If you've ever caught yourself walking around humming a familiar-but-unidentifiable tune, and then the minute you put words to it, realized you were singing the Scooby-Doo theme, this list is going to resonate. These TV earworms can be hard to shake, but that's their job: to get into your head and stay there.
TV themes can introduce you to a character (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), an origin story (The Beverly Hillbillies), or just set the mood (The Sopranos). Many of them are written by music vets with long histories of success, either on TV or on the pop charts. Sometimes it's a theme that launches a career, and sometimes it represents a fleeting moment in the spotlight. No matter what, TV theme songs can become indelibly etched onto your subconscious, and almost everyone has not just a favorite, but also one they wish they'd never heard. We've got both, so here are the parameters we're going to work with.
- No instrumentals. That' a whole category all by itself, and deserving of its own list, which you know if you've ever let the Game of Thrones music play in your head as you go about your business. It sure adds drama.
- No songs that were out there before they were attached to TV shows. That rules out some big ones, like Smallville, The O.C., Parenthood, and even that annoying, catchy song from Enterprise.
That's it! We've included some kids' shows in here too, since they seem especially designed to haunt you, but left out some of the classics, like The Flintstones and The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show. No doubt everyone will have a favorite they think should be here, so get your complaining fingers ready. First, start singing along with the ones we did include in our list of 20 TV Theme Songs You Still Can't Get Out Of Your Head.
21 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt "Unbreakable" (2015)
Once upon a time, a group of musicians called the Gregory Brothers (consisting of three brothers and one of their wives) thought it would be funny to use Auto-Tune on random news clips, turning interview subjects into singers. They added some green screen footage of themselves, played around a bit, then put some of the videos on YouTube. Good choice: the videos started going viral and racking up millions of views, allowing them all to start making more videos as a full time job. They called their series Songify The News.
Flash forward. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and Jeff Richmond are working on a new show for Netflix called The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, about a woman who emerges from an underground bunker, where she's lived with a cult for fifteen years. They need a theme song that'll set up both the story premise and the tone of the show, and wanted something that sounded like the Gregory Brothers videos. So they called the Gregory Brothers. Fey and Carlock had already written the monologue for Walter Bankston, the "eyewitness" who saw Kimmy and her friends emerge from the bunker, and let the group take it from there. They were relieved not to have to spend hours scouring websites for news reports; having a fake one written for them made their job a lot more fun.
Watch the original version, without the music, to see what they had to work with.
20 The Partridge Family "C'mon Get Happy" (1970)
Come on now and meet everybody / and hear us singin' / Nothing better than being together / when we're singin'
Sound familiar? Not so much, probably. Here's the one everybody recognizes:
Hello, world, here's a song that we're singin' / C'mon get happy / A whole lotta lovin' is what we'll be bringin' / We'll make you happy
We had a dream we'd go trav'lin' together / We'd spread a little lovin' then we'd keep movin' on / Somethin' always happens whenever we're together / We get a happy feelin' when we're singin' a song
This was the REAL theme to The Partridge Family, heard in the second season and forever after. The only cast members singing on it were Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, her real-life stepson. In fact, they were the only ones allowed to sing on any of the Partridge Family records, even though the whole group was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1971. (The Carpenters won.)
Jones was already a star in her own right, but Cassidy became a superstar because of the series. He toured the world, selling out stadiums and being literally mobbed by fans wherever he went, then would come home and find women in his car and his home, often naked. But once a week, even after he'd posed naked on the cover of Rolling Stone, he was clean, cute Keith Patridge, urging viewers to "c'mon get happy" and climb aboard the Mondrian-themed bus with the rest of the gang.
19 Batman "Batman Theme" (1966)
"Word and music by Neil Hefti." That was the description of the theme song by one of the eight singers who recorded it for the 1960s cult TV series Batman, since it featured only one single word, "Batman." Of course that's if you don't count "na na na na na na na na ... " as words, which technically, they are not.
It took Hefti, a former head of A&R at Reprise and big band trumpet player, almost a month to write the simple-sounding theme, and he said he sweated more over that than any other piece of music he'd ever written. "I was almost going to call them and say, I can't do it. But I never walk out on projects, so I sort of forced myself to finish." The challenge, he felt, was that the show was a comedy, but its characters were serious. Batman and Robin wouldn't break the law even to save their own lives, and Hefti took their commitment as seriously as they did, but without the technicolor outfit. And so he struggled for a long time, tearing up one attempt after another, until he finally came up with the song that would go on to be covered by everyone from Jan and Dean to The Jam. He solved his comedy/drama problem by contrasting a driving rhythm with harmonies and horns, and in doing so, he created a cult classic.
18 The Love Boat "Love Boat" (1977)
Who doesn't remember the oh-so croon-y theme song to The Love Boat? It promised its weekly guests adventure, romance, and most of all, love, for everybody who boarded the Pacific Princess. Critics hated the show with a passion, but the ratings soared.
Composer Charles Fox had created dozens of TV and movie themes, as well as the Grammy-winning “Killing Me Softly With His Song." He brought his idea for the Love Boat theme music to lyricist Paul Williams, a songwriter with a track record of hits and an ongoing career as a singer and actor. Williams' first major acting role had been playing Virgil, an orangutan, in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The year before The Love Boat went on the air, he’d had a massive hit with Barbra Streisand's “Evergreen,” the theme song to the remake of A Star Is Born. Williams looked over the show concept and decided it wouldn’t last six weeks. It ran for ten years.
The theme they created together was sung by Jack Jones for all of The Love Boat's seasons except its final one, when Dionne Warwick's version took over. And despite its unambiguous depiction of love and romance on the high seas, Gavin MacLeod, who played Captain Merril Stubing, would later suggest that it could be reinterpreted to be a song praising Jesus. It was flexible as well as memorable.
17 Rawhide "Rawhide" (1959)
This is the oldest song on our list, and we might not have included it at all were it not for its 1980 resurrection by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Rawhide, a show about a group of cattle drivers in the 1860s, premiered in 1959, and ran for eight seasons. Today, it's best known as the show that launched Clint Eastwood's career.
The theme song was written by composer Dimitri Tiomkin and songwriter Ned Washington, and sung by Frankie Laine. It popularized the term "hell bent for leather," and managed to have a life long after the show it was created for. It's been covered by a diverse range of artists, including Liza Minelli, The Jackson 5, and Oingo Boingo, but it was its appearance in The Blues Brothers Movie and its accompanying soundtrack that put it back into the spotlight. In a movie full of great songs, it holds its own.
The songwriters knew their stuff. Both had long careers and won a number of Oscars for their songs. Washington wrote classics like "Town Without Pity," "My Foolish Heart," "When You Wish Upon a Star," and "The Nearness Of You," and Tiomkin had created music for dozens of westerns. Frankie Laine would later sing the theme to Mel Brooks' movie Blazing Saddles, a parody of classic westerns, complete with whipcracks. He sang it with such sincerity and heart that Brooks was sure he didn't know the movie was a comedy, and when Brooks saw the tears in his eyes, he didn't have the heart to tell him.
16 Welcome Back, Kotter "Welcome Back" (1975)
Back in the 1970s, producer Alan Sacks was looking for a theme song for a new show called Kotter, starring Gabe Kaplan, about a guy who returned to his neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, to teach the type of slacker high school kid that he once used to be. The show would launch the career of John Travolta, and create a new set of high school archetypes for a generation of TV viewers.
Sachs needed a theme song, and what he wanted was something that had a Lovin' Spoonful type of sound. He was lucky; his agent also represented Lovin' Spoonful's founder, John Sebastian. So Sachs asked Sebastian to create something, and what he got was "Welcome Back." Sachs liked it so much that he changed the name of the show to Welcome Back, Kotter to match it. Initially, Sebastian only wrote one verse, but later added in more along with a harmonica solo, and released it as a single, with early pressings titled "Welcome Back Kotter" just so record-buyers would know it was the song from the hit show. It spent a week in the number one spot on Billboard's Top 100, selling over a million copies. (It even made it to #93 on the Country chart.)
Decades after the show was off the air, the song still resonated. It's been sampled by Onyx in "Slam Harder" and by Lupe Fiasco in "Welcome Back Chilly." And when Mase released his first album after a five year break, he sampled it in a song called, of course, "Welcome Back."
15 Phineas and Ferb “Today Is Gonna Be A Great Day” (2007)
You don't need to be a kid to appreciate the joys of Phineas and Ferb. Every week brought inventive stories, unforgettable characters, running jokes with taglines that never got old, and a steady stream of catchy songs. The theme song was performed by Bowling For Soup, who also co-wrote it. The show's creators, Dan Povenmire and Swampy Marsh, were fans of the band and asked lead singer Jaret Reddick to take the snippet they'd already started and create a theme out of it, along with a three and a half minute version for radio. Reddick watched a couple of rough cuts of the show, and wrote the song the next day ... and scored an Emmy nomination for his efforts. Not bad for a song that only took him 20 minutes to write.
The band has appeared on the animated show as themselves, and contributed other songs, as well as updating the lyrics of the theme song periodically for specials and holidays. Reddick also played the recurring role of Danny, the lead singer of fictional band Love Händel. They performed in multiple episodes, most memorably to celebrate the anniversary of Phineas' mother and Ferb's father with a live performance of their '80s hit, "You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart."
14 The Jeffersons "Movin' On Up" (1975)
The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All In The Family, and took George and Louise Jefferson out of the Bunkers' Queens neighborhood and on to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, thanks to George's success as a businessman. The theme song, "Movin' On Up," reflected the joy of the move with an infectious beat and a sense of celebration.
It was written by Jeff Barry and Ja'net Dubois. Barry was known for writing a string of pop hits with partner Ellie Greenwich; their work with Phil Spector helped define the “girl group” sound of the 1960s. Dubois, who also provided the lead vocal, was already well known to TV viewers as Willona on Good Times, another spinoff (of a spinoff) of All In The Family.
The song has become something of an anthem. It was covered by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1978, sampled by Nelly in "Batter Up," and often gets played at sporting events when a team that's been in a slump makes a comeback. Ludacris once told Rolling Stone that The Jeffersons was "every black person's favorite TV theme, because we movin' on up." The song, more than the show, still resonates.
As proof of its place in American culture, President Barack Obama toured New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and met a woman named Wheezy, he sang her the opening lines of the song, to her delight.
13 Hannah Montana "The Best of Both Worlds" (2006)
Before she twerked, before she rode a wrecking ball naked, before she smoked pot on stage at an awards show, Miley Cyrus was a sweet 13 year-old starring in a smash TV series called Hannah Montana. She auditioned to play one of Hannah's friends, but was asked to try out for the lead, then told she was too young for the part. But when the producers realized she could sing, they gave her the starring role anyway and she instantly became a teen idol.
She sang the show's theme song herself. It was written by Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil, and was one of only two TV theme songs in that decade to chart on Billboard's top 100. (The other was the theme from iCarly, sung by Miranda Cosgrove.) When Cyrus was on tour, she'd dress up as Hannah to perform the song, but then years later, regretted some of the effects of her superstardom, in terms of both its effect on her as a teen growing up in front of an audience, and on other teenage girls watching it. While she was singing "Best of Both Worlds" to packed concert halls and stadiums, she was full of anxiety and self-doubt.
Since then, she's taken control of her own image and career. She started out as a teen idol and then became a magnet for scandal and criticism, but appreciation for her journey and her talent has come from some unexpected places. Woody Allen has cast her in the TV series he's doing for Amazon, and her godmother, Dolly Parton, is a staunch Miley supporter, remembering how she used to get criticism for her own sexy wardrobe choices. About Cyrus, she said,"So I did go through that, but I don't give her advice. Everyone has to walk this journey according to their own rules. That's what she's doing. And I lurve her."
12 The Brady Bunch "The Brady Bunch" (1969)
Written by show creator Sherwood Schwartz and veteran composer/arranger (and actor) Frank De Vol, the theme for The Brady Bunch was originally sung by a slightly obscure band called The Peppermint Trolley Company. By season two of the show, the producers got smart and decided they'd be better off having the actual cast sing the song. (Interestingly, the Brady kids did a lot more real singing on their show than the Partridges, who were actually playing a singing group.)
All six Brady kids sang the theme together for the second season, but when the third one rolled around, they switched things up, and had the boys sing the first verse about the girls, the girls sang the second verse about the boys, and then they joined up together for the end. For a show about a blended family, this made perfect sense. Decades later, there are multiple generations who still remember every word.
For a different take on this squeaky-clean song from a squeaky-clean show, check out Jamie Foxx's version, which he says he would sing to prospective dates.
11 The Greatest American Hero "Believe It or Not" (1981)
Everyone knows this song, and yet not everybody knows where it's from, probably because the show it was from was only on the air for two measly seasons. "Believe It Or Not", written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer, spent 26 weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #2 because "Endless Love" wouldn't get out of the way.
The show was The Greatest American Hero, and its shaky premise was that a school teacher (William Katt) met some aliens who gave him superpowers when he wore a special (and pretty dopey) superhero suit. He lost the instruction manual, and comedy ensued as he learned exactly what special abilities it gave him. Example: It made him fly, but didn't teach him how to land smoothly. Wacka-wacka!
“Believe It Or Not” was also a pretty silly song, as well as a smash hit. It was sung by Joe Scarbury, who only ever released one album his whole life, back in 1981. But the song lived on. It was used in the movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin, triggering confusing memories for thousands who couldn’t place it, and Michael Moore put it in his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 for a montage about how the popular vote went to Al Gore in 2000, with the telling line, “Suddenly I'm on top of the world / It should have been somebody else …”
But the best cover? It’s a toss-up between its memorable high-speed version seen on Gilmore Girls, with Sebastian Bach on vocals (and Melissa McCarthy's line, “I guess it sounds different live”), and the adaptation done by George Costanza on Seinfeld, as the outgoing message on his answering machine. And if you’re in doubt that the song is really a cult classic, look to its lyric writer, who supervised the songwriting staff on another short-lived cult classic, Cop Rock.
10 Family Guy "Family Guy Theme Song" (1999)
When Seth MacFarlane created Family Guy, he had a hard time convincing the Fox network to let him include an opening theme song. Theme songs for shows are part of a tradition that's been disappearing over time, as networks worry more and more about keeping the audience's attention. But MacFarlane pushed for it. "I think what [executives] don't realize is, showmanship is showmanship." he told NPR. "It hasn't changed in hundreds of years. It's a drum roll saying, 'Here comes a show.' ... And it gets the audience psyched up."."
Once he won the battle, he got composer Walter Murphy to write the music for his showstopping opening sequence. Murphy had had an oddball #1 hit in in the mid 1970s with his disco adaptation of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which found its way onto the 15-times-platimum Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The two combined their efforts along with producer David Zuckerman to create a memorable, fun-to-sing-along-with opening song.
Part tribute to the music McFarlane grew up on, and part parody of the classic open to All In The Family, the dance sequence is matched in exuberance by the music that accompanies it. They recorded various versions in different seasons to accommodate changing cast members, and MacFarlane says he re-did his own vocal track to more clearly enunciate "laugh and cry," since so many people thought it was "f'n cry".
The song's popularity made it easier when MacFarlane was developing American Dad, and effortless when he created The Cleveland Show. "I think by that point, they realized it was a stylistic thing for these shows — that you need a little bit of a drum roll. You need a little bit of a P.T. Barnum intro." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
9 Sesame Street "Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street" (1969)
Who doesn’t hear those first few notes and get transported back to their childhood? “Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street” is some of the first music many of us were exposed to as we watched Sesame Street, learned our letters and numbers, and heavily identified with the Cookie Monster. The show was always filled with great music, but its theme is the oldest song in its history, premiering along with the first episode on November 10, 1969.
The music was written by Joe Raposo, who was also the creative force behind “C is for Cookie” and “Bein’ Green.” The lyrics came from Raposo, Jon Stone, and Bruce Hart. The original version featured harmonica by renowned jazz musician Toots Thielemans and a children’s choir. There was some variation on the lyrics: sometimes it opened with “Come and play …” and other times it was “Sunny day …” but the tune remained the same. It got jazzier, briefly, in 1988, when Gladys Knight and the Pips sang it on a pledge-drive event called The Sesame Street Special, with kids, cast members, and muppets dancing all around them.
The song has been updated over the years, but no matter what changes, its inspiration always comes from the original by Joe Raposo. In 2016, it got a brand new arrangement for its 46th season and its move to HBO.
P.S. All the kids in that opening sequence? They're all in their 50s now, at least. Probably their 60s.
8 The Big Bang Theory "The History of Everything" (2007)
This is maybe the best theme song story of the bunch.
Barenaked Ladies lead singer Ed Robertson got inspired after reading a book by Simon Singh called "Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It." So in true Barenaked Ladies form, he improvised a song about cosmological theory during one of their shows in L.A. Sitting in the audience that night were Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, who were developing a show called The Big Bang Theory about some geeky geniuses and their friends. At that moment, they two producers decided that they had to get the Barenaked Ladies to create the theme song.
When they first approached Robertson, he was hesitant and wanted to know who else they were asking. Jack Johnson? Counting Crows? He did not want to spend time writing a theme only to find out that there were others doing the same thing at the same time. But they reassured him that he was the only one they speaking to.
Their assignment? Create a song that encompassed everything that's happened since the beginning of time up to the present in 15 seconds. Robertson did an acoustic demo, but when they wanted to keep it, he insisted that they record it with the entire group. Fortunately, Lorre and Prady liked the new version even more. The rest, along with everything the song describes in 24 seconds, is history.
7 The Mary Tyler Moore Show "Love Is All Around" (1970)
If there was ever a theme song that captured the spirit of its opening montage, it's the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Entertainment Weekly called the scene at the end where Mary tosses her hat into the air the second greatest moment in the history of television for a reason: it set up the whole tone of the show. "Wasn’t it great?” Mary Tyler Moore said. ”Freedom, exuberance, spontaneity, joy — all in that one gesture. It gave a hint at what you were going to see.”
The song that went with it was written and performed by Sonny Curtis. He got a call at home at 11:00 a.m. one day asking if he was interested in writing a song for a new sitcom starring Mary Tyler Moore. Someone dropped off a description of the show an hour later, just a basic outline of the premise. By 2:00, Curtis had a verse ready and asked his friend who he was supposed to sing it to. He was sent over to see James L. Brooks, the show’s co-creator.
Brooks wasn’t thrilled to see him. He was busy, and wasn’t ready to start thinking about a theme song, but since Curtis was already there, he listened. And then he picked up the phone—the one in the room, there were no cell phones of course—and started making calls to get people to come hear it. By the time he was done, the room was full of appreciative listeners who agreed with Brooks that they'd found their theme.
Brooks was heading to Minneapolis that weekend to shoot the show's opening sequence, and wanted the song with him, so he sent out for a tape recorder and Curtis, still game, sing it for the tenth time that day. When it came time to do the official version, Curtis told them they couldn’t have the song if he didn’t get to sing it, and they wanted it badly, so they hired him. He changed the lyrics in season two to reflect Mary’s newfound independence, and the song kicked off every episode of the show for seven seasons, and forever onward in syndication.
6 Malcolm in the Middle "Boss of Me" (2000)
Malcolm in the Middle's creator, Linwood Boomer, was looking for a theme song for his new show, he picked up the phone and called They Might Be Giants. The band, the brainchild of John Flansburgh and John Linnell , had been making music for years, but was starting to make their mark in the soundtrack world too. Boomer gave Flansburgh a call, and got his wife, who instantly recognized the name: Boomer had played Adam Kendall (Mary Ingalls' husband), on Little House on the Prairie, and how many Linwood Boomers could there be? Just the one, it turned out.
Boomer had a very clear idea of what he was looking for in a theme song, something high energy that would capture the feeling of a house full of out-of-control brothers. TMBG always had a stack of half-finished songs around, so they grabbed one that felt right and tailored the rest to fit the show. The final product became the first TV theme ever to win a Grammy for Best Song Written for a Movie or TV Show. It was the first Grammy for the band, too.
5 4. Laverne & Shirley "Making Our Dreams Come True" (1976)
“Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer incorporated!”
While the memorable theme song "Making Our Dreams Come True" was written by TV theme show vets Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, the opening rhyme that Laverne and Shirley recited as they skipped down the street arm-in-arm was actually a Yiddish-American hopscotch chant star Penny Marshall remembered from her childhood. "Penny, teach Cindy, 'Sclemeel, schlimazel,” her brother Garry—producer and creator of the show—told her, and thus it was also learned by millions of others.
The song itself followed. Fox and Gimbel didn't know much about the show when they put it together, only that the two main characters were blue collar women who worked in a brewery in Milwaukee, and had big dreams. Their initial stab at it was a song called "Hoping Our Dreams Will Come True," but the producers felt that it didn't capture the strength and determination of the title characters. They went back to the drawing board with that in mind and came back with with "Making Our Dreams Come True,” which better reflected the tone of the show.
The song was put out as a single in 1976, the only hit for singer Cyndi Grecco, and it remains catchy as ever. Last year, some behind-the-scenes footage captured American Idol judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. spontaneously singing it together, with Lopez getting the words right effortlessly and Urban confessing afterwards that he watched too much TV as a kid. (Is there such a thing?)
4 Pokémon "Pokémon Theme" (1998)
When Jason Paige first sang the demo for the Pokémon theme song, all he knew about the show was that it had caused a bout of epileptic seizures in Japan. He certainly didn't expect the song to become so popular that it would be used, remembered, and sung almost two decades later. It's tagline, "Gotta catch 'em all," is one that provides instant flashbacks to their childhood for almost anyone who grew up in that era.
Seven months after the show premiered in the United States, there were at least 40 licensing deals in place for related products, pulling in over 200 million dollars in revenue. To jump on the profit bandwagon, an album was recorded, featuring a full-length version of the song, written by John Siegler and John Loeffler, both expert jingle writers. It went platinum within four months. While Siegler and Loeffler made colossal amounts of money, Paige, who'd performed on multiple tracks, got a flat fee for his vocals and spent years suing to try to get a piece of the Pokémon pie. He eventually had some success, but it was nothing compared to what the song he was singing raked in for the company that owned it.
With the arrival of Pokémon Go, the song jumped in popularity again. The game was launched on July 6th, and by the 14th, it had sold 7000 downloads, up 1079% from the previous week. "Gotta catch 'em all" is as relevant today as it ever was.
3 Friends "I'll Be There For You" (1994)
How many people does it take to make a theme song? There were six in the cast of the hit show Friends, and it took seven to create the theme song for it. Within three days, they wrote and recorded it, a combination effort of the show’s executive producers, and Phil Solem and Danny Wilde of the Rembrandts. With an opening riff heavily influenced by The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” the song they created lasted a minute, the perfect length to introduce a TV show.
But it didn’t end there. The song became popular, so popular that some DJs at a Nashville radio station decided to loop it together three times and play it on the air … over and over again. They started getting requests for it after that, and when that caught on, the record label went back to the Rembrandts and insisted that they flesh it out into a proper three-minute pop song.
The next task was creating a full-length music video. They spent three days shooting it on the Saturday Night Live stage, with the band and all six cast members. The original concept required the cast to hit the Rembrandts with a fish to get rid of them, but the cast quickly nixed the fish plan. They didn't need it. The video was as much of a hit as the song, playing on networks like VH1 in heavy rotation.
Blender magazine may have called it the 15th worst song ever, on a list of 50, but it topped multiple Billboard charts and peaked at the Hot 100 at #17. It was the biggest hit the band ever had by a long shot. Years later, Solem and Wilde would perform it in NYC at the Central Perk pop-up shop, joined on stage by James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther on Friends as, of course, a guy who worked at the coffee shop.
2 Cheers "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" (1982)
In 2011, a Rolling Stone Readers Poll declared “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” as the best TV theme song of all time. In 2013, TV Guide made the same proclamation. But this incredibly popular song had a particularly rocky start.
Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart had written a song together for a musical called “Preppies Like Us,” and a friend of theirs brought it to Cheers producers Glen and Les Charles. They wanted to use it for the show, but it was already spoken for, so they asked the songwriters to come up with something else. Their first three attempts were rejected, but when the fourth one came in, the producers started to like what they heard. The music was right, but now the lyrics needed work.
Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose
It’s a crisis in your life
On the run ‘cause all your girlfriends
Want to be your wife
And the laundry ticket’s in the wash
Too gloomy? That was the consensus. It was also too specific.
They took another crack at it, and came up with this:
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
They had it. Portnoy sang the song, with a minimal musical arrangement that featured him on piano and vocals along with a drum, guitar, and bass. A clarinet was added later. The full version of the song did retain some of the bleaker vocals, however, but Cheers fans didn’t hear it until it was played over a montage in the show’s 200th episode. The lyrics are a little bizarre, probably reflective of the idea that the show is about a bunch of people who hang out in a bar all the time. Go see a lyric video here to see what we mean.
1 Honorable Mentions
Everyone is going to to name songs that aren't on this list, and maybe even complain that they should've been included ahead of the ones that made it. So here, in no particular order, are a few honorable mentions for TV theme songs we didn't get to, that you can't get out of your head no matter how hard you try.
WKRP in Cincinnati: This one seems to evoke an emotional reaction in people who remember it. One of those songs that explained the show premise, it tells the story of radio program director Andy Travis, who's starting fresh in Cincinnati after a break-up and, we think, a career that hasn't quite measured up to what he expected.
Dukes of Hazzard "Good Ol' Boys": When you get Waylon Jennings to sing your theme song, people remember it.
Liv and Maddie "Better in Stereo": Ask any parent of an aspiring tween if they know this one. Better yet, just start humming it until they start screaming.
The Monkees: Hey hey, we're the Monkees! Still spinning on oldies radio stations.
Spiderman: The one from the 1960s cartoon. One listen, and you're doomed.
Did we forget your favorite hyper-catchy theme song? Let us know in the comments.