Sunday, September 21, 2014

The story behind the CHEERS theme

I get asked about the CHEERS theme a lot.  So I am re-posting my post about it.

1981. Songwriter Gary Portnoy had just been fired as a staff writer from a major music publisher. His friend Judy Hart Angelo happened to meet a Broadway producer at dinner one night who needed a score written for a new musical he was producing. They decided to team up. Gary had never written for the theater, Judy had never written a song.

Somehow a tape of one of their demo songs found its way to Hollywood and the Charles Brothers. They thought it would be perfect for the theme of the new show they were developing, CHEERS.

But that’s not the song you know.

When the Broadway producer found out one of his songs was to be a TV theme he had a fit and legally blocked Paramount from using it. Crushed, Gary and Judy wrote new songs for CHEERS. But none of them connected the way the old one did.

Finally, after four or five rejected tunes they submitted “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” and that one struck a chord.

But even that’s not the song you know.

The original opening lyrics were changed to give it a more universal appeal. These are those original opening lines:

Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose
It’s a crisis in your life

On the run ‘cause all your girlfriends

Want to be your wife

And the laundry ticket’s in the wash

Once the song was written and approved there came the issue of who was going to sing it? Gary had sung the demo. There were those who wanted a big name and others who liked Gary’s rendition. With less than a month to go before the premiere it was decided that Gary would sing it and the arrangement would be simple just like the demo. Surprisingly, the Charles Brothers did not attend the recording session. We were all in the room writing one day when Glen Charles casually mentioned that they were doing the theme on one of the scoring stages. But their faith in Gary was rewarded.

The Portnoy-Angelo theme for CHEERS is one of the most memorable in TV history. Several weeks after the premiere Gary went back into the studio to record a full-length version of the song that actually made the pop charts.

Here’s that expanded version. To my knowledge it only aired on the show once, during the 200th


emily said...

It couldn't have been more perfect!

fred said...

If you can't get the youtube in the article to play, try this.

Harley said...

Every time I hear this I smile. It is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Let it be stated for the record that, for many reasons, this full length version is godawful compared to the lovely little tune that is the original Cheers intro.

Dodgerdog said...

Thanks for this story. I love his lilting, gentle voice sharing all the hard-luck stories. I want to go someplace like that too.

Somehow we end up singing this song whenever my extended family gets together.

This, and "Scrambled Eggs." Go figure.

Transformer said...

I am not a robot and I just proved it -

ScottyB said...

There was an FM station in my city that would play the full version quite a bit in their rotation back in the day. When Woody Harrelson joined the cast, I always thought Portnoy's voice and Woody's sounded virtually the same, like Woody was doing the singing.

This post about the 'Cheers' them always brings to mind Andrew Gold's 'Thank You For Being A Friend', which existed for years before it got sliced and diced and re-recorded by someone else to be 'The Golden Girls' theme.

I'm a huge fan of the TV-show theme song, and I always find it interesting how they morph as a show's seasons progress. For me, Walter Hagen has always been my huge-prolific theme-song God when it came to writing TV themes, as well as the music from scene to scene.

And now all that's basically dead on network TV. 'Cheers' wouldn't be anywhere near the same without that song.

Rinaldo said...

I can only find a golfer and a pilot named Walter Hagen. Did you mean Earle Hagen?

Dixon Steele said...

" 'Cheers' wouldn't be anywhere near the same without that song."

Actually, it would be exactly the same, just with a new song...

ScottyB said...

Speaking of the 'Cheers' theme: I've mentioned off-handedly to my daughter (who plays clarinet) that one of my wishes would be for someone to play the 'Cheers' closing theme at the very end of my memorial service. Because it's lovely, and it really *would* be last call for me :)

ScottyB said...

@Rinaldo: Oops. Yeah, that's the guy. Walter Hagen hangs out with Rachel Welch, I think :)

ScottyB said...

@Dixon: You're correct, in a smart-alecky way. But a show's theme song always set the tone, and made you feel a certain way; set an atmosphere for the show itself. Even the ones for campy-ass stuff like 'The Facts Of Life'.

@Anonymous: The full-length tune and the lovely little version are the same thing, yet two entirely different things. Life funny sometimes.

Gary Theroux said...

Just goes to show how wise it is to put faith in guys named Gary. Mr. Portnoy's recording was originally issued in 1982 as the 45 RPM single Earthtone 7004. After it failed to chart, the following year the track was reissued as Applause 106 and that time climbed to #83 over a four-week Billboard Hot 100 chart run starting 4/30/83. Unfortunately Applause was essentially a vanity label, meaning that it released material the artists recorded themselves and paid the label to issue commercially. As Applause no longer exists, I do not know who owns the master 45 RPM recording of "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" (or its flip side, "Jenny") today (maybe Gary got them back). One thing I found surprising is that while there was other "Cheers" souvenir merchandising, no one at Paramount apparently ever thought of releasing a "Cheers" soundtrack album -- of the theme, assorted cue music, classic dialogue sequences and soundtrack performances by the cast of various tunes they sang on camera (such as "You'll Never Walk Alone"). While working for Famous Music (Paramount's music publishing division) I suggested the idea several times but was unable to stir much interest. Meanwhile other TV cast albums ("All In The Family," etc.) WERE produced and sold quite well. "Cheers" -- along with "Frasier" and "Fawlty Towers" -- remains among the top three TV sitcoms ever produced.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Just like television itself, even Ken's blog has reruns.

David said...

@Joseph Scarbrough, Ken addressed the repost issue in his "State of the Blog" post last month:

mmryan314 said...

That`s right David. He also said " You get what you pay for". I`m loving these older posts as I just began following in the early part of 2014.

Anonymous said...
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Francis Dollarhyde said...

Gary Portnoy goes into a fair bit of detail re: the origins of the "Cheers" theme here:

Short version: The original song of choice (from the Off-Broadway musical "Preppies") was "People Like Us." When that song was ruled off-limits, Portnoy and Angelo essentially re-wrote it as "My Kind of People." Thumbs down from the producers. Next attempt was an entirely new tune, "Another Day." Again, thumbs down. Next attempt was "Where Everybody Knows Your Name." And the rest is history.

@ Gary Theroux:

A "Cheers" soundtrack album, comprising the theme music and all the musical cues, would be nice. At least "Taxi" had most (if not all) of its music released on the Bob James albums "Touchdown" and "The Genie." (Great music to drive around to, not surprisingly.)

Brian Phillips said...

Speaking of TV soundtracks...

"Sounds of Murphy Brown" was issued when that show was still running, and it consisted of a lot of big hits from the 1960's and a great, otherwise unissued song by the Gospel group, Take 6. This wasn't such an odd idea, considering "The Big Chill" soundtrack gave Motown a shot in the arm sales-wise, spawning a few, "Music from the Big Chill Generation" comps.

"Murphy Brown" dates pretty badly, due to its reliance on news of the day, the LP/CD did not sell well and only season 1 lives on.

Fawlty Towers issued at least two LPs, which featured audio recordings of the TV show, the second with Andrew Sachs as Manuel explaining the sight gags.

"All in the Family" was an LP bonanza, too. Here are four off the top of my head:

All in the Family (volumes one and two) - snippets from the TV show.

Archie and Edith Side by Side - Renditions in character of popular songs, INCLUDING a snippet of "When I'm 64". Egad.

Music for Old P.F.A.R.T.S. (People For A Return to Sentimentality) - More songs, as sung by Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker.

One of my favorite themes of past years was "Human Target" which, happily, did have a soundtrack CD released for it.

Brian Phillips said...

"...only season 1 was reissued on DVD", that is. I don't think it's in reruns anywhere, either.

Pat Reeder said...

How I would have loved it if there had been a "Cheers Sings" LP. Hearing George Wendt sing "99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall" is my idea of nirvana. Actually, to me, it's much better than Nirvana. Certainly better than Courtney Love, at least.

The Archie and Edith album earned a place of honor in our book, "Hollywood Hi-Fi." But my favorite sitcom-related album is still "The Odd Couple Sings," featuring the immortal "Odd Couple Opera." Tony Randall was famously musical and did a couple of terrific albums of 1920s tunes ("Warm and Wavery" and "Vo-vo-de-oh-do") that he was kind enough to autograph for me and send me a cassette of tracks that didn't make the final cut. But I was especially proud that Cub Koda praised my description of Jack Klugman's singing voice as sounding like a piece of rusty farm equipment. Hard to believe that Jack actually sang on Broadway with Ethel Merman in "Gypsy!"

Some other favorites include the Gomer Pyle LP by Jim Nabors and the Buddy Ebsen LP, which inspired my favorite line in the book: "He went shooting at some tunes, and up from his throat came a-bubbling crud."

If you're interested in the subject of celebrities who shouldn't sing but did so anyway, please drop by our website at One of these days, we hope to have enough time to put out an updated ebook version with links to our massive collections of records that nobody else wants.

BTW, I know Ken doesn't like the Garfunkel and Oates sitcom as much as I do, but I'd like to note that it's one of the few modern shows that includes a great weekly title song sequence that perfectly sets the mood.

RockGolf said...

The Cheers theme has been "repurposed" recently for commercials in Canada. Not a rerecording. The original.

One was a straight use as a jingle for a steak restaurant. The second was more clever.

It takes place in a store connected to a gas station. Everyone in the store is smiling in the typical gas station commercial way. A regular customer comes in. "Hey, Jimmy!" "Good to see ya!"

Then another man come in, clearly a stranger. The music snaps off. Looks grow suspicious. The stranger uncomfortably pays for his gas.

The last scene reveal the commercial is for a gas-thrifty hybrid car.

Anonymous said...

Once a blog reaches 1000 posts it can go into reruns.

Richard said...


Hah! When I was younger, I also thought it was Woody singing the song. Kind of figured it wasn't him when they had the song on the pre-Woody eps. Funny though.

rchesson said...

Atrocious spelling.

Roseann said...

So true, rchesson. Ken, can you spell check those lyrics?

Write not wright and cue not que….are the ones that I remember.

Anyone got any others?

Anonymous said...

I love Cheers especial dian and sam I wish I can meet with them

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what why they sing about a husband wanting to be a girl?