Song of the Day: Jann Arden, "Run Like Mad"
After a brief period of being unavailable on a streaming service (it vanished from Netflix about a year ago), Dawson's Creek is back in circulation, this time on Hulu. I'm trapped in a vicious cycle when it comes to this show, which is one of my five favorite television programs of all time: Whenever it seems like it has gone away, if suddenly the streaming dries up or the home video options suddenly seem scarce, I get unreasonably excited about the prospect of Dawson's Creek re-emerging in its purest, original broadcast form.
But that's not to be, unfortunately, as the 128 episodes currently available on Hulu are the same bastardized versions I've been putting up with since the show first arrived on DVD over a decade ago, with most of the soundtrack changed for the worse. Music was a huge part of Dawson's Creek, both in the context of the show (Joey singing "On My Own" from Les Miserables is the key turning point of the first season) and in the greater cultural approach of the WB network at the time (it's the first time I can remember seeing bumpers at the end of broadcasts that let you know what songs you just heard in the show). But the bulk of those music cues are now missing. The first season kept the songs in tact, but everything thereafter is pretty bastardized. (Any time Dawson's returns in a new form, I always go to season two's "The All-Nighter" to see if they brought back the Save Ferris song in the third act; I've never been so crestfallen about not hearing a ska song.)
The most criminal change, however, is in the show's theme song. When Dawson's Creek ran on TV, the opening theme was Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait." It was a placement that became useful for both parties: The song became instantly synonymous with the show, providing it with a signature introduction. The tune also became a huge hit for Cole, who graduated from one-hit wonder (her single "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" had been in the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 in 1997) to a star big enough to headline amphitheaters in the summer of 1998. There's no question "I Don't Want to Wait" is one of Dawson's Creek's greatest cultural legacies, alongside memes of James Van Der Beek crying and the endlessly adorable friendship between Michelle Williams and Busy Phillips.
But you won't hear "I Don't Want to Wait" when you click play on episodes of Dawson's Creek. Instead, you'll hear Jann Arden's "Run Like Mad," a song that is familiar to Creek devotees by now, as it has been the theme song we've been dealing with since the show went off the air back in 2003. It was originally used as the theme song for international broadcasts, and while it's fine on its own, it doesn't hold the same type of nostalgic weight as Cole's jam.
It's unclear why the theme song has been changed, though the tangled web involved in music licensing is certainly to blame. Using a song on a TV show used to be easy, because it was seen as mutually beneficial to everybody involved, and it still mostly is. But when it comes to translating soundtracks to home video or streaming, everybody loses their damn mind because nobody makes any money off of music any more. There are a ton of stories out there of classic shows hung up in music licensing hell, which is why it took so long for WKRP in Cincinnati to arrive on DVD (it finally hit in the fall of 2014). Freaks & Geeks also took forever to make it to home video shelves, primarily because of all the music they had to clear (and specifically the Billy Joel songs that dotted one particular episode). Many more producers of TV box sets simply threw their hands up and released seasons without any of the original music. This is especially true of shows that ran on MTV, who used to be able to use most any song in their library—and MTV's impact was so vast that the record companies were pleased their music showed up anywhere on the channel. That's why the home video versions of Daria, The State, and The Real World are so disheartening, and why the DVD versions of Beavis & Butt-Head touted that some of the original music videos were actually preserved for release.
Part of me thinks it doesn't matter that Dawson's Creek is lacking most of its original broadcast music—after all, there are only a handful of people out there who really remember the late '90s alt-rock music cues compared to the anonymous singer-songwriter stuff that has filled in the gaps for over a decade. But I still hold out hope that somebody takes it upon themselves to clear all the original music and restore Dawson's Creek to its original broadcast glory—or, at the very least, get us Paula Cole back.