TORONTO — There are more shows on television than ever before — yet there are fewer TV theme songs than ever.
Gone are the days when viewers sang along to the Happy Days theme or rhymed “kooky,” “spooky” and “ooky” during The Adamms Family intro.
Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory are keeping the tradition alive (the latter theme was written and performed by Canada’s Barenaked Ladies) but the vast majority of shows on TV today are using instrumental pieces (Law & Order: SVU), bits of pre-existing songs (Mike & Molly‘s “I See Love”) or nothing at all.
Why have theme songs largely disappeared? Airtime is more valuable, audience attention spans are shorter, and royalties and rights are more complicated and costly.
Of the hundreds of TV show theme songs to choose from, here are 20 of the most memorable.
We’ve eliminated shows that used pre-existing songs as themes (The Golden Girls, Friends) and all instrumental themes (Seinfeld, The Cosby Show).
Some of these themes explained the premise of the show (Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch) and some had the show’s name in the lyrics (The Love Boat, The Facts of Life) — and at least one is a Canadian classic (The Littlest Hobo).
Celebrate the dying art of theme songs and then use the comments section to share your favourites. (You can watch some of these classics on Deja View.)
Gilligan’s Island (1964-1965)
The show’s premise was explained in the theme song, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle,” written by series creator Sherwood Schwartz with George Wyle. There were two versions (remember when “the Professor and Mary Ann” replaced “the rest”) performed by The Wellingtons (who also sang the Davy Crockett theme) and The Eligibles.
Three’s Company (1977-1984)
For this remake of the British series Man About the House, producers commissioned Joe Raposo to write a theme song. (Raposo also penned the Sesame Street theme.) It was performed by Ray Charles — no, not that Ray Charles — and Julia Rinker.
The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
George and Louise Jefferson were movin’ on up in the world in this All in the Family spin-off so the theme song was, of course, entitled “Movin’ On Up.” Written by Good Times star Ja’net Dubois with Jeff Barry, it was sung by Dubois backed by a gospel choir.
Good Times (1974-1979)
This Maude spin-off had a rousing theme song composed by Dave Grusin — who went on to score On Golden Pond, Tootsie and The Goonies — with Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It was performed by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams.
The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)
The infectious Brady Bunch theme song explained the series’ premise. Performed by the Peppermint Trolley Company, it was written by the show’s creator Sherwood Schwartz with Frank De Vol.
The Littlest Hobo (1963-1965, 1979-1985)
Who, of a certain generation, can forget: “There’s a voice that keeps on calling me / Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.” The theme song to this Canadian series, entitled “Maybe Tomorrow,” was written by John Crossen and Terry Bush. The latter told BC Living in 2012 he chose royalties over a flat fee for the song — meaning he’s still cashing in today.
The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985)
It’s ain’t bad when you can get a country star like Waylon Jennings to write and sing your show’s theme song, “Good Ol’ Boys.” He included a slightly different version on his 1980 album Music Man. Fun fact: Jennings was also the show’s narrator.
All in the Family (1971-1979)
The theme to this now-iconic sitcom is special because it was performed by the show’s two stars, Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton. Written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, “Those Were The Days” clearly inspired the Family Guy theme.
Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1985)
Canadian actor and singer Alan Thicke wrote “It Takes Diff’rent Strokes” with his then-wife Gloria Loring (yes, Robin Thicke’s mom) and Al Burton.
The Facts of Life (1979-1988)
The trio responsible for the Diff’rent Strokes theme — Alan Thicke, Al Burton and Gloria Loring — also wrote this theme song. Except for one season, it was performed by Loring.
The Partridge Family (1970-1974)
There were several versions of the theme to this popular family musical-comedy series. Written by Wes Farrell, Diane Hilderbrand and Danny Janssen, the song was originally called “When We’re Singin'” but changed to the now-iconic “C’mon Get Happy.”
WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982)
Any fan of this sitcom remembers the final words of its theme: “WKRP in Cincinnaaaaati.” Written by Tom Wells and show creator Hugh Wilson, it was performed by Steve Carlisle.
The Love Boat (1977-1987)
The theme to The Love Boat is one of the few that name-checked the show’s title. Performed by Jack Jones, it was written by Paul Williams (who penned classics like “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainbow Connection”) and Charles Fox. In its last season, a version of the theme song was performed by Dionne Warwick.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Officially titled “Yo! Home to Bel-Air,” this infectious theme song, performed by the show’s star Will “Fresh Prince” Smith, was co-written by Quincy Jones. It was a musical explanation of how Smith got from Philly to Bel-Air.
Welcome Back Kotter (1975-1979)
John Travolta’s comedy series had a theme written and performed by former Lovin’ Spoonful singer John Sebastian. A full-length version of the song was released as a single and hit No. 1 on the charts in 1976.
Full House (1987-1995)
“Everywhere You Look” was performed by Jesse Frederick (who also sang the Family Matters theme) and was co-written with Bennett Salvay and series creator Jeff Franklin.
Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983)
“Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated” preceded the theme to this popular comedy series. “Making Our Dreams Come True” was performed by Cyndi Grecco backed by the Ron Hicklin Singers. Released as a single in 1976, it charted in the Top 30.
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971)
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” written by series creator Paul Henning and performed by Jerry Scoggins with bluegrass band Flatt and Scruggs. The song served to explain the show’s back-story.
Bea Arthur’s All in the Family spin-off had “And Then There’s Maude” — a theme song written by Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman with Dave Grusin and performed by Donny Hathaway (who won a Grammy in 1973 for his duet “Where Is the Love” with Roberta Flack). The Bergmans and Grusin also penned the Good Times theme.
Cheers (1982 to 1993)
Gary Portnoy co-wrote “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” with Judy Hart Angelo for Cheers — and he performed it. Portnoy also helped write the themes for Punky Brewster and Mr. Belvedere.