TV theme songs are a lost art form. That’s not my opinion, that’s the genuine reality of the current television landscape. So many series these days think it’s enough to display a 5-second title card with a few musical notes and call it their theme song. Back in the day, TV theme songs used to introduce you to a show. Some of them would reveal the entire premise performed by an aging cruise singer. Others would simply use a really catchy melody to reel viewers in. Either way, theme songs have been an integral part of television as an art form and I’m here to give them their due.
I will be counting down the top 50 television theme songs of all time over the next few days. The rankings and omissions found in the countdown are my personal opinion and not entirely reflective of the common television viewer. However, some themes are so iconic regardless of my own personal opinion that they deserve a spot on the list.
Click here to view the shows that came in at No. 50-41.
A poignant ode to the Korean War, the M*A*S*H theme is another song that has taken on a life of its own. The song, titled “Suicide is Painless”, has been covered by numerous artists since its release in 1970. Though the instrumental version was chosen for the show, the lyrics are painfully beautiful, matching the melancholy and ultimate numbness that so often results from war. The bittersweet song set the tone for the dramedy every week, letting viewers know that even though the show was a comedy, it was still very much centered around war. There is a strength to “Suicide is Painless” that is so much more powerful given its tragic message. The theme manages to simultaneous mourn the numerous men and women that died in the war while marching onward without certainty or even hope.
“So no one told you life was gonna be this way,” the Friends theme song begins, as sung by a jaded ’90s rocker. Then the clapping comes in, and the theme song transcends every other ’90s sitcom and becomes a cultural phenomenon. The song, “I’ll Be There for You”, became a huge radio hit and defined the decade as a genuine, crossover anthem. The song’s opening guitar riff matched the long-running sitcom’s edginess while its sentimental lyrics captured the heart of the series and what made people fall in love with it in the first place. Performed by The Rembrandts, the song has a simple message, that even if life beats you into the ground, at least you’ll still have your friends to support you at the end of the day. This universal message is what turned Friends into a pop culture phenomenon and a representation to the world about American culture in the ’90s. “I’ll be there for you, ’cause you’re there for me, too.” That’s all that mattered in the end.
I will now reveal my number one television theme song of all time:
You guessed it.
When I decided to put together this list, I had no idea what order I would rank them in except one; I knew that Cheers would be no. 1. The Cheers theme song, titled “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”, is a timeless classic that could easily fit in with any era. The song’s opening piano notes have such a warm feeling of home that sets the tone for the rest of the song. Like many of themes in my top 10, the song evokes a feeling of nostalgia but it doesn’t feel sentimental or dated in any way. “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got,” the opening verse begins. “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.” This was the central premise at the heart of Cheers: a group of friends coming together at the end of the day to enjoy each other’s company. The singer gleefully sings, “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.” For 11 years, fans of the sitcom got to know Sam, Diane, Rebecca, Norm, Carla, Cliff and countless others, and the Cheers bar became like that place where everybody knows your name. The opening credits feature iconic imagery from all eras, perfectly in line with the timeless quality of the song. I firmly believe that Cheers will always be the best TV theme song ever created. It combines so many qualities I’ve listed up until this point of a great theme song (nostalgia, joyfulness, matching song and spirit of the series, timelessness) and creates a perfect blend of artistry and entertainment. Cheers indeed.
That’s all folks!
Thanks to everyone for reading my list of the Top 50 TV Theme Songs of All Time. Feel free to make a comment below about the list as a whole and make suggestions on what lists you might want to see in the future.