It’s fashionable to lament the state of the TV theme song. Gone are the days when a show’s whole premise was summed up in musical verse before every episode. Now we have Lost and it’s single chord. And though I actually like Lost’s simple spooky chime and have recently highlighted the 12 Best TV Theme Songs From Current Shows, there’s no denying we’re past the golden age of the TV show theme song. Take a look at the following list, and let me know where I’m wrong. I’ve included music without words, but I skipped over shows that used already popularized tunes like “The William Tell Overture” from The Lone Ranger and “Stand” from Get a Life.
40. The Rockford Files – Mike Post and Peter Carpeneter
You might not know the names of Post and Carpenter, but between them they composed theme music for a mind-boggling number of shows including CHiPs, Magnum P.I., The A-Team, Hunter, Hill Street Blues, The Greatest American Hero, Doogie Howser M.D., Quantum Leap and Remington Steele. If you’re in your 30s, you can claim all you want that Prince provided the soundtrack to your childhood—but it was really Mike Post.
39. Sesame Street – Joe Raposo, Jon Stone and Bruce Hart
I’m still reeling a little from discovering just how bad this classic has been butchered in recent seasons (and I was just starting to heal from the fact that everyone can see Snuffleupagus now). But we’re going back to the beginning, when the air was actually clean. Here’s a 1986 version sung by Gladys Knight & The Pips:
38. WKRP in Cincinnati – Tom Wells and Hugh Wilson
For the most part, it’s a standard late-’70s theme song, but then it closes with the magical “WKRP in Cincinnaaaaaati.”
37. The Love Boat – Paul Williams and Charles Fox
It’s a cruise ship so the theme music is supposed to sound like it’s sung by a guy on the ledo deck who dreams of becoming the next Robert Goulet.
36. The Courtship of Eddie’s Father – “Best Friend” by Harry Nilsson
The early 1970s saw a string of shows dealing with single parenthood, but only one of them had a theme song by Harry Nilsson.
35. The Sopranos – “Woke Up This Morning (Chosen One Mix)” by Alabama 3
Sometimes there’s no need to write new theme music when you can just use a great existing piece of music that fits perfectly. For The Sopranos, that’s “Woke Up This Morning,” which is about an abused wife who decides to shoot her husband of 20 years.
34. The Dukes of Hazzard – Waylon Jennings
The Dukes of Hazzard earned its Southern cred by filming the first few episodes in Georgia and recruiting Waylon Jennings to write and sing the theme song. Someone has recreated the opening credits in Grand Theft Auto style.
33. What’s Happening!! – Henry Mancini
Who knew that the same composer responsible for Peter Gunn also wrote the music to accompany Rerun dribbling a basketball?
32. The X-Files – Mark Snow
Just a touch of horror-movie tension in its theme music gave a show about the paranormal it’s paranoid aura. The instrumental composition hit #1 on the singles chart in France, which—as much as I love it for a TV intro—has me scratching my head.
31. The Brady Bunch – Sherwood Schwarz
Schwarz created both The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Isle and wrote the theme songs for both with the since-abandoned belief that a theme song should clearly communicate the show’s premise.