By Thomas Sellers Jr.
I knew this would be the toughest challenge of this series. Not because I was born in 1981 and these programs helped shape my sense of humor, interests and thoughts, but because the 1980s had a lot of quality theme songs.
This was the Golden Age of television to me because comedies, dramas, new programs, documentaries and educational programs reached a zenith. From HBO to PBS, it was hard to make a choice on what to watch.
Therefore the introduction of the show became vital. What sound, graphic, music or lyric would grab the audience’s attention. Then the ’80s became the era of the “explanation theme song.” The lyrics would literally outline the show.
Also in that decade, superstar artists would go into the studio to record a show’s theme. Aretha Franklin delivered “A Different World” theme and Al Jarreau’s vocal talent gave us “Moonlighting.”
The themes became just as celebrated as the shows itself.
It was hard to just rank 10 of these jewels. So after the honorable mentions, I will rank the top 30 with the final 10 getting the paragraph treatment. Here are a few of my favorites: “The Smurfs,” “A Different World,” “Star Search,” “Showtime at the Apollo,” “Fame,” “227,” “60 Minutes,” “Dallas,” “The Cosby Show,” “Knight Rider,” “Inspector Gadget,” “Growing Pains,” “Newhart,” “21 Jump Street,” “Moonlighting,” “Fraggle Rock,” “The Fall Guy,” “Transformers,” “Alvin the Chipmunks,” “Punky Brewster,” “G.I. Joe,” “Jeopardy,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Mr. Belvedere,” “The Hogan Family,” “Perfect Strangers,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “Double Dare,” “Silver Spoons,” “thirtysomething,” “Hunter,” “Dynasty,” “He-Man,” “Simon and Simon,” “Cagney and Lacey,” “Remington Steele,” “Fantasy Island,” “Wiseguy,” “Matlock,” “Highway to Heaven,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Falcon Crest,” “Life Goes On,” “Hotel,” “The Colbys,” “ALF,” “Chip ’n Dale Rescue,” “ThunderCats,” “The Real Ghostbusters,” “Muppet Babies,” “The Care Bears,” “Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears,” “Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats,” “Voltron,” “Head of the Class,” “The Pink Panther,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Equalizer,” “Monday Night Football” and “Sesame Street.”
30. “Who’s The Boss”
29. “The Wonder Years”
28. “The People’s Court”
27. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
26. “Hart to Hart”
24. “Diff’rent Strokes”
22. “The Greatest American Hero”
21. “Gimme a Break”
20. “St. Elsewhere”
19. “The Dukes of Hazzard”
18. “Duck Tales”
17. “Miami Vice”
16. “The Love Boat”
15. “L.A. Law”
14. “Charles in Charge”
13. “3-2-1 Contact”
12. “Magnum, P.I.”
11. “Night Court”
10. “TBS World Championship Wrestling & Championship Wrestling”
After cartoons, most of my Saturdays were spent wrestling friends in my neighborhood and only taking breaks to watch the professionals. It began on Channel 5 with Championship Wrestling and Timpani. Had to watch “The King” Jerry Lawler and the crew in order to get ready for Monday Night Wrestling at the Mid-South Coliseum. So once that legendary instrumental started, my full attention was Lawler, Bill Dundee, Austin Idol and more. From that dramatic theme to TBS World Championship Wrestling’s uptempo, new wave sound. At 6:05 p.m., the show would begin with footage of a recent encounter between two stars from the Georgia territory. Then the beat would kick in and it was time to enjoy the Four Horsemen, Fabulous Freebirds, Midnight Express, Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors.
I just want to give a sincere thank you to Mike Post, Pete Carpenter & The Daniel Caine Orchestra. Your score was the backdrop to me riding my bike over ditches, me leaping from two-story buildings and me crawling through any forest I could find. I fancy myself to be Sgt. B.A. Baracus when playing the A-Team with my friends. Even as I went to high school and formed a clique with Danny Spears, Eric Forte and Rosheay Ragland, we modeled ourselves after the A-Team. We called ourselves the Dawg Clique and tear up once we heard the theme. That wonderful score symbolizes teamwork, overcoming the odds, justice and putting a beat-down on the competition.
8. “The Facts of Life”
As you read this countdown, you take the good, you take the bad. There you’ll just have the “Facts of Life.” Now if the original rendition of the song was the only exposure to our ears, star Charlotte Rae’s version wouldn’t even make the honorable mention. But when composer Gloria Loring belted out the “Facts of Life” that we all sing in our heads. Loring was joined by Al Burton and her then husband Alan Thicke in writing the TV-theme standard. Thicke deserves a mention because he performed the theme to Diff’rent Strokes and acted on the show Growing Pains.
7. “The Golden Girls”
“Thank you for being a friend …”
You’re welcome. Now you’ll be singing this theme for the rest of the day. It’s not my fault. Blame Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia. The main person to point a finger at and also hug is Andrew Gold. He wrote the song and recorded it on his third album. It was a top 25 song on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. But it was the 1980s on NBC’s “The Golden Girls” that made this jam a part of Americana.
The version we love is performed by Cynthia Fee. It was like Fee got an advance screening of the show and depicted the chemistry between the four actresses perfectly with her vocal stylings.
6. “Family Ties”
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams performing “Without Us.” Such a beautiful song deserves a proper introduction. And thank you, Mathis and Williams, for the wonderful duet. This piece became the theme to NBC’s “Family Ties.” In 1982, Jeff Barry and Tom Scott gave birth to this song. During the first season, the song was performed by Dennis Tufano and Mindy Sterling. Then they called in the heavyweights Mathis and Williams to take this song up a notch. And the duo delivered with a smooth, funky and interlocked performance.
5. “Unsolved Mysteries”
On Jan. 20, 1987, a show was born that almost sucked the life out me. Each week for several years, the creepy, dark and terrifying instrumental to NBC’s “Unsolved Mysteries” would make the sweat pop out on my forehead. Host Robert Stack had the ideal ghostly appearance and smooth, demonic voice to narrator my nightmares.
OK, I kept tuning into the program because it gave me a rush and made me aware to stay away from strangers. Now I am addicted to the I.D. Network thanks to this show. With so many programs today owing the grandfather of real-life mysteries a “thank you,” no theme can match this piece. The original “Unsolved Mysteries” theme song was composed by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin. Congrats gentlemen, you created the soundtrack to many children’s, adults’ and animals’ nightmares.
Just listen to the lyrics — this song is ahead of its time. It is the perfect soundtrack to anyone who needs to head to a bar and drink some of his sorrows away. “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” got a following because it was the theme to one of the most watched shows in television history. Once the soft rock vocals of Gary Portnoy echoed in your living room, it was time to hangout with Coach, Woody, Diane, Cliff, Norm, Dr. Frazier, Carla, Rebecca and Sam at Cheers.
The song was written by Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, and it has its on cult following. People who didn’t even watch “Cheers” know the theme as soon as they hear it.
The great thing about the Cheers theme is it can play in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s or even today.
Randy Edelman captured the spirit of the show and characteristics of the main protagonist Angus “Mac” MacGyver. Richard Dean Anderson brought to life MacGyver and his adventures before every Monday Night Football Game in the mid-1980s. MacGyver was a troubleshooter for the Phoenix Foundation in Los Angeles. This brainy heartthrob found himself in wacky, dangerous situations each week. His intelligence and cleverness would somehow save the day. I guess being educated as a scientist with a background in the Department of External Services comes in handy. The theme song would echo through my head when I got my hands on a Swiss Army knife or a roll of duct tape. I still fix stuff today with the MacGyver theme playing. It makes me smarter.
“Angela” by Bob James is so smooth. As my brother Chad Blunt would say, “It’s pimp!” You stride down the street to this song. You can even hail a “Taxi.”
So how did this song become the theme to a comedy? The song was intended for an episode. But the producers liked this slow, melancholy tune better than the up-tempo original theme of “Touchdown.” Great move, because this jam made it all the way to No. 2 on my countdown. The version that opens “Taxi” is too short, just a tease. Go to Youtube and search Angela (Theme From Taxi) and enjoy all 5 minutes and 38 seconds.
1. “Hill Street Blues”
OK, one day I will do my top 10 Mike Post themes. Oh, who is Mike Post? Mike Post is an American multi Grammy and Emmy-winning composer. Have you heard of such themes like “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “The A-Team,” “NYPD Blue,” “Renegade,” “The Rockford Files,” “L.A. Law,” “Quantum Leap” or “Magnum, P.I.”? This dude is magic in the studio. And his composition on Hill Street Blues was perfection. This show gave birth to the modern police procedural. The Post instrumental reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in the day. The guitar strokes of Larry Carlton compliment this piece so well. It’s a funky groove. There is even a piano cover by Rodney Franklin.
This song was born a month before me, further evidence that creations of 1981 are the best ever.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.