There are many elements that make a great and memorable television show. Some of the elements include great writers, quality actors (not necessarily big names), and a great theme song. Although the third one is not as used as in the past, there was a time when the theme song was as popular as the show itself. Some of the show producers released the theme songs as singles or even full albums to cash on the popularity. Lovers of television shows will remember the themes to Batman, The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, and even The Partridge Family as much, or even more, than the show itself. In the 1980s, the theme songs were popular enough that some did well on The Billboard Top 40 Charts. I would like look at some of my favorite TV Themes of the 1980s (in no particular order). So sing or hum along!!
- “As Long as We Got Each Other” (Growing Pains). I was not a huge fan of the show itself, but I had the 45 single of this song sung by BJ Thomas and Dusty Springfield. The song started out in Season 1 as Thomas singing solo, then Seasons 2 and 3 turned into a duet with Jennifer Warnes before Season 4’s duet with Dusty Springfield. Seasons 5 and 6 went back to the Warnes duet, but the single was released in 1988 and hit #7 on the U.S. AC Charts. Thomas has one of the most unique voices in music. The song was first released on 1985’s “Throwing Rocks” album. This song is more memorable than the TV Show.
- “Good Ol’ Boys (Theme to the Dukes of Hazard).” Growing up in the 1980s, it was hard not to know this show or the song by Waylon Jennings. The show was based on the James Mitchell 1975 movie “Moonrunners,” which Jennings was the narrator (which helped him become the narrator for the television adaptation of the movie). The second verse of the single is a cheeky reference to the opening of the show, where the camera shows Jennings and his guitar but not his face. The single was released in 1980 and hit #1 on the Country Charts, along with #21 on the Hot 100, which made this song Waylon’s most successful single of his career. On a personal note, I played drums to the record in my 1st Grade Talent Show, which was my first public performance.
- “Believe it or Not” (The Greatest American Hero). One of the most famous, if not THE most famous television theme writers, Mike Post worked on this song, sung by Joey Scarbury. Scarbury worked with Loretta Lynn before hitting the charts with this smash single from the show about a teacher who receives a super suit from aliens (Like Superman’s suit, not a business suit). Scarbury and Post went on to work on the theme for Hardcastle and McCormick, and Scarbury wrote other songs, including the #1 hit for the Oak Ridge Boys “No Matter How High I Get” in 1989. This song, which I had on 45 and had great positive lyrics, stalled at #2 behind the song “Endless Love” in 1981. Even though some television songs are about the show’s themes or characters, this song is still relevant today (I still listen to it). The lyrics are about an unknown person finally being on top of the world. It can relate to any struggle or challenge in someone’s life. I loved the show growing up- how could you not love the show with William Katt, Robert Culp, and Connie Sellecca?
- “Theme to Miami Vice.” This was the only television theme song to hit #1 in the 1980s. The show and the music was one of the biggest events in the decade. Everyone stayed at home to watch this show, which even crossed into the fashion world (and as I mentioned in my July post about women of the 1980’s, Sheena Easton was even on the show). Everyone loved hearing this song on the radio, cruising down the road in their cars pretending to be Sonny Crockett. Jan Hammer, who was a member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s hit big with this song. The 1985 Soundtrack of the TV Show, along with Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City” single, was the most successful TV Soundtrack of all time, staying #1 for 11 weeks, until 2006 when Disney’s “High School Musical” beat the record.
- “Theme to Magnum P.I.” Another Mike Post song that hit the charts (He also hit with “Hill Street Blues” in 1981 that hit #10 on the charts). This theme about a private investigator in Hawaii hit #25 in 1982, with Larry Carlton on guitar, who played with artists like Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, Michael Jackson, and The Partridge Family. Not only was the show a hit, but everyone knows this theme song. Post also wrote themes for The A-Team, Law and Order, LA Law, and The Rockford Files.
- “WKRP in Cincinnati.” This is one of my favorite TV shows, along with one of my favorite theme songs. The show ran from 1978-1982 with a spin off show from 1991-1993. The original show was so appealing to me because it was about a radio station in Ohio. Growing up, I always loved listening to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” program and this show made me want to be a radio deejay when I was a kid. I would even voice my own introductions to the songs on my record player to practice. The theme was sung by Steve Carlisle, and was rumored to be about the character Andy on the show. An interesting note about this song is that Gary Garcia and Jerry Buckner helped add the extra verses for the single. They were known in the 1980s for their “Pac Man Fever” song and album (Another guilty pleasure that I had to upgrade to CD). Even though the show started in the 1970s, the theme song hit the U.S. Charts in 1981, reaching #29.
- “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”. You may not recognize the title at first, but when you ask about the theme song from the show Cheers, you’d know it. The song was written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo for the show that ran from 1982-1993 about a bar in Boston. Portnoy wrote with Air Supply and Dolly Parton before this song, and went on the work on themes for Punky Brewster and Mr. Belvedere. Four different versions of the songs were sent before it was approved. Most people know the part that was shown on the show opening, but listening to the full song, with its comedic side to it, makes the song even better. The song was named the “Greatest TV Theme of All Time” in 2011 in Rolling Stone, and in 2013 in TV Guide. That alone should say how this song had stood time, even though it never charted.
These are just a few of the great TV Themes of the 1980s. Feel free to contribute to your favorite of the decade!
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