TV Theme Song Fever

vintage television

Every so often, on a Better In The Dark episode, you’ll hear Tom and I lament about there aren’t any real TV theme songs anymore.  Well, of course there are but we usually go on and on about the ones we grew up with that were small works of art in their own right and did the absolutely amazing job of encapsulating the essence of the show we were about to watch in 30 seconds.  I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of my all-time favorite TV themes songs for a bit.  You down?  Okay, then let’s start…

THE GREEN HORNET : A jazzy, hyped-up version of ‘Flight Of The Bumblebee’ with a standout trumpet performance by Al Hirt who must have had to take a couple of days off to recover as it’s done in a wild crazy style that promises action. Probably the best superhero TV theme song ever done although the theme for “The Greatest American Hero” ‘Believe It or Not’ comes damn close.  I have a personal theory that any movie adaptation of a TV show that uses the original theme song of the TV show will be a success and any that doesn’t will be a flop.  Soon as the recent “Green Hornet” movie started and the TV theme song wasn’t playing, I knew it was doomed to failure.

JONNY QUEST: A classic theme that lets you know right from the start of the show that you’re going to be in for 30 minutes of sheer adventure. Bold and brassy and in your face. Combined with the opening credits, it’s one of my all-time favorites as is the show itself.  I keep hearing there’s a movie in the works with Dwayne Johnson as Race Bannon.  Whoever is going to be in it, the movie won’t be worth two cents if they don’t reproduce the opening credits in live action.

SPEED RACER: Another perfect example of a theme song and opening credits that work together to give you a feel of what the show promises: flat out action and adventure.

And as an added bonus here’s the updated theme for the totally phenomenal SPEED RACER movie which to me is so utterly brilliant in so many ways the English language doesn’t have words for me to lavish the praise on this movie it deserves

THE WILD WILD WEST: A magnificently lush theme song that also does what I think a theme song should do: it tells you what kind of show you’re going to be watching. It’s adventurous, romantic and heroic.

HAWAII FIVE-O

THE ROCKFORD FILES: I have to admit that I don’t hold THE ROCKFORD FILES in as such high regard as a lot of people but I have to admit one thing: if I’m channel surfing and happen to stop when the opening credits are being run, the theme song catches my attention every time and I’ll stop to watch the show. So I guess it does its job in that regard. I dunno what it is about that theme song but it’s alright by me.

BATMAN: Who doesn’t know or love this one?

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES: “The Ballad Of Jed Clampett” is a small masterpiece in that if you’ve never seen the show you get the entire premise right in that theme song.

THE BRADY BUNCH: Like the THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, the theme song does a wonderful job of summing up the entire show in a small amount of time.  Bonus points for anybody who can tell me the connection between a character from “The Brady Bunch” with a character from “Gilligan’s Island”

GILLIGAN’S ISLAND: Absolutely a work of genius. In 30 seconds, the entire premise of the show, the situation they’re in and the characters are introduced. I dare you, no, I double dog dare you to find a person on the planet that doesn’t know the theme song of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Even if they’ve never seen the show I’m willing to bet you that they know the song.

IT’S GARY SHANDLING’S  SHOW:  Another brilliant theme song that tells you everything you need to know about the show in 30 seconds.  I think it’s probably my favorite of all time because it’s so wonderfully simple and encapsulates perfectly what the show is about.

WONDER WOMAN: I don’t think we’re ever going to get an new Wonder Woman TV show because Lynda Carter nailed it so well that there’s never been anyone since that even comes close.  The theme song and title sequence do their job in that they work together to tell you exactly what kind of show you’re going to be watching.  And I really can’t think of another superhero theme song that has so much of that genuine 70’s funk sound.

STAR TREK: VOYAGER: I love all the Star Trek shows (well, ‘love’ is too strong a word for “Enterprise”…tolerate is a better term) but the theme song for VOYAGER takes the prize for the best.  It’s stirring, heroic, classy and along with the opening credits captures the sense of wondrous exploration that I think is necessary for Star Trek.

THE AVENGERS:  Really, do I need to explain why it’s on my list?  I didn’t think so.

SPIDER-MAN: Really, do I need to explain why it’s on my list?  I didn’t think so.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: Really, do I need to explain why it’s on my list?  I didn’t think so.

And as a bonus here’s the Adam Clayton/Larry Mullen version from the first “Mission:Impossible” movie.  Despite whatever you think about the movie, you have to admit, these cats kicked ass with the update.

SANFORD & SON: Deserves mention here because as far as I know, it’s the only TV theme song ever done by Quincy Jones.  The theme song is so iconic that a whole episode of the TV show “Malcolm & Eddie” was based around Eddie (Eddie Griffin) trying to convince his partner Malcolm (Malcolm Jamal-Warner) that there were words to the SANFORD & SON theme song.

MAGNUM, P.I.: My favorite detective series.  The memorable theme song was the work of Mike Post who undoubtedly is the most famous and successful TV theme song composer of all time.  During the 80’s it seemed as if just about every TV show that was on the air had a Mike Post theme song.

TALESPIN: One of the best TV series ever made, animated or live.  Basically an animated remake of the 1982 ABC TV series “Tales of The Gold Monkey” it starred Baloo from “The Jungle Book” as a free-wheeling pilot in a vaguely 1930’s setting on the island of Cape Suzette where he flew a ramshackle plane called The Sea Duck and got into all sorts of Indiana Jones-ish adventures with his kid sidekick, Kit Cloudkicker. A great series with a kickass theme song.  The two-hour introductory pilot move, “Plunder and Lightning” is just about as good a pulp adventure story as you could want.

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13 thoughts on “TV Theme Song Fever

  1. I’m going to add a vote for “It Takes a Thief”. While the show itself wasn’t that popular the theme is an example of the type of exceptional themes of that bridge between the late 60s and early 70s.

    1. I vaguely remember IT TAKES A THIEF but I was never that much of a Robert Wagner fan. To me, he was the American Roger Moore, too pretty and too well-mannered to be taken seriously as a tough guy.

      1. Wagner’s Mundy was a cat burglar and not really a tough guy. Violence wasn’t his first option. He wasn’t Mannix.

        Also, Malachi Throne. 😀

      2. Didn’t Fred Astaire play Wagner’s partner/mentor in the show? My wife said to me earlier that she can’t believe I don’t remember IT TAKES A THIEF.

  2. Phenomenal list, Derrick, and as always I’m thrilled to be reminded of the fact that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks the SPEED RACER movie is completely brilliant. (I really should review that this month …). Glad to see love for IT’S GARY SHANDLING’S SHOW and TAILSPIN.

    My two favorite TV theme songs you didn’t bring up would be THE JEFFERSONS and THE FALL GUY. I love that Lee Majors sang the theme to that last one and I love storytelling songs.

    Now to spend the next hour not getting any work done while I watch these selections!

    1. One of these days I have to write up a SPEED RACER movie review myself. I love that movie so much I wish I could marry it and take it home to meet Mother.

      I can’t believe I forgot the theme to THE FALL GUY! I loved that show so much that I would never work overtime or go anywhere on Wednesday nights so that I wouldn’t miss it! Can’t believe I forgot “Movin’ On Up” as well. I must be getting old.

      IT’S GARY SHANDLING’S SHOW is one of those shows from the early days of Fox that people have forgotten but at the time it was airing, it was one of the funniest things they had on.

  3. Haha – I was just logging on to post that you forgot THE FALL GUY. I love that song. I gotta say I’m sad to see S.W.A.T., BARETTA (Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow – Sammy Davis Jr!) and DOCTOR WHO weren’t on here. Some of my personal favorites include WHAT’S HAPPENING?, GOOD TIMES, and THE ODD COUPLE.

  4. The connection between Brady Bunch and Gilligan? Carol Brady’s first husband was the Professor. Of course, going by the insane twist at the end of ‘A VERY BRADY SEQUEL’, Mike Brady was also married to Jeannie at some point.

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