Opinions and Rants #7: A Paean for Theme Songs

If the picture above doesn't ring a bell, maybe you should just scroll to the next post.

I've whined and moaned a lot here at retrospace about how much better television used to be (Think I'm just wallowing in nostalgia? I point you to the 1980 Fall Season TV Schedule - that about says it all). Anyway, one thing I've really missed are the theme songs. Sure, many were quite bad and are simply fun for the sake of reminiscing; theme songs for The Brady Bunch, The Jeffersons, Laverne & Shirley, Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies come to mind.

However, some of those theme songs were quite good in their own right. Here's a few off the top of my head that I still enjoy: WKRP in Cincinnati, One Day at a Time, The Bob Newhart Show,
... and call me crazy, but one of my favorites has always been the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Other great ones deserving a mention: The theme to Rockford Files was actually a popular hit, and I like anything by Waylon Jennings, so the theme to The Dukes of Hazzard is a favorite. Hell, I even liked the song for Love, American Style by the Cowsills. The instrumental version of "Suicide Is Painless" for M*A*S*H* is fantastic, as are the instrumental openings for Barney Miller, Taxi and The Waltons . I Dream of Jeannie had a great lounge music vibe and Jack Jones actually does a good job with the Love Boat theme. This list could go on and on ad nauseum.

I've tried to think of some contemporary television shows with good theme music, but have come up completely empty. I like the opening song to BBC's The Office, but that's not original to the show. The theme song to Friends was okay, but that show is over 10 years old and not exactly contemporary (man, I'm getting old!).

I guess I should blame Seinfeld. That stupid popping noise somehow sufficed for theme music, and I think a lot of other sitcoms got on the "less is better" bandwagon. Of course, I don't watch much contemporary television, and so there could be a TV show playing nowadays with a song better than "Stairway to Heaven" and I'd be oblivious.... or, should I say "blissfully ignorant".


  1. I think the TV theme song's real assassin was the greed for more advertising dollars. "Let's squeeze as much commercial time into every hour as possible!" A real disgusting practice that's rampant on a lot of cable stations is running the closing of a show split screen with the opening of the following show. You can't get more blatant than that. However take into account the seemingly lack of talent and originally that plagues Hollywood today in this age of remakes, I truly believe the best is certainly behind us.

  2. Well said. They just don't get the concept that the opening can really add to a show. For example, I think we'd all agree the original Star Trek would have been really hurt by cutting its "boldly go where no man has gone before" opening.

    You see where greed has gotten these networks? Basically they're hovering on the brink of bankruptcy and running a bunch of cheap reality shows. People are STILL watching Three's Company and buying the DVDs... no one will give two cents for a Dancing with the Stars in a year.

  3. With a lot of shows (I'm thinking mostly of the Krofft shows here), the theme songs were the best part... :)

  4. Land of the Lost excepted, of course.

  5. Jeff -I can agree with that. The Six Million Dollar Man intro (although not a song) gave me chills.... but the show itself was oftentimes boring. Same with the Hulk.

    I actually like the Land of the Lost opening. It's one of those story/explanation themes like Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies. Since its primary purpose is to clue in the audience, it's hard to be catchy at the same time.... look no further than the great END theme of Land of the Lost sung by Wesley Eure (Will Marshall)- if that were the opener you'd love it.

  6. Hey there. Great post. I miss theme songs. Someone could start humming one and you could automatically guess which show it was. So many shows had memorable songs. It's a shame that shows of today rarely have them, but I don't watch much modern tv anyway. The shows themselves aren't that good compared to what was on years ago.

  7. I've added you to my bloglines and will add a link from my blog retrohound.com. Great stuff.

  8. Keith - My kids watch "Drake and Josh" and "iCarly" which actually have theme music... whereas I have gotten to the point where I only watch older shows via Netflix. I'm not going to watch CSI:(insert city) when I've got the original Charlie's Angels in a nice red envelope calling my name.

    I'll TiVo some stuff from TVLand or WGN sometimes... but you get the point - I'm completely living in the past now when it comes to television shows.

    Robert - I had a look at your site and enjoyed it. Love the Dynamite magazine gallery.

  9. Old theme songs were just great and immortal. I liked the Lalo Schafrin themes like for Hawaii Five-O (of course) and Kung Fu. Almost all the comedies songs had musical theme people can still hum or whistle (My Three Songs, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeanie, The Munsters...) and of course classics with lyrics as well like Gilligan's Island (I just watch 2 episodes the other night) and The Beverly Hillbillies.

    I have been trying to think of a post to begin my retrology category with and this could be it.

    I see you are using a quicktime player to sample songs. For my wordpress site I use a flash player plug in. I do not thnk I will be doing music on my blogspot and and considering stopping though it seems to be a special service.

    I think I have a site email for you but am too burned out to check. If you send a mail to this site:

    [email protected]

    I will send you info on how to make a downloadable link that so far seems to work. I am not crazy about going back and redoing all my links but if they stop working soon I have that option so far with this site. I typically use my own music that I have uploaded as well.

    Anyway, I am thinking of theme songs now and I used to have a collection of over 50 but think I lost them when my hard drive was accidentally wiped clean last spring.

    I really liked this post and the replies.

  10. Monk has a great Theme Song by Randy Newman!

  11. Hi Gilligan,
    Just been catching up on your 2009 posts - enjoyable as per usual!

    I read somewhere (memory fails me) that the death of the modern theme song is mainly due to networks worrying that viewers will get bored and swap channels - absurd!

    Just for the record, I don't think it's shameful to love the MTM theme, and Joan Jett agrees, as she recorded a great rocking version you may want to hunt down (or, of course, I could always email it to you?).

    I'd also like to add that the 'Twin Peaks' theme still gives me goosebumps, even after all these years.