Tuesday, September 24, 2019

My favorite TV themes

Here’s a FQ that became a full post.

ScottyB asked:

Hola, Ken. I’m of the same mind as you regarding opening theme songs. I’m roughly your age, and I mourn them to this day same as you. So — what would be your Top 5 TV show theme songs?

Happily, an astonishing three of them are from shows I worked on. MASH, CHEERS, and THE JEFFERSONS.

Johnny Mandell wrote the theme for MASH, originally for the movie. There were lyrics but we never once used them on the TV show. Think of all the times you’ve watched MASH, have you ever fast-forwarded through the opening credits?  Bet you'll click on the video above. 

The CHEERS theme, written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo fit perfectly with the visual montage created by Castle-Bryant. By the way, that’s Gary Portnoy singing the theme.

Actress Janet DuBois, who sang the iconic JEFFERSONS theme also co-wrote it with Jeff Barry. Has there ever been a more infectious TV theme song than THE JEFFERSONS? Even college marching bands can’t fuck it up (although they all try).

Now, among the 99.99999999% of shows I didn’t work on:

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Lalo Schifrin’s heart-pounding theme over preview highlights while the fuse burned was the perfect adrenaline rush to launch you into the show. And admit it, when watching a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie, didn’t you love it when that theme began blaring?

And finally, maybe my favorite TV theme of all-time – PETER GUNN way back in the ‘50s written by Henry Mancini. That sinister guitar/piano bass line that just pulses through the song gets me right in the kischkis. And the horns build to a thrilling climax. Younger readers may not be familiar with it, so here it is:

Other honorable mentions:


And I'm sure there are another ten I just can't think of offhand.  What are your favorites?


Jeff Boice said...

I liked themes songs which featured lyrics which explained the show's premise in detail- Beverly Hillbillies comes to mind of course, as well as the themes written by Vic Mizzy and Sherwood Schwartz. That means Addams Family and Gilligan of course, but also obscurities like Captain Nice and Its About Time.

Anonymous said...

Barney Miller

StoicJim said...

Dude, "The Green Hornet".

Duncan Randall said...

Rockford Files, Run Buddy Run

Dhruv said...

I love Lalo Schifrin's music.

One of the most under rated music directors.

Here he is performing MI theme : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5SYHcD_CYA

Also I don't know how many know this but, he also scored the music for Bullitt. The famous car chase scene in that movie has added tension because of the music in the initial stages which builds up to that epic chase.

Prelude music link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgQfm0yW9aE

And his other contribution which is overlooked due to the brilliant Bruce Lee's performance, is the music for "Enter The Dragon".

Link : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPRsKgyqTjE

Thank you Ken for mentioning him.

Many never recognize his contribution or the movie and their scenes are so good that his music is overlooked.

Covarr said...

I've always been partial to TWO AND A HALF MEN's theme song, as well as THE OFFICE. TAXI is one of my favorite themes as well.

...And I must confess, I'm young enough that I'll always have a place in my heart for the original POKEMON theme song. Well, either that, or POKEMON is getting old, but I don't wanna consider that option.

Barry said...

Johnny Cash with the theme for The Rebel. But all the others you brought up are great. MTM written by Sonny Curtis, who wrote I Fought The Law.

S. Teacher said...

BUGS BUNNY ("This Is It!")

Anonymous said...

I agree with all those mentioned but have to mention Rockford Files. Just something about it.

Jeff said...

Thinking of dropping THE MOD SQUAD theme into our high school basketball game music mix this season.


Earle Hagen and Neal Hefti and Vic Mizzy were all-time greats.

Bob Sassone said...

Come on Ken, no Mannix??

I'm with you on Mission: Impossible, Peter Gunn, Hawaii Five-0, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Avengers, and The Dick Van Dyke Show (though the latter might simply be because it's my favorite show of all-time). I'd also throw in MacGyver, The Rockford Files, Stingray (80s NBC show, not the puppets), Magnum, P.I., The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Perry Mason, Space: 1999 (better than the show), and The Flintstones.

Sometimes my opinion about TV theme songs is influenced by how many times I've heard them. The Friends theme is good but it's hard to judge when you've heard it 70,000,000 times.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sucker for cheesy, set-up-the-premise songs:

Gilligan's Island
Patty Duke
Brady Bunch

Or meta:

Garry Shandling's Show

But my top faves have to be:

Twin Peaks
The Simpsons
Perfect Strangers

David Schwartz said...

Mannix! My favorite show as a kid and that theme song was unforgettable. Lalo Schifrin did great themes!

Dhruv said...

I forgot to comment on my favorite.

The first American sitcom I saw as a kid. That theme is stuck in my head forever.


Then later this high tension one from James Newton Howard :


Joseph T said...

The Rockford Files & Barney Miller. Great theme songs, great shows.

I think Hawaii 5-0 is my favorite theme song, but the show? Let's just say the theme song is the best part.

Jeff said...

I have to mention All in the Family. Who would've thought to have the two lead characters sing the theme song? Are there any other examples?

brian t said...

I can't seem to escape the theme for Kate & Allie for some reason. I always liked the way they used it with the cold opens. Or was it a warm open?

Tom Asher said...

Barney Miller, Taxi, Addams Family.

Darlene K said...

Currently, Suits.

Gary said...

Let's not forget THE FUGITIVE. Great theme, and the background music in each episode perfectly captured the sadness of Richard Kimble's plight. Also the theme from the original ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (George Reeves version). Still thrilling to hear.

JR Smith said...

I don't remember anything I learned in algebra class...but I still remember most of the words to these...The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction.

Kirk said...

Not counting the ones you mentioned, and in no particular order:

Good Times
Hill Street Blues
The Facts of Life (I love how it goes from a kindergarten song to Memphis soul)
The X-Files
I Love Lucy
Welcome Back, Kotter
Sanford and Son
The Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Hour

I didn't necessarily LIKE all of these shows. Some I only watched BECAUSE of the opening theme.

tabman said...

Maverick ("who is the tall dark stranger, there....."

OK, I'm old!

Glenn said...

Gotta go with Mr. Belvedere.

Chuck Cavender said...

The Big Bang Theory certainly deserves mention here. I can't think of any mentioned that I would not agree with. Too bad the networks view themes with such disdain, as they cut into possible ad time.

kitano0 said...

The X-Files theme is pretty perfect for the show...

William C Bonner said...

The funny thing to me about Peter Gunn was that I first learned the theme as the Spy Hunter theme, and only learned years later about the TV Series it had originally been written for.

https://youtu.be/vSHIHaU1SfA shows the game with the music.

Cowboy Surfer said...







Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I vote for THE WIRE. All the themes rock, especially the one from that show's final season.

Also an honorable mention for THE SOPRANOS.

kent said...

The Andy Griffiths Show, Taxi, Kotter and anything written by Mike Post, especially Hill Street Blues.

Steely Dan said...

Newhart by Henry Mancini.

Kevin from VA said...

Too many terrific tv theme songs over the years to have a favorite so I'll site two that haven't yet been mentioned, one original and one borrowed. The orginal would be the theme (along with a great opening scene using Robert Culp in silhouette) composed by Earle Hagen for "I-Spy". The borrowed theme was from a show that was cancelled far too soon, "The Texas Wheelers". The theme was "Illegal Smile" from John Prine's debut album.

Ron Rettig said...

Maverick TV series
Victory at Sea

David said...

Just a few of my favourite TV themes, mostly from my childhood, are The Prisoner by Ron Grainer, Doctor Who (the original Delia Derbyshire version, which has never been bettered), Star Trek by Alexander Courage, Thunderbirds (plus every Gerry Anderson theme composed by the mighty Barry Gray and, from Mike Post, the king of American drama theme tunes, Hill Street Blues.

Andrew said...

All of my favorites have been mentioned already.

For some reason I really like melancholy theme songs: Mash, Taxi, Hill Street Blues, Incredible Hulk, Welcome Back Kotter.

On that note, here's the Friends theme as a lament, set in a minor key:

Cliff said...

I'll add some western themes:
Rawhide 'Rolling, Rolling Rolling'
End Theme from Have Gun Will Travel

Earl Boebert said...

The Prisoner would be half the show it was without that music.

VP81955 said...

The Jeff Barry, one-time husband of Ellie Greenwich? The man who wrote or co-wrote such gems as "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget" (which Ellie and Jeff recorded as the Raindrops), Reparata & the Delrons' classic "I'm Nobody's Baby Now" and the huge hits "Be My Baby" and "Chapel Of Love"?

Mike Bloodworth said...

There isn't much I can add. But I'll try.
Star Trek (TOS), Get Smart, Yogi Bear, Speed Racer, The Banana Splits, Underdog, George of the Jungle.

Buttermilk Sky said...

There's a hold-up in the Bronx, Brooklyn's broken out in fights,
There's a traffic jam in Harlem that's backed up to Jackson Heights,
There's a Scout troop short a child, Khrushchev's due at Idlewild,

Try getting that out of your head.

Aaron said...

So many excellent themes, and I'm aboard the Lalo Schifrin fan club with Mannix. And, one that grabs me is from your show Almost Perfect. Reminds me of Sing, Sing, Sing!

Mark--> said...

The Drew Carey Show had several good theme songs: "Moon Over Parma", "5:00 World", and "Cleveland Rocks".

Rob Greenberg said...

Garry Marshall did it twice, with 'Happy Days' and 'Laverne and Shirley' (both released as singles). "The Odd Couple" was a great theme as well.

Always loved the theme to 'St. Elsewhere.' And although I never watched, "Knots Landing."

thomas tucker said...

Agree with Jeff- love, love love the themes from That Girl and the Odd Couple. I'll add the themes from Love That Bob, The Wild Wild West , It Takes a Thief, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Baylink said...

Wait, *never*?

I'da sworn that at least part of the lyrics got used at least once in an episode somewhere...

[ Here are those lyrics -- all 6 verses, at least one not even used in the film, we are told -- for those not playing the home game:


And here's background:


and there have been a truly impressive number of covers of the tune:


... but I can't find any evidence at all that the lyrics ever appeared, so Ken--who wrote the show--is clearly right, and I'm just suffering from the Mandela Effect... :-}


Rays profile said...

Route 66 (Nelson Riddle!)
The Deputy (upbeat for a Henry Fonda Western)
Drew Carey "Moon over Parma"
Hill Street Blues (matched the show perfectly, soft against the police action)
Perry Mason (original, of course)
Henry Mancini's election theme for NBC.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Lots of great TV themes, but these are the ones that I would pick as great all on their own without the TV show:

ST. ELSEWHERE - I like that one so much I have the recording of the full version.
EVENING SHADE - the second of its two theme songs, with the gorgeous fiddle and accordion
BIG BANG THEORY - never once got tired of it in all those hundreds of episodes


Steven said...

The original Unsolved Mysteries theme. All the themes they used throughout the show's run were great, but the original was the best

Andy Rose said...

@Jeff: Probably the most infamous example would be the excruciating theme to Joanie Loves Chachi, sung in character by Erin Moran and Scott Baio. There also was a very short-lived sitcom called Nearly Departed where Eric Idle sings the theme song to the camera as his character. And a ton of other shows where the lead actors sing the theme (Alice, Gimme a Break!, It's a Living, and -- G-d help us -- Walker, Texas Ranger), although I guess it's arguable as to whether or not they were singing "in character."

Frank Beans said...

MASH and CHEERS are two shows I will only watch hearing the entire opening theme. Anything less would be sacrilege.

I'll add other personal favorites:

BARNEY MILLER (Check season 1 in particular--If that isn't a funky groove, I don't know what is)
THE ODD COUPLE (though the voice-over is a bit annoying)
TAXI (a great instrumental, though not sure that it fits the show)
NIGHT COURT (Barney Miller's funky stepchild)

Also, the PBS kids shows I grew up with--SESAME STREET, THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, and 321 CONTACT. Love all the music from those shows.

And please don't throw rocks at my head--but THE COSBY SHOW in the 80s in all their variations. Also, the FAT ALBERT cartoon series. If that bass line opening doesn't move you, I don't know you.


Todd Everett said...

Piano player on "Peter Gunn" was a studio guy/jazzman named Johnny Williams. Mancini credits him with adding the syncopation in the opening vamp that adds so much to the feel.

Williams is a terrific arranger; his charts on some Frankie Laine albums are sensational -- and very cinematic. Which figures, in light of his subsequent career.

But the answer is "Movin' on Up."

Bob Paris said...

Two classics by Dave Grusin: THE BOLD ONES and THE NAME OF THE GAME



Jeffrey Graebner said...

A bit of trivia: The piano player on the original recording of the "Peter Gunn" theme was John Williams. Yes, that is the future film composer. One could make a pretty strong case that this was a collaboration between the two most famous names in film scoring.

purplepenquin said...

The funny thing to me about Peter Gunn was that I first learned the theme as the Spy Hunter theme, and only learned years later about the TV Series it had originally been written for.

I was coming to the comments to say the exact same thing...lol. LOVED that game.

In addition to many of the other songs that others have listed here, I've always enjoyed the theme to The Young and the Restless. As a kid the show would come on after some game show I'd be watching when staying home "sick" from school, and I wouldn't turn the channel until after the song was played.

Tom Galloway said...

Not yet mentioned;
The Time Tunnel (did you know this, and other themes for Irwin Allen's 60s "SF" shows were done by John Williams?)
The four themes, one for each season, of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Bugler's Dream aka the Olympics theme
Jeopardy think music
Square Pegs by the Waitresses
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Wonder Woman

flurb said...

Fun nostalgic topic for an otherwise dreary day. I'll add "Room 222" and "Barnaby Jones" by Jerry Goldsmith.

I never really loved the show, but both of John Williams' opening tunes for "Lost in Space" (they changed in the second season) are cool. (He also played piano for the original "Peter Gunn" sessions for his pal Henry Mancini.)

Richard Markowitz's "The Wild Wild West" is another favorite.

Especially given the absurd time restraints of these latter days, Jeff Richmond did a great job with the "30 Rock" theme, which hits just the right absurd tone.

Frank Beans said...

And I mistakenly left MISTER ROGER'S NEIGHBORHOOD off the list. That might be my favorite of all.

Props also to the theme to the BBC series ARE YOU BEING SERVED--musique concrete that is, innit?

Kristen said...

GREATEST AMERICAN HERO is the first one that comes to mind! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsWgG5v7A3A

Most of the ones you mention also ring true for me - WKRP IN CINCINNATI in particular, but WELCOME BACK KOTTER has got to also make the list!

blinky said...

The theme for maybe the greatest show of the 60's: My Mother The Car. Such a tragedy that it was cancelled after only one season. SO far ahead of its time: Talking car, self driving car, Jewish car.

Peter said...

Dallas. Greatest TV theme ever.

Tim B. said...

Going through these brought me down memory lane for great theme songs - like Star Trek (TOS and TNG) and The Greatest American Hero - walking on air, indeed.

I do like the Get Smart theme, which lets you in on the absurdity to come.

Rich said...

Are you kidding??

The Patty Duke Show was not only the best theme, it had the single best lyric:

"But Patty likes to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control...."

Top THAT, Cole Porter!

CarolMR said...

I love the Peter Gunn theme, too. Also Mannix and Route 66. I also like the themes to Cannon and Barnaby Jones. I guess I'm just a sucker for 60s and 70s detective shows.

thomas tucker said...

Oh, also, one of the best ever, by Henry Mancini: Mr. Lucky.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Lots of great "nominees" here, but I'm surprised that "the" Twilight Zone theme has not been mentioned.

There was more than one theme - the one I mean was covered by The Manhattan Transfer - with added lyrics.

(they also performed the "best" cover of Route 66 - with all due respect to Nat King Cole and other legends)

Anonymous said...

Intro and outro music for the original Cowboy Bebop.

Lemuel said...

On the UK side I like The Pentangle's theme for TAKE THREE GIRLS and Alan Hawkshaw's for DAVE ALLEN AT LARGE.

Green Luthor said...

I could probably name a ton of anime openings I love (and at least they still believe in the minute and a half opening credits), although if you don't have an affinity for Japanese pop music, they're likely not going to be to your tastes.

Having said that, though, you should DEFINITELY check out the opening to Cowboy Bebop. It's a really awesome up-tempo jazz instrumental, and (like the show itself), one of the absolute coolest things around. (Seriously. It's good. Actually, basically all of the music for the show is great; composer Yoko Kanno used a lot of Western style music (jazz, country, rock), so one needn't be an anime fan to appreciate the soundtrack.)

keith brodkorb said...

Just NBC in the 80's Miami Vice, Crime Story and 1987 Private Eye

Andrew said...

Wow, just realized that no one has yet mentioned GAME OF THRONES. Maybe it's because of how disappointing the final season was. But that music, along with the opening credits, was extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

My favs (with some memory flogging help from reading preceding posts):

ROY ROGERS closing theme ("Happy trails")


cd1515 said...

The first Garry Shandling show
One Tree Hill
Odd Couple
Letterman’s NBC theme

Ed from SFV said...

Courtship of Eddie's Father
Banana Splits (Plus any number of cartoons)
Love, American Style
Bob Newhart Show (original)
Partridge Family
Name of the Game

Yeah...I am hopelessly a child of that era.

DBenson said...

I second the motions for JONNY QUEST and THE PRISONER; and did anybody mention THE MAN FROM UNCLE? As a kid I had a special passion for James Bond style adventure music. I wished they'd release the orchestral parts of "MacArthur Park" without the stuff about the cake in the rain.

MICKEY MOUSE CLUB because it was lovably goofy and -- unlike a lot of kid show themes -- didn't make you wince a few years later (looking at you, "Archie's Here" and "Speed Racer"). Laugh and express adolescent sarcasm, but not wince. Good time music.

The theme songs from GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE, TOM SLICK and SUPER CHICKEN evoke a smile, although part of the appeal is that they instantly summon up the snappy visuals. I know the lyrics to SUPER CHICKEN and can end a party at 8pm.

The theme songs from the MARVEL SUPER HEROES, those beyond-cheap 60s "cartoons" that Disney probably encased in lead and buried somewhere. They're not so much bad as proudly, purposefully oddball. SPIDER-MAN was a better cartoon and the theme was appropriate and catchy.

And finally, the syndicated HERCULES theme, with tenor on steroids singing:
"Hercules! People are safe when near him.
Hercules! Only the evil fear him.
Softness in his eyes; iron in his thighs;
Virtue in his heart; fire in every part

Jen from Jersey said...

Greatest American Hero
Dukes of Hazard
All in the Family

D McEwan said...

Come on. I love the Perry Mason theme.

Cap'n Bob said...

The Rebel
Have Gun, Will Travel
Perry Mason
The Lone Ranger

hollphoto said...

77 Sunset Strip
Texas John Slaughter
Elfego Baca

71dude said...

The Waltons
Hawaii Five-O
Hill St. Blues
Barney Miller
The Fall Guy
Young & the Restless
Rockford Files
The Simpsons
King of the Hill
Cagney & Lacey
That Girl
Welcome Back Kotter
Mr. Belvedere
Carol Burnett Show
Sanford & Son/Sanford Arms

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

The "Taxi" theme, by Bob James, did fit the melancholy that underscored the show--no pun intended.

Besides many already mentioned, I liked the opening theme of "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" by Patrick Williams (ABC, 1987-88).

Honorable mention: Chuck Barris, who wrote most of the music for his shows.

"The New Treasure Hunt," a syndicated effort from 1973-1977, had a lovely closing theme that Barris credited to Elmer Bernstein because it was partly based on "Someday Little Girl" from 1969's "True Grit."

Also liked the the original versions of the themes for "The Newlywed Game" (based on a Barris song called "Summertime Guy") and "The Dating Game" during the shows' ABC runs in the sixties and early seventies.

Cheryl Marks said...

Greatest American Hero
Hill Street Blues
Rockford Files

Hmmm seems I like Mike Post a lot!

Buttermilk Sky said...

If British shows are up for consideration, Eric Idle wrote and performed the theme for ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE. Check it out on YouTube.

msar said...

As a child of the '80s, I always thought Knight Rider, Magnum P.I., Miami Vice, and Happy Days had a great theme song too. They were really the last shows with great theme songs before the age of playing opening credits over minimal-to-no music that we see today. It was the end of an era.

Kosmo13 said...

The Rifleman
Bat Masterson
The first-season Walker, Texas Ranger instrumental theme, before they started using the theme "sung" by Chuck Norris.

Liggie said...

If they haven't been mentioned already ...

UK Coupling, "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" (with English lyrics instead of the original Spanish)
Quantum Leap, all versions (quieter version in first seasons, electric guitar one in final season)
The Kids in the Hall, "Having an Average Day" by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet

If game show themes qualify, Match Game, Card Sharks, Family Feud, Press Your Luck and of course The Price Is Right are all punchy earworms.

powers said...

Andre Previn lives! Take that "In Memoriam"segment of the Emmys.

tavm said...

Happy Days theme (not "Rock Around the Clock")
Laverne & Shirley
Original Saturday Night Live theme
The Dukes of Hazzard
Jack Jones' original Love Boat theme
The Wonder Years (Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help From My Friends")

Big Ray said...

Law & Order
The Rifleman

Yah Shure said...

DANGER MAN: "High Wire", the harpsichord-driven theme played over the opening credits on the U.K. show, which followed the "Secret Agent Man" theme on the U.S. SECRET AGENT version.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., season 2. Lalo Schifrin's bongos-infused interpretation rocked!

JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN. Made the deserted amusement park opening all the more scary.

THE AVENGERS. Laurie Johnson's arrangement always reminded me of when the strings kicked in on "Image-Part 1", Hank Levine's 1961 fleshed-out recording based on the Crowell-Collier stations' (KDWB/KEWB/KFWB) signature logo.

sanford said...

Some of you people are really old, Zorro, El Fago Baca, Texas John Slaughter. I am surprised any one would remember those. For the shows I have seen listed I agree with all of them. I think one of the best theme songs is for the Lone Ranger. Hard to think of a better use for the William Tell Overture. Used at the beginning and the end. Some mentioned that he liked theme songs that tell something about the show. The Lone Ranger does this by narration. A fiery horse,with a speed of light, a cloud of dust, and hearty hi yo Silver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9lf76xOA5k

Anonymous said...

cannot let this go without mentioning:

The FBI (60's version) (Bronislau Kaper made the show sound very important)

Search (1972) (Disappointing show but Dominic Frontiere's Herb Albert style)

Vega$ (Robert Urich) - Dominic Frontiere's theme sounded like a slot machine

King Leonardo (just love it)

John in NW Ohio said...

The Pruitts of Southampton

Go ahead....Google it

Patrick Wahl said...

Lots of good themes I'd say, here are a couple that weren't mentioned, or weren't mentioned enough. There are lyrics to the theme for Bonanza, luckily, if you've ever heard them, they weren't used.

The Big Bang Theory
The Virginian

Jeff Maxwell said...

The haunting tones of the MASH theme never fails grab me. Or may it’s just haunting me. Dunno. But it’s sure drills down to somewere in my soul.

Roger Owen Green said...

I have an album of Mike Post themes, but unfortunately, it was before NYPD Blue.

Sarah said...

So many I love already mentioned above but I can't believe NO ONE has mentioned "Thank you for being a friend" from the Golden Girls.
Off the beaten path for this crowd:
True Blood
The O.C.

Sarah said...

There are so many great ones already listed above but I can't believe that NO ONE has mentioned The Golden Girls.

Of the beaten path for this crowd I think:
True Blood
The O.C.

Shelley Herman said...

I defy anyone of a certain age not to begin singing along when they hear the title of the TV show, “it’s About Time”.

VP81955 said...

How about "Movin' On," by Merle Haggard? ("Jammin' gears has got to be a fever, 'cause men become addicted to the grind...")

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Andrew Gold wrote and recorded the original "Thank You For Being A Friend," a hit in 1978, long before "The Golden Girls."

I prefer Gold's version; the TV theme never caught on with me.

Gold was the son of soprano Marni Nixon, whose voice was often dubbed in movie musicals, including "My Fair Lady."

Earlier, I forgot to credit trombonist Bill Watrous, who was prominently featured in the theme for "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story," composed by Patrick Williams.

Sad to note that Mr. Gold, Ms. Nixon, Mr. Watrous, and Mr. Williams are all gone.

Ned Pepper said...

No matter how hard I try to forget it I remember the short-lived Smothers Brothers sitcom that aired in the 1960s. In the tradition of Topper and My Mother the Car, the sitcom premise was a dead character who kept hanging around and could not be heard or seen by anyone but the other main character. The theme song went:

"Oh, brother Tom was once at sea without his water wings... And now he is an angel... And he can do amazing things.!"

Pat Reeder said...

Just about every theme song in history has already been mentioned, so I'll toss in my vote for the last one, which I love: the winsome little instrumental that opened "My World and Welcome To It," which was canceled after one season in an act of criminal stupidity by NBC. A show that I would kill to see remastered on DVD because I've loved James Thurber since the third grade. I used to hang out in the basement of the Waco, Texas, library, hunting through bound editions of the New Yorker to find casuals by him that weren't collected in books. Now, the New Yorker prints Lena Dunham as "humor" and you can watch every episode of "Girls," but you have to turn to Russian bootleggers to see blurry clips of "My World and Welcome to It." And this is why life sucks.

Brad Pierce said...

No one has mentioned my all-time favorite, THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Ted Cassidy's low-key narration lets the video shine as the unique premise unfolds. Terrific music by Joe Harnell and a lightning strike from Universal's peerless inventory of horror movie effects makes this TV intro as compelling as any!

John in NE Ohio said...

To me , good theme songs should not be ones you want to skip on binging, and should set the mood for the show.
On the other end of the spectrum, they should not be earworms that you make you briefly think trading deafness for never having heard it would be ok. (Facts of Life - thanks to everyone that mentioned it). FOL is an extreme example that the show should have been cancelled just to rid the world of that song.

Before I give the list, as a general rule, the older the show, the better the theme song. Exceptions abound. Presented in alphabetical order.

2.5 Men
All in the Family
Andy Griffith Show
Big Bang Theory
Death in Paradise
Drew Carey
Dukes of Hazard
Hill Street Blues
Hogans Heroes
Home Improvement
Miami Vice
Mickey Mouse Club
Mister Rogers
Peter Gunn
Sanford & Son

JED said...

I was always partial to the theme song for F Troop

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Chuck Lorre's career dream was to be a musician, so it's not surprising that several of his shows have had great themes. I forgot the theme for DHARMA AND GREG, which I loved.


Anna said...

Barney Miller
The Americans
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Bojack Horseman

Sara said...

The Equalizer and NYPD Blue

Liggie said...

Totally forgot "The Flip Wilson Show". Incredibly catchy.

KCDennis said...

The Star Trek: Voyager theme is a beautiful piece of music.

Astroboy said...

Any theme by Mike Post. And, oddly, a theme I often find myself randomly singing to myself, the theme song from "Branded" starring Chuck Connors as a (wrongly-fully) disgraced Army soldier in the old west.

Todd Everett said...

Why we never heard the second verse of Love is All Around

Anonymous said...

Have Gun Will Travel
M squad

Ishkabibble said...

FIREFLY has one of my favorite theme songs ever.

Unknown said...

This has to be one of the most responses to a post this year! Reading through it, it seems like people are just throwing out their favorite shows.

But Ken you are selling yourself short, an no one else has called it out yet. The theme to Wings was great. The whole opening with the plane taking off, flying over beautiful scenery, and then landing. Great! Taxi has a similar opening, and as many people have mentioned, the song is great.

Probably the longest used theme song is Dr. Who which I think is great.

sanford said...

I forgot about this one Car 54 where are you?

Stu R said...

The West Wing - Snuffy knocked it out of the park.
Rockford Files- Mike Post first of many. Still have his album from the 70s.
Roundball Rock - NBC'S NBA theme from the 90s and it's making a comeback. Best sports theme ever.

Mibbitmaker said...

In no particular order:

I Dream of Jeannie (the black and white 1st season)
Peter Gunn
SNL (esp. 1975-9, 1980-81 seasons)
Mission: Impossible (objectively the best ever)
Sanford & Son
The Avengers
The Saint
Batman (esp. the Who's cover)
Match Game (both the '70s, and the original theme: A Swingin' Safari by Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra)
Late Night with David Letterman
Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson
30 Rock
SWAT (top 40 version)
WKRP in Cincinnati (closing and opening themes, in order of preference)
Cheers (I didn't care much for it on the show, until I heard the full version. Love it now)

Rory L. Aronsky said...

L.A. Law. My favorite TV theme, period.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

The King Of Kennisington.

When he walks down the street
He smiles at everyone
("Hey, look, It's the King!")
Everyone that he meets
Calls him "King of Kensington"
("How ya doin', King?"
"Put `er there, King!"
"Hey Karen! It's King!")

He finds his fortune in the faces
that surround him
His wife says helping other people
brings him luck
But then his mother tells
a slightly different story
He's the only king around without a buck

He's... a... man among men
The people's champion
And when destiny calls him...
(buzz... buzz..
"I'm sorry,
that line is STILL busy")
He's "King of Kensington"
("Whatta guy!")

Mike Doran said...

The original recording of "A Swingin' Safari" - the one that was used by NBC on the original Match Game (you know, the clean one), was by Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra.
Gene Rayburn credited the Decca LP on the air one day, which led me to track it down at Korvette's and buy it, which in its turn led me to start collecting Kaempfert's other records - but that's another story …

TimWarp said...

So many wonderful theme songs! But unlike any other "favorite" list (movie/Disney World Ride/Beatles song/food/color/sitcom/Britcom/author) I never have another contender for the top spot: the original HAWAII 5-0. Despite my high school marching band (I played sax so I can say this) butchering it.

Chris Gumprich said...

Not yet mentioned by anyone: SLEDGE HAMMER!, an early Danny Elfman work.

ScarletNumber said...

> Johnny Mandell [sic] wrote the theme for MASH, originally for the movie. There were lyrics but we never once used them on the TV show.

Mandel only wrote the music. The lyrics were written by Michael Altman, son of the director of the movie. Even though the lyrics weren't used on the TV show, as co-writer Altman still gets paid every time it is played. Altman made much more money from writing those lyrics than his father ever did directing movies.

In a similar vein, while Paul Anka wrote "Johnny's Theme", the unheard lyrics were written by Johnny Carson. Therefore, Johnny got paid every time the song played, in addition to his salary from hosting The Tonight Show.

As for Peter Gunn, your readers in their 40s will know it as the theme to the video game Spy Hunter.

thirteen said...

The theme for the George Reeves Superman show. I have no idea who wrote it. The guy who said he wrote it may have just licensed it from an anonymous orchestra in Belgium.

Mike Barer said...

In my childhood, I always loved the Green Hornet theme. Get Smart also had a memorable one.