Friday, September 7, 2018

The 40 Best Television Theme Songs of All-Time -- Now with Special Bonus Track!



Of all the art forms none can match the emotional attachments we have with music. Whether it is a song from our youth or a theme from a favorite television series, music has become a near essential element of our earthly lives. Television themes have gone the way of the typewriter, but looking back on the history of television there are some remarkable themes to listen to and to reflect with fondness on a time gone by. 

There was a long period of time when the concept of water cooler television was literally just that. We discussed what we had viewed with people at work, at school and just about anywhere else we might be. We all pretty much watched the same shows week in, week out and we heard some of these theme songs hundreds of times over the course of a lifetime. Enjoy looking back and pondering a time when we weren't a niche society and all shared in the same moments of life from the start of the week through the end of the week.  Here are the 40 best television theme songs of all-time -- plus a new Bonus Track at the end!  

40) Monday Night Football - Hank Williams Jr. wrote Are You Ready for Some Football and this fun-loving theme worked for many years on both ABC and ESPN.  Monday Night Football garnered huge ratings for several decades. MNF broke one of the biggest news stories of the last fifty years when Howard Cosell announced during a game that John Lennon had been shot in New York City.   


39) Mannix - One of the most undervalued theme pieces comes from this series that aired from 1968 through 1975. Mike Connors starred as private detective Mannix. Lalo Schifrin (he also wrote the theme for Mission Impossible) composed the music. Gail Fisher co-starred as the assistant to Private Investigator Mannix. 



38) The Lawrence Welk Show - The Lawrence Welk Show is one of the longest running series in television history. It is the closing theme that sets the tone for the series. It is a lovely tune that speaks of another time lost to the cynicism of our current world. Adios, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehen was written by George Cates and John Elliott. Even though the show stopped producing original one hour shows in 1981 the series continues to air on many PBS stations across the nation. Some gifted people appeared on the series during its long run.  


37) Here Come the Brides - ABC's short-lived series provided an upbeat song which would go on to give teen idol, Bobby Sherman a hit with Seattle.  Orchestra leader and composer, Hugo Montenegro wrote the music and the lyrics came from Jack Keller and Ernie Sheldon. The bluest skies!


36) Green Acres - A CBS 1960's rural show with one heck of a great theme song. The song literally defines the series. Vic Mizzy who wrote the theme for The Addams Family is also the man who created this theme. Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor led the cast, along with Arnold the Pig. Green Acres is the place to be.


35) The Partridge Family - David Cassidy became a huge star with the launch of this ABC Friday night series. Cassidy became one of the most famous teen idols of the 20th century and the theme, C'Mon Get Happy was a worthy theme.



34) The Dick Van Dyke Show - Earle Hagen who wrote the famed Andy Griffith Show theme also composed this upbeat theme song. The Dick Van Dyke series aired for five seasons and became one of the most honored comedies in television history.


33) Peter Gunn - Craig Stevens portrayed Peter Gunn in a series created by film director, Blake Edwards. The show stopped airing in repeats years ago, but one cannot deny the impact of Henry Mancini's theme.


32) The Greatest American Hero - The theme, Believe it or Not was more successful than the series which aired for two seasons.  Mike Post and Stephen Geyer wrote the theme which was sung by Joey Scarbury. The song was a big hit on the Billboard Top 40.


31) I Love Lucy - One of the most formidable series in television history also provided a classic theme song. Eliot Daniel and Harold Adamson wrote the piece that aired on CBS from 1951 through 1957. Considering the series still airs somewhere on television on a daily basis that piece of music is still going strong nearly 70 years after its first broadcast.


30) The Odd Couple - The Odd Couple started as a stage play and was adapted for the big screen in 1968. The film starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The TV series starred the equally gifted  Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Neil Simon's brilliant characters were matched by the unique and memorable Neil Hefti music.


29) The Twilight Zone - Rod Serling's classic horror-thriller series aired for five seasons. The theme still resonates with a certain air of fear. Marius Constant wrote the theme.


28) The Munsters - Fred Gwynne delivered one of the best performances in the history of television. Yes, one of the best performances indeed. The series is still funny and in some bizarre way it still works. The theme was written by Jack Marshall.


27) Captain Kangaroo - Captain Kangaroo had a few different themes over the years, but Puffin' Billy remains a sweet, homespun piece of music. Puffin' Billy was written by Edward White. It was originally used on a BBC children's show and the captain lifted it. The Captain was a classic children's series which aired on CBS for 38 seasons. The show left the air in 1992, but it left an indelible mark on more than one generation of children.


26) My Three Sons - Fred MacMurray had a long career in feature films when he ventured into television.  Little did he realize he would be in one of the most successful series of all-time. My Three Sons premiered on September 29, 1960 and ended in 1972. Frank DeVol wrote the theme. DeVol also composed the theme songs for other series including Family Affair and The Brady Bunch.


25) Jeopardy - One of the longest running series in television history. It premiered in its first format in 1964 with Art Fleming as host. The show used to be much harder to play. Just saying. Alex Trebeck has hosted the current version for over thirty years. Series creator Merv Griffin co-wrote the theme along with Christopher Rhyne. It's one of the shortest themes on the list, but it's been played more than any other theme in history.


24) Gidget - The TV series for the character of Gidget aired for only one season, but it made Sally Field a television star. The series cemented her all-American girl status that would extend through an entire career. Sally Field wasn't the first Gidget (filmed versions had been made prior to the launch of the series), but she was the best Gidget. Wait 'til You See My Gidget was written by Jack Keller and Howard Greenfield. Johnny Tillotson who scored several top 40 hits during the early 1960's sings an uplifting TV theme song. 


23) The Beverly Hillbillies - The Tiffany network scored big ratings with a series of rural series back in the 1960's. Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and the long-running The Beverly Hillbillies all had memorable theme songs, but The Ballad of Jed Clampett is certainly one of the most creative of the themes. The show premiered on September 26, 1962 and it came to its end in 1971. The theme was written by series creator Paul Henning and it was performed by the famed bluegrass duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Jerry Scoggins sang lead on the song. Flatt and Scruggs are iconic figures in bluegrass music and the wacky part is that this piece of music is still their most memorable.


22) The Golden Girls - This series about four senior women has continued to gain new fans years after it went off the air.  The series was a huge hit and in large part the theme contributed to its success. Andrew Gold had a minor hit with Thank You For Being A Friend in the 1970's but the song was revived (without Gold singing) for the series in the mid-1980's. It still sounds great.


21) M*A*S*H - Before M*A*S*H premiered on September 17, 1972 it was a feature film in 1970. The film was directed by Robert Altman and the lyrics to Suicide is Painless were penned by Altman's son Mike, who made more money writing the lyrics for the theme than his father made for directing the film version.  Johnny Mandel wrote the music.


20) Gilligan's Island - The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle was the best element of the series. A wildly ridiculous series lasted for several years, but the show's theme can still be sung by nearly anyone over a certain age. Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle wrote the theme. How did they get all those different outfits on the island? They were only away on a day trip!


19) The Jetsons - The Hanna Barbera creation of The Jetsons premiered on September 23, 1962. It was a short-lived series, but you wouldn't know it by the love still given to the series and to the even more famous theme. Hoyt Curtin also wrote the theme for The Flintstones. Curtin deserves laurels, kudos and awards for all of this feel good music which has been enjoyed for generations. Daughter Judy!


18) The Jeffersons - The series spent ten years on CBS. Janet Dubois and Jeff Barry wrote the upbeat tune and Dubois sang it with a gospel choir. 



17) The Love Boat - One of the worst series ever to have life on television premiered on September 24,1977 and for some unexplainable reason stayed on the air for nine seasons. The Pacific Princess theme was composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Paul Williams. The Jack Jones version proved to be his most famous track and by the final season they switched from the Jones version to a Dionne Warwick version.  The show may have been dismal trash, but the theme song worked and became part of the pop culture world during a time when everyone was watching the same shows on television.



16) Happy Days - The show which inspired the phrase "jump the shark" managed to provide a genuinely fun theme song which many people can still ad-lib on a dime. Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox wrote the theme music.



15) The Addams Family - The series is dated, but the Vic Mizzy composed theme music featuring finger snaps and a harpsichord still echoes for television fans many years after the show made its premiere. The Addams Family would manage to find an audience in the feature film world as well.



14) Welcome Back Kotter - Another one of the worst series of the 1970's produced one of the finest theme songs of any television series. John Sebastian of Lovin' Spoonful fame wrote and performed  Welcome Back and it became a hit song. The series aired on ABC from 1975 until 1979.


13) Friends - By the time Friends premiered in the 1990's television themes were already being dismissed. Television audiences no longer had the patience to sit through opening credits with a theme and networks didn't want viewers tuning out during an extended open. The wildly expensive NBC series (all six leads were making millions of dollars by its end) lasted ten years. I'll Be There For You enjoyed top 40 hit status.



12) American Bandstand - The Bandstand Boogie written by Charles Albertine had several variations during the long run of the series. The show hosted by Dick Clark lasted on-air from 1952 through 1989. Rate a record! I can dance to this theme song!



11) The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson - Johnny's Theme was written by singer-songwriter Paul Anka who made more money from this piece of music than any of his other pieces of music. Imagine getting a royalty every time the series aired. Johnny Carson's long running success in the late-night world lasted for 30 years beginning in 1962. Carson was a formidable talent and one of television's foundational artists. We shall never see the likes of Carson again.


10) Bonanza - One of the most successful westerns in television history rode into our homes in September, 1959 and would be welcomed into our homes until its conclusion in January, 1973. It aired for 14 seasons and it delivered 430 episodes which explains why it still has a strong shelf life in repeats all these years later. The music was composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.



9) Miami Vice - The famed open by composer Jan Hammer went on to Billboard top 40 single status. The hipster series was inspired by MTV. NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff was said to have wanted MTV cops on the schedule. Miami Vice made its first entry into our homes on a Friday night in 1984. The series stayed on the schedule until 1990.



8) The Andy Griffith Show - The show first aired on CBS in 1960 and concluded its long run in 1968. The Fishin' Hole theme was written by Earle Hagen; and it is Hagen whistling on both the open and close of the credits. The Andy Griffith Show still airs on multiple channels some fifty years after it went off of a network schedule.


7) The Flintstones - Hoyt Curtin, who also wrote the equally memorable theme for another Hanna-Barbera animated series, The Jetsons created one of the most famous television themes of all-time. Anyone over a certain age can certainly sing this song without being prompted by anything other than the first notes of the tune. The Flintstones premiered on September 30, 1960 and lasted through 1966. Meet the Flintstones! Have a Yabba Dabba Do time!



6) The Monkees - No, they weren't a real group, even though they became one of the biggest hit-making groups of the 1960's. The series came on the air in 1966 and was already gone by 1968, but the theme song still can make a generation of early and late baby boomers sing in unison. Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and the forever cute, Davy Jones sang Hey, Hey We're the Monkees and crafted a hit.



5) The Rockford Files - The Rockford Files made its television network debut on September 13, 1974. One of the most appealing actors in television history, James Garner starred in the series for six years, but the Mike Post theme has taken its place as one of television's most noteworthy pieces of music. Mike Post also wrote many other well-known television theme show classics, including Law & Order and  Hill Street Blues.



4) Cheers - Cheers made its debut on NBC in September 1982. It ran successfully for eleven seasons on the Peacock network. The theme, Where Everybody Knows Your Know Name written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Portnoy went on to become as formidable a television classic as the series itself.



3) Hawaii Five-O - The original Hawaii Five-O premiered on CBS on September 20, 1968. It was a major series for twelve years and was rebooted for the same network in 2010. The famed theme music was written by Morton Stevens. The Ventures had a top 40 Billboard hit with their version of the music shortly after the series premiered in the late 1960's. Book em Danno!



2) Mission Impossible - Mission Impossible premiered on television in the late 1960's and was rebooted briefly on ABC in the 1990's. The film franchise which launched in 1996 has gone on to become one of the most successful film franchises in history. Lalo Schifrin wrote the stunning piece of music and of course, its value to the title is so formidable it still sets a flame in the heart every time you hear it.


1) The Mary Tyler Moore Show - We have hit the number one spot for best television theme song of all-time. The Mary Tyler Moore show premiered in September, 1970 and concluded its seven year run in the spring of 1977.  Love Is All Around is a highly memorable, downright make you feel good song. Sonny Curtis was a talented musician and songwriter who had a God-given gift for writing feel good tunes. He composed the music and lyrics for Love Is All Around; and he sings the vocals on this magnificent television theme.  He wrote pop tune classics I Fought the Law for the Bobby Fuller Four and the even more classic Walk Right Back for the legendary Everly Brothers. The Mary Tyler Moore theme song defined her show and the character of Mary Richards. Yes, she could indeed turn the world on with her smile. Note the change of lyrics from season one to the following six seasons. Sonny Curtis was asked to rewrite the lyrical content.  Mary was going to make it!



Just for a bit of additional pop culture fun here's Joan Jett's rockin' rendition! 


SPECIAL BONUS TRACK!

** Mister Ed Mister Ed was a series for eight seasons and as a horse lover I could only hope horses could speak to us, although in a way they do speak to us.  Ray Evans and Jay Livingston wrote the theme for Mister Ed. A horse is a horse...By the way, all horses are not created equally and Mister Ed was certainly a superior member of the equine family.




Thanks for reading and be sure to leave us your favorites in our comments!

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2018












9 comments:

Mike Doran said...

# 27:

That '50s Captain Kangaroo theme was an old British record called "Puffin' Billy", which was a staple on BBC Radio going back to the '40s at least.
CBS used it on Captain because it had never been copyrighted in the US, putting it in public domain.
In later years, CBS commissioned newer themes, one of which was called "Here Comes Captain Kangaroo", none of which sounded anything like "Puffin' Billy".

Chuck Collins said...

Charles Albertine's most notable composition besides "Bandstand Boogie" is still heard 53 years later Monday through Friday each weekday on NBC as the title theme to "Days of our Lives"!

wendell.foster said...

Great walk down Nostalgia Lane! But I’m not sure how any list of historic themes can exclude The Brady Bunch. It is the quintessential premise theme song, arguably more enduring than Gilligan’s Island. Forty-four years after the original series went off the air, it’s still a big deal when the house used in the establishing shot goes on the market!

ChiLAGal said...

I appreciate the updated information on Captain Kangaroo. There is a great deal out there on the various songs used on Captain Kangaroo, but I did uproot myself enough to research your response. I stand corrected and will make the change.

The Brady Bunch, Perry Mason and Star Trek themes were all considered seriously and I suspected disruption with the omission of The Brady Bunch. I grew up with the series, but I have such a bad feeling for its total awfulness that I couldn't get myself to put it on the list. It was hard enough to go with The Love Boat, but that theme's over the top-ness sort of got me to say it fits the era, if nothing else. My deep apologies to a true TV knowledge guru. Theoretically, The Brady Bunch belongs on the list, but my heart and mind sort of wanted the disruption!

Lisa said...

Love this list! Of course The original Captain Kangaroo theme they used was the best one! I think we will do a part two of great themes -- popular, so much fun! Many of my faves not on here but many on here that I might have missed in thinking about themes! Our respective ages probably also color our choices -- I am older than ChiLAGal so we would have some different choices! But all are so memorable!!

A really great post!!

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of comments. The "Beverly Hillbillies" theme was indeed played by Flatt and Scruggs, but it was sung by Jerry Scoggins, as noted in the closing credits.

Anka penned what became known as "Johnny's Theme" several years earlier as "Toot Sweet". Lyrics were later added and it was recorded by Annette Funicello as "It's Really Love". Apparently there is also an Anka version that was released in Europe.

ChiLAGal said...

To anonymous: Thanks for updating us with information regarding The Beverly Hillbillies. My original research indicated Lester Flatt sang lead on the tune, but with your information I extended my research and did indeed find multiple links to the true identity of the theme's singer. Thank you for sending us the correct information.

The Tonight Show Theme with Johnny Carson has become known as Johnny's Theme and we will leave it that way, since Anka himself refers to his piece of music this way. I found several interviews with Anka discussing the theme. Thanks for the further information.

Anonymous said...

Love Mary Tyler Moore, but I would have put Mission Impossible in first place and MTM in second. Just an opinion. Perry Mason was a good one too.

David Hofstede said...

Interesting list, and I definitely agree with your #1 choice. Was never crazy about "Gidget" though (the song, not the series). And I also love "Home to Emily" from The Bob Newhart Show.