Best TV Theme Songs
I've got this new Graham Parker album (yes, a new Graham Parker!) in my CD player, and it's quite a trip -- titled Imaginary Television, it's meant to be a collection of theme songs to hypothetical TV programs. Given Parker's snarky humor, you can just imagine how offbeat some of those shows would be if they ever were filmed.
Well, I promise to write about the CD in the next day or two, but I kinda got lost in musing over my favorite television theme songs. No, not the campy jingles from shows like The Addams Family and Mr. Ed, but theme songs that had the feeling of being real songs you might actually want to hear all the verses of, not just the 10-second snippet to open the show.
This is a purely subjective thing, I know -- there's a Pavlovian thing going on, in which it's easier to get excited about the theme song from a show you love. There's perhaps no other way to explain my fondness for The Patty Duke Show theme ("Meet Cathy who's lived most everywhere / From Zanzibar to Berkeley Square / But Patty's only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights / What a crazy pair") or the theme from Bewitched (even though they never sang the words, which ran something like "Bewitched, betwitched, you've got me in your spell). Why else should I prefer the theme from Laverne and Shirley over the American Graffiti-inspired theme for Happy Days?
Everybody loves "Everybody Knows Your Name," a.k.a. the theme from Cheers, and "I'll Be There For You," the inescapable theme song for Friends. But I've got a soft spot in my heart for -- I hate to admit it -- the ultra-suave Three's Company theme song ("Come and knock on my door....") and naturally -- NATURALLY -- the theme songs from The Monkees ("Here we come, walkin' down the street / We get the funniest looks from everyone we meet") and The Partridge Family. After all, if your show's going to be about musicians, having a decent theme song should be a no-brainer. (Advice that the producers of Hannah Montana should have taken.)
Way too often, TV theme songs were just a set-up for the show's premise -- that's the thing that always grates on me about The Brady Bunch and Green Acres and Gilligan's Island songs. Beyond the trivia contest value of being able to sing all the verses, are they really songs you'd ever want to hear? Immediately, though, I can think of a couple exceptions to this rule, the prime one being The Beverly Hillbillies song ("Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed / A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed..."). That one was saved by the pickin' and grinnin' of Flatt and Scruggs, who as I recall even made a guest appearance on one episode. Of all the rash of black sit-coms that came along in the 70s, the best theme song had to be Ja'net DuBois' gospel-drenched "Moving' On Up" from The Jeffersons (and while you're at it, check out this goofy fan video.) And you just can't deny the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's opening rap could charm the pants off anybody, but then -- Will Smith. Need I say more?
But what I'm really talking about are the theme songs written by honest-to-god songwriters -- songs you might sing along to even if you never watched the show. Songs like "Welcome Back" by John Sebastian, which was used as the theme song for Welcome Back Kotter. Or "Best Friend" by Harry Nilsson, the theme song for The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Chico and the Man's theme song, written and sung by Jose Feliciano. "Stand" by R.E.M., which graced a short-lived and truly oddball sit-com starring Chris Elliott, Get A Life. "You're Not the Boss of Me," the They Might Be Giants song that leads off Malcolm in the Middle; or the Bare Naked Ladies' theme for the current show The Big Bang Theory.
Occasionally -- just occasionally -- there'd even be an instrumental theme song so good, you'd have to sing along. Hawaii 5-O -- performed by the Ventures -- is the classic example, but what about the groovy urban vibe of Bob James' theme from Taxi, or the deliciously funky Sanford and Son theme by Quincy Jones? (Incredibly, a song that sounded exactly as scruffy as Redd Foxx looked.) And my sentimental favorite in this category is the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, known in reruns as Andy of Mayberry. The simplicity of that whistling and finger-snapping tells you most of what you need to know about the gestalt of that show. (Here's even a vocal version, with Andy Griffith himself singing lyrics I never knew existed.)
So many hours of my life wasted in front of a television set -- and it was those songs, like a snake-charmer's flute, that drew me in. I'm sure I'm forgetting some other great ones, too. And I'm sure you'll remind me of them!