If you are of a certain age, you remember when TV theme songs actually meant something. In some ways, they could be considered a character on the show. Yes, there were many generic-sounding theme songs, but some still hold up many years later and are just as iconic as the shows themselves. Unlike many of today’s themes that air for ten seconds or less, these classics would play for about a minute before the show would begin and the song would stick in your head for days to come. Very few shows do that today and some have borrowed music from other sources instead of creating anything new. Ironically, many shows that air on premium cable channels or services like Hulu or Netflix still feature the longer theme songs. Then again, you can usually skip the show’s opening if you don’t care for it.
While we all have our favorites for one reason or another, here are ten of the very best songs:
The theme song for Friends, “I’ll Be There for You,” was co-written by the show’s producers David Crane and Marta Kauffman, Kauffman’s husband, composer Michael Skloff, and songwriter Allee Willis, along with Phil Sōlem and Danny Wilde, both of the Rembrandts. When Charlie Quinn and Tom Peace from radio station WYHY looped the original song three times and airing it as a full-length track, the song became so popular that the original group “had” to re-record the song into a real three-minute song.
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons approached Danny Elfman to write the show’s theme song with hopes of a retro-styled piece. Elfman (who has written music for numerous movies including Edward Scissorhands and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas as well as TV Themes for Desperate Housewives and Batman the Animated Series) says that The Simpsons theme is one of his most popular tunes ever.
I Dream of Jeannie
Some fans of I Dream of Jeannie will be surprised to learn that during the show’s first season, it had a different theme song from the one we all know and love. The song was considered to be an “instrumental jazz waltz” written by Richard Wess. Sidney Sheldon (the creator of the show) wasn’t happy with it and had it replaced by the song “Jeannie” which was composed by Hugo Montenegro.
Montenegro is known for writing the main theme to the movie The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. He also wrote TV theme songs for Here Come the Brides, The Outcasts and The Partridge Family. Buddy Kaye wrote yrics for the song “Jeannie,” but they were never used.
Actress Ja’net Dubois, who played the role Willona Woods on CBS’ Good Times co-wrote the theme song for The Jeffersons with Jeff Barry. Dubois herself sang “Movin’ On Up” along with a gospel choir. The song was later covered by Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1978. The song is so iconic, many people are more familiar with the tune than the actual show from where it comes from.
Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans was such a ground-breaking show in terms of style that it shouldn’t be any surprise that the theme song was performed by the Japanese pop rock band Puffy (or Puffy AmiYumi in the United States). The group also recorded the show’s spin-off, Teen Titans Go and SD Gundam Force. They once did a cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with Lauper herself.
Composter Lalo Schifrin has said that it took all of three minutes to write the iconic theme song of Mission: Impossible. In addition to this masterpiece, Schifrin has written theme music for many movies and other TV shows including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Medical Center and Starsky and Hutch. Ironically, Schifirin has never won an Emmy for his work.
Though The Munsters theme song is reminiscent to the song, “Baby Elephant Walk,” the song has its own personality. The song, which was nominated for a Grammy in 1965, was written by Jack Marshall who also composed music for the TV shows, The Deputy, The Investigators and The Debbie Reynolds Show. The lyrics of the song were written by Bob Mosher. Years later, the song was included in Fall Out Boy’s song “Uma Thurman” though some people think that the music came from the movie Pulp Fiction, where Uma danced in a scene with John Travolta.
Josie and the Pussycats
The theme song for Josie and the Pussycats was better than the show itself and the reason for that is that the voices who sang the songs on the show were not the same who voiced the characters. While working on the actual show, Hanna-Barbera Productions created a real band of females to perform the songs. Produced by La La Productions, 500 female singer finalists were narrowed down to just three: Cathy Dougher for Josie, as Valerie and future Charlie’s Angel, Cheryl Ladd, for Melody. The songs were written by producer Danny Janssen (who also wrote for The Partridge Family), Austin Roberts, Sue Sheridan and Bobby Hart (one of the songwriters for The Monkees).
It can be argued that the re-boot version of Hawaii Five-O TV show is hit partially because CBS chose to keep the origin theme song. The TV tune, which won two Emmy awards, was composed by Morton Stevens. Stevens work has been nominated seven other times for work on other television shows including Gunsmoke and Police Woman. The theme song was recorded by The Ventures and the song reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has become the unofficial fight song for the University of Hawaii. Perhaps the strangest bit of trivia regarding the song can be found in the Australian movie, The Dish in which a local band mistook it for a national anthem of the United States and played it to commemorate the 1969 Moon landing.
Don Kirshner, the Screen Gems head of music hired Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to record four demo songs for the pilot of The Monkees. Though the pair didn’t write more music for TV, (they did some music for motion pictures) they themselves actually appeared in a number of shows including Bewitched, The Flying Nun and I Dream of Jeannie. In April of ’66, the foursome which were to become The Monkees began to practice with rented instruments, but they were far from ready to perform. The actors would often crack each other up during recording and had to record their vocal separately. Their instrument-playing was at a minimum.
Bonus: Agatha All Along
Ironically, one of TV’s best his was for a fake show. “Agatha All Along”, is an original song from Disney+’s WandaVision. It was written by composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez known for their songs written for Disney’s Frozen movies. The song was featured during the seventh episode and was performed by star Kathryn Hahn, with Lopez, Eric Bradley, Greg Whipple, Jasper Randall, and Gerald White serving as backup singers. Drawing inspiration from The Munsters and The Addams Family theme songs, the song was officially released on February 23, 2021, as part of the WandaVision Original Soundtrack and reached fifth on iTunes’ Top 100 singles chart. By February 25, it had been downloaded 3,000 times. Maybe its time to bring back the longer theme songs?
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.