I could have seen sub-dividing this topic out even further after I had gotten started.
With September being upon us, and the ninth month of the year typically being when new seasons of television start, I decided it would be a good time to do our long-awaited Top Ten Television Show Theme Songs list.
(Now, granted, in the era of reality shows that all seem to start as soon as the previous season ends and streaming service original programming that starts whenever it wants, the idea of the old September-to-May TV season is almost quaint. But still! I have old-fashioned taste)
But when I got around to making the list, I started processing the songs into three different categories:
–Best Cartoon Theme Songs. Because I do, fair or not, view animation as not-entirely-the-same-thing as live action. Still, I decided not to exclude this genre. What can be done on the show may vary wildly from animation to live action, but songs is songs. The only reason to have kept cartoons segregated out is that there are SO MANY great cartoon themes, I’d almost like to do them as their own list. Maybe I still will someday, even though my core list does have some cartoons included.
–Best TV Themes With Lyrics. This is… what the list ended up being.
–Best TV Themes Without Lyrics. Here’s where I might lose some folks straight away: if a TV theme didn’t have lyrics, I tossed it right out. Such songs were never in consideration. There are some really fun TV themes that don’t have any words–I friggin’ LOVE the theme to Hawaii Five-0–but ultimately, those songs feel like they only utilized 50% of their tool chest. For my list, I wanted something with a more full-bodied flavor.
So cartoons were in, but songs without lyrics were out. Not so much that they were “out”, I guess, but I basically immediately subtracted so many imaginary mental points that they were never going to be in the running.
It’s my fictitious scoring system, and I stand by it.
Yeah yeah I know, but I was the guy who skipped all the Instrumental tracks back when I bought CDs, too. It’s just a whole different animal to me. I want words!
I took my wife to the ballet once. Do you know that there are no words in a ballet? It’s just dancing. Absurd! She said something idiotic like “Their dancing is telling the story, and you have to interpret the story based on their physical performance”, and I was like “Yes, but they could also use words”. And then she shushed me because apparently you aren’t supposed to talk during the ballet. And I spent the whole night pretending the dancers were playing The Floor Is Lava.
TV themes without words are The Floor Is Lava of television intros.
Wait… that analogy ran off without me.
Anyway, TV themes are snazzy, and a sizable chunk of them are just so downright iconic. For some shows, the very best part of the program was the song and the intro it plays over. For other shows, the theme was just an appetizer before the main course.
Let’s look at the ten best!
This is my closest thing to a dark horse pick for this list, just because Firefly isn’t a theme many people would think of right away. Not because it doesn’t deserve it.
The song is a bit melancholy and Western-y, but it’s very memorable. And the lyrics and tone both fit the themes of the show so well. It really sets the tone for what you are about to watch. Our protagonists may have lost a lot in the space war that united everyone under a totalitarian regime, but…well… you can’t take the sky from them.
9. Scooby-Doo Where Are You?
I think this was my very first favorite TV show when I was so young. I can recall watching it and hearing the theme in the first home in which I lived.
When I first started planning out this list, I’d never have imagined Scooby Doo placing in the final top ten. But the more I went over the list… I just kept stopping here and singing this song in my head. I couldn’t stop, and damned if it didn’t make my recall my childhood.
It’s so of-its-era and just makes me think of, like, family bands getting together and slow-jamming a fun song.
I’m kinda-sorta biased against this since the Friends theme is just a real song that got repurposed into a TV theme, but really? When is the last time anyone in the world heard this song outside of the context of an episode of Friends? Like, 1997?
I have mentioned before that Friends is likely a somewhat UNDERRATED show, even though certain aspects (the overall whiteness of it all in NYC, and the occasional homophobic humor) haven’t aged well. And the song just works for it. It has a very 90’s pop-rock feel by one of the, like, 34 bands from that era I just refer as “…Probably Third Eye Blind?”. Maybe it’s the popularity and the ubiquitous nature of the show when it was at its height, but when I think of this song, you think of real friendship. Friends WILL be there for you! I should get some.
7. The Addams Family
Theme songs don’t have to be overly involved to be catchy. One of the best themes of all time is ridiculously simplistic while also having great creative flair. It really just makes you snap your fingers along with it. Remember that scene from the Bohemian Rhapsody film where Queen creates “We Will Rock You” because they want the crowd to be part of the band? The Addams Family pulled that off way earlier for their television theme.
The visual juxtapositions that the intro uses against the song (the shots for “neat”, “sweet”, and “petite”, most notably) are so charming. And this song is just one of the many reasons why The Addams Family was better than The Munsters.
(Also, Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd never did a Munsters movie)
Everyone knows this song. Everyone can sing at least some of it. This song (and the cartoon from which it sprang… and the memes from said cartoon) are timeless, and the memory of it will outlive us all.
It’s been referenced in many of the Spider-Man films that have come out. A call-out to it was the best part of The Simpsons Movie. It’s been covered by acts such as The Ramones and Michael Buble. I would say it’s the best cartoon theme of all time, but… my top five will pretty quickly disprove that.
Regardless, it’s a hit of a theme that’s been with us for over fifty years!
From here on out? You could honestly call anything in my top five the best television theme song of all-time. I spent most of the time making this list ordering and re-ordering my top five. Everything here is positively legendary.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Cheers. For real? I’ve probably seen fewer than a dozen episodes of it in my life. It has always been just… okay. I don’t dislike it, but it just never gripped me, either.
The song, though? The song is perfection. I have always wanted to write a short story based around The Cheers theme, and I just never got around to it because I’m lazy and awful. I hear this song, and I just am convinced that Cheers is the actual, Biblical hell.
Well, maybe not HELL itself, but like… some kind of succubus, fighting for the souls of its patrons. It’s temptation. It’s surrender. There’s a story here!
It makes sense in my head.
It’s definitely the only TV theme that gives me that feeling.
This is where you go “Wait, the POKEMON theme this high? That’s dumb”, and I respond “No, you shut your sinful mouth; YOU’RE dumb! Stop being dumb!”.
Ahem. I get a little defensive.
But this theme absolutely jams. First off, the opening line is “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was”, so this song is the geek equivalent to Eye Of The Tiger. I hear this song come on my playlist, and I think I can do ANYTHING. I listen to this song and think “I should go punch a tree down!”
Beyond that, the guitars, the melody, the beats… everything here is absurdly good. It shifts in tone… ugh, I just love it.
The only problem with this song is that the show kept adopting new themes with every region to which Ash journeyed. Why get rid of perfection?!
3. Golden Girls
Look, if I have to explain why this goes here, there’s nothing I can do for you.
Golden Girls from a revolutionary, ahead-of-its-time show, and its song was every bit as remarkable as the performances of Getty, White, Arthur, and McClanahan. The song is catchy, heartfelt, and is one of those tunes that just fits the mood of the show so well. You can also just picture so many moments from the intro when you hear it. Blanche strutting down the hall. Dorothy biting her knuckle. Rose getting group hugged. It’s all iconic.
2. The Greatest American Hero
No show has a bigger discrepancy between the import of its song and the import of the actual show than The Greatest American Hero.
The song is memorable and fantastic and has been used and referenced in other media with some frequency. The show is… I couldn’t name a single character or plot point from it, to be honest. Every other show on this list, I could pretty easily rattle off all the biggest characters. But not here.
And that makes the theme song even better because it’s SO GOOD on such an otherwise forgettable show. I only have two TV themes on my regular Spotify playlist. One is Pokemon. The other is this one.
1. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
While I DID shuffle the top five with some frequency, there were very few shuffles that didn’t result in this song being number one.
Forget that it was performed by a popular musician who was also the star of the show. Ignore, if you can, how gloriously infectious it is. Don’t dwell on the fact that EVERYONE knows it off by heart.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme tells you everything you need to know about the show. At the beginning of every episode, you get a “why this is happening” backstory.
And now recall all those things I told you not to think about, too.
This is the king of the TV themes.
There were, obviously, a lot of other themes in tight competition for the Top Ten. There are just too many factors to judge this topic on. Catchiness. Cultural impact. Relevance to the show. There’s too much criteria!
I am definitively happy with my Top Ten, but some of the shows that were fighting and clawing in my mind (especially for the more tenuous ninth and tenth slots) included:
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood – This is the sweet, coddling song that the very best thing to ever happen to children’s TV always deserved.
Full House – Any time you see a meme or online video parodying 80’s / early 90’s TV intros, it’s Full House they are making the most nods to.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I spent a solid 5% of my childhood singing this song.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – DAMN but this song gets stuck in my head for WEEKS after I watch new episodes of Kimmy Schmidt.
Married… With Children – Frank Sinatra is the greatest. And the show managed to subvert the very perception of this song.
That’s either a really great list or a really bad one, but I’m proud of it. Like I said, you could shuffle numbers five through one and put them back in any order, and I would be okay with it. They are ALL deserving of the #1 spot.
I’ve rambled on enough, though. Who are YOUR ten TV Theme Songs? Let me know in the comments. Are the shows themselves as good as the songs? What are some great shows that had lame themes? Or vice versa?
Until next time… take care!