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Top 50 TV Theme Songs of All Time – No. 10-1

     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.
Click here to view the shows that came in at No. 40-31.      
Click here to view the shows that came in at No. 30-21.
Click here to view the shows that came in at No. 20-11.      

Featured in this post will be what I believe to be the top 10 TV theme songs of all time.
Here we go:
10. Hawaii Five-O
The Hawaii Five-O theme song was way ahead of its time, considering it first premiered in 1968. The fact that the 2010 reboot series uses the exact same theme song and fits right in with the current TV landscape is a testament to how truly badass it is. The song has such a simple melody yet it’s so memorable that it easily stands out among similarly-themed shows (Baywatch, China Beach). Everything from the drumming intro to the seamless octave change at the end makes the Hawaii Five-O theme song one of the best in television history.

9. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Perhaps the most wordy theme song in the history of television, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme is iconic to those who grew up in the ’90s. Bringing a whole new meaning to spelling out the entire premise of the series, the show’s star, Will Smith, expertly raps the theme. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a classic fish-out-of-water concept that tends to be overused in television, but the theme song sets it apart as unique and memorable in a way that few others can. The opening verse alone can set ’90s kids into a nostalgia-filled frenzy.
8. The Twilight Zone
The true standard-bearer for horror-themed television series, The Twilight Zone theme is one of the creepiest songs period. The opening notes are chilling and give you the feeling of being hypnotized and brought into a world different from our own. The song has influenced similarly creepy shows’ theme songs (The X-Files, American Horror Story) and could easily be heard on a modern-day adaptation and not feel out of place. Utilizing the minor key to full effect, The Twilight Zone theme has haunted and will continue to haunt fans for generations.
7. Law & Order
A theme song so strong that it has carried over to every single one of the show’s spinoffs, the Law & Order theme will always be associated with the long-running police procedural. From the opening “DUN DUN” notes to the earnest yet dramatic melody, the song is a true masterclass in great police procedural theme songs. There is a foreboding menace to the song that is reflected in the hardened cops of the series, but it’s the kind of menace that’s on the right side of justice. There’s almost a comforting darkness in the pounding drums, complimented beautifully by the wind instruments and the plucking guitar. This theme will be remembered for as long as television is relevant.
6. The Andy Griffith Show
A theme so idealistically nostalgic that it could make a grown man cry, The Andy Griffith Show theme is one of the most recognized and beloved themes in television history. It’s catchy little whistle tune was written in such a way that it’s almost impossible to not whistle along, cheerfully. Television has always been a comfort blanket for people since its inception, and there’s nothing more comforting than sitting down after a hard day’s work and envisioning yourself at the fishing pond with Andy, Barney and Opie. The theme song perfectly encapsulates a bygone era when life moved at a casual pace and the biggest thing you had to worry about was dealing with a moonshiner here and there. It’s a theme that never could have lasted in today’s era, but it’s one of the best theme songs of all time.
5. The Jeffersons
Perhaps the most joyful theme song of all time, The Jeffersons theme brought it to church and made you want to stay there with George and Louise Jefferson. The song is unabashedly gospel from the ecstatic opening notes (“Well we’re movin’ on up!”) and maintains its energy level for an entire minute. On a basic level, the theme makes you want to tune in to the show, with its pure joyful energy creating an infectious, toe-tapping response. The song has become such a popular tune on its own that it has shown up in the modern era. It has appeared in countless commercials, films and was even sung by Beyonce on her recent world tour. “Movin’ On Up” may not be universally known, but it deserves to be regarded as one of the top themes of either TV or film.
4. The Wonder Years
The Wonder Years theme song may not have been written exclusively for the show, but it fits so perfectly with the show that it doesn’t matter. Joe Cocker’s spirited rendition of “With a Little Help from My Friends” has an iconic nostalgic quality that perfectly matches the sweet nostalgia of The Wonder Years. Intertwined with the home-video quality of the title credits, the theme is an accurate summation of the turbulent yet idealistic ’60s. The Arnolds were just a regular family in suburbia, yet they represented an idealized version of the ’60s raised on rock ‘n’ roll and simple family values. “With a Little Help from My Friends” represents the universal power of friendship while encapsulating everything that made the ’60s one of the greatest generations.

3. M*A*S*H

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.

2. Friends

“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.

1. Cheers

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.


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