Ode to Jeopardy!


I originally wrote this for the Spartan Daily in April 2020 to be included as a comparison of different types of loading music. It wasn't ever published, but given the new Jeopardy! season and that I just finished reading Alex Trebek's memoir, I dug it out of the archives.

Answer: the most iconic game show track.

“Alex, what is Jeopardy!’s ‘Think’ music?”

Since the show’s inception in 1964, the “Think” music played during the Final Jeopardy! round has become a staple in any scenario in which there’s a time deadline. The basic melody is incredibly simple, making it easy for people to hum when they want to put someone on the hot seat.

That’s kind of on purpose, as Jeopardy! creator Merv Griffin originally wrote the song as a lullaby for his son. But what Griffin originally intended to be a relaxing song to fall asleep to now causes stress for three different contestants every weeknight.

The song is exactly 30 seconds long, so contestants can figure out how much time they have left based on the music alone, rather than needing to look at a clock.

Just like the show itself, the music has gone through changes over the years. The original version from the ’60s emphasized the ticking noise from a clock while lighter bells played in the background.

The early ’90s saw more variations on the theme, including one variation that replaced the ticking clock with bongos. It didn’t last very long, thankfully.

Audiences heard the biggest change in 2008, when Chris Bell Music & Sound Design entirely overhauled the “Think” track for Jeopardy!’s 25th anniversary. It remains the music you hear today, consisting entirely of electric guitars.

The song is still Griffin’s though, in 2005, two years before his death, he told The New York Times that he had earned “close to $70-$0 million” from royalties. That sounds pretty good for what Griffin described as something “he wrote in less than a minute.”

Even though the music is set, it does get remixed occasionally for tournaments; most recently the Jeopardy! Greatest of All Time tournament. It featured three past champions who are considered to be some of the best players ever: Ken Jennings, who had the longest streak, Brad Rutter, who had never lost to a human opponent, and newcomer James Holzhauer, who had the most Jeopardy! records.

Given host Alex Trebek’s stage IV cancer diagnosis and the likelihood that Jennings and Rutter were both past their prime, fans knew that the end of a Jeopardy! era was approaching and the music reflects that.

The GOAT “Think” music takes a slower and more somber tone, reflecting the seriousness of the tournament as well as the underlying message of a generational shift.

Ultimately the theme music and even Jeopardy! itself shine because of the simplicity. Anyone can easily pick up the 30-second tune just as quickly you can pick up the Jeopardy! format.