The other day while driving home from work I heard the song "Welcome Back" from "Welcome Back Kotter" and it occurred to me that it's been years, possibly more than a decade, since I've heard a really great theme song to a TV show. Think about it - when's the last time songs were written specifically for a TV show, and were catchy to boot? For most people of my generation, it was probably "I'll Be There For You" from "Friends", and even that is pretty bland compared to some of the great tunes from older sitcoms. In no particular order, I thought it might be fun to list my top ten favorite TV sitcom theme songs - the ones I know pretty much all of the words (or melodies) to, the ones that make me want to sing or get up and dance or do both. Keep in mind I'm focusing on comedy sitcoms, not dramas, otherwise the list would be out of control. Let's roll:
1. "Happy Days" - written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, for "Happy Days"
A rocking show set in 50s Americana needed a rocking 50s theme, and Bill Haley & His Comets provided just that during the first two seasons of the show, with a reworked version of their hit "Rock Around the Clock." The song that would become the theme, however, known for the line, "Sunday, Monday, Happy Days" was originally used as the ending theme for the first two seasons, then became the opener starting in season three. It was released as a single in 1976 and charted in the top five on the music charts. I have no doubt The Fonz himself would approve, by giving his trademark "Heeeeeeey!" and flashing two thumbs up.
2. "Making Our Dreams Come True" - performed by Cyndi Grecco, for "Laverne & Shirley"
You don't have to be fluent in Yiddish to know how to recite the opening line, "Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" Most of us who grew up watching Laverne and Shirley's antics know it like the back of our hands. After Cindy Williams (Shirley) left the show, the program would open up on Laverne watching a group of children sing the chant before the theme song began. Alas, this was just not the same as watching the two gal pals hop down their street on their way to work at the Shotz Brewery beer factory.
3. "Those Were The Days" - written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse and performed by Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton for "All in the Family"
We all knew who we were back then - girls were girls and men were men. And mister, we could use some sitcoms like "All in the Family" to make us laugh today. The theme song strikes a chord for those of a certain age caught up in the turbulent changing times of the 60s and 70s. Supposedly Edith's screeching on the line, "And you knew who you WEEERRE then" became louder as the seasons progressed.
4. "Movin' On Up" written by Ja'net Du Bois (from Good Times) and Jeff Barry for "The Jeffersons"
With the backing of a gospel choir, this theme may be one of the most exuberant themes in TV history. And who could blame the Jeffersons for celebrating - they had finally moved on up to the East side, away from their bigoted neighbor Archie Bunker. "Movin' On Up" was referenced in several rap songs and commercials throughout the 90s and 2000s. Will Smith's song "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" referenced George and Louise Jefferson, and they returned the favor somewhat when their characters appeared on the final episode of Smith's series "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" to purchase the family's Bel-Air home.
5. "The Fishin' Hole", by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer for "The Andy Griffith Show"
It doesn't matter how well you can claim to whistle - you haven't arrived until you can perform the theme to "The Andy Griffith Show" in perfect pitch. The homey, unmistakable theme opened up every episode as Andy and Opie walked down to Mayberry's fishing spot. Believe it or not, there were lyrics written for the song, even though they were rarely (if never) heard during the show's remarkable 8 year run.
6. "The Streetbeater" written by Quincy Jones for "Sanford & Son"
This whimsical yet groovy theme for Redd Foxx's popular comedy just makes me smile. It brings back memories of watching the show with my father, and laughing when Fred Sanford declared he was having "the big one." Punctuated with harmonicas, I think it may be one of the most perfect compositions ever done for a TV series.
7. "Without Us" - performed by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Richards, for "Family Ties"
What would we do without the Keaton family in the 80s? "Without Us", which was played as a painting of the Keatons was filled in during the first few seasons, sung of a former pair of hippies, together since the days of Woodstock, still holding on strong and in love, raising a family.
8. "My Life" - written by Billy Joel and performed by Bertie Higgins, for "Bosom Buddies"
It's unclear if "My Life" was written by Joel specifically for the Tom Hanks/Peter Scolari series and later became a hit or vice versa, but either way whenever I hear the song on the radio I always think of Hanks and Scolari in drag. "My Life" became a hit and reached number 3 on the 1978 Billboard charts. A bit of trivia: the "old friend" who "closed the shop, sold the house, and bought a ticket to the West coast" was none other than comedian Richard Lewis. Because of licensing issues, "My Life" cannot be heard on the DVD releases of the series.
9. "Welcome Back", written and performed by John Sebastian, for "Welcome Back Kotter" Well of course, I have to mention this song. "Welcome Back" rose to the top of the music charts in 1976 to become a number one hit. "Welcome Back Kotter" was originally going to be called simply "Kotter", but that was changed because Sebastian, who once fronted the Lovin' Spoonful, failed to find any relevant words that rhymed with Kotter.
10. "Love is All Around" - written and performed by Sonny Curtis, for the "Mary Tyler Moore Show"
Yes, she's got spunk and so does this song. Admit it, whenever you heard it you wanted to toss your hat into the air just like Mary Richards did. The song has been covered by some eclectic musicians including Joan Jett and Sammy Davis Jr., and was part of a Chase bank advertising campaign a few years ago, proving that it's still making it after all.
There are so many more memorable ones, but these are the ones that have stuck with me. What are some of your favorites?
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