Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Themes to Me

You know what you don't hear much any more? Not that we listen to the "radio" these days, but you don't often have a TV show with such a good theme song that they play the extended version on the radio. Back in the 70's and 80's, it wasn't uncommon for a good show with a catchy theme song to have it heard around the dial. Joey Scarbury's "Believe It or Not (Theme from The Greatest American Hero)" getting the airtime it did is clearly a phenomenon of days gone by. And it got me thinking . . . what are the best TV theme songs of all time?

I guess for me, the best ones are generally the themes most like real rock & roll tunes. And yeah, there are some obvious exceptions to that rule on my list. But let's be clear, when I am compiling this best-of, I want good songs, not songs that remind me of good shows. Cheers is is my favorite show of all time, and its theme song has been fundamentally involved in a couple of the silliest stories in my arsenal, but Gary Portnoy's piano bar classic isn't on this list. It's mellow, soft, and kind of lame when not leading into Sam, Norm, and Screaming Vikings. "You take the good, you take the bad" might conjure warm memories of sleepovers and doing each other's hair (Teejay), but that doesn't make it a very good tune.

As always with any definitive list the Gheorghians produce, there are inevitable omissions based on my being intoxicated at the time of compilation (now), so feel free to chime in with your favorites. And we'll tell you why you're wrong. In the meantime, here goes:

The Best TV Theme Songs of All Time

Honorable Mention:

Hill Street Blues - One of the songs I was talking about that spent a good deal of time on 1980's radio. Great show, good song, but a bit too close to elevator music to make this list.

The Equalizer - A Stew Copeland electronic percussion-fest for an underrated show. Close to making the Top 20, but Sting paid us to snub his former drummer.

All In the Family - Such a good show, and such a classic element of it, it'd be easy to include the Carroll O'Connor/Jean Stapleton duet in the upper echelon. But how often would you pop it on the hi-fi?

Magnum, PI - Vintage 80's guitar-based instrumental, and the sight of TC's chopper would be incomplete without this audio backdrop. Watch TJ air-guitar it for a special treat.

The Odd Couple - Neal Hefti composed this standard for the film; it was so good they reprised it for the TV show, and it's still damn solid.

The Pink Panther
Speaking of theme composers, they don't get much better than Henry Mancini. We've already heard from a few outraged G:TB readers that this song deserves inclusion in The List, but we opted for a different Panther-related theme -- a better one.

Sesame Street (1970's Closing Theme) - The Gheorghers had to dig deep for this one, but it was worth it. Back in the day (that'd be our heyday, our formative years) the PBS cornerstone had a fairly funky, fairly rockin' tune as the closing credits rolled. Not too many folks recall it, but those who do remember it well. We've got an mp3 of it at G:TB HQ for the reminiscent or curious.

CHiPs - Superlative cheese. Synthesizers emulating motorcycles. Awesome.

WKRP in Cincinnati -
Baby, if you've ever wondered, wondered whatever became of me . . . that's crap spelled with a K-R-P.

Taxi - "Angela's Theme," as it's formally known, is too soft for our Dick Clark Rockin' Top 20 Countdown, but for fans of this Whitney Top 10 show, it's a classic. (Editor's Note: there's a borderline questionable phrase in that last sentence, but we're comfortable enough with our bedside stamina to leave it in.)

Starsky & Hutch - Very cool dudes, very cool car, pretty cool theme song.

Barney Miller - One of the most retardedly funny stories of my college years involved Abe Vigoda as Fish; sad to say, it's a fairly inside joke, but I'll tell it to any takers over a few beers.

Laverne & Shirley - Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated. In case you ever wanted to know how those words are spelled.

What's Happening!! -
Bown, bown, bown . . .

The Young Ones - Not as good as the musical guests they had, but better than Cliff Richard.

The Munsters -
Yeah, the Addams Family's song was more memorable, but the Munsters' was better.

The Andy Griffith Show - Nope, it didn't rock, but it was pretty friggin' good. Did You Know??? Rob could not whistle until college.

The Twilight Zone - A creepy kind of cool. Like Teejay after a few trips to the papal elector pew.

Bonanza - True Fact: Bonanza's theme song original words, words that included:
"We chased lady luck, 'til we finally struck, Bonanza. With a gun and a rope and a hat full of hope, planted a family tree. We got hold of a pot of gold, Bonanza.With a horse and a saddle, and a range full of cattle, how rich can a fellow be?"
So now you know why they went with the instrumental.

Get Smart - There was only room for one spy show theme in the Top 20, and Maxwell Smart's tune missed it by . . . yeah, hilarious.

The Muppet Show - Extra points for inventing words in your theme song ("muppetational"), and you know how much we at G:TB love the muppets. So I'm not sure why this didn't make the list. But I've been dkrgning too much to care. (Typo left intact for effect. Wow.)

Beverly Hills 90210 - Rob absolutely loved this song. He'd do the queer little hand claps at the beginning. This is a fairly mediocre theme song, but I just wanted to mention that part about Rob.

Quantum Leap - Okay, so this may be a case of liking the show and therefore including the theme. I seem to remember it being something akin to muzak. Oh, that Ziggy.

Law & Order - Funky slap bass in the middle of the song really does it for me. Logan & Briscoe, best team.

Crime Story - A poorly done remake of a stellar 60's song, but still pretty cool.

Bosom Buddies - A poorly done remake of a stellar 70's song, but still pretty cool.

The Office (US or UK) -
Both versions of the show have/had excellent theme music. I forget now which goes with which, so I'm lumping them together and recommending them both.

The Young & The Restless - Dear Credibility, It's been nice knowing you. Take care. Yep, I like this song.

The X-Files - Taking a page from the Twilight Zone, a theme to match the tone of the show. Nerds loved it.

NYPD Blue - I think this was Mike Post's last good theme song. Or maybe he didn't do this one. Or maybe he's done something more recently. Teejay, get me some backdata, stat.

Wonder Woman - Dear Credibility, It's been so long, I hardly remember what you looked like. Say hi to Steve Trevor for me.

Love Boat - Aaaand, love . . . won't hurt any more. It's an open smile on a friendly shore. Kudos to whichever Airplane! movie celebrated this one.

Greatest American Hero - An all-timer, but it's really not as good a song as you remember it. Sorry.

Special Honorable Mention

Benny Hill - File this one thoroughly under "Juvenilia," but there is simply something about the Benny Hill theme song that makes me laugh every single time. Mere mention or imitation of the song makes me think of fast-motion scenes of Benny chasing scantily clad co-eds in some ridiculous scene that culminates in that little old bald guy looking bug-eyed at the camera. So wonderfully lowbrow. So good. [Also somewhat of a had to be there situation, but I audibly, repeatedly (10x) "sang" this song in the direction of Vidal Sassoon's dinner table while I was shnockered to the gills in a New Orleans restaurant. 'Cause, you know, he looks like that little old guy. Yeah, my wife and Vidal's cronies found it just as unfunny.]

And here we go... The Top 20

20. Hong Kong Phooey - The number one super guy had a whale of a theme song. Scatman Crothers crooning over some gongs seems like it wouldn't hold up . . . but it does. Fan-riffic.

19. Night Court - Funky 80's theme is a surprise choice here, but we'll stick by it. Claves as a theme song instrument is uniquely successful. Quon Lee as a character was not.

18. The Sopranos - A3, aka, the Alabama 3, aka we got our break with The Sopranos theme song and did nooooothing with it. Woke up this morning, got myself a gun.

17. The Incredible Hulk (Closing Theme) - Yeah, so this one goes against my earlier claim of songs that rock. It's just so good. You'll get teary just thinking of David Banner thumbing it down the road after another attempt to fit in. I have another inside joke story about this one - also involving New Orleans.

16. The Dukes of Hazzard - Waylon Jennings. 'Nuff said.

15. Batman - Neal Hefti gets a mention once again. The old Adam West show was one of my boyhood favorites, and the theme song was an all-timer. Pow.

14. The Inspector - This cartoon was an underling to The Pink Panther, and as a show it doesn't quite hold up in recent viewings, but the theme song is worth TiVoing and replaying. Trust me.

13. Sanford & Son - My wife got me some sessions with a personal trainer in February, and he hurt me so bad I couldn't walk. At a cocktail party soon thereafter, this song came on the iPod in my honor as I ambled around like Fred Sanford. Yeah, yeah, very funny, but I was just impressed that I wasn't the only one who had this song handy.

12. M*A*S*H - Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes. And the actor best suited to play Rob in Gheorghe: The Blog: The Movie is undoubtedly Gary "Radar O'Reilly" Burghoff.

11. Welcome Back, Kotter - John Sebastian's song actually spent some time atop the charts if I'm not mistaken. It resonates with me now as I have returned to the town where I was deemed Class Clown (as good a lyric as any) lo those many moons ago.

10. Simon & Simon - If you think Magnum had a better song, you're wrong. If you thought Jameson Parker was destined for more success than Major Dad, you were wrong. If you don't dig on the rollicking guitar work of this 80's theme, you are so very, very wrong.

9. Monday Night Football - Hell, no. Not Hank Jr.'s rendition. Not even close. I'm talking about dun-dun-dun-DUN, the faux-horn-based ass-kicker from the 1980's that actually gave grown men chills when it aired before a big game. I love Junior and his rowdy friends, but the switch to his crap from this classic was criminal.

8. Knight Rider - New wave synth techno crap. Awesome. Hasselhoff.

7. The Lone Ranger - Dan Rather once quipped, "An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger." I concur completely, and let me just say that this is probably the only time Dan Rather will find himself quoted at Gheorghe: The Blog. (Excepting the transitive properties enacted if I list my 20 favorite R.E.M. songs.)

6. Miami Vice - Jan Hammer, where are you now? Though cigarette boats, jai alai, and that girl with the fruit hat's gargantuan cans occupy your visual, the music sticks with you. Worth sticking around for if you stumble across the opening scene of any Vice episode.

5. Mission: Impossible - The definitive spy show song. It's the James Bond Theme of TV. This blog will self-destruct in five years, by the way. I blame TJ.

4. Hawaii Five-O - It's not just Jack Lord's 'do that has me tuning in. It's not the long awaited "Book him, Dan-o." It's not a Chin Ho sighting. It's the song. So great.

3. Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids - Heyba, heyba, heyba, whaddaya sayba. How those kids could make music this good with an old radiator and some garbage was always beyond me. I wasn't careful, and I did learn something, but never that.

2. The Kids in the Hall - Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet never ascended much beyond "the band that did the Kids in the Hall theme," but no matter. Their place in history is now etched in the annals of G:TB. So says the Flying Pig.

1. The Rockford Files - Could it be any other? Really? This Mike Post masterpiece is the one you'll scan the TV listings just to watch the opening theme. It's the one that they played on the radio in three-minute extended version form in the 1970's. It made Jim Rockford cooler just by association. It's the song I heard that made me want to write this inane post. It is . . . The Greatest TV Theme Song of All Time. Probably.


TJ said...

I had the good fortune to see Whitney hours after his Benny Hill performance, and believe you me he thought it truly was the greatest thing of all time.

His wife, not so much.

Zoltan said...

I like the 60 Minutes theme song. If you like the closing song from Sesame Street then check out the song "Kookies" my MF Doom.

Zoltan said...

And when I say "my" I mean "by".

TJ said...

We can't even get an honorable mention for the A-Team? That's horseshit.

Greg said...

I think the song from "The A-Team" deserves at least an honorable mention. And "The Wire" is top 20. Maybe top 10

Greg said...


TJ said...

Greg, that is very very frightening.

Geoff said...

The Benny Hill theme was my TJ phone ring for several years. It really set the tone for the conversation I was about to have.

The list, she is strong. The fact that the uber gay Johnny Mathis version of the Family Ties theme song failed to receive a mention is shocking. I'll also nominate NBC Nightly News for having a kickass theme...and the John Tesh NBA on NBC song as well.

Geoff said...

Law & Order, LA Law, Dallas, and Hunter also deserve honorable mentions.

TJ said...

I think Law and Order did make the list, but seriously Whit, where is the Dallas theme?

Geoff said...

Law & Order did--my bad. I also thoroughly enjoyed the laughably bad Doogie Howser, MD theme.

Greg said...

Or the Marcus Welby, M.D. theme song.

Rhymenocerous said...

The Night Court theme has always been a stealth favorite of mine. CHIPS needs to be in the top 20. It's bad-ass 70's California muzak.

But the glaring omission is my favorite theme song from one of the longest running shows of all time: America's Funniest Home Videos. Forget the fact that the show makes me laugh so much (I could watch rednecks get hit in the nuts with wiffle ball bats all day long). Vin di Bona's anthem is witty, catchy and patriotic at the same time.

Jerry said...

I like the Transformers theme song.

Jerry said...

Eye on Springfield is pretty good.

Greg said...

And how could the GI Joe theme song not get you fired up for fighing COBRA?

Greg said...

And the old Batman theme song could stick in your head like a carnivorous earwig.

mayhugh said...

Fall Guy.

mayhugh said...

Airwolf was also pretty solid, but there's only so much room on the list for synthesizers, I suppose.

Jerry said...

What about Masterpiece Theatre? That's a good song.

Geoff said...

Fall Guy is a great call...

TJ said...

Mayhugh, always bringing it...

And how 'bout Riptide?

TJ said...

I don't know about everyone else, but I've spent a great deal of time over at YouTube this morning playing/watching all these songs.

Jerry said...

When the sunlight crosses this line, that means it's drinking time.

Greg said...


Jerry said...

That's a good song. Whitney is pissed about our unrefined musical commentary.

TJ said...

Whitney, you're not gonna believe this, is currently sailing off of Cape Cod.

Ahoy polloi...

Jerry said...

Sailing? I hope he remembers to scuttle the jib.

Greg said...

and pay the dock fee and oil the main engine.

(I bet Jerry is thinking, "I knew Greg was going to post that")

Geoff said...

Hoist the main sail!

Also solid...

Mark said...

It says something about the crowd here that this post has generated so much excitement and participation. Now, I'm not sure what it says but it definitely says something.

Oh, and, never trust a Duke big mans word. That goes for you too Bilas!

Greg said...

I know it's not really a "song" but I like the little musical thing they use to introduce "A Current Affair". Really heightens the sensations.

Zoltan said...

And the Knight Rider theme was getting air play a few years ago when Timbaland and Magoo sampled it.

mayhugh said...

Any takers?

Geoff said...

I'd like to nominate this for immediate elevation to hall of fame status:

Jerry said...

Current Affair is a great call. Weeeauuuu Bauuuwwwwwww

Mark said...

I oculdn't agree with Geoff more. Absolutely classic.

TJ said...

I'm going Belvedere over Benson, by a nose.

TJ said...

Greg, where are you right now?

A naked man was arrested Tuesday morning after hijacking a Citizens Area Transit bus.

Las Vegas police said the man, 35-year-old Charles P. Sell, was first seen stealing a beer at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Lamb Boulevard and Washington Avenue about 8 a.m.

KQ said...

What? No Jetsons? No Josie & the Pussycats?

rob said...

the latter of which is an excellent segue into the 'hottest cartoon babes of all-time' post whit's working on while amidships.

Eric (Extra P.) said...

I always joke with my wife that I love the theme song from "Lost".

Shannon of ** Happiness Is...** said...

I've been looking ALL OVER for that 70's Sesame Street closing song. The one with the funky chimes? Can you send me the MP3 pretty please???