While it has captured the hearts of most South Park fans, there’s no denying that this instrumental section isn’t quite as catchy or memorable as the revised track.
9 Enter the Fourth Grade
Though the theme experienced a few minor changes throughout the first three seasons of the show, it would receive its first major revision with the release of the eleventh episode of the fourth season.
Aptly titled “Fourth Grade,” this intro kicks off with a literal boom as a suave new animation shows off all of the new features coming to South Park as the boys enter a new classroom. Coinciding with this change, the twangy, almost cheap-sounding guitars were replaced with a generic techno beat, though Claypool's vocal cut remained the same. This intro ran for another season before it was replaced.
8 Halloween Special
Most South Park seasons feature at least one Halloween-themed episode. Much like The Simpsons’ time-honored Tree House of Horror mini-series, these episodes focus on all of the weird and paranormal happenings occurring in Colorado’s famously off-beat town. These intros usually replace most of the typical instrumentals with creepy, thematic sounds.
Most notably, in the fourth episode of season seventeen titled “Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers,” most of the lyrics were re-worked and re-dubbed by the segment's leading characters to more accurately fit the atmosphere of the episode. This restructuring was well-received by fans, and some have been hoping for overhauls like this to make their way into future installments of the show.
7 Rough Start
Those who’ve been watching the show since it first aired might know that the intro we’ve all come to love was fairly rudimentary when it first debuted. Though it’s now characterized by its fast-paced guitar work and use of various instruments, the original track was relatively bare-bones.
For starters, the bass was much more notable in the mix while the guitar work took a back seat. It was still saturated in Claypool’s notorious brand of strangeness, but it didn’t quite carry as much gravitas as it would later on in the show’s lifespan. The song’s evolution may be subtle, but hardcore South Park fans would probably be able to figure out an episode’s parent season simply by listening to the intro.
6 You Killed Kenny
Anyone even remotely familiar with South Park will be aware of the running gag which sees recurring character Kenny McCormick constantly meeting his end through some wild an unlikely means only to be unceremoniously resurrected in the following episode.
However, while the beloved orange-clad kid usually plays a small role in the show’s opening theme song, most of the sixth season saw him replaced by Timmy Burch, a wheelchair-bound boy apparently only capable of saying his own name. This was due to the fact that, at that time, Kenny had seemingly been permanently removed from the show, and the writers needed to add a different character to the introductory cinematic to drive home the fact that he was gone.
Once the techno-influenced theme introduced in the fourth season was dumped in favor of the original intro track, the show’s creators saw an opportunity to revamp a song that had been a staple of the production since the beginning. Instead of simply rehashing what they already had, another remix of the South Park theme was introduced by mixing the original with one of Les Claypool’s newer tracks beginning in season ten.
Around that time, the band Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade had put out a single titled ‘Whamola,’ and the show’s creators infused samples of that song with the initial version to create a funkier, more involved remix of the tune fans already loved.
4 Welcome to South Park
It’s really difficult to make out, but Kenny’s lines in the intro actually change depending on the season. Most casual viewers typically assume that he’s either mumbling something totally incoherent, but his words are actually distinguishable if you listen closely. In keeping with South Park’s politically incorrect stature, every statement he’s ever made during the show’s intro has been incredibly vulgar and unfit for TV.
However, he’s never been censored due to the fact that he’s already difficult to make out. He hasn’t switched up his speech since season ten, and, while he’s often misquoted as saying “welcome to South Park” twice, he’s actually saying something that really wouldn’t fly on most networks.
3 A Song of A** and Fire
South Park has long been known for a propensity to parody American pop culture, and they’ve ridiculed everything from World of Warcraft to Walt Disney. Their long-winded, multi-episode take on George R. R. Martin’s famous A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels—the impetus behind the award-winning show Game of Thrones—was particularly memorable, and it even served as a basis for the subsequent release of the South Park: The Stick of Truth video game.
This Westeros-themed series came accompanied by its own unique intro theme song, which had nothing at all to do with the show’s established theme. These episodes are among a very small few to do away with the classic intro entirely.
2 Chef's Luvshack
While most of the early South Park video games opted to keep the show’s iconic intro, the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 title Chef’s Luvshack did away with the well-known opener and instead kicked things off with an entirely new song featuring Isaac Hayes’ character Chef.
The game is intended as a parody of game show culture and tests the players knowledge in a collection of raunchy and witty genres. In terms of gameplay, it’s fairly similar to something like You Don’t Know Jack, albeit with the show’s often off-color humor dialed up to eleven. It’s far from the most memorable South Park related game, but it’s now a neat piece of weird memorabilia for fans.
Video games related to Comedy Central’s notoriously satirical show were usually thought to be a mixed back before Ubisoft stepped in and introduced two fantastic RPGs to the library in the form of 2014’s The Stick of Truth and 2017’s The Fractured But Whole. The show’s writers were clearly more involved with the development of these titles, their authentic humor shines as brightly as it would in a traditional episode.
However, one curious omission would be that of the classic South Park intro. Neither of the games kick off with the usual title card, instead opting to showcase intros of their own. It doesn’t damage either game’s overall quality, but it’s still a strange thing to leave out.