Thursday, 5 July 2018

My Top Ten TV Theme Tunes (Vocals)

Compiling my Top Ten Instrumental TV Themes was a pretty easy job. Most of you agreed with at least some of them. Much harder has been the long hours of consideration I've given my Top Ten Sung TV Themes. It'll probably prove a far more divisive list too. But as with everything else on this blog, it's just one man's opinion, reflecting my age and youthful viewing habits, and I don't claim it to be worth any more than the cyberspace it's written on.

To make the job easier, I had to draw up a few rules...

1) Only original compositions were allowed, i.e. songs that were written and recorded specifically for the show. So I haven't allowed the theme to The Sopranos (Alabama 3) or The Wire (Tom Waits) or The Wonder Years (Joe Cocker) or True Detective (The Handsome Family) much as I might like the songs in question.

2) No kids' TV shows - I might save those for a separate list. The hardest thing of all was banning the Spider-Man theme tune from this list.

(Maybe I'll do a Top Ten for each of the above one day.)

I rejected the following memorable theme tunes because...

The Protectors : Avenues & Alleyways is a great Tony Christie romp, but it's absolutely the only thing I remember about this show... and then I discovered it was produced by Gerry Anderson, which I'm afraid was a mark against it. At least it didn't feature puppets.

Red Dwarf : Always makes me think of Landslide Of Love by Transvision Vamp.

M*A*S*H* Though I remember it as the sung version of Suicide is Painless, they only ever used the instrumental on TV.

Ditto Twin Peaks, which Julee Cruise only sang in the show, never on the opening credits.

All of which leaves me with this rather odd collection. A few of these I would count as great TV shows. The rest were nowhere near as good as their theme songs...

10. The Dukes of Hazzard (Waylon Jennings)

While many of my schoolmates were big fans of The Dukes of Hazzard, I never really got the appeal. You can't argue with a Waylon Jennings theme tune though, composed specially for the show.

9. Happy Days (Pratt & McClain)

Goodbye grey skies, hello blue... if ever there was a show that convinced us 50s America was as good as it got, Happy Days was it. Eyyyyyy!

The theme song had a rather convoluted history. Written by film & TV composers Gimble & Fox, it was originally recorded by session musician Jim Haas, although for the show's first two seasons the song was only used on the closing credits: Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock was the opener. By the time I started watching the show regularly, Happy Days the song was all-encompassing. It was re-recorded and became a hit record for Pratt & McClain. Then Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis and it was all over.

8. The Greatest American Hero (Joey Scarbury)

I vaguely remember watching this cheesy superhero action comedy on a Saturday morning when I was a kid, but even though I only saw a few episodes, the theme tune really stuck in my head. Up until compiling this post, I was under the mistaken belief that the song was composed and performed by John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful, but it turns out it was actually written by A Team composer Mike Post (with lyrics by Stephen Geyer) and sung by Joey Scarbury.

(John Sebastian sang the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter... a great song, but I don't remember that show ever airing in the UK.)

7. Moonlighting (Al Jarreau)

I've written before about my deep love of Moonlighting, and how it led me to buy my first ever single. Al Jarreau's theme tune sounds very 80s soul now, but it's impossible for me to hear it without remembering my obsession.

At least they didn't use the Leo Sayer song...

6. It's Garry Shandling's Show (Bill Lynch)

Around the time of the late Garry Shandling's pre-Larry Sanders sitcom, I was really into postmodernism. I was a teenager. It was a phase. Anyway, I found much to appreciate about a sitcom character who knew he was in a TV show - knowledge he didn't share with his supporting cast. The theme tune reflected this perfectly...
"This is the theme to Garry's show, the opening theme to Garry's show, this is the music that you hear as you watch the credits..."
5. The Monkees (The Monkees)

The one that blurs the rules a little bit. Was it a pop song? Was it a hit record? Were they actually a group? Does it matter? The Monkees were brilliant.

4. Minder (Dennis Waterman)

"Write the theme tune, sing the theme tune..." What a true Renaissance Man was Dennis Waterman. Really though, if you want a theme tune to get you revved up for a big night out, it's hard to beat a good strong blast of "I could be so good for you!"

Of course, as previously discussed here, Dennis didn't actually write the theme tune. Never mind. He'll still love you like you want him to...

3. Monk (Randy Newman)

When I first heard this theme, I scoured the net for Randy Newman's original, convinced there must be a full length version out there to enjoy. Apparently not, 90 seconds is all you get.
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so
It's a jungle out there
Once upon a time, I almost convinced myself I was a cross between Adrian Monk and Gregory House (whose dull Massive Attack theme failed to make either list). Yes, I was 'Mouse'. But certainly not 'Hunk'.

Monk wasn't a big hit in the UK, but it lasted 8 series in the States and I watched them all, wherever the BBC buried it in the schedules. It was easygoing, feelgood TV at its best. Monk was a genius detective who nobody took seriously because he was seriously OCD - this was a high concept pitch (Sherlock Holmes meets Rain Man with a splash of Columbo) that hit gold through Tony Shalhoub's sensitive, layered performance. I still miss it. 

2. Cheers (Gary Portnoy & Judy Hart Angelo)

Cheers remains my all time favourite sitcom - because it was the bar where everybody knew your name. There's a theory that great British sitcoms involve situations no one would ever want to be in, and all the characters want to escape from - whereas great American sitcoms are exactly the opposite. Who wouldn't want a bar like Cheers at the end of their street? Anytime you liked, you could pop in for a cold one, share a friendly greeting with Woody, talk shit with Norm and Cliff, watch Sam hitting on some babe or squabbling with Diane or Rebecca, hear Frasier spouting his pompous opinions... and just feel welcome. "You wanna go where you can see troubles are all the same..." Don't you?

If you've never heard it before, here's the full-length version.

1. The Fall Guy (Lee Majors!)

I probably have more affection for The Fall Guy than is healthy. Is that down to Lee Majors and his sardonic eyebrow? Douglas 'Howie Munson' Barr and his unique brand of tree trunk acting? Heather Thomas, who stirred many a pre-adolescent boy in strange and unprecedented ways?

Or could it all come down to this song...?

Well I'm not the kind to kiss and tell
but I've been seen with Farrah.
I've never been with anything less than a nine, so fine.

I've been on fire with Sally Field
gone fast with a girl named Bo.
But somehow they just don't end up as mine.

It's a death defying life I lead I take my chances.
I'd die for a living in the movies and TV.
But the hardest thing I ever do is watch my leading ladies
kiss some other guy while I'm bandaging my knee.

I might fall from a tall building 
I might role a brand new car.
'Cause I'm the unknown stuntman
who made Redford such a star.

I never spent much time in school but I taught ladies plenty.
It's true I hire my body out for pay. Hey Hey!

I've gotten burned over Cheryl Tiegs
blown up for Raquel Welch.
But when I wind up hittin' the hay, it's only hay. Hey Hey! 

I might fall from a tall building
or Tarzan from a vine.
'Cause I'm the unknown stuntman
who made Eastwood look so fine.

Over to you guys. What did I miss?


  1. Monkees and Minder, yes! And Happy Days would have to be higher in this list, for me.

    I think the appeal of The Dukes of Hazzard was mainly Daisy Duke in a halter top and denim cut-offs, but I may have mis-remembered.

    In case some haven't heard it, here's The Wedding Present covering The Theme From Cheers.

    Now some contentious suggestions: Only Fools And Horses? Auf Wiedersehen, Pet? And what about Fresh Prince Of Bel Air? Or does that fall foul of the kids show rule?

    1. Yes, I'm familiar with TWP version of the Cheers theme. I also like The Wildhearts combined interpretation of Taxi & Cheers...

      The most radical reworking of The Theme From Cheers has to come from Titus Andronicus though...

      I wouldn't switch off any of your suggestions.

    2. I'd certainly put Auf Wiederesehen, Pet in there...but which one? Breakin' Away and That's Livin' Alright of S1, or Get It Right and Back With the Boys Again representing S2. All of them solid gold as far as I'm concerned.

    3. Both lifted Joe Fagin from club singer to Top Of The Pops.
      Trivia note: Joe Fagin can be seen and heard entertaining the pub in the Long Good Friday.
      The pub is bombed soon after - not sure if this was a response to Joe's performance

  2. My votes go to "Monk" and Ol' Waylon's "Good Ol' Boys".

    Cheers was one of the best ever sitcoms and the theme song was OK, but I'd like to propose the ultra manic - and in no way a kids show - "Malcolm In The Middle" theme - "The Boss Of Me" by They Might Be Giants

    1. I did consider that as I'm a big fan of TMBG, but as I never watched the show I wasn't sure if they'd written it especially for that or if the show stole it.

    2. You HAVE to watch it. It's got Bryan Cranston doing comedy!

      And yes, it was written for the show. Also won TMBG their first Grammy Award.

    3. Malcolm in the Middle, very good call.

  3. I still get goosepimples and a lovely warm feeling when I hear Moonlighting and Cheers. It takes me straight back to childhood.

    Cybill was my first crush at the tender age of 5 years old, thanks to her role in Moonlighting. I had a picture of her on my wall!

    The Greatest American Hero's theme gave birth to this classic comedy moment:

    1. Great clip. I guess I'm a little older than you, but I had a similar reaction. (Was Moonlighting really a show fit for 5 year olds though? Different times!)

    2. Very relaxed attitudes to what we watched in our house. I watched Auf Wiedersehen Pet when it first went out too!

    3. Yes I'm constantly amazed at what Mark watched when he was young, and actually appreciated.

    4. I can remember being hooked on who Vicky's dad was in EastEnders...despite not actually knowing where babies come from and how! Equally, i can remeber the very first ep of EE and the first omnibus edition, as well as the run up to Casualty starting (the trails introducing the cast and premise) and watched it from day one. I wasn't alone mind, I remember one school assembly after the opening ep of S4 (a multi vehicle pile up involving Hazchem on a motorway slip road) in which the headmaster asked us who watched Casualty and had all our year buzzing about it as we'd all seen it!

  4. I would also put in Mike Hugg's theme for Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? His subsequent theme for the big screen spin off was pretty mint too

    1. Again, never a show I really watched, though I recognise the tune.

  5. The second line of The Fall Guy says "I've been seen with Farrah".
    Hardly surprising as he was married to her at the time

  6. Was all set to suggest White Horses but a kids show of course - Yes to Moonlighting and yes to the Cheers theme (both covered over at my place). I had a friend who used to come to the pub, then leave just before 9pm to go home and watch other people in a much friendlier pub, before coming back again after the show ended.

    What, no Friends' theme?!

    Hi Ho Silver from Boon?

    1. Ally McBeal theme? Bit of a girly show perhaps.

    2. The Rembrants had a half decent pop song, but it - like the cast of Friends themselves - was overexposed to the point that I wanted to kill them all, except Joey.

      Boon is a good call. Never saw Ally MCBeal. Guess I wasn't metrosexual enough back then. Never watched The Golden Girls either, though they stole a great Andrew Gold song for their theme tune.

  7. "Bored to Death" - again with Ted Danson - by Jason Schwartzman. Superb.

    1. I always wanted to watch this show but never got round to it.

  8. There are a couple of shows on the list that I've never heard of, let alone seen - Greatest American Hero and Monk. Definitely going to check out the latter on your recommendation. Genuinely surprised by your choice for No.1 given the stiff competition.
    I join in the chorus of approval for Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads and all variants of the Auf Pet theme, but one I haven't seen mentioned at all is this absolute beauty

    1. Oh my TS - I was thinking about this show only this week, as it's one of the first ones I remember being hooked on, and funnily enough ended up in a similar position myself a decade later. My old flatmates know I've taken to blogging/writing of late and I always threaten that I'm going to write about our exploits one day. I sent them an image from Take Three Girls this week and they are afraid, very afraid! Had totally forgotten about that great theme tune though - So evocative of the era and my favourite now of the bunch. Thanks.

    2. I was obsessed with Take Three Girls a few years back (see my blog for proof!) Love Pentangle

    3. Afraid that one really was before my time. (Mark's time machine works better than mine.)

  9. It's a bit of its time, but I always had a soft spot for the them from 80s Ch4 drama Prospects too

  10. Theme from Brush Strokes? Didn't really watch the show but liked the Kevin Rowland theme song.

    And, theme from Butterflies - Gentle humour for gentler times.

    Gosh you've really got us all meandering down memory lane here - What's it going to be like when you do tackle the kids' shows!

    1. I did consider Because Of You as I'm a big Dexys fan, but presumed the show had lifted it rather than it being specially composed. Likewise I'm pretty sure Dolly Parton didn't write Love Is Like A Butterfly for Wendy Craig.

    2. Good point. As for Dolly she might well have felt sorry for Wendy, who never did chase down those butterflies, and wrote the song just for her.

      I will now move on you'll be glad to hear but these kind of posts are winners for lovers of nostalgia like myself (and a few others it seems).


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