The Top 20 TV Theme Tunes of All Time

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We could argue about this all night, says Tony Fyler...


Before we get started and somebody loses an eye, this is a game. What follows are what I consider to be the best. Nothing would please me more than for my fellow geeks to create their own lists, and open their store cupboard of geeky favourites in rebuttal or addition. Go on, have a go.

What do I mean by ‘best,’ exactly? Ohhh bless you, you’re geeks, you know I’ve put more than a healthy amount of time into thinking about this. I mean theme music that’s been specifically created for TV shows, and that either remains indelibly in the brain to the extent you could sing it to people almost anywhere and get a singalong going, or that absolutely creates the mood or tells the story that makes you ready for the show, and even today makes you want to watch it again, or that simply rocks in and of itself – these are not opening credits I’m judging, just themes. Imagine if you will – and believe me, I’ve actually done this – downloading them onto your iPod as music tracks. Which would be the best ones to listen to?

Now, it should be no surprise that I’ve already cut my nose off to spite my face here. By ‘specifically created for TV,’ I mean they’ve been originally created for shows, rather than created for something else and then repurposed. That means some classics don’t make it onto my list, such as this gem from The Eagles:



It pretty much means I can’t include this either, to the disappointment of culture-vulture Brits everywhere:



Or this. Sorry, Silver:



Or this famous Allman Brothers track:



And, being really strict with myself, I’ve even discounted this swinging classic, because technically it was a film theme first: 



I mean, technically, there’s this, which is iconic in its own right, but still…



See? Talk about making a rod for your own back.

But anyway, let’s begin, and see how many of you are howling with rage by the time we get to number 1 because your favourite hasn’t been included.



20: The Flintstones
At number 20, I’m putting the first family of Bedrock. Almost everything you need to know about the show, the point, the characters and the tone is right there in the theme song – almost to the point that you don’t need to watch the show. If you think that’s a given with cartons from the same  stable at the time, compare it with the lyric-light Jetsons theme and weep at your own folly:



19: The A-Team
I wasn’t even a fan of The A-Team, but there’s no denying the way the theme has worked its way into our culture since the 80s. It’s now as synonymous with ‘doing something laughably impossible’ as Eye of the Tiger is with running endlessly up stairs and punching people.



18: Chorlton and the Wheelies 
It’s more or less at this point that Brit-geeks of a certain age start yelling that Jamie and the Magic Torch was robbed, and Ameri-geeks watch the intro and say ‘Jesus, I thought H R PufnStuf was freaky!’ Yes, Jamie had a good rocking guitar riff, but I refer my Brit-geek friends to the interminable beginning where he’s put to bed. It only really kicks in when the torch is lit, whereas Chorlton’s beat rocks right from the very first note. So nehh – told you, my list, my rules! You want to show love to Jamie and the Magic Torch, write your own list.



17: HR PufnStuf
Speaking of the American sponsor of…ahem… puffing and stuff, it makes it onto this list not just because it’s madly, joyously obvious, or because it lives in memories now worldwide as ‘that weeeeeird show from the 60s,’ but because singer Sharon Baird knocks it out of the park on this one.



16: Happy Days
I know, I know, shoot me, there are much geekier shows to include – let me save you the suspense right now: neither Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles nor the Transformers make it onto the list – they were bumped for the likes of this irrepressibly cheery number which perfectly evoked the white-bread rock and roll vibe of the show. Fairly sure you could sing ‘Sunday, Monday’ anywhere in the world and get a ‘Happy Days!’ in response.



15: Mad About You
Again, I know – the howling’s probably quite high on this one, but in terms of singability 20-odd years on, and of capturing the sort of Anti-When Harry Met Sally vibe of clever, silly people being hopelessly in New York love, it’s pitch perfect.



14: Pinky and the Brain
Whaddaya mean, ‘Oh, not another animation!’? The Pinky and the Brain theme is still very high on a singability scale, and it told you absolutely everything you needed to know about the set-up of the show. I say unto you Brain, Brain Brain, Brain Narf!



13: SuperGran
I’m guessing most Ameri-geeks won’t have heard of this one, but it was an Emmy-winning live-action show telling the story of the world’s most unlikely – and most Scottish – superhero. The theme tune, with a relentless bass riff and Billy Connolly on vocals, calling out all other superheroes in a uniquely Scottish style, stays with you forever once you’ve heard it.



12: Grange Hill
Controversial, this one – while Brit-geeks of an age will love it and remember it well, the question of whether it was written for the show, or simply lifted from an Album by Alan Hawkshaw could probably go either way. I’ve included it because I’ve seen it listed on that album simply as Grange Hill. Ahhh, the bounciness of schoolday themes. Apologies to any and all Bostonians – Cheers got so close to being on the list, but was bumped here.



11: The Twilight Zone
Time to get serious. This is the TV equivalent of the ‘Na-nuh’ from Jaws, or the ‘Eek-eek-eek-eek’ of Psycho, and its first few seconds have become almost universal cultural shorthand for ‘stuff that’ll scare the bejesus out of you.’ We salute you, Twilight Zone theme. Incidentally, yes, Brit-geeks, this beat out the British musical synonym for terror composed by the one and only Ron Grainer, but since you asked so nicely – go nuts.



10: Starsky & Hutch
Was there ever a theme so joyously disco-funk as Starsky and Hutch? Actually, yes, there were a few that went wakka-wakka pedal crazy, but where are they now, eh? Starsky and Hutch, with its open guitarwork and its sense of one building riff held together with an occasional bridge evokes everything the seventies should have been about, and much of what they actually were about too. Glorious.



9: The Professionals
Designed as a kind of ‘Hard British Bastards Can Be Starsky & Hutch Too, You Know,’ The Professionals had that sense of being able to punch you properly in the face and show naked women from time to time. So there’s a grinding edge to the theme’s baseline, but again, the 70s guitarwork is just a joy.



8: Star Trek
This was probably inevitable, wasn’t it? The odd thing of course is the theme that’s most remembered in any group of geeks depends largely on how old they are. I say go classic, mostly because I’m a Welshman and you can’t beat a bit of quality harpwork.



7: Hawaii Five-O
Nowhere in the Western world is it possible to hear the theme from Hawaii Five-O without a singalong following immediately, like that big wave in the credits. It’s become culturally synonymous with…something, I’m sure. Freedom, probably. Yeah – freedom, waves, good times and surfing. Beach boys, pah!



6: Knight Rider
What…the hell…was that?
When it arrived, Knight Rider looked like little else, and it sure as hell sounded like nothing else. Still today, those opening moments are enough to send geek-hairs rising on the back of our neck. Much cleverer, musically, than it might seem – if you think it’s easy to sell a show like this with music, compare and contrast with the motorbike equivalent, Street Hawk, its black leather image rather ruined by the cheery optimism of the mid-section from Tangerine Dream.



5: Inspector Gadget
It worries me enormously that Sheldon Cooper’s third favourite cartoon theme song is my second favourite cartoon theme song. But c’mon – sing along everyone…



4: The Addams Family
Put it this way – if you sing the first four notes of this in a public place, and no-one snaps their fingers twice, run. Run away, fast – you’ve landed in an alien plot to take over the world. The Addams Family is impossible not to sing and snap along with.
If you’re a human, that is…



3: Spiderman (1960s series)
Sheldon’s second favourite cartoon theme song, and my top animated pick (No, seriously Sheldon, the Turtles are not getting in!), this became such a cultural icon that decades later, a riff on it was one of the most successful things in The Simpsons Movie. Question – was it only me that noticed the jewelry store corrected typo in the two shots of it? #naturalborneditor



2: Batman (1960s series)
Yes, the lyric sounds like a car alarm, but honestly, what’s not to love about the Batman theme? Cartoonery, Sock, Pow and Zok included, that made you kind of wish you were going to watch a carton version – till the humans showed up and you realised you pretty much were - plus a driving anchorline that’s so singable, even by kids, it became the punchline of its own joke. That, my friends, is the hallmark of musical immortality.

Annnnd then there’s Number 1. Given where you’re reading this, any surprises in store, d’you think?



1: Doctor Who
No, none whatsoever, as it turns out. For a theme song to be essentially the same, while interpreted in so many radically different ways over the course of more than five decades, and to be absolutely as synonymous with the show as the hero, the spacecraft or any other element of the on-screen experience, you have to have a work of breathtaking genius. My personal favourite is the 80s, muscular heavy metal version from Peter Howell, but as in all things here, go classic and discover the original genius of Grainer and mostly Derbyshire.

Mostly Derbyshire? Mmmmyeah – check this out for comparison



That’s my take on the Top 20 TV theme songs of all time. What’s yours?

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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