Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Best TV Theme Song Ever?

So, okay, what's the best TV theme song ever?

My answer to that question is boringly conventional, but really, no matter how many times I try to think about it, it always comes down to one show and one only: "Hawaii Five-0." That Mort Stevens theme just grabs you like no other TV theme song; it has so much action and suspense built into the music, and such a satisfying ending, that the episode always seemed like a letdown by comparison. It helps that the title sequence, by Reza Badiyi, basically revolutionized TV title sequences. (Badiyi was also the one who came up with the idea for Mary Tyler Moore to throw her hat in the air.)

My other choices are equally conventional: "The Addams Family" (Vic Mizzy), "The Rockford Files" (Mike Post and Pete Carpenter), "Mission Impossible" (Lalo Schifrin).

In the "catchy song with lyrics that explain the premise" category," my top two are "The Beverly Hillbillies" (Paul Henning) and "The Nanny" (Ann Hampton Callaway). Both of them do an amazing job of summing up rather convoluted premises, and making them sound perfectly comprehensible, in as few words as possible.

I also have a great fondness for the theme song of "Phyllis", with lyrics by series co-creator Stan Daniels: an absolutely dead-on parody of Jerry Herman with a great punchline ("It sure isn't yoooouuuu").

Your nominations in the "best" category?

Addendum: I don't know what to make of this, but I saw someone nominate "Angie" as one of the best theme songs ever -- and I was considering including the song (which was a top 40 hit at the time) on my "worst" list. Maybe I'm just not hip to the magic of Norman Gimbel, but anyway, You be the judge. ("Angie," by the way, was one of the better shows to come out of the Miller-Milkis-Boyett fiefdom in the late '70s and early '80s, but it fell victim to constant re-tooling and schedule changes and was off the air within two years.)

Update: A few more "best" nominations from the comments:

- "Gidget" (Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller)
- "Maude" (David Shire and Alan & Marilyn Bergman)
- "The Green Hornet" (Billy May)
- "The Patty Duke Show" (music by Sid Ramin, better-known as a great Broadway orchestrator for shows like West Side Story and Gypsy)

Update 2: Tor Harbin notes that John Williams's theme for "Amazing Stories" (and the accompanying title sequence with Ray Walston as the storyteller) is another example of the theme song being better than the show.

38 comments:

Myron said...

Inspector Gadget. For all the same reasons as Hawaii Five-0

Anonymous said...

NBC Mystery Movie, 1970's.
Speaking of NBC ...
"Bonanza" is up there.....
"I Dream of Jeannie" (2nd version)
and Paul Anka's little moneymaker,
"Johnny's Theme"

Michael Rebain said...

"If you're in doubt about angels being real..."

Ya gotta include Gidget on any list of best themes.

Rob Bates said...

My list:

- Maude. One of the few theme songs with actual WIT and cleverness. Sometimes far more than the show. the singer killed himself.

- The Jeffersons. A nice song about upward mobility. I think a lot of good theme songs work when they apply to the show yet general enough that they can exist without it.

- Get a Life. Not necessarily the song, but the whole title sequence is riotous.

- The Abbott and Costello show (first season.) Damn catchy, and also worked underneath the staged bits.

Michael Rebain said...

Two other childhood favorites were The Patty Duke Show and The Green Hornet

Tor Y. Harbin said...

Remembering your post from a long time ago, John Williams' "Amazing Stories" is a pretty good example of a 'episode can't live up to the theme' theme. I have a lot of faves (perhaps too many) but here's a partial list: "Barney Miller", "Underdog", "Quantum Leap", "Jack of All Trades", "The Flash", "Freakazoid", "Poirot", "The Monkees", "Star Trek: Voyager", "F-Troop" and "The A-Team".

Scared2Share said...

Sampson And SON. Everone knows that one:)

jorge garrido said...

Where the hell is Transformers? There is a hardcore band, Shockwave, that included that tune in every one of their songs.

Also,the different Law & Orders

Dr. Shoggoth said...

Hm. Let's see...

The Munsters: Not as beloved as the Addams Family song, but damn catchy besides.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Another one of those "explains the convoluted premise" songs, but the advantage of actually changing when the cast did.

Get Smart: I'm not sure why I have so much fondness for it, but I do.

VP19 said...

"Fernwood/America 2Night" (Happy Kyne, aka talented pop arranger Frank DeVol). A perfect parody of the cheesy local talk show that sort of died out about that time. In that same vein, how about "Police Squad!"

Chris Fung said...

I still say that Jerrold Immel's arrangements for the DALLAS theme is the best of all-time.

***Dave Hill said...

It's impossible to fully dissociate the music from the title sequence, or, for that matter, the show.

That said, while I'd agree with your choices (I'd probably give the nod to M:I over H5-0), I'd have to also include "Maverick" and the original "Jonny Quest" in that list of faves>

***Dave Hill said...

Or, maybe, "Firefly." Or, maybe, "Doctor Who."

Hrm.

Tosy And Cosh said...

The only TV theme I've liked enough to pay for is the "Taxi" theme. Such a sweet, sad little tune.

npetrikov said...

Andy Griffith ("The Fishin' Hole," or whatever it's called) and Dick van Dyke are two I can't get out of my head. The mini-release in the former really grabs me.

For best closing theme, though: the British series of "Inspector Morse." Each episode ends on a note of poignancy, and then that hesitant, urgent, sorrowful heart-beat of a theme comes in from underneath and swallows all. It kills me every time.

Slowjack said...

It occurs to me that theme songs are essentially a dying, or dead, art. Some of your choices for best & worst are a minute or a minute and a half long. Will shows ever have this much time to devote to the credit sequence again?

Oh, and my vote for best song + title sequence: "The Prisoner."

DrBear said...

Three.

1. Animaniacs (Original version)

2. Hill Street Blues. Not only good by itself, but the opening sequence, with squad cars and sirens slowly being overtaken by a melancholy piano tune, showed the contrasts of that show wonderfully.

3. F Troop. Some wonderful little rhymes in there.

And hasn't ANYBODY mentioned The Twilight Zone?

Jon said...

Mannix and, from the "nobody remembers it but me" department, Funny Face.

Anonymous said...

Favorites.
The original theme to Hazel:
http://www.sitcomsonline.com/sounds/hazel1st.wav

The original them to the sitcom House Calls:
http://www.sitcomsonline.com/sounds/housecalls1st.wav

Anonymous said...

In addition to the ones nominated, may I add "The Avengers"

Tony Collett

Michael Rebain said...

Another pair that I always loved would be "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons"

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with your choices, (indeed, see my comment re: "best" in the "worst" comment thread), also heartily agree with some mentioned hereon: Jonny Quest, the Munsters, NBC Mystery Movie (I'm a sucker for Mancini), Green Hornet, Quantum Leap...
Would add "Lost in Space" I like both versions, but especially the second one.
Chris

Tor Y. Harbin said...

To DrBear: Just as I prefer the original "I Dream of Jeannie" theme to the more popular one by Hugo Montenegro, I prefer Benny Herrmann's TZ theme (mainly the end credits) to the more famous one by Marius Constant.

Jenny said...

Personal favorites: Bewitched(just great--bet that choice doesn't shock you); Rockford(my cel ring); Hogan's Heroes(when I was little hearing that had me dancing around the living room--yeah, I know)--and I'd actually second "Maude", too. Oh! And that Mystery Movie--the one with the flashlight; and also the CBS late movie--more of a fanfare than a true theme, I guess, but boy--it'd keep me up to watch a lot of duds. Stirring!

Rob Bates said...

Just one note about the original "I Dream of Jeannie" theme ... it was written by the great Brill Building team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, although it was obviously not one of their hits.

One of the interesting things about TV theme songs versus regular songs is the TV themes nearly always "resolve" in some way -- meaning they come to a complete end, as opposed to most regular songs, which fade out.

Russell said...

Mine are conventional choices: "Perry Mason" and (even though I've never watched a single episode of it) "Peter Gunn".

Is Constant's "Twilight Zone" theme the only really well-known piece of atonal music?

npetrikov said...

I'd completely forgotten about "Perry Mason." Of course!

And "Star Trek: Voyager." Far more inspiring and hopeful than the show itself.

But I take issue with mr. bates's observation that regular songs just fade out. That may be true since the advent of rock and/or roll, but historically popular music comes to a stop just like normal music.

Sara said...

No love for Magnum P.I.? I watch the intro every time I pop one of the DVDs in, the song is so good.

Buzz said...

HAWAII FIVE-O is great, but it's no JOHNNY QUEST. HAWAII FIVE-O is good orchestrated surf music, but it stays in one tone/tempo all the way through. JOHNNY QUEST has this great start that builds and builds and builds then suddenly veers off into this Denny-esque exotica jazz riff that slows the action down log enough to read the names of the main characters, then comes charging back for the big finish. Much better than HAWAII FIVE-O!

Anonymous said...

How about Jerry Goldsmith's theme for "Room 222." It's the only one I'm aware of that's in 7/4 time.

Susan said...

F Troop's theme song from the first season certainly ranks as one of the best.

However, the theme from the 1967-68 western, Cimarron Strip, composed by Maurice Jarre, has to be the best theme music EVER for a television series. I have NEVER forgotten it all these years later.

TV Guy said...

love hawaii five-o, but may i also add The six million dollar man and the incredible hulk for having the best "first five seconds of music" in tv theme history?

Anonymous said...

Someone PLEASE tell me the name of the "Dallas" theme song? It'd driving me crazy...

B said...

These things are always so subjective, but I agree with you 100% on Hawaii Five-O. Musically and visually, it's the best theme ever, in my opinion. There's just no beating that tracking shot and quick cut to Jack Lord. So many others to choose from, but one that always stands out for me in the "best lyrics" category is "Good Times."

Anonymous said...

"...If there's something strange, in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call: GHOSTBUSTERS..."

firipaldo said...

Beavis and butt-head, dude

Vincent said...

Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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