Favorite TV Theme Songs Ever

Yesterday, I heard that actor Steve Forrest had passed away on May 18 at the age of 87. Even though he appeared in many TV series, to me he’s best remembered for the mid-seventies show S.W.A.T., which I used to watch Thursday nights on CBS at 9 p.m. Forrest was a commanding presence, leading young cute guys like Robert Urich and Mark Shera into battle every week.

One of the show’s biggest attractions for me, though, was that theme music and action-packed title sequence, with the S.W.A.T. truck barreling down the street and dudes diving through windows and rappelling from buildings. I wanted to jump out of a S.W.A.T truck (on TV, anyway) when I grew up.

This made me think of other TV theme songs that bring back indelible memories for me, of time spent gasping and laughing in front of the tube, either with my family gathered round, or later with my college friends. Shows just don’t open with catchy tunes anymore.

Below, in no particular order, are my favorite TV theme songs of all time.

  1.  S.W.A.T. (see above for reasons)
  2. Mission Impossible. I used to watch this show in Vietnam, and couldn’t understand anything, but the music would get me excited, because I’d get to spend time with Dad, who’d watch it with me sometimes.
  3. Hawaii Five-0. This one makes me think of Mom, who was a Jack Lord fan. Mama always has good taste.
  4. Batman. I just liked singing along to this one, because the lyrics were simply “BATMAN!” over and over, and then 13 “nah”s in a row at the end. Any six-year-old could do it, and it was fun to do it at the top of my lungs.
  5. Gilligan’s Island. I used to sing along to this one, too, but messed up the lyrics a little, e.g. the tiny ship was “toast” instead of “tossed.” But it was one of the first American theme songs I learned to sing all the way through, because I’d watch the reruns every day after school.
  6. M*A*S*H. I have never seen an episode of this, but learned to play the theme on my violin for a school concert. I thought it was a lovely tune…until I learned the lyrics and found them depressing. Can’t deny the music’s memorable melancholy vibe, though.
  7. Laverne & Shirley. How could I not like a theme song about two plucky women making their dreams come true and doing it their way? Years ago, while I sat backstage waiting to go on a game show as a contestant, this theme song crept into my head and it wouldn’t quit. I was slightly antsy because I was surrounded by a bunch of competitors, so maybe the song was my brain’s way of psyching me up, saying I was “gonna do it.” And I did. Win, that is.
  8. Three’s Company. They invited you to knock on their door; they’ve been waiting for you! Dad and I used to watch this show, too. Most of the double entendres flew right over my head, but I remember Dad being slightly scandalized and then laughing anyway.
  9. The Love Boat. Yes, it’s cheesy, but there’s something wonderful about watching people board the Pacific Princess, knowing they’ll find love by the end of their vacation.
  10. Cheers. I remember hanging out in my college dorm’s common room on Thursday nights at 9 p.m., and the other residents and I would sing along to the now classic opening song, hoping we’d find a place where everybody knew our name, someday somewhere, out in the big bad world.

What are some of your favorite TV theme songs?

Have a safe weekend, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite crime fiction books and authors for the Stalker Awards!

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40 Comments

  • Reply
    Eirego
    May 24, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Great list here. I agree with all of them!

    I liked these as well:

    The Andy Griffith Show – I only ever saw it in reruns and there weren’t any lyrics, but it made me want to whistle and reminded of growing up in a small town.

    Green Acres – this song is so fun! Although I still can’t get it straight whether it was Zsa Zsa Gabor or her sister, Eva, who starred.

    All In The Family – I loved it that the 2 leads (Carrol O’Connor and Jean Stapleton) sang it in character and had no problem going off key a bit.

    Friends – I got sick of it pretty fast, but it’s so recognizable that I will hum along if I hear it.

    Sanford and Son – usually I hum this when I’m making fun of someone.

    Honorable mention: the CSI themes. Although it isn’t really fair to use The Who. The rest of the theme songs out there are original and made just for the show itself.

    Thanks for the memory lane.

    Happy Memorial Day weekend!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Some memorable ones here! If I start humming the one from SANFORD AND SON, I would not be able to get rid of it for days. Oh, no, now you’ve done it…

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    May 24, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Those are great. Here are a couple of others that always brought a smile to my face:

    Starsky and Hutch (written by Tom Scott)
    http://youtu.be/DqbXBT6rVXg

    The Rockford Files (another by Mike Post)
    http://youtu.be/d41cAOmcuxk

    Mary Tyler Moore Show
    http://youtu.be/kuuYvQsN-ak

    Route 66
    http://youtu.be/ffeF7kkjXIM

    Jonny Quest
    http://youtu.be/SIhEpjnaNlo

    Hill Street Blues
    http://youtu.be/tSOeRqNtQtM

    St. Elsewhere (by Dave Grusin)
    http://youtu.be/_Fy4BOnK6QA

    Miami Vice (Jan Hammer)
    http://youtu.be/X3Qsjpr1AbI

    p.s., The MASH song you find lovely, as I, was titled ‘Suicide is Painless’.

    • Reply
      le0pard13
      May 24, 2013 at 8:23 am

      BTW, I reblogged a link to your post over on mine site, Elyse. Hope you have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        May 24, 2013 at 9:27 am

        Thanks for that! Hope you and yours enjoy the weekend, too.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

      Mike Post was so prolific, and responsible for some great themes. I just now realized I should’ve included his THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO. “Believe it or not, I’m walking on air, I never thought I could feel so freeeee…”

      And thanks for recognizing the composers, which I failed to do.

  • Reply
    Christine McCann
    May 24, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Such great lists (and memories of some great shows!)

    I loved the use of “Reflections” by Diana Ross and the Supremes as the opening theme for China Beach.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH_-ugUwagI

    • Reply
      le0pard13
      May 24, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Oooh, I forgot they use that for China Beach. Good one, Christine!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Oh, yes. Perfection.

  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    May 24, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Hawaii Five-O and Mission: Impossible have to be the two greatest of all time. Included in my favorites, but I’m such a child, is the theme from The Muppet Show: “It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights.”

    • Reply
      Christine McCann
      May 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

      I teared-up in the latest Muppet movie when they were doing the opening number from the Muppet Show.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

      I loved that theme! You have to bop your hand and tap your foot while singing along.

  • Reply
    Wiley
    May 24, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Great lists!

    I will add my favorite instrumental themes…

    It’s funny these were both revived in some capacity and kept some of the same “feeling” in their later incarnations:

    Dark Shadows (original)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dpr6IfYW5Lg

    Dark Shadows (1991 revival)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m0s8-8FngU

    Dallas (original)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffo2Oqt8bIM

    Dallas (2012 revival)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yhWeJkNxuw

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      I’ve never seen DARK SHADOWS. That music is creepy! I would’ve cried as a kid and climbed into my parents’ bed.

      Though not a fan of soaps, I used to watch DALLAS with my mom, who loved soaps, so DALLAS brings back fond memories of hanging out with Mom on Friday nights.

  • Reply
    Lauren
    May 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Gah. So many good ones mentioned already. Loved the SWAT theme, was so sad to hear about Steve Forrest. He was such a stud. I’ll just add a few to the mix:

    The Bob Newhart Show (you had to know THAT was coming, right?)
    The Jeffersons
    I Love Lucy
    Tonight Show
    Happy Days
    Partridge Family/Brady Bunch

    So many of those are directly related to my emotional attachment to the show growing up. More recent good ones (in an age where it’s so easy to just fast-forward through them, I always listen/ed to these):

    Game of Thrones
    West Wing
    Battlestar Galactica

    Could go on and on. I’ll stop.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane!

    • Reply
      Christine
      May 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      Oh yes, I do like the Game of Thrones theme. It is hard to stop adding to the list, isn’t it? Fun type of earworms.

      • Reply
        Lauren
        May 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm

        Totally fun earworms!

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        May 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm

        I know! I keep thinking of other songs I loved. Remember Welcome Back, Kotter?

        • Reply
          Lauren
          May 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm

          Oh, I thought someone had mentioned that one, great catch. Was just humming that one the other day. Man. I’m old.

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        May 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm

        Another good one: X-Files!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      You’re a Bob Newhart fan? Huh, I had no idea.

      You added some good ones. Almost all were runners-up for my list. I’ve never seen GAME OF THRONES, though. I might be the only person in America who can claim that.

      • Reply
        le0pard13
        May 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm

        No, you’re not alone with regard to Game of Thrones. But, then again I don’t have HBO 😉

        • Reply
          Lauren
          May 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm

          No excuse! Seasons 1 and 2 are out on DVD. Not for everyone, but I didn’t think it would be for me and I’m loving it.

          • Reply
            le0pard13
            May 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm

            I just got Homeland first season on disc! I’m soooo behind!

            • Reply
              le0pard13
              May 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm

              But at least I started Breaking Bad right from the beginning it was broadcast, so there’s that 😉

            • Reply
              Lauren
              May 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm

              Sigh. Me, too. Great problem to have, though. Hope you like Homeland, I would recommend that over GoT. It’s crazy and crazy good, especially S1.

          • Reply
            Pop Culture Nerd
            May 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm

            So I’d have to get a DVD player? Seriously, I couldn’t handle GoT. We don’t have HBO, but there was a free sample weekend sometime ago, and Mr. PCN binged on GoT episodes. Every time I passed the TV, someone was getting gored or beheaded or impaled or raped or something. I’d flee from the living room.

            • Reply
              Lauren
              May 24, 2013 at 12:36 pm

              I was replying to Michael, I know your feelings on GoT. 🙂
              And no, you don’t need to buy a DVD player.

      • Reply
        Lauren
        May 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm

        Yeah, I try to keep that on the DL along with my love of Johnny Carson.

        GoT theme is great, very majestic. If I ever ran anywhere, it would motivate me.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth A. White
    May 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    The A-Team (http://youtu.be/yrK0rZj6pes), Barney Miller (http://youtu.be/roHYXrLhmHc), and WKRP (http://youtu.be/zgrVP_J0BHk).

    • Reply
      le0pard13
      May 24, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      Love, love, love WKRP in Cincinnati! Great one, Elizabeth 🙂

    • Reply
      Lauren
      May 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Great additions. I still watch Barney Miller and WKRP to this day.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      May 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      As a tour guide at Universal Studios, I used to play The A-Team theme on a daily basis, every time we passed the van on the backlot. This is linked with the memory of meeting another tour guide, who turned out to be my husband!

      • Reply
        le0pard13
        May 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm

        Yes, everyone heard rumors about you two 😉

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          May 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm

          We might’ve become part of the tour!

  • Reply
    LouMke
    May 26, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Mannix, M Squad, Mr Ed, Bonanza

  • Reply
    jackdeth72
    May 26, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Hi, Pop Culture Nerd:

    Very cool looking site!

    I scared a bunch of co workers by singing along with the theme to ‘Underdog’ during an episode of ‘Scrubs’ one afternoon during shift change.

    Also like the yarn spinning theme to ABC’s old ‘F-Troop’ from the 1960s.

    Bare Naked Ladies’ theme to ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is kind of catchy, science-y and nerdy.

    Still can’t top the Stone’s “Paint it Black” from ‘Tour of Duty’ or Mike Post’s theme to ‘Hill Street Blues’.

  • Reply
    Gina
    May 31, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Oh yes, theme songs will definitely stick in your head…good and bad! Of those mentioned, I’m already humming the Laverne and Shirley one…and of course how can one NOT know the Mission Impossible theme! *shakes head* I get others from time to time as well from TV shows and cartoons from my youth … plus it doesn’t help that most my coworkers at job 2 are theater/entertainment majors/junkies. ^_^

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