Step into the time machine with me, and let’s wind back to a period when television sets were encased in robust wooden cabinets and color TV was still new and exciting. TV theme songs in the 1970s weren’t just jingles—they were a cultural phenomenon, a vibrant slice of Americana that lingers even today.
Remember the evenings when the whole family huddled around the TV set to watch their favorite shows? As you waited in anticipation, your heart would skip a beat when you began to hear the first few bars of the show’s famous theme song echo from the speakers, instantly recognizable. That unforgettable bassline from “Barney Miller,” the alluring whistles of “The Andy Griffith Show,” and the soulful voices belting out “Movin’ On Up” from “The Jeffersons,” these tunes weren’t just introductions to the shows we loved, they were the soundtracks to our lives.
Ready to ride this wave of nostalgia and delve into the best 70’s TV theme songs? Let’s hit the ‘play’ button on our mental jukebox and groove down memory lane. You’ll be amazed at the emotions these timeless tunes can still stir.
- 1. Welcome Back, Welcome Back Kotter.
- 2. “Love is All Around,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show
- 3. “The Brady Bunch,” The Brady Brunch
- 4. “Come On, Get Happy,” The Partridge Family
- 5. “Those Were the Days,” All in the Family
- 6. “And Then There’s Maud,” Maude
- 7. “Movin’ On Up,” The Jeffersons
- 8. “Good Times,” Good Times
- 9. “Barnaby Jones Theme,” Barnaby Jones
- 10. “Ironside,” Ironside
- 11. “Theme from Sanford and Son (The Streetbeater),” Sanford and Son
- 12. “Happy Days,” Happy Days
- 13. “Making Our Dreams Come True,” Laverne & Shirley
- 14. “This is It,” One Day at a Time
- 15. “Wonder Woman Theme,” Wonder Woman
- 16. “The Rockford Files,” The Rockford Files
- 17. “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow (Baretta’s Theme),” Baretta
- 18. “Theme from Charlie’s Angels,” Charlie’s Angels
- 19. “Suicide Is Painless,” M*A*S*H
- 20. “WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme,” WKRP in Cincinnati
- 21. “Angela,” Taxi
- 22. “The Six Million Dollar Man Theme Song,” The Six Million Dollar Man
- 23. “The Waltons Theme Song,” The Waltons
- 24. “The Odd Couple Theme Song,” The Odd Couple
- 25. “Chico and the Man,” Chico and the Man
1. Welcome Back, Welcome Back Kotter.
Written and Performed by John Sebastian
Taking us back to our best high school memories, the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme song had a unique charm. As the introductory theme to the popular sitcom about a high school teacher returning to his old neighborhood, the song resonates with warmth and familiarity. John Sebastian, the frontman of the Lovin’ Spoonful, lent his mellifluous voice and artful composition to the song, crafting a tune that was an instant earworm.
This catchy tune surged into the Billboard Hot 100. Titled “Welcome Back,” it debuted in 1976. It swiftly climbed the charts to the coveted No. 1 spot, maintaining its peak position for a week. The song remained on the Billboard chart for 18 weeks, earning it a well-deserved place in the annals of TV theme songs that crossed over into mainstream success.
The TV Show was originally called “Kotter,” But John Sebastian couldn’t come up with good words that rhymed with that word, so he wrote, instead, about the theme of the show: returning back to a place you thought you would never see again and called the song “Welcome Back.” The producers of the show loved the song so much that they renamed the show “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
2. “Love is All Around,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Written and Performed by Sonny Curtis
As perky and sunny as the show’s star, the theme song “Love is All Around” was almost as beloved as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” itself. This catchy song, written and sung by Sonny Curtis, captured the show’s essence. It was a musical symbol for Mary Richards, the strong woman dealing with the ups and downs of being single in the city.
During the first season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, the theme song “Love is All Around” carried a touch of melancholy, mirroring Mary Richards’ fresh start in Minneapolis after a broken relationship. It began with the haunting question, “How will you make it on your own?” but concluded with cautious optimism, “You just might make it on your own.”
As the show skyrocketed in popularity, the creators wanted a theme song that matched its success. Curtis obliged, changing the opening line to the now iconic, “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” and ending with a more confident, “You’re gonna make it after all.”
Curtis released the song as a single in 1970, but surprisingly, the song didn’t chart. Despite not enjoying commercial chart success, the song remained a beloved classic. The song is so appreciated that it has been lovingly covered by such unlikely artists as Joan Jett and, perhaps most memorably, Hüsker Dü.
An instrumental version of this song was the opening theme song for Mary’s short-lived variety show, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, in 1979.
3. “The Brady Bunch,” The Brady Brunch
Music by Frank De Vol, Lyrics by Sherwood Schwartz
Performed by Peppermint Trolley Company (Pilot), Various Artists (Season One), The Brady Kids (Seasons Two – Six)
As distinctive as the show itself, the theme song for “The Brady Bunch” has certainly earned its place in television history. This upbeat tune, composed by Frank De Vol with lyrics by show creator Sherwood Schwartz, introduced us to a ‘lovely lady’ and a ‘man named Brady’ in a musical recounting of their combined family’s story. The tune is unmistakable, synonymous with the iconic multi-image grid that became the show’s trademark.
Interestingly, over the course of the show’s five-season run from 1969 to 1974, the theme song underwent several tweaks. Initially performed by the Peppermint Trolley Company in the pilot, the song was re-recorded by three studio musicians when it was picked up for the first season.
That version of the theme song was replaced by versions sung by the Brady kids in subsequent seasons. These versions varied slightly, with the song’s arrangement getting more sophisticated each year as the kids grew up and matured.
The Brady Kids recorded three albums but never included the theme song on any of the albums. Nonetheless, almost any child of the 1970s can sing the entire song upon request.
Sherwood Schwartz also wrote the lyrics to “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”, the theme song for his earlier series, “Gilligan’s Island”.
4. “Come On, Get Happy,” The Partridge Family
Original “When We’re Singing” written by Wes Farrell and Diane Hilderbrand
“Come On, Get Happy” written by Wes Farrell and Danny Janssen
Sung by David Cassidy, Shirley Jones on backing vocals
When you think of TV theme songs that can instantly lift your spirits, “Come On Get Happy” from “The Partridge Family” hits all the right notes. This upbeat tune, performed by the fictional TV family band, invited audiences to join the Partridge Family on their musical journey. Composed by Wes Farrell and Danny Janssen, the song featured the unmistakable voice of David Cassidy, supported by Shirley Jones and the legendary studio musicians the Wrecking Crew.
Interestingly, “Come On Get Happy” was not the original theme song for the show. The first season opened with “When We’re Singin’,” a classic “Let’s tell everyone the story behind the TV show in the theme song.” This song, set to the same tune as “Come On, Get Happy,” starts with “Come on now and meet everybody” and then goes on to tell the story of how the band came to be. (Mom’s working hard to support the family, so the kids decide to form a band to help her.)
As with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the theme song was revamped in 1972 after the show became a hit. “Come On Get Happy” perfectly captured the fun-loving, free-spirited vibe of the show.
Unlike other TV theme songs, the song was never expanded past its one-minute playing time, so it was never included on any official Partridge Family albums. It does appear as the opening track of Come On Get Happy!: The Very Best of The Partridge Family, a greatest hits album released in 2005 to coincide with the release of the series on DVD.
This song has become a well-loved classic that represents the musical history of the show. It continues to bring joy to listeners and always delivers on its promise to make people happy whenever it is played.
“Come On Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story” was a TV movie released in 1999 that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the TV show. The movie was narrated by Danny Bonaduce.
5. “Those Were the Days,” All in the Family
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams
Performed by Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton
“All in the Family” was the first sitcom from legendary TV producer Norman Lear and broke ground by examining the social issues of the 1970s from the perspective of dock foreman and part-time taxi driver Archie Bunker. The show’s theme song, “Those Were the Days,” sung by Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton in character as Archie and Edith Bunker, was more than just a tune. It was a musical reflection of Archie Bunker’s mindset.
Averse to change, Archie yearned for the supposed simplicity of bygone days. This sentiment echoed in the song’s lyrics in lines like “And you know who you were then, Girls were girls and men were men, Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again. “
Oddly enough, the most discussed line of the song was perhaps its least controversial. No one could understand what they were saying in the second to last line of the song. Stapleton and O’Conner re-recorded the theme for the third season, and, at last, we all found out that the line was “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.”
Despite the show’s success, a 45 RPM single of the theme song by the cast did not fare well commercially. However, instrumental versions of “Those Were the Days” by artists like Henry Mancini and Ray Conniff were popular on easy-listening radio stations, further contributing to the lasting impact of the famous theme song.
The LaSalle was a car model produced by GM that aimed to bridge the gap between the high-end Cadillac brand and the more affordable Buick brand. It was later discontinued and reintroduced under the name Buick Riviera.
6. “And Then There’s Maud,” Maude
Written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin
Performed by Donny Hathaway
“Maude” was a spin-off series from “All in the Family” starring Edith’s liberal and sophisticated cousin, Maude Findlay. Reflecting the feminist spirit of its title character, the theme song “And Then There’s Maude” set the tone for the groundbreaking sitcom Maude. The talented Donny Hathaway sang the song just a year before he broke out with his duets with Roberta Flack.
It paid homage to some of history’s most influential women, from Joan of Arc to Lady Godiva, to underline Maude’s fierce independence and strength. These references clearly proclaimed the show’s intent to spotlight a strong, opinionated woman navigating life on her own terms.
The song introduced more than just the character of Maude, played by the indomitable Bea Arthur. It also underlined her feminist ideology, making it a pioneering piece of TV music. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the song is a bop.
However, despite the show’s popularity and the popularity of Donny Hathaway in the 1970s, the song doesn’t appear to have ever been released as a single.
Nonetheless, the song remains an iconic piece of television history, a testament to the show’s revolutionary depiction of a female protagonist and, as I mentioned earlier, a total bop.
Donny Hathaway may have never released a version of “And Then There’s Maude,” but Bea Arthur included it on her 2002 album Bea Arthur on Broadway.
7. “Movin’ On Up,” The Jeffersons
Written by Jeff Barry and Ja’net DuBois
Performed by Ja’net DuBois
Another spin-off from “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” broke new ground in the portrayal of black families in the mid-70s television scene. The TV show revolved around George Jefferson, Archie Bunker’s former neighbor, who had moved up the social ladder to live in a luxurious apartment in Manhattan. (A “deluxe” apartment in the sky.)
The TV show’s theme song, “Movin’ on Up,” was sung by cast member Ja’nette DuBois with the accompaniment of a gospel choir. The song joyfully conveyed the show’s message of upward progress.
“Movin’ on Up” was written by DuBois with Jeff Barry, and DuBois’s dynamic rendition added a layer of authenticity to the tune. Although many TV theme songs in the 1970s were released as singles, “Movin’ on Up” only appears on various compilations of TV theme songs.
However, it remains one of the most recognizable theme songs from the era, reminding us of the excitement you feel when you “finally got a piece of the pie.”
DuBois’s co-writer, Jeff Barry, along with his wife and songwriting partner Ellie Greenwich, wrote several popular songs, such as “Baby I Love You,” “Be My Baby,” and “River Deep – Mountain High.”
8. “Good Times,” Good Times
Music by Dave Grusin, Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Performed by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams
Norman Lear’s shows made people laugh and think at the same time. They also all had really great theme songs. With lyrics like, “Temporary lay-offs, Good Times; Easy credit rip-offs, Good Times,” the rollicking and upbeat theme song for “Good Times” immediately signaled that, despite dealing with the serious challenges of working-class black families, the show would carry a tone of positivity and hope.
The gospel-styled song was the handiwork of Dave Grusin and the Bermans, the same team behind the catchy “Maude” theme. Yet, “Good Times” stands on its own with its unique rhythm and poignant commentary on the trials and tribulations of a working-class black family during the 70s.
The “Good Times” theme song continues to resonate with the public, even without ever being released as a single. The song appears frequently in the background of multiple TikTok videos as a new generation learns to love the song. This continued popularity highlights the timeless quality of the music and points to the relevance of the song’s theme even now. The difficulties the song portrayed still ring true for many today, a reminder of the enduring reality of ‘good times’ amid life’s struggles.
For years, people argued about whether a line in the song said, “Hangin’ in a chow line” or “Hangin’ in and jivin’.” Alan and Marilyn Bergman finally clarified that the line is “Hangin’ in and jivin.'”
9. “Barnaby Jones Theme,” Barnaby Jones
Written by Jerry Goldsmith
The theme song for “Barnaby Jones,” a popular detective series in the 1970s, is an excellent example of the dramatic instrumentals commonly used in television soundtracks. Laced with a sense of adventure and mystery, the theme sets the mood by using the music to create an atmosphere of suspense and anticipation for the show.
The man behind this memorable theme song was the legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith was known for several other iconic TV theme songs, such as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “The Waltons,” as well as movie themes, such as “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “The Theme from Rudy”. His theme for “Barnaby Jones” was sweeping and dramatic.
A soundtrack album from Barnaby Jones was released in 1973, but it doesn’t seem to have charted. The theme song does appear on several albums of Goldsmith’s music. In particular, the London Symphony Orchestra includes a stirring medley of Goldsmith’s greatest TV theme songs on their tribute album to the composer.
Barnaby Jones, portrayed by the seasoned actor Buddy Ebson, broke away from the typical detective stereotypes by ordering milk instead of alcohol in bars and restaurants.
10. “Ironside,” Ironside
Written by Quincy Jones
OK, technically, this song shouldn’t be included in this list because the TV show “Ironside” was released in the late 60s. However, the song, crafted by the multi-talented Quincy Jones, undeniably influenced the soundscape of the 70s television world.
The “Theme from Ironside” was the first synthesizer-based television theme and introduced a new sound that would shape the musical direction of numerous detective shows in the years to follow.
In 1971, Jones reimagined the “Ironside” theme, recording an extended four-minute version for the album Smackwater Jack. The updated version of the song made it even more popular and cemented its status as a timeless piece of TV music.
The Ironside theme’s impact continues to resonate even in recent years, finding new life through samples in various recordings such as “All Caps” by the hip-hop duo Madvillain. Though the theme song never charted on the Billboard Hot 100, its influence and popularity transcend chart performance.
In the fifth-season episode “Unreasonable Facsimile,” Ironside tracks a suspect on the streets of San Francisco while the full four-minute album version of the theme plays in the background.
11. “Theme from Sanford and Son (The Streetbeater),” Sanford and Son
Written by Quincy Jones
The “Theme from Sanford and Son” just might be the funkiest TV theme song ever. Woven by the illustrious Quincy Jones, “The Streetbeater” sets the stage for the shenanigans of junk dealer Sanford, played by the inimitable comedian Redd Foxx. Its infectious rhythm was the perfect musical backdrop for “Sanford and Son,” NBC’s answer to another Norman Lear classic, “All in the Family.”
Released on Jones’s 1973 album, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl,” and as a standalone single, “The Streetbeater” was all about the laid-back, feel-good R&B bass line that made you want to sit back and let the melody move you. The fun, bluesy tune couldn’t be more different from the intense, synthesizer-heavy theme for Ironside, also composed by Jones.
Although the song didn’t claim a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 that year, “The Streetbeater” was far from a wallflower. It boogied into popular culture, earning 9th place in a Rolling Stone Reader Poll of the Best Television Theme Songs.
Jones wrote “The Streetbeater” in just thirty minutes.
12. “Happy Days,” Happy Days
Written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel
Performed by Jim Haas (Seasons One and Two), Pratt & McClain (Seasons Three – Ten), Bobby Arvon (Season Eleven)
The sunny tune “Happy Days” immediately takes us back to the 1970s, when the beloved television show of the same name was a cultural mainstay. The song, written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, set the upbeat tone for the series.
“Happy Days” was initially recorded in 1974 by Jim Haas and a group of session singers. During the show’s first two seasons, the song only played during the closing credits. The opening theme during those early days was an updated take on “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets.
The duo Pratt & McClain re-recorded “Happy Days” with new lyrics in late 1975. The new version was used in seasons three to ten’s opening and closing credits. Pratt & McClain released the updated version as a single and featured it on their 1976 album. The Pratt & McClain rendition hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 7 on the Easy Listening chart, and No. 31 on the UK Singles Chart.
In 1983, Bobby Arvon revamped for season 11, keeping the words from the Pratt & McClain version. Even now, the song “Happy Days” reminds us of being young in the 1970s and the fun of the easy-going 1950s, a time of poodle skirts, soda shops, and the beginnings of rock music.
Ron Howard signed on to the show to avoid the Vietnam War. He had a low draft number but was able to get a deferment because his job supported the jobs of more than 30 additional people. Nixon ended the war in Vietnam after Howard shot the pilot.
13. “Making Our Dreams Come True,” Laverne & Shirley
Written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel
Performed by Cyndi Grecco
Born from the popular show “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley” hit the TV scene with a bang. Every episode started with Laverne and Shirley hopping on one foot in the timeless game of hopscotch, spouting off their now iconic phrase “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, schlemiel, schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated.” After this unforgettable opening, we were treated to one of television’s most uplifting theme songs, “Making Our Dreams Come True.
This anthem of positivity was crafted by composer Charles Fox and lyricist Norman Gimbel, already well-known for their catchy “Happy Days” theme. The singing talent behind this upbeat tune was Cyndi Grecco, discovered by Fox while performing at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
Captivated by her sound, he asked her to lend her vocals to “Making Our Dreams Come True.” The song was later released as a single, and it swiftly climbed up the charts, reaching the 25th spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in early July 1976.
To this day, the song’s motivating spirit and contagious feel-good energy persist, reminding audiences of the infectious power of pursuing dreams.
Norman Gimbel also wrote the lyrics to the enduring classic, “Girl from Ipanema.”
14. “This is It,” One Day at a Time
Written by Jeff Barry and Nancy Barry
Performed by Polly Cutter
Norman Lear produced “One Day at a Time,” and like his other comedies, the show had an engaging theme song that gave viewers a clear idea of what the show was about. The theme song, “This Is It,” was catchy and fun, carrying the unique touch of Brill Building songwriter Jeff Barry and his wife, Nancy Barry. Recording artist Polly Cutter brought the song to life.
The song captures the uncertainty that the newly divorced mother of two, Ann Romano, feels as she starts life over in a new apartment. The lyrics encourage Ann (and us!) to embrace the ups and downs of life with positivity, to take what we get, and roll with it, even in the face of disappointment. It’s about seizing life, going out, and having a ball, no matter what.
The song resonated so profoundly with the show’s essence that when Netflix decided to remake the series in 2019, they couldn’t let go of “This Is It.” The song lived on, bridging the gap between generations of viewers and proving that some tunes never go out of style.
The series was created by Whitney Blake, best known for her role as Dorothy Baxter on the 1960s sitcom Hazel, based on her life raising her three children after her divorce.
15. “Wonder Woman Theme,” Wonder Woman
Written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel
Performed by John Bähler with Marti McCall, Carolyn Willis, and Julia Waters
The “Wonder Woman” theme song was another successful collaboration from Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who brought us “Happy Days” and “Making Our Dreams Come True” from Laverne and Shirley. Unlike those classic pop tunes, The “Wonder Woman” theme song has more of an action show theme feel.
The song starts with a literal bang — an explosion, in fact. What follows is a tune that unfolds like an audio comic strip detailing the prowess of our Amazonian heroine: she can make hawks coo like doves, stop wars with the power of love, and even make liars spill the truth.
Season One of Wonder Woman took place in the 1940s and was updated to the 1970s in Season Two. The theme song was also updated, replacing most vocals with a trendy synthesizer while keeping the enthusiastic chorus of female voices belting out “Wonder Woman!”
Nonetheless, the song’s essential spirit of girl power remained unaltered, ensuring the theme remained inspiring and memorable.
Wonder Woman is able to seamlessly transition from the 1940s to the 1970s without looking a day older due to her “Amazon Nature.”
16. “The Rockford Files,” The Rockford Files
Written by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
Written by the renowned Mike Post, who’s got a knack for crafting unforgettable instrumental theme songs like those for “Magnum P.I.,” “Law and Order,” and “Hill Street Blues,” “The Rockford Files” truly stood out.
Each episode of the show began with someone leaving a message on Rockford’s answering machine. The messages were usually quirky, often angry, and never related to the current episode. Then, we went straight into the synthesizer-heavy theme song.
The theme song, which played at the beginning and end of each episode, underwent several variations over the show’s run. Later versions of the song featured a unique electric guitar section performed by session guitarist Dan Ferguson.
The song was released as a single and hit #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in August 1975. It’s also one of the rare T.V. theme songs to win a Grammy, winning the Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement in 1975. The single, with a B-side track titled “Dixie Lullabye,” also composed by Post and Carpenter, held its spot on the chart for 16 solid weeks.
As a sign of the song’s enduring popularity, the jam band Phish occasionally plays the song or bits of it during their live shows.
David Chase, one of the co-writers and co-producers of “The Rockford Files,” went on to create The Sopranos in 1999. In an early episode of The Sopranos, The Rockford Files theme music can be heard in the background of a scene set in a nursing home.
17. “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow (Baretta’s Theme),” Baretta
Written by Morgan Ames and Dave Grusin
Performed by Sammy Davis, Jr.
“Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow,” a tune with a distinct, laid-back disco vibe, was not initially written for television. Still, it would become inseparably associated with one gritty, streetwise detective: Tony Baretta, of the TV show “Baretta.”
Introduced in 1975, the song quickly caught on, with several artists stepping up to offer their own interpretations. Merry Clayton, the veteran gospel and backup singer, delivered a fiery version of the song that soared to #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 the same year.
In 1976, the ensemble Rhythm Heritage put their unique spin on the tune, transforming it into a semi-instrumental piece. This interpretation ended up not just in the grooves of their album, Disco-fied, but also in the opening credits of Season One of Baretta.
Their rendition, known as “Baretta’s Theme,” even nabbed a spot on the springtime singles chart, reaching #20 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #15 in Canada.
Legendary performer Sammy Davis Jr. added his iconic vocals to the instrumental theme song and released it as a single, which peaked at #101 on the Billboard Bubbling Under chart.
From Season Two until the end of the show’s run in Season Four, every episode of Baretta would start with a reminder of its enduring motto, sung by Davis Jr.: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”
Robert Blake recalled clashing with studio brass over Sammy Davis Jr.’s take on the show’s theme song. Studio execs were worried that Davis’s rendition might lead viewers to see Baretta as a predominantly African-American series. Blake threw down the gauntlet, declaring he would walk off the set, leaving the show’s production in a lurch if Davis’s version was shelved. The studio executives were forced to give in to Blake’s demands.
18. “Theme from Charlie’s Angels,” Charlie’s Angels
Written by Allyn Ferguson and Jack Elliott
Performed by Henry Mancini
The TV show “Charlie’s Angels” began with John Forsyth, voicing Charlie, narrating the Angels’ now iconic origin tale: ‘Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the Police Academy; and they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that, and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.’
As we hear the story, we see that their “hazardous duties” include crossing guard, meter maid, and typist. Meanwhile, the orchestral theme song starts softly in the background, then grows louder and bolder as we see quick glimpses of the Angels’ exciting new lives as Private Investigators.
Performed by the renowned musician Henry Mancini and his Orchestra, the song lends an air of intrigue and excitement to the opening scene.
Mancini’s version of the theme song was released as a single in March 1977. The track did OK on the charts, peaking at #45 in May 1977. In the days before music videos, the song may not have been as enticing without scenes of the beautiful angels.
Today, however, the theme instantly reminds us of the show’s powerful, adventure-loving leading ladies and their mysterious, unseen benefactor, Charlie.
John Forsyth was uncredited during the entire series for his role as the always-unseen Charlie because he thought it lent an air of mystery to the role.
19. “Suicide Is Painless,” M*A*S*H
Written by Johnny Mandel
The theme song for the TV show “M*A*S*H,” the song “Suicide is Painless,” is known for its melancholy tune and instantly recognizable trumpet. The song is an instrumental version of the song used in the movie “M*A*S*H,” directed by Robert Altman.
Even without its lyrics, the instrumental version carries a deep poignancy that mirrors the show’s exploration of the grim reality of war. The trumpet’s resonating notes often remind listeners of the mournful military bugle call, Taps, traditionally played at dusk and during flag ceremonies and military funerals, aligning with the series’ focus on a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.
Throughout the series, the mournful theme, with its haunting trumpet and chilling name, remained a powerful contrast to the characters’ comedic, often absurd, actions, underscoring the complexity of their experiences.
For the movie version of “M*A*S*H,” Robert Altman wanted the lyrics to the song to be “the stupidest song ever.” He eventually reached out to his 15-year-old son and asked him to write lyrics for the song. Altman later joked that he only made $70,000 for directing M*A*S*H, while his son netted over One Million Dollars from the song.
20. “WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme,” WKRP in Cincinnati
Written by Tom Wells
Performed by Steve Carlisle
A spunky little sitcom called “WKRP in Cincinnati” burst onto our screens in the fall of 1978. The brainchild of Hugh Wilson, a one-time ad salesman who knew a thing or two about the wild world of radio, this show was steeped in authentic radio station charm and was rumored to draw its inspiration from the lively Atlanta Top 40 station, WQXI.
As the opening credits rolled, viewers were treated to the catchy soft rock/pop tune “WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme,” brought to life by Steve Carlisle’s crooning. This compelling theme, penned by Wilson and composed by Tom Wells, tales the tale of how station manager Andy Travis (played by Gary Sandy, who had the best hair and the tightest jeans on TV) finally settled down at none other than – you guessed it – WKRP in Cincinnati. The song’s last line echoes a classic ’70s radio station name announcement, adding a dash of nostalgia to the mix.
If you stuck around for the end credits, you heard a different tune – literally. The closing theme, whipped up by Atlanta musician Jim Ellis, had a harder rock edge and played as stills for the episode displayed, finally settling on a serene snapshot of the Cincinnati skyline. Ellis hadn’t penned any lyrics yet, so he just mumbled nonsense words for the demo. Wilson, finding the garbled lyrics amusing and a clever satire of many rock songs’ inscrutable lyrics, decided to use the demo version in the show.
An extended version of the opening theme got its own single release in 1979. It sauntered up the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at 65 in 1981 and finishing at 29 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1982.
For years, Richard Sanders, who played meek Les Nessman on the show, was rumored to be the person singing the theme song.
21. “Angela,” Taxi
Written & Performed by Bob James
Say “Taxi,” and what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the unforgettable characters, the witty humor, or Andy Kaufman’s inspired performance as Latka Gravas.
But for many, it’s the hauntingly beautiful theme song, “Angela.” Crafted by the talented Bob James, “Angela” was initially intended to be used in the third episode of the series “Blind Date.”
The show’s producers, however, found themselves drawn to the melancholy cadence of this jazzy instrumental, preferring its poignant tones over the more upbeat rhythm of their original opening theme, “Touchdown.” They were able to make the swap before the first episode hit the screens, ensuring “Angela” had her rightful place in the opening credits. You can find both “Angela” and “Touchdown” gracing James’s 1978 album, also fittingly named “Touchdown.”
James composed much of the music used on “Taxi,” and in 1983, he released “The Genie,” an LP packed with much of the incidental music he had woven into the fabric of “Taxi” during its legendary run.
And while “Angela” never climbed the Billboard Hot 100 charts, it certainly climbed into the hearts of viewers, who found themselves swaying to the mournful flute notes that spoke volumes about life, love, and the joys and struggles of the human experience.
Bob James charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 with a jazzy instrumental version of Bad Company’s Feel Like Making Love. The song peaked at #88.
22. “The Six Million Dollar Man Theme Song,” The Six Million Dollar Man
Written by Oliver Nelson
How did you spend your Friday nights in the 1970s? I bet you spent many of those evenings on the couch with your family, watching ABC’s impressive Friday night lineup. “The Brady Bunch” kicked things off at 8:00 pm, and in 1974, that show was followed at 8:30 by a Sci-Fi drama that fascinated every 1970s kid: “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
It’s hard to explain now just how groundbreaking the show was. The opening credits showed us the tragic accident that befell astronaut Steve Austin (played by square-jawed Lee Majors). Then, the stirring music of the theme song played as we heard the words: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.”
I get chills to this day when I see the opening sequence of The Six Million Dollar Man, and I’m not alone. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly called it “the best main title sequence in the history of television.”
The “Six Million Dollar Man” theme song added to the excitement of the sequence. We watched transfixed as Steve confronted danger head-on while the drums beat in rhythm with our racing hearts. As the drums started to play faster, we saw Steve being rebuilt. Finally, the music swells dramatically as Steve runs across our TV screen at lightning speed. No wonder every kid wanted a Steve Austin action figure for Christmas that year.
Thanks to inflation, $6,000,000 in 1973 would cost $40,995,000 today.
23. “The Waltons Theme Song,” The Waltons
Written by Jerry Goldsmith
The theme song for “The Waltons,” an iconic 70s TV show, can send you straight back to fictional Walton’s Mountain in Virginia. The melody, brought to life by the haunting sound of a trumpet, was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, a man with quite the musical resume. Having composed themes for other popular TV shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Room 222, and Barnaby Jones, Goldsmith certainly knew how to make an impact.
The opening credits for the first season started with a picturesque view of mountains as the theme music gently flowed, setting the perfect mood. The combination of a zither and guitar, two traditional mountain instruments, gave the opening a wonderfully ‘folksy’ vibe before the trumpet took center stage.
If you were a fan of shopkeeper Ike (John Conley) and Ben Walton (Eric Scott), you might have found yourself singing along to their rendition of the theme song, complete with added lyrics, on their custom album. John and Eric gave the albums out to fans during promotional appearances.
After the end of the series in 1980, The Waltons returned to the screen from time to time in a series of reunion movies. The last movie, “A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion,” was set during John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
24. “The Odd Couple Theme Song,” The Odd Couple
Written by Neal Hefti
Let’s revisit, once again, ABC’s primo Friday night lineup. After “The Six Million Dollar Man” ended, we went straight into one of the best TV comedies of all time, “The Odd Couple.” And, of course, the show started with the catchy theme song, with its earworm instrumental that had you singing, “duh duh duh duh duh duh duh.”
The songwriter for this classic TV theme song is Neal Hefti, the same genius who gave us the unforgettable “nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah Batman!” theme.
The song originally appeared in the movie version of “The Odd Couple,” based on the Neil Simon play of the same name. When it came time to record the soundtrack album for the movie, Sammy Cohn was brought in to add some lyrics. The challenge? Creating a piece about two male roommates without making things weird. In the 1970s, any implication of anything other than friendship was the kiss of death.
Sammy chose to handle the issue by avoiding it. His lyrics refer to an undefined, gender-neutral couple who just happened to be… odd.
Thankfully, the TV show retained the instrumental version, and the theme song remains popular today. The 2015 remake of The Odd Couple began with a sped-up version of the original theme song – as an instrumental.
The lyrics to the song were really, and truly, pretty weird. Here are the first two verses:
No matter where they go
They are known as the couple
They’re never seen alone
So they’re known as the couple
As I’ve indicated
They are never quite separated
They are peas in a pod
Don’t you think that it’s odd
25. “Chico and the Man,” Chico and the Man
Written and Performed by José Feliciano
Let’s take a trip back to East L.A. in the 1970s, the setting for the cult classic TV show “Chico and the Man.” In a way, this show had two theme songs, both written and performed by Latin superstar José Feliciano.
The opening theme, “Chico and the Man,” is a hopeful tune on an acoustic guitar. The song encourages Chico (the charming Freddie Prinze) to look beyond the racial prejudice he experiences from the curmudgeonly Ed Brown, aka “The Man” (played by Jack Albertson), promising “things will be better, oh yes they will, for Chico and the Man.”
The closing theme, however, is very different. “Hard Times in El Barrio” is a rocking tune filled with the power of electric guitars and a pulsating bass line. This anthem of struggle reflects the hardship experienced by the people who live in the East L.A. neighborhood.
It’s a strong contrast to the cheerful opening theme, making it almost jarring.
“Chico and the Man” could’ve gone on to become a mainstay of American TV, but the untimely death of Freddie Prinze at only 22 meant it only had a brief 88-episode run. Even so, the show still lingers in the hearts of those who remember it.
Sammy Davis, Jr. loved the song “Chico and the Man” so much that he covered it in his Las Vegas nightclub act.