Half the thrill of watching your favorite show is humming along to the familiar theme song in the opening credits. Some are corny, others are catchy, and a handful have become hit singles with a life beyond the show. These ditties are part of our collective culture, and anyone who watched the shows knows every hook, line and riff. Some are iconic instrumentals, while others lyrically outline the premise of the show. Here are some of the most memorable TV theme songs ever. Bet more than a few are forever stuck in your head.
Is there anyone who doesn’t know the Friends theme song “I’ll Be There For You“? The show was on for ten seasons and never stopped airing since, so just think about how many times it’s been heard! The Rembrandts song was relevant, upbeat and totally catchy. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay charts for eight weeks and was an international hit. Admit it, you used to join in with the clapping part.
2. The Simpsons
The Simpsons has a unique theme song that was created by composer Danny Elfman, his most successful song to date. It officially took 3 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes and 19 seconds to create (according to Danny). It’s a rather discordant ditty with a disjointed beat, but it somehow burrows into our brains. Maybe it’s because the show has been on for an incessant 27 years. There are many different versions with slight variations, including one with an extended solo saxophone riff by Lisa Simpson herself.
3. Hawaii Five-O
The rousing Hawaii Five-O theme song was pretty much perfect as an intro into the world of sun drenched police work. The song was composed by Morton Stevens and recorded by surf rockers The Ventures, and it actually hit the Billboard Charts in the number four position. Sammy Davis Jr. and Don Ho later recorded their own lyrical versions.
4. The Addams Family
More than the general lyrics of The Addams Family theme song, what ended up being really catchy is the snappy beat – literal finger snaps that everyone could snap along to. Vic Mizzy was the composer hired to do the job and he has been quoted as saying: “Two snaps got me a mansion in Bel Air.”
5. The Monkees
The show The Monkees was about the hijinx of a made-for-TV band, but they actually spawned some genuine hits off the tube. Their opening theme song captured the essence of the band’s Sixties sound and goofy character. The catchy tune was a worldwide hit, and still makes the air on oldies radio stations.
The version of the Cheers theme song that we all know and love was not actually the original version. “Where Everybody Knows your Name” was composed by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo in 1982, but the original version was a bit of a downer with an emphasis drowning one’s sorrows. A revision was in order and a hit was born. In 2011, Rolling Stone named it the best TV theme song of all time.
7. The Brady Bunch
The kitschy theme song for The Brady Bunch was originally recorded by a group called the Peppermint Trolley Company, but after the second season the actors took over the singing duty. The song was written by composer Frank De Vol and show creator Sherwood Schwartz. Anyone who ever watched the show can sing along to this one that tells the story about how this blended family came to be.
8. The Andy Griffith Show
The happy-go-lucky theme song of The Andy Griffith Show is whistled all the way through. Every note seems to harken back to a simpler, more wholesome time. “The Fishin’ Hole” does actually have lyrics that were added later. It was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer, with the subsequent lyrics by Everett Sloane.
9. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The 1990s hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air brought with it one of the most singable TV raps of all time. It sets the show’s premise with some catchy rhymes. Will Smith and Quincy Jones created the song, and the extended version is slightly different than the one minute show opener. “Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped…”
10. Gilligan’s Island
Here’s another theme song that essentially outlined the premise of the show, including introducing all the characters by name (except for the first season, when the professor and Marianne got shafted with an “all the rest”). The Gilligan’s Island ditty was co-written by the series creator Sherwood Schwartz and the composer George Wyle, the latter of which said: “America doesn’t want great music themes — just something it can remember.” Goal achieved.
11. The Jeffersons
The highly infectious theme song to The Jefferson’s “Movin’ On Up” was written by Jeff Barry and Ja’net Dubois, while Ja’net actually performed the song. The rousing gospel inspired tune is one to belt out and clap along too.
12. The Flintstones
“Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they’re a modern stone-age family.” Even Evan Hoyt Curtain, the guy who composed (Meet) The Flintstones song admitted in 1994 that he couldn’t get the jazzy number out of his head. Some say the theme song was actually inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #17, Movement 2.
The Bonanza theme song was the perfect opening for wild west excitement. Although the version in the opening credits did not have lyrics, there were a few different sets of “official” lyrics that were sometimes performed at the end of the show. Johnny Cash released his own version at one point.
14. Secret Agent
The catchy hit “Secret Agent Man” from the show Secret Agent hit the number three spot on the Hot 100 back in 1966. Odds are good you know the Johnny Rivers tune even if you’ve never seen the show.
15. Mission Impossible
If any song ever captured the spy vibe, it’s this one. The Mission Impossible theme song composed for the 1960s television show just screams exciting espionage drama. The thrilling pace of the song is remarkable partly because it was written in 5/4 time which is quite unusual. U2 reworked the song for the movie franchise and gave it new life to a younger audience.
16. Ally McBeal
Music was a big part of 90s show Ally McBeal, so much that the artist who recorded the theme song actually got a mention in the opening cast credits. Vonda Shepherd often appeared on the show singing in the bar where the lawyer friends used to hang out. “Searching My Soul” became a radio hit in 1998 and an anthem for the era.
17. Beverly Hillbillies
The prototype for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Beverly Hillbillies was a fish out of water comedy in the 1960s. Listen to the lyrics of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” and you’ll essentially know the back story of the show. The song spent twenty weeks on the Billboard Country Singles chart, hitting number one for three of them. The banjo infused, bluegrass inspired ditty is one of the most memorable in TV history.
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