Welcome to Part 2 of my Favorite TV Theme Songs. Please check out Part 1 if you have not already done so. I will remind you that these choices reflect my own unique taste and life experiences. You may agree or disagree with my rankings. Please leave me comments (be nice) suggesting your favorites that I may have skipped over. Now on with the show!!
Frasier’s theme song was actually played during the closing credits, which seems a bit counterintuitive. I assume there were two reasons for this though. First, jumping right into the show at the beginning rather than playing a theme song might possibly maybe kinda sorta provide a small advantage over the competition in gaining the viewership of people, like my Dad for example, who flip thru channels like a crackhead with the attention span of a gnat. Secondly, maybe it keeps the attention of viewers at the end of the show and helps whatever program comes next. Anyway, Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs was a nonsensical tune that had to have been written by someone who was high and thought it was h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s. I spent a decade watching the show and trying to figure out exactly what in the heck it meant. I still don’t know. What I do know is that the tune, sung by series star Kelsey Grammar, is unique and obviously memorable.
14 The Addams Family
They’re creepy. They’re kooky. They’re altogether ooky. They are the Addams Family of course!! You’re snapping your fingers right now aren’t you?? The show was based on a series of cartoons that began appearing in The New Yorker in the 1930’s. It only lasted two seasons in the mid-60’s and was off the air before my father had even met my mother, but thanks to syndicated reruns in the 80’s I came to love it and its infectious & quirky theme song.
13 WKRP in Cincinnati
The WKRP theme song spins a tale. It’s about someone (presumably program director Andy Travis) who is writing to an ex-girlfriend hoping that maybe she thinks of him occasionally even though they weren’t meant to be. He has apparently had an unstable professional life of which he has grown weary but has finally settled down at this pugnacious little station in Cincinnati, OH. The song may not fully set up the premise of the show, but it does tell a story and I like that. These days listening to the WKRP theme makes me wistful. It makes me long for the days when sitcoms were funny and songs on the radio were awesome. Those were good times.
12 The Dukes of Hazzard
When I was a kid I LOVED The Dukes of Hazzard. I still do. Various TV stations broadcast reruns with some regularity and I watch whenever I get the chance. Country music has never frosted my cupcake, but I definitely dig the Dukes theme, which was composed & performed by the legendary Waylon Jennings (who also narrated the show). Good Ol’ Boys, which actually reached #1 on the country charts in 1980, solidly outlines the program’s premise, telling us that these two harmless guys are always in trouble with the law because they fight the system like two modern day Robin Hoods. They just don’t make shows or write theme songs like this anymore. Such a shame.
I’ll be There for You was a one hit wonder for a pop duo called The Rembrandts. It’s an upbeat, rockin’ tune that might have been a hit all by itself, but if not for Friends it would have never existed. The song was written by the show’s producers, who originally offered the opportunity to sing it to 80’s alternative rockers They Might Be Giants (who went on to do the theme for Malcolm in the Middle, which I never watched). After that didn’t work out the song was offered to REM, which would have been really awesome, but that didn’t happen either. The Rembrandts, despite their cool band name, never really achieved any lasting success, but I’m sure they are pleased with the residual checks that keep rolling in. The lyrics perfectly describe life for a 20-something (and in my case my 30’s and 40’s thus far as well). Your job is a joke, you’re broke, your love life is dead, it seems like you’re stuck in second gear, it hasn’t been your day, month, or year, and your mother warned you that life has a way of bringing you to your knees…but your friends will be there when it rains because they understand what you’re going thru. It’s a rather deep song for a television theme, and one that I really connected with back in the 90’s.
10 Welcome Back Kotter / The Facts of Life
Yep…you guessed it…we have another tie. Welcome Back Kotter is a criminally underappreciated program. Everyone knows it launched John Travolta’s career, but aside from that it rarely gets the attention it deserves. One fantastic element of the show that, along with the Travolta connection, has remained in the American pop culture consciousness is the theme song that was composed & sung by John Sebastian, former lead singer of The Lovin’ Spoonful, the band that brought us the 1966 chart topper Summer in the City. It’s a breezy, laid back, very 70’s tune that tells us that Mr. Kotter is originally from Brooklyn (as a matter of fact he was an alumnus of the high school in the show and an original founding member of The Sweathogs) and that he has moved back after his dreams were his original ticket out. I don’t recall if the show ever explained where Mr. Kotter had gone to, what those dreams were (getting an education? becoming a teacher?), or why exactly he felt compelled to return. I suppose that would have been a bit heavy for a sitcom. The Facts of Life was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes and lasted an amazing nine seasons. The theme song taught us all that the facts of life meant taking the good with the bad, that they were all about you, and that it takes a lot to get them right. The song was composed by songstress Gloria Loring and her then husband, actor Alan Thicke. Loring sang the Facts theme, while Thicke crooned the other song they’d written…the Diff’rent Strokes theme.
9 Laverne & Shirley
For the record, a schlemiel is what a clumsy blunderer is called in Yiddish. I suppose we may refer to them as a screw-up. Schlimazel is the Yiddish term for an unlucky person. Hasenpfeffer is German rabbit stew. I’m not sure which of Laverne and Shirley was the screw-up and which one was the unlucky one, or what rabbit stew has to do with anything. But let’s face it, that little bit of Eastern European gibberish takes what would have otherwise been an ordinary theme song called Making Our Dreams Come True and makes it one that we’ll always remember.
8 The Jeffersons
Movin’ On Up basically tells us the premise of the show. We know that George & Louise Jefferson had been neighbors of All in the Family’s Archie & Edith Bunker in Queens. When the spinoff was created George, the well-to-do owner of a dry cleaning chain, and “Weezie” moved to Manhattan. They moved “on up to the sky”, aka a penthouse apartment, finally getting “their piece of the pie”, their “at bat in the big leagues”. I’m not really sure about fish not frying in the kitchen or beans not burning on the grill. Maybe rich people were supposed to stop eating those things?? Anyway, anyone who grew up in the 70’s & 80’s and watched too much TV is familiar with this particular theme and likely recalls it with affection.
7 The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson)
A few weeks ago former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen made a guest appearance on the Jimmy Fallon incarnation of the program. At 87 years of age Doc looks like he has hardly grown a day older than he was two decades ago when Carson abdicated his throne as King of Late Night and the entire television landscape changed. As a nod to Doc’s tenure with Carson the house band played the show’s old theme song, the one so closely identified with Carson’s reign. It was a brief but cherished trip down memory lane. The song itself has an interesting history. Toot Sweet was a tinny melody written by Paul Anka in the 50’s. Anka & Annette Funicello dated briefly and she covered Toot Sweet (with lyrics) in 1959, calling it It’s Really Love. When Carson took over The Tonight Show in 1962 Anka revamped the tune into Johnny’s Theme. You did not know that. Wacky wild stuff. Hiyoooooo!!!!
6 The Beverly Hillbillies
In the 1960’s CBS was home to a plethora of shows that catered to a rustic, small town target audience. The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, Mister Ed, Petticoat Junction, & Hee Haw were all set in rural areas with simple, goodhearted country folks as the centerpiece. The Beverly Hillbillies added a fish-out-of-water element to the mix, transporting its family from the hills of an unspecified southern locale to the posh neighborhood of Beverly Hills. The Ballad of Jed Clampett explains that the poor mountaineer had been out hunting when he hit oil (black gold, Texas tea) and became a millionaire. His family encouraged him to use his new wealth to move to California, because I guess back then that seemed like some sort of nirvana, as opposed to the economically & morally bankrupt cesspool it has become. At any rate, the storytelling lyrics combined with some really catchy banjo music has made this particular theme song one of the most beloved in television history.
5 The Andy Griffith Show
Did you know that the TAGS theme song has lyrics?? I had no clue until a few years ago when Andy Griffith passed away and my buddy Conner, as big of a fan of the show as myself, posted the song on Facebook. The Fishin’ Hole is pretty much what you’d expect…a story about chillin’ out at an idyllic fishing spot. I’m not sure who made the decision to not utilize the words for the TV theme, but it was a brilliant choice. Instead the song is whistled, which just adds to the pleasant & tranquil vibe of the show. I can’t whistle, but if I ever learn how I think I’d just have to perform the TAGS theme for myself on a daily basis. That’d make me happy.
4 The Flintstones
I wasn’t a huge cartoon fan as a kid, but I did enjoy a few, one of them being The Flintstones. It’s amazing to think that it was a prime time show back in the early 60’s. There is a scene in the 1987 Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles where John Candy & Steve Martin are riding in a bus and the rather extroverted (some might say borderline obnoxious) character played by Candy is getting everybody interested in a sing-a-long. He asks Martin’s somewhat aloof character to pick a song, and when he does his best to sell the passengers on the old Sinatra standard Three Coins in the Fountain they all look at him like he just escaped a mental institution. Candy takes over and immediately gets the crowd into a rousing rendition of the Flintstones theme. It’s just that kind of song. Like several other beloved TV themes it is an excellent introduction to the show itself, literally inviting us to meet this modern, Stone Age family from Bedrock and promising that we’re going to have a yabba dabba doo time, which of course we all know by now is a good thing.
3 Gilligan’s Island / The Brady Bunch
This is our final tie and it seems appropriate for various reasons. Both shows were created by the same guy. Gilligan’s Island aired for three seasons in the mid-60’s, while The Brady Bunch was on the air for five seasons in the early 70’s. I became familiar with both shows because they aired regularly in syndication throughout my childhood. Occasionally you can still find them today on channels like TV Land and Nick at Nite. Both shows are looked at with equal amounts of fondness & derision because thru the prism of our modern culture (the one that has made stars out of Justin Bieber & The Kardashians and thinks reality TV is cool) they seem hokey & trite. Each theme song outlines its show really well and introduce us to every character. The lyrics for both songs were written by series’ creator Sherwood Schwartz. And both theme songs are well-known and cherished by multiple generations.
The older I get the more I appreciate class & sophistication. I suppose everyone probably defines those things a bit differently, but I think most people know it when they see it. The Cheers theme songs sets a tone. The show takes place in a bar, and that can mean a variety of things depending on one’s life experiences. This tune clearly establishes that this particular bar is a friendly, relaxed, pleasant, tasteful place to hang out. Where Everybody Knows Your Name communicates that Cheers is a place where people “are always glad you came”, where everyone understands that life can be tough and that sometimes you just have to “take a break from all your worries”. It doesn’t promote “partying” as most young people understand that term, and I can’t recall any character on the show…not even constant beer drinker Norm…becoming intoxicated and doing something stupid or illegal. Unrealistic?? Sure, but that’s fine by me.
1 The Love Boat
Finally…we’ve reached the summit!!
I’ve never been on a cruise, but I want to try it sometime and that curiosity is, in part, because I grew up watching The Love Boat. I am comfortable enough with my machismo to admit that I never really enjoyed virile tough guy shows like The A-Team, Hill Street Blues, Simon & Simon, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., or Knight Rider. I am a lover, not a fighter, and prefer the simple half-hour comedy, but occasionally I can be roped into dedicating an hour of my time to a program, especially if it has the kind of quirky charm present in The Love Boat. The theme song was composed by prolific songwriter Paul Williams, known to those of us of a certain age as Little Enos Burdette in Smokey & The Bandit but whose real career includes writing The Carpenters’ hit We’ve Only Just Begun, An Old Fashioned Love Song as sung by Three Dog Night, & the awesome Rainbow Connection for The Muppets. Love Boat was performed by jazz crooner Jack Jones and was meant to evoke the idea of a lounge singer on a cruise ship. Mission accomplished. The song has a disco undertone reminiscent of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, but also kind of a big band vibe. It doesn’t really detail the premise of the show except to say that the ship “soon will be making another run” and that “it promises something for everyone”. It advises us to “set a course for adventure” and get our minds on romance because love is a) life’s sweetest reward, b) exciting & new, & c) will float back to you if only you let it flow. Now I am old enough & jaded enough to realize that all that is a bunch of poppycock, but it does sound really cool. I am not ashamed to admit that occasionally…when I am alone of course…I will randomly belt out Love Boat, but you should be glad your ears will never be exposed to such cruelty.