Thursday, September 17, 2015

Guest Post - A Short Theme...

Doug: Redartz is along today as our host, and does he have a fun topic for us. This is one, no doubt, that will be near and dear to all our hearts.

Redartz: Good day, all!  Before we start, let me issue a proactive apology: if this topic has been covered previously here, you may all grant me 10 demerits.  Memory can be a nebulous thing, but this subject is (hopefully) a bit of fun. Therefore, here goes...

Television Theme Music! The tuneful introductions that open, and often close, our favorite programs; the variety here is as wide as the variety in the shows themselves. Some featured spoken introductions, such as Rod Serling's classic “Twilight Zone” intro. Others were sung, ballad style: think “Gilligan's Island” or “The Beverly Hillbillies”. Some were purely instrumental, as in “Hill Street Blues” and “The Bob Newhart Show”. Some even impacted the public consciousness enough to earn a spot on the Billboard Pop Singles charts (Mike Post's theme from “The Rockford Files”, as well as his above-mentioned “Hill Street Blues” each reached number 10, while “S.W.A.T.” and “Miami Vice” both reached number 1!).

As a boy, the “Batman” theme would get me stoked  for the “wham, pow” adventures soon to be filling our black-and-white console screen. In my teens, Cindi Grecco”s “Making Our Dreams Come True” (Laverne and Shirley, of course!) would bring a smile of anticipation for the impending laugh fest. A good theme song will stick in your mind; certainly a show's creators hope this is the case. Often a theme song becomes so indelibly linked with it's show; just hearing a few notes will bring the  program to mind. Angelo Badalamente's theme from “Twin Peaks” always does this for me; it so perfectly evoked the mysterious, somewhat creepy feel of the show. With all this in mind, here are a few of my favorite theme songs:

Jonny Quest Theme: greatest saturday morning show theme from arguably the greatest Saturday morning adventure show.

Lost in Space: John Williams provides this memorable winner.

Barnaby Jones: a bit obscure, but a very cool theme tune...

By the way, the CD cover presented above is representative of a series of such collections issued by TeeVee Tunes. The first collections were released originally on vinyl; and were among the last LPs I bought before converting to digital. These CDs are a great source of television themes, ranging from the late 40s up to the 90s ( and a great party soundtrack: at college we played the first collection at a weekend fest, everyone had a blast trying to identify the associated programs and singing along with the lyrics). I'd say a few of the recordings may be remakes, but most are the original versions we knew and recognized.

So, here is my first question to you: What theme songs are your favorites? Which ones are most memorable, which are excruciating to hear even today? Feel free to make your lists!

Incidentally,  there were also the variety shows (I sorely miss those...), whose hosts often had their own theme song: Dean Martin and “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, or Sonny and Cher signing off each show with “ I've Got You, Babe”. This brings us to our second question today:  imagine you are starring in a show based upon your life . What would be your theme song? What song would be playing as you enter the room, take the stage and let the world see who you are?

Again, to get things rolling, here is my personal theme song: Thomas Dolby's “ She Blinded Me With Science” (don't ask; suffice it to say the song reflects my interests, and my nerdish nature; as my wife nods in agreement...).


pfgavigan said...


The one from this time period that I really loved was the theme to Kolchak; The Night Stalker by Gil Melle. It and the opening sequence perfectly set the mood for the show.

Give it a look and listen.



Martinex1 said...

Great great great topic today Redartz. There are so many to choose from and my mind changes frequently.

From Saturday morning fare, I immediately jump to two...Speed Racer (with it's first sounds immediately bringing me back to kindergarten days even before the catchy lyrics kick in), and The Tra La La Song from the Banana Splits. Liz Phair did a great version some years back.

I 'd also have to tip my hat to Gilligan's Island as the theme so succinctly set up the situation and story.

I like your Thomas Dolby choice. As far as my personal theme, right now I would go with "Museums" by Wall of Voodoo.

Interested what others will say.

Anonymous said...
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William Preston said...

Mannix and the Persuaders were two great ones.

That aside, thanks for posting Jonny Quest. That giant spider stopped my heart: When I was a kid, I used to often recall for people this dream I had of a huge daddy longlegs that was like a big eyeball. I was half-convinced I had seen it crossing the little stream behind my house in Baltimore, where I lived before I was school-aged. And now I see that that dream was from the Jonny Quest titles.

Dr. Oyola said...

I sing TV themes all the time. I prefer the ones that are actual songs.

So I think the very best of all time is the "We're Movin' On Up" from the Jeffersons, but I sing the The Facts of Life theme all the time (such a great song! - "It takes a lot to get 'em right"). I also love the Golden Girls theme and of course Laverne & Shirley, All in the Family, Different Strokes, Good Times.

I think the Happy Days theme was bad.

As for instrumental numbers, nothing beats Mission: Impossible, but I have a soft spot for "Suicide is Painless" from M.A.S.H.

Karen said...

I love this topic, because I find today's TV shows are sorely lacking theme songs. In order to maximize both show and commercials, most have just a whiff of music, no real theme at all. It's a tragedy when you consider some of the really brilliant theme songs of the past. You guys have already named a few. I would say the Hawaii Five-O theme is a classic, the Munsters theme with its surf guitar licks, both versions of the Lost in Space theme, classic Star Trek, the Peter Gunn song, Night Stalker was fabulous, the Mission Impossible theme (anything Lalo Schiffrin (sp?) did was fantastic).

I don't know about personal theme songs, but when I played softball we used to talk about what our walk-up music would be, and usually I would say the Stooges "Search and Destroy" -but I don't think that would work any more! Most fitting for me right now would probably be William Shatner's "It Hasn't happened Yet" from his Has-Been album.

Edo Bosnar said...

A few of my favorites, like the Hawaii 5-O and Rockford Files theme music, have already been mentioned. But I have to say my all-time favorite is the Sanford & Son theme - which would probably be my personal theme music as well (hats off to Quincy Jones for composing that brilliant piece; Jones also did the excellent Ironside theme music).
A more recent theme song I really, really like is "Woke Up This Morning" by Alabama 3 (used for the Sopranos).

Anonymous said...

Barney Miller! Best theme ever! Check it out on the U-tubes.
You guys who are johnny Quest fans (hey, who ain't?) oughtta check out Venture Bros.
Start from the beginning, though. It's gotten pretty complicated. And there is a walking robot spider, so, be ready for it.

SteveDoesComics said...

I think I would have to go for:

Space: 1999.

Dr Who.

The Persuaders.

The World at War.

There was a British children's show called Time Slip which had a magnificently oppressive theme tune that I think one of the production staff found on a copyright-free album that he/she had bought in a car boot sale or something. It sounded like something Beethoven would have knocked out in one of his stroppier moods and was possibly the most fascistic and sinister theme tune I've ever heard.

I also remember there being a 1970s BBC show called The Expert which used Erik Satie's Gnossienne #1 as its theme tune, which was a guaranteed way of getting people's attention.

Redartz said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Many great themes have been mentioned; a couple mid-day notes:

PFG- Night Stalker has a very cool intro; with the change in tone as he starts typing...

William and Steve- I wasn't familiar with "Persuaders", checked it out and was pleased to see it credited to John Barry ( composer of the James Bond theme- appropriate as Roger Moore apparently ztarred in the show).

Osvaldo- excellent call on "Suicide is Painless", I almost posted it as well.

Karen- yes, it's too bad today's shows often skimp on the intro. Of course, there is the ever- incredible Simpsons theme...and some cable shows still work the intro. Game of Thrones is powerful, and I found the intromusic from True Detective effective (rhyme unintended...).

Anonymous said...

I agree about the Hawaii Five-O theme...I could always tell when that was coming on just from the music. Someone mentioned Barney Miller--I loved that one too. The Mr. Ed theme song was good (and funny), but my favourite was probably "Welcome Back Kotter"...John Sebastian sang it perfectly; I think I still know all the words.

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

Playing off the comments by Osvaldo and Mike W., do you recall how strange it was the first time you heard the full-length version of a TV theme? I'm thinking specifically of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Welcome Back Kotter, and Cheers.


SteveDoesComics said...

Doug, I can still recall the first time I heard the full-length version of the Odd Couple theme. It was a bit of a shock to discover it had lyrics - and that they were terrible.

William said...

BTW, if you have never seen this right here, you owe it to yourself to watch it immediately. And if you have, I'm sure you won't mind watching it again.

david_b said...

I do recall most folks were alarmed when they read the lyrics to the theme from 'Cheers'. I believe some high schools wanted to use that song, then realized just how depressing the 'rest of the lyrics' were.

Some of my favs are: Barney Miller, classic Galactica, Space:1999 (year 1), Land of the Giants (2nd year), certainly the 3rd year LIS (posted) ranks high. I'm just thinking of the ones that get stuck in your head.

Starsky and Hutch intros come to mind, both the deadly-serious 1st year intro, then the more flamboyant disco-styled 2nd year one (my favorite), the following years kept the same intro with minor changes.

Switch (Wagner/Albert) had a nice one, shame it never seems to be playing anywhere.

Oh, and lest we not forget, 'Man from UNCLE', that great bongo-hipster/shoot-em-up action theme song. Phenomenal.

pfgavigan said...


Back in the Seventies there was an adaptation of a series of historical fiction novels published under a general heading of 'Poldark'. Really good adaptation of some really good books. It was recently remade and this version is also proving to be quite entertaining despite how different they are. A large part of this, I believe is because of the improvement in audio quality when it comes to consumer electronics. Back then I only had one crummy, tinny speaker for monotone sound (and yes, my dad actually had to walk to a one room schoolhouse).

With the new stuff music can be a lot different, more subtle, not quite so overwhelming.

Here's both themes from Poldark so you can hear the difference. For some reason the person who posted the original put it to the credits of the new series but it still works quite well.


2015 version

If anyone is interested give a listen and let me know what you think.



Anonymous said...

Doug, I remember hearing the full version of "Suicide is Painless" on the radio once, lyrics and everything. That was a little strange after hearing the truncated version on MASH for all those years.

Mike Wilson

Redartz said...

PFG- You're quite right, the newer version is more subtle, softer. Both are nice; it is a testament to the benefits of digital technology and improved sound reproduction. Many of the tv themes on the cd's I discussed above were recorded decades ago, and they sound like they were taken off a monaural console tv speaker. Indeed, when I was a teenager I would record tv themes and commercials off the tv on a portable cassette (in those days before even vhs). A few of those recordings still reside in my old pile of cassette tapes- transferring them onto my laptop revealed again the telltale 'buzz' of the old mono speaker.

Doug- had no idea "The Odd Couple" theme had lyrics, especially as the tv intro had accompanying narrative...

Redartz said...

By the way, a little question off-topic- anybody out there going to Cincinnati Comic Expo this weekend? Neal Adams, Mike Zeck and Darwyn Cooke among the guests, thought I'd check it out...

Anonymous said...

For me the two which immediately come to mind are Mike Post's iconic theme music on Magnum PI and Jan Hammer's synth heavy score to Miami Vice!

- Mike 'tone deaf' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

LOVED "Johnny Quest" and "Mission Impossible"! My ex's group did a jazzier version of "Spider-Man" that was super cool, but the original was fun as well. High on my list of oldies is the "Avengers" (Steed and Peel), and, crazily, Petticoat Junction, which was ripped off for the more recent "Pumped Up Kicks". Amongst current fare, as well as "Game Of Thrones" (great for a short jog!) I am partial to the recently ended "Strike Back" and "Black Sails". Oh, and almost forgot "Cowboy Bebop", with its retro cool feel!

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