Everyone likes a Top 5 list. It’s a fact. So for the second part of our look at television theme songs, we here at amNewYork figured that rather than give you a dry history of the tunes, we’d just give you a bunch of lists. But it’s a lot of fun! You’ll thank us later.
Top 5 television theme songs
“Cheers”: The type of song you can actually imagine singing in the show’s bar after a long night of drinking.
“All In The Family”: The boundary-breaking television show had a boundary-breaking theme song, with Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, the show’s stars, singing.
“The Jeffersons”: Definitely the most often-sampled theme song in television history.
“The Muppet Show”: Frenetic energy from the top for the kids show for adults.
“The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”: One of the last great theme songs. It certainly helped to have one of the hottest artists in music, Will Smith, as the show’s star.
5 worst TV theme songs
“The Partridge Family”: “C’mon now and meet everybody/And hear us singing/There’s nothing better than being together/When we’re singing.” That’s just lazy songwriting.
“The Love Boat”: When the Charo cover version adds a touch of class to the proceedings, something has gone wrong.
“Facts of Life”: May cause diabetic shock and longing for extremely loud punk music.
“Blossom”: Long before Mary J. Blige informed us that we did not need any “hateration,” Dr. John used the word “opinionation” in the theme song of this Joey Lawrence (remember him?) vehicle.
“Walker, Texas Ranger”: Chuck Norris can push the earth down, but he can’t sing theme music. This is proof.
Top 5 cartoon theme songs
“Fat Albert”: Play this at a bar and the entire crowd will sing along. Seriously.
“The Mighty Mouse Playhouse”: ... though we prefer the Andy Kaufman “performance.”
“G.I. Joe”: Right up there with Hulk Hogan’s entrance music and “God Bless the U.S.A.” on our July 4th playlists.
“Family Guy”: For a show that lives (and, on occasion, dies) by its pop-culture references, an opening theme parodying “All in the Family” is a perfect match.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”: An attitude-laden, animated Gregorian chant.
Top 5 pop songs repurposed as themes
“Woke Up This Morning,” Alabama 3 (“The Sopranos”): Amazing that the track wasn’t written for the HBO show, considering how perfectly it fits.
“Love and Marriage,” Frank Sinatra (“Married … With Children”): The snark drips from the dichotomy between the opening montage and this ode to love.
“Who Are You,” The Who (“CSI”): One of three Who songs used as opening music for the three “CSI” shows.
“Here With Me,” Dido (“Roswell”): Dido’s small break, which got her a bigger break via Eminem’s track “Stan.”
“Short Shirt/Long Jacket,” Cake (“Chuck”): Hipster chic works well with Zachary Levi.
Top 5 instrumental themes
“Peter Gunn”: Or “that song from the game ‘Spy Hunter’” to the 18-to 35-year-old demographic.
“Mission: Impossible”: By now, the official music for espionage.
“Sanford and Son”: Quincy Jones is a genius. Enough said.
“X-Files”: Flat-out spooky.
“Hawaii Five-O” (original): No Don Ho here — all surf music and attitude.
While many editors here at amNewYork watch TV, two of us watch it a lot. So we decided to include these two couch potatoes in the discussion with their own Top 5 lists. And yeah, they’re leaving off some big openers — ahem, “Cheers” — but they’re pretty solid lists nonetheless.
Entertainment Editor Scott A. Rosenberg’s Top 5
“Amazing Stories”: John Williams is at his finest crafting the opening to this mid-‘80s Steven Spielberg series.
“Muppet Babies”: This throwback to the music of the ’50s sets up everything you’ll see in the show: adventure, romance, great jokes and Animal dancing. And that final harmony is just sugary goodness.
“Bonanza”: This instantly recognizable theme is driving and evocative of the Wild West. And if that’s not enough to bring it to the forefront, star Lorne Greene and Johnny Cash have performed its lesser-known lyrical version. Off to YouTube you go!
“Mr. Belvedere”: Coming from the man responsible for the theme to “Cheers,” this theme song is framed by some prim-and-proper piano with Leon Redbone at his jazzy best making up the playful middle.
“Mary Tyler Moore Show”: “Love Is All Around,” written and performed to gooey perfection by Sonny Curtis, never fails to turn my world on with a smile.
Managing Editor Rolando Pujol’s Top 5
“The Brady Bunch”: This collaboration between creator Sherwood Schwartz and music genius Frank DeVol is one of the catchiest songs in TV history, perfectly encapsulating the show’s premise in three versions recorded by the kids and one by the awesomely named Peppermint Trolley Company.
“Bob Newhart”: OK, it was this or “Mary Tyler Moore,” and we went with Patrick Williams’ theme because, frankly, it’s a most welcome earworm — the funky version used for the 1977-78 season is the essence of ‘70s instrumental magic.
“Eyewitness News”, 1968-1994: If any one local news theme thundered, “This is important news,” it was this piece by Lalo Schifrin, sourced from the “tar sequence” scene in the film “Cool Hand Luke.” Hey, Channel 7, pay ‘em royalties and bring it back!
“In Search Of”: This 1976-82 show about the mysteries of the unknown, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, intrigued and scared me as a kid, but the theme is so hauntingly cool that I carry it on my iPhone.
“The Odd Couple”: “Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?” Nope, but they sure had fun along the way, and Neal Hefti’s whimsical instrumental completes the show’s magic.
Special mention: The collected work of Billy Goldenberg: A big shout-out to underappreciated composer Billy Goldenberg, who composed funky, worthy-of-commercial-release scores for “Columbo,” the 1969 “Night Gallery” movie and the obscure 1970s show “The Sixth Sense.” You’re most likely to know his theme for “Kojak.