Music is one of those subjects where everyone has a different idea of what is “best”. Some people only like certain genres, such as rap or pop, while others may prefer show tunes or classic country. However, there is one area doesn’t seem to get as much attention as others, and that’s television theme songs.
Television theme songs have to have several things going for them:
- Catchy, every theme song needs to be memorable.
- Suggestive of the show it is used for, you don’t want a song about happy things for a show featuring dark subject matter.
- Easily recognizable, when you hear the song you should immediately think of the show.
The best television theme songs, though, take on a life of their own and become hits in their own right.
There are many television theme songs that have struck a chord with music fans throughout the years, and the 1970’s certainly had their fair share. Shows like “Barney Miller” with its iconic theme song’s bass line are still remembered to this day, in large part because of their theme songs and the musicians who performed them.
“Welcome back Kotter” not only launched John Travolta’s career, but it also had a number one hit with “Welcome Back”. Written and performed by John Sebastian, formerly of The Lovin’ Spoonful, the song even had an impact on the show, which was originally just going to be called “Kotter”, but Sebastian couldn’t find any words that would rhyme with it.
Like the 70’s, the 1980’s had many television shows that could be easily identified by listening to the theme song. “The Fall Guy” featured a pseudo-country theme performed by the star of the show, Lee Majors. And everyone can probably recognize the military inspired theme of “The A-Team”.
However, one of the most iconic TV theme songs from the 80’s is probably the theme from “Miami Vice”. Miami Vice was about police officers who dealt mainly with drug dealers and con men, often going undercover to infiltrate and take down the bad guys. While innumerable pop and rock songs from popular 80’s recording artists were used during the show, its Jan Hammer’s electronic instrumental theme that people remember most about the show. Jan’s theme hit #1 on the charts in America as well as several other countries, and even won several Grammys.
The 90s were very good for television themes. Shows like “Night Court” and “The Golden Girls” had memorable themes, as did shows like “Full House”, “Living Single” and “Sister, Sister”. Perhaps no show from the 1990s was as iconic or popular as “Friends”. From frolicking in large outdoor water fountains during the opening montage to its offbeat sense of humor, “Friends” was destined to be a hit, as was the theme song.
“I’ll Be There for You”, by The Rembrandts, may be the most unique case among all popular theme songs. Originally under a minute long, the song was re-recorded by the band into a 3 minute song more suitable for release on an album or as a single.
The song was then released on The Rembrandt’s third album, but wasn’t released as a single initially because record execs feared the impact the single could have on album sales.
The single, once released, topped various Billboard charts in the mid-nineties, reaching the #1 position and holding it for several weeks, but by the early and mid-2000s had begun making its way onto “worst songs of all time” lists put out by magazines and radio music shows.
Television has had its ups and downs, and some moments of pure genius. However, a memorable, well written theme song can do as much to cement a show’s legacy in pop culture history as the most well written episode of the entire series.