Thursday, June 14, 2012

Top TV Theme Songs

Rolling Stone Masthead
Friends Cast Cast of MASH
Hawaii Five-0 Original Cast Cast of Cheers
Clockwise: Cast of Friends, M*A*S*H*, Cheers, and Hawaii Five-O.

Just last year, Rolling Stone Magazine published a Reader's List of their favorite TV Theme Songs ever, and it is an interesting list. As it turns out, the readers picked the top four series, which debuted in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, a nice cross section. In fourth was the show with the most recent debut, Friends, which debuted in 1994 and ran until 2004. In 1989, Phil Solem and Danny Wilde formed The Rembrandts. In 1995, they released "I'll Be There For You" off their album titled LP. The song was a last-minute entry on the album, for it was written by Friends co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman, composer (adnn Kauffman's husband) Michael Skloff, songwriter Allee Willis, and Phil Solem and Danny Wilde of The Rembrandts. The song was offered to other bands before the Rembrandts recorded it for the show. It quickly became quite popular, so Solem & Wilde recorded a full-length version, which went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks. Here is The Rembrandts with the cast of Friends performing "I'll Be There For You".

In the third spot was a song that truly surprised me. However, there is no mistaking in the first few bars what show was going to be starting when Johnny Mandel's "Suicide Is Painless" started to play. The song was written for the movie version of M*A*S*H*, directed by Robert Altman. Johnny Mandel wrote the music, and the lyrics were written by Altman's 14-year-old song, Mike Altman. The song was sung over the credits for the movie by a group of session singers. However, I think the song became most known as an instrumental playing over the credits for the television show, which debuted in 1972 and completed the run in 1977.

In 1958, a bunch of boys got together to start a band. They loved rock music, and wanted to make cool instrumentals. They named themselves The Ventures, and had quite the career going. They made what was referred to as "Surf Rock," and remained popular throughout the 1960s. In 1968 they had the biggest hit of their career, and could thank television for it. They recorded the theme song for Hawaii Five-O, which debuted in 1968 and ran until 1980. The Venture's recorded the theme song written by composer Morton Stevens, and it went to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The show was started a new run in 2010, and utilize the same theme song for the new version, although it has been rerecorded to update the sound a bit. Listen to the unforgettable rock beat of the Hawaii Five-O Theme song, the #2 song in the Rolling Stone reader's poll!

The top song in did not surprise me in the least. If I were to mention the name of Gary Portnoy, I bet many, including myself, might not know who that was. But if I say he was a singer/songwriter who was often tapped to write TV themes, you still might not know. But if I mentioned her wrote the theme to Mr. Belvedere, Punky Brewster, and the #1 song on the Rolling Stone magazine Readers Poll, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" from the show Cheers, which debuted in 1982 and ran until 1993, I bet everyone will nod their heads. That song, written by Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, was everywhere. It is interesting to note that while many have called it the greatest theme song ever, it was the fifth song given to the producers of Cheers by Portnoy and Angelo. And the rest, they say, is history.

Hope it brought back some good memories!


  1. Interesting choices. I featured a TV theme song contest two years ago, and here are what my readers (mostly gay men between 35 and 60) selected as their Top 4 favorites:

    1) The Mary Tyler Moore Show
    2) Maude
    3) The Muppet Show
    4) The Flintstones

    1. Some more really great choices. I have to say, one of my favorites was from "Mad About You". "The Final Frontier" was written by Andrew Gold.

  2. all excellent choices, in the article, and Marc's comment. My current fave is "The Big Bang Theory"...:)
    though I have to give a shout out to the "Golden Girls" theme..:)

  3. Cheers rarely fails to make this kind of list, that says a lot about the quality of the theme song.

  4. I so agree with the Top 3....Friends was a great show, but I wasn't too keen on the theme song - in fact, it annoyed me....but I guess it was a sign of the 90's and reminiscent of the time and music therein!

    1. It's tough, for I think it was a good song, just overplayed to no end...

  5. Classic tv themes are always nostalgic for me. no matter what. I like the Taxi theme very much.



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