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THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- Those 70’s Shows: TV theme songs reach new levels, ranking the best sounds of the era

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

“The Jeffersons” was the longest running sitcom to feature a predominantly African-American cast. It ran from 1975 to 1985.

As each week in this series progresses, it will be tougher to rank and mention all the shows with outstanding theme songs.

Let’s breakdown the 1970s. About four decades ago, television started to grow with the three major networks of ABC, CBS and NBC creating great content. Throw in some PBS, and there were hours of entertainment from the daytime to prime time.

The ’70s gave birth to the detail-specific theme song. Before you watched a single minute of the episode, the lyrics, imagery and sounds set the tempo for the program.

There were several themes that met these criteria. But the 10 themes that made my countdown for the disco era are a mixture of iconic, catchy and pure ear heaven.

Before I jump into the Top 10, here are my honorable mention for the 1970s: “All in the Family,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Happy Days,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” “Soul Train,” “The White Shadow,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Hee Haw,” “Looney Tunes Theme,” “The Price Is Right,” “Sesame Street,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Barney Miller,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Muppet Show,” “The Partridge Family,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!,” “The Rockford Files,” “The Odd Couple,” “Chico and The Man,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Maude,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Kojak.”

10. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

The original working girl before Murphy Brown was bestowed with the perfect theme song. Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” greeted viewers for the first time as part of Mary Tyler Moore Show on Sept. 19, 1970. The folk music delivery accompanied by the big band sound worked perfectly with the short introduction. And the title character spinning around and tossing her hat in the middle of the big city crowd was brought home by “You’re going to make it after all.”

9. “Welcome Back, Kotter”

In 1976, John Sebastian released the single “Welcome Back.” Now the former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman’s song is known by a longer title, “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme. The B-Side track off “Warm Baby” was the smooth and soft intro to a fast-paced sitcom. The relationships formed between Gabe Kotter and his wisecracking Sweathogs deserved a rocking theme. But the irony of “Welcome Back’s” tempo was the ideal pacesetter for the half-hour show.

8. “M.A.S.H.”

No lyrics, just the perfect arrangement of instruments for this iconic show. It was the father of shows like “Scrubs.” A mixture of comedy and drama, making you fall into deep interest with each character.

Once you heard “Suicide is Painless” written by Johnny Mandel, it was time to indulge in the members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

M.A.S.H. tackled the issues of that era, the Korean War and dealing with PTSD. It was a landmark sitcom that help make the theme song legendary. Or did the song help the show become the most watched finale up-to-date? However you answer, it was the perfect marriage.

7. “The Young and the Restless”

On the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” marriages don’t last very long. On March 26, 1973, CBS brought us to the fictional world of Genoa City to keep up with the Newmans, Abbotts and others. Now nearly 12,000 shows later, the drama is beloved across the world. And “Nadia’s Theme” has a lot to do with the success. The piece of music was composed by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. in 1971. It gained fame being associated with perfect Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci during the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.

But for us younger than 40, it’s the theme to “The Young and Restless.” And for those who have taken a piano class, it is must-learn sheet music.

6. “One Day at a Time”

CBS struck sitcom gold once against in the mid-1970s with “One Day at a Time.” Millions tuned in to check in on Ann Romano, a divorced mother. She moved from their home in Logansport to the bigger city of Indianapolis, Ind., with her daughters, the rebel Julie and the witty Barbara. And don’t forget Schneider.

The theme song “This is It” composed by Brill Building and songwriter Jeff Barry gave viewers a good singalong before all the comedy got rolling. We all have sung along with Polly Cutter as she delivered the theme of the Romano girls.

5. “WKRP in Cincinnati”

This show was about a radio station in the Ohio city. So with a program focusing on the lives of DJs, it had to have a great musical number to introduce it from week to week. Steve Carlisle’s song sounds like it would have been a popular request during that era.

It’s a great story accompanied by a simple guitar flow. Easy-listening or soft rock, it fits into those categories all day long. So if you called into WKRP and got either Dr. Johnny Fever or Venus Flytrap, they would be glad to play that request of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” By the way, WKRP is a station in Raleigh, N.C.

4. “Good Times”

Was Jim Gilstrap trying to be funny with the lyrics to “Good Times”? Here are a few of the lines in the song: Temporary layoffs, Easy credit rip-offs, scratchin’ and surviving and keepin’ your head above water. But it did mention meeting payments, getting out from under and having a friend. And throughout the 1970s, the Evans family became our friends through the sitcom “Good Times.” This show is from the “All in the Family” tree courtesy of “Maude.”

Those shows had terrific themes as well. Blinky Williams did a masterful job of singing “Good Times.” His redemption was so powerful, we often mishear the final line. Is it “Hangin’ in a chow line” or “Hangin’ in and jivin’”?’ Either way, “Ain’t we lucky we got ’em … Good Times.”

3. “CHiPs”

It’s the perfect disco number. The era of music is defined by this theme. Thank you, John Parker, for this classic. I break into my best “Disco Fever” moves every single time I hear this song. All I need are some bell-bottomed pants and platform shoes.

NBC enjoyed the listeners and viewers of this program for six years.

I wasn’t a big fan of the show about the California Highway Patrol on interstates, but I do love the theme.

2. “The Brady Bunch”

Anyone who has ever heard this theme, can at least sing about 45 percent of it. It broke down the premises of the show and gave us a earworm to last a lifetime. The theme song was originally arranged, sung and performed by Paul Parrish, Lois Fletcher and John Beland. There is a version performed by the six children starring in the show as the Brady kids.

It was fitting the members of the blended family would sing the song about their new lives. Mike Brady finding Carol Martin and combining their children — Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy — enjoyed modest success during its original run.

But syndication, merchandise, a couple of movies and that theme have made “The Brady Bunch” an essential part of TV folklore. Well, now we’re movin’ on down to No. 1.

1. “The Jeffersons”

Ja’net Dubois, one of the stars of “Good Times,” and Jeff Barry co-wrote “The Jeffersons” theme. Dubois loaned her vocal skills to “Movin’ on Up.” Her gossip style and passionate delivery told the story of George and Louise Jefferson finding success in the dry cleaning business.

He was finally able to move away from his neighbor, Archie Bunker, to a deluxe apartment in the sky of Manhattan.

The reason why this theme is No. 1 for the 1970s is that it’s a great singalong, is catchy, tells the story of the show and has a timeless sound that still defines the era. And I have to say it before I go … “Fish don’t fry in the kitchen; Beans don’t burn on the grill.”

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas.sellers@journalinc.com.

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