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Up on Your Feet Somewhere There’s Music Playing: Classic TV Themes!

April 22, 2011

Maybe it’s because I’m careening headfirst towards glasses on a bedazzled chain and metallic gold Keds, but they don’t make TV themes the way they used to. *cue creaking porch swing* With the exception of The Sopranos and Sex and the City I can’t even recall the themes to current shows I watch. Okay, maybe The Simpsons.

Before I run down the list I have to give a shout out to two of my favorite TV musical compositions. A The Price is Right music cue better known as Dig We Must – or the post Showcase Showdown music and the cue that plays at the start of the last commercial break before the Showcase round and the announcer says – in as neutral a tone as possible – “Contestants not appearing on stage…” Not only do they go home unhappy, they also go saddled with a lifetime supply of crap they don’t need.

Hawaii Five-0

The song is beyond fantastic, but it’s those killer and gratuitous zooms making this theme memorable. It’s like Tony Scott’s and Sandy Frank’s cameras had babies! Everything I know about aviation I learned from repeated viewings of that intro! Whenever I hear it I immediately think of a shaky cam barreling toward Jack Lord and the calm way he turns around and gives face. James MacArthur, on the other hand, runs for the camera like the diva he was rumored to be. But the last scene shuts it down. So much so my sister and I couldn’t wait to sing out, “AND KAM FONG AS CHIN HO!!!” like it was a manifesto!

“Woke Up This Morning” – The Sopranos

Where do we start? Booty shaker? Check. Gospel choir fade out? Check. Cute guy big pimpin? Check. Rare is the theme song that actually requires me to choreograph a dance number – Perry Mason being another one. I go all Gypsy Lee Rose on that bad boy – but this phat jam demands all manner of body rocking and booty popping for Gandolfini. Whenever I have the misfortune of raging the NJ Turnpike as soon as I get my ticket, I bump this shit like I’m Tony coming home from a hard day of organized criming.

One Day at a Time

Nothing like a good faux old timey/gospel sounding theme sound. You can’t help but get your church lady clap on! Testify!


Zomg, that 70s organ intro is killing me. Do not get me started on the brilliance of Donny Hathaway’s vocal performance. You keep your eye on the sparrow, Sammy D, and we’ll stick to Hathaway. So much goodness here. The galloping organ, the gospel choir trail off and the staccato rap by Hathaway to name a few. Also, I totally love opening my front door all Maude style. And then there’s…Snarks! Only Bea Arthur can swing open the door with all the subtlety of Auntie Mame, yet at the same time effectively convey utter surprise at finding a camera right there (also like Auntie Mame).

St. Elsewhere

This is hands down, one of my favorite themes. The music is like some Casio Craptaculum left over from the filming of Educating Rita. I swear my mom had some bad jazz comp with this theme and the theme to Seinfeld on it. The accompanying visuals to the theme are just like the moment before you die! Where you see Denzel, Howie Mandel with hair, Ed Bagley Jr, David Morse when he wasn’t playing assclowns, Mr. Feeny and every old ass white guy who ever peddled OTC pain relievers flash before your eyes. At least I’m sure that’s one of the flashes I’ll have.

Barney Miller

If there is a nastier bassline in TVland I haven’t come across it. This is the king of theme songs. If ever possessed with the desire to learn to play bass, I would only want to learn this and maybe Brick House…chicka bow chicka bow wow chicka bow chicka bow wow. Anyway, this theme song is sublime. It’s currently my ringtone, though I never turn on my ringer.


There are always moments in life that shatter the deeply held beliefs of the past and shift paradigms. My life is neatly divided into two parts: the time before realizing the theme to M*A*S*H had lyrics and now. Fumbling through the piano bench when I was supposed to be practicing the theme to Fame, I discovered TV’s GREATEST THEMES and revealed a truth I assumed nobody realized but me. If friends were over I would engage them in a little sing-a-long, “Everyone sing…SUICIDE IS PAINLESS. IT BRINGS ON MANY CHANGES…now just the ladies…you too, Nana!” I guess maybe that was an early warning of my tendency towards misanthropy.


If Sydney Pollack were a song, he’d be this theme sung by Al Jarreau. I felt sophisticated and fancy because I learned the lyrics and listened to this song while enjoying a nightcap of apple juice in a wine glass. I figured this was the sort of thing grown ups had in their collection – sandwiched between Steely Dan and Nana Mouskouri.


I separate the world into two groups:
1. Those who used to pretend to ride a horse or clop around the room like a Clydesdale while listening to this theme.
2. Those who didn’t.

My bestie was one of two people I ever met who said, “What do you mean used to?” Ray Ray was the other person.

I just shouldn’t know people not open to this. It’s better for both of us. They’re worse than people who don’t do the Private Eyes clap.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 6:59 pm

    I never had a trouble that couldn’t be made a little bit better by whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show

    I forgot though that to learn the whole thing you had to stay for the closing credits:

    Yes I am old fart.

  2. April 22, 2011 7:00 pm

    Little Ronny Howard!

  3. April 22, 2011 7:01 pm

  4. April 22, 2011 7:11 pm

    Staying in B&W territory for a bit longer, this is probably the funnest sing-a-long theme I’ve ever known:

    The chores!

  5. April 24, 2011 10:25 am

    I’ve never actually watched Hawaii Five-O but I played the theme song in jazz band in high school and loved it! That is a crazy-looking intro, too. The Sopranos theme was the main thing I really liked about the show. Plus recognizing various places he passes in the intro since I grew up near where it’s filmed.

    My favorite tv themes include: Rob Duncan’s catchy as hell tune for the sadly cancelled Terriers, Polaris’s lo-fi indieriffic “Hey Sandy” for The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Splendora’s “You’re Standing on my Neck” for Daria, and of course the ever-classic A-Team theme!

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