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TV Guide’s “Greatest” TV Theme Songs

by Jalexson

copyright 2004
originally published at

I found a very good collection of TV theme songs at K-Mart recently. It’s TV Guide’s latest attempt at listing the top 50 of something. The title refers to them as “Favorite Themes”. TV Guide refers to them in the magazine as the greatest TV themes, but there are too many glaring omissions for the collection to be any more than just very good. Many of the truly great songs used as theme songs failed to make the list.

I’m not sure what the criteria for selection were, but I wonder if the fact the songs were being offered on a CD may have influenced the selection. By excluding the songs written or sung by super stars, they avoided possible royalty problems.

The first 40 or so songs at least deserved to be included. I’m not sure about the last 8 or so. A couple of them from recent shows are very short with abrupt endings, probably because of network attempts to eliminate theme songs all together. Perhaps the short songs made the list so all 50 would fit on a single CD.

How can anyone exclude a song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney from the list of greatest TV theme songs? The song “Oh-La-Di, Oh-Le-Da” was sung by Patti Lupone and the rest of the cast of “Life Goes On”(a phrase repeated several times in the song) rather than being sung by the Beatles, but they’re much better singers than the Bunkers(whose rendition of the “All in the Family” theme song made the list). The show’s story line indicated the Thatchers were originally like the people in the song.

“Harper Valley P.T.A.” was more closely patterned after its very popular theme song from the sixties. The song written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeanne C. Riley described the central character Stella Johnson, her daughter and the various townspeople she had to deal with.

Another great song writer who missed the list is Billy Joel whose song “My Life” was the theme song for “Bosom Buddies” starring that well known “female impersonator” Tom Hanks. Like many of the songs missing from the list “My Life” had a life on the pop charts as well as on the show. “I don’t care what you say this is my life. Go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone.”

Another late 80's show that used a theme song from a top sixties group was “Tour of Duty”. The song “Paint It Black” by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards was sung by the Rolling Stones. The other Vietnam War based show “China Beach” chose “Reflections” sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes for its theme song.

Jose Feliciano is a great singer songwriter, but the theme song he wrote and sang for “Chico and the Man” didn’t make the list.

Bluegrass superstars Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs wrote and sang another song missing from the list - the theme song of the “Beverly Hillbillies”. Like many theme songs of the 50's and 60's the song told the story of the basis for the show. “This is the story about a man named Jed. A poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed. Then one day he was shooting at some food and up through the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas T...”

Phoebe Snow and later song writer Dolly Parton herself sang the theme song for the tv show based on the movie “9 to 5". The song was one of Dolly’s biggest hits.

 Country superstar Johnny Cash didn’t write the theme song from “The Rebel”, but he sang “Johnny Yuma, the rebel, he wondered alone. He got fighting mad, this rebel lad...” The theme song form “Rawhide” sung by Frankie Laine is also absent. “Head em up. Move em out. Rawhide.”

Waylon Jennings sang the theme song from “The Dukes of Hazzard”, but apparently didn’t do a good enough job for the people at TV Guide because the song didn’t make the list.

One of the greatest entertainers of all time Sammy Davis, Jr., sang another song missing from the list, “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow” as the theme for “Baretta”. “Keep your eye on the sparrow when the going gets narrow.” After Robert Blake was arrested for his wife’s murder, Arsenio Hall and others reminded us of another line from the song. “Don’t pull the crime if you can’t do the time. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”

Don’t get me wrong several good songs made the list along with tunes like the themes from “I Love Lucy”, “Dragnet” and “Batman” that were primarily just TV theme songs. Al Jarreau’s theme from “Moonlighting” is on the list. The theme from “The Greatest American Hero” – “The Greatest American Hero(Believe It Or Not)” sung by Joey Scarbury is also a very good song even without the tv show connection. The “Cheers” theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” sung by Gary Portnoy, is another good song on the list, although it should have been ranked higher as should the theme song from “Friends”. John Sebastian’s theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter” is number 26.

However, the theme song from “Fame” sung by Erica Gimpel is missing. “Fame, I want to live forever....Baby remember my name. Remember. Remember. Remember. Remember. FAME!”

The list has several great instrumental themes including the themes from “Mission Impossible”, “Hawaii Five-O”, “Hill Street Blues”, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and the instrumental version of the “M*A*S*H” theme, “Suicide Is Painless” by Johnny Mandel. However, “The Third Man” theme is missing as is Al Hirt’s version of “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” as the theme for “The Green Hornet” and “The William Tell Overture” which was the theme song for “The Lone Ranger”. How many of those who grew up in the fifties can listen to “The William Tell Orchestra” without thinking about “a fiery horse with the speed of light... The Lone Ranger rides again”?

The theme songs from old Warner Brothers shows “77 Sunset Strip” and “Maverick” were 7 and 8 on the list even though they aren’t really that distinguishable from the themes of the other Warner Brothers shows of the same genres. They could qualify for a list like this, but not so high.

TV Guide’s list of themes can be found at Click on 50th Anniversary and on tv themes.



I also write at Mediard

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