Your Nightly Briefing Need To Know: Music Notes 

 
Jan 03 2013
History's 150 Best TV Theme Songs: My Personal List Comments (43)

Old-tv-set

TVI've always—always—been obessed with TV theme songs, whether they be instrumentals or clever jingles with more exposition and depth than the shows they'd been commissioned to precede. I remember being at a birthday party for my friend "Lisa J" (I was "Matt R") where she played a vinyl album of theme songs and we were happy as clams to listen to them while playing duck, duck, goose and eating the cheapest candy ever made.

To exercise—or exorcise—that obsession, what follows is my own personal list of History's 150 Best TV Theme Songs. I decided to exclude any shows that are still on the air, so please—no need to scold me over The Simpsons or Sesame Street.

Vintage_TVPlease tell me what I missed. (I originally had closer to 200 but had to firmly decide I needed a life, so jettisoned really great, but perhaps more esoteric, songs like the Diana Canova-sung "I'm a Big Girl Now" from her series of the same name, the rollickin' theme from Flo and also many very famous, very worthy numbers like those from Vega$, Magnum P.I., Desperate Housewives, KojakKnots Landing and more.)

In cases where I was not sure who performed the song, I left a "?" or I simply used the composers; any further info would be appreciated. And I would love to receive your own Top 5 or Top 10 in the comments.

Wish I could've done a video with five or 10 seconds of each song, but I'm not that advanced.

Finally, in case you were wondering, I think the all-time worst high-profile TV theme song has to be that abortion sung by Kelsey Grammer for Frasier and one of the worst low-profile TV theme songs would be that from Goodtime Girls.

Have fun... 

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Monkees
#150 "Theme from The Monkees" by The Monkees, The Monkees (1966—1968)

This one grabs you by the balls—or considering the target audience, by the ovaries—with that whispery, "Here we come," and then plunges into an aural crash course on the stars of the show. A blast.

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227

#149 "There's No Place Like Home" by Marla Gibbs, 227 (1985—1990)

I'm a sucker for when the star sings her own song, and this one in particular works well because it's so down to earth and unapologetically nostalgic, like the show.

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Sopranos

#148 "Woke Up This Morning" by Alabama 3, The Sopranos (1999—2007)

I was afraid I'd get knocked off if I forgot this seedy, gritty tune.

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#147 "WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme" by Tom Wells, WKRP in Cincinnati (1978—1982)

There's a lot of world-weariness, but also a love-the-one-you're-with vibe to this adult-contemporary hug of a song. It's so A.M.—soothing.

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Lassie-whistle

#146 "Theme from Lassie" by Raoul Kraushar, Lassie (1954—1973)

Jesus, the whistle on this bad boy is so foreboding you almost wonder if it would be more suited to the movie Old Yeller. But it sure gets stuck in your head...right, girl?

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SafariScreenSnapz001

#145 "Theme from Love, American Style" by The Cowsills/The Ron Hicklin Singers feat. The Charles Fox Singers, Love, American Style (1969—1974)

I always interpreted this as a dirty show because it had "love" in the title and it occasionally involved romantic situations. But really, this theme is just energetic and patriotic. It did a good job of making enough musical fireworks so that you didn't notice how disjointed the series segments were!

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A-Team
#144 "Theme from The A-Team" by Mike Post & Pete Carpenter, The A-Team (1983—1987)

This one really feels like two themes in one, but it's most memorable for that Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque flourish.

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Ironside
#143 "Theme from Ironside" by Quincy Jones, Ironside (1967—1975)

Fantastic, slick opener by the great Quincy Jones that became TV's first-ever synthesizer-based theme.

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Malcolm-pilot-1

#142 "Boss of Me" by They Might Be Giants, Malcolm in the Middle (2000—2006)

A truly unique pick for a theme song is this (then-) current rock song, most memorable for its deflated ending: "Life is unfair."

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Hi

#141 "Jennifer Slept Here" by Joey Scarbury, Jennifer Slept Here (1983—1984)

Out of this world (literally) pop tune that's somewhat stepped on by star Ann Jillian's breathy intro.

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#140 "Route 66 Theme" by Nelson Riddle, Route 66 (1960—1964)

It can't touch the original Bobby Troup "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66", on which it was based, but it's still way cool among hep cats.

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Willieaames

#139 "Theme from Charles in Charge" by Shandi Sinnamon, Charles in Charge (1984—1985; 1987—1990)

I like how hard this theme tries, especially the coquettish vocal. 

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SafariScreenSnapz001

#138 "Theme from Space: 1999" by Barry Gray, Space: 1999 (1975—1977)

A still-appealing, tweaky blend of futuristic effects and straight-up disco. I think this could be released as a dance single today.

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350px-Beverly_Hills_90210_-_Opening_Credits_Sequence

#137 "Theme from Beverly Hills, 90210" by John E. Davis, Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990—2000)

It's a bit messy to be memorable, but I like that it brings rock into the TV theme song. A neat way to set up the show as edgy (when it wasn't).

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Blanksys-Beauties
#136 "I Want It All" by Cyndi Grecco, Blansky's Beauties (1977—1977)

If it sounds familiar, it's because it's sung by the Laverne & Shirley chick. Or because it sounds like a lost track from Karen Carpenter's finitely suppressed disco album.

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Gidget

#135 "(Wait 'Til You See) My Gidget" by Johnny Tillotson, Gidget (1965—1966)

A sheer delight of a '60s confection, this theme had a popular singer behind it and should've been a hit single for the Sally Field-fronted show. I guess they didn't like it, they really didn't like it—but I do.

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Tabitha

#134 "It Could Be Magic" by Lisa Hartman, Tabitha (1976—1978)

An adorable, Top 40-ready song sung by the series lead that, as a Facebook friend told me, nobody seems to remember!

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The-drew-carey-show-kathy-kinney-2
#133 "Cleveland Rocks" by The Presidents of the United States of America, The Drew Carey Show (1997—2004)

The show was never as entertaining as all the incarnations of the opening credits, highlighted by the eventual inclusion of the ultimate fly-over state eff-you.

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COSBY

#132 "Kiss Me" by Stu Gardner & Bill Cosby, The Cosby Show (1984—1992)

The song is mostly memorable because of the show, and because it was re-invented so many times throughout the series run. Otherwise, it might not have made my list at all, even though the visuals during the openers for this show would rank at or close to #1.

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Silver-Spoons

#131 "Together" by ?, Silver Spoons (1982—1987)

Feel-good song that was sort of a softer Courtship of Eddie's Father, but has a really nice, energetic vocal as it builds to to a climax, which I did regularly while fantasizing about Joel Higgins.

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Dance-Fever

#130 "Dance Fever" by Triple S Connection, Dance Fever (1979—1987)

A terrific stand-alone disco hit, this helped set the mood for Deney Terrio's hubristic buffet of butt-shaking.

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Columbo

#129 "Theme from NBC Mystery Movie" by Henry Mancini, NBC Mystery Movie (1971—1977)

I have such fond memories of this theme, which would usually signal time for bed since it was before some racy adult cop show or another.

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Charmed

#128 "How Soon Is Now?" by Love Spit Love, Charmed (1998—2006)

An inspired cover version that magically humanizes even a witch like Shannen Doherty.

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SafariScreenSnapz002

#127 "As Days Go By" by Jesse Frederick, Family Matters (1986—1993)

An exultantly nostalgic toe-tapper for a squeaky-clean family show.

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Steve-Austin

#126 "Theme from The Six Million Dollar Man" by Oliver Nelson, The Six Million Dollar Man (1974—1978)

A hard-driving, short piece that's a bit overwhelmed by the strong narrative that precedes it. Nonetheless, I can ID it from two notes.

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CHiPs

#125 "Theme from CHiPs" by John Parker/Alan Silvestri, CHiPs (1977—1983)

An odd fit with a show about studly L.A. highway cops, this epic could keep 'em on the dance floor as long as you kept it playing.

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Cast-of-soap-5

#124 "Theme from Soap" by George Aliceson Tipton, Soap (1977—1981)

Lazy, meandering song that most closely reminds me of the attitude of Cathryn Damon's character "Mary Campbell"—leisurely and quirky. Immediately identifiable.

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Dragnet

#123 "Dragnet Main Title" by Walter Schumann, Dragnet (1951—1959, 1967—1970)

Deliriously authoritarian little march, isn't it?

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Family-Affair
#122 "Theme from Family Affair" by Frank De Vol, Family Affair (1966—1971)

Such a festive theme for a show about two kids living with their uncle, this one was beaten into my head by countless early-morning (rerun) viewings.

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Married With Children Wide

#121 "Love and Marriage" by Frank Sinatra, Married...with Children (1987—1997)

Was there ever a more inspired choice of a standard to serve as a theme song for a TV series?

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Petticoat Junction2

#120 "Theme from Petticoat Junction" by ?, Petticoat Junction (1963—1970)

Adorable, sing-song theme packed with info about the show's set-up and characters. Would fit nicely on a Disneyland ride, maybe playing as we ride a fake vintage train and spot wooden dummies of animals along the journey.

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Electric-Company

#119 "Theme from The Electric Company" by Gary William Friedman, The Electric Company (1971—1977)

Trippiest theme song for any kids' show, this one starts with Rita Moreno belting, "Hey, you guys!" and jumps right into a people-have-the-power anthem.

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The-OC-Adam-Brody

#118 "California" by Phantom Planet, The O.C. (2003—2007)

This insanely trendy song borders on self-parody, but only in the catchiest of ways.

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#117 "That '70s Song" by Todd Griffin/Cheap Trick & Ben Vaughn, That '70s Show (1998—2006)

With an echo of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" and a huge dose of '70s schlock rock, this theme was single-ready and definitely captured the show's verve.

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Best-of-the-West

#116 "Best of the West" by Rex Allen, Best of the West (1981—1982)

This tragically undernoticed show was there and then gone, same with its campy, western-themed opener, performed by cowboy singer and actor Rex Allen. Allen was known for his work on Disney nature flicks, and you can hear it in his deep chuckle of a voice.

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Electra-Woman-and-Dyna-Girl

#115 "Theme from Electra Woman and Dyna Girl" by ?, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl (1976—1977)

Love that funky disco beat, which wouldn't have been out of place on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Can't believe I never knew Cyndi Lauper covered it in 2009 at the TV Land Awards.

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Hart-to-Hart

#114 "Theme from Hart to Hart" by ?, Hart to Hart (1979—1984)

Granted, Lionel Stander's voice-over was platinum, but this theme music is still solid gold, flashing sophistication and adventure effortlessly. It's gawjus.

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James-Van-Der-Beek

#113 "I Don't Want to Wait" by Paula Cole, Dawson's Creek (1998—2003)

Absolutely aching, angst-ridden, middle-of-the-road pop song that repeats in your brain for weeks upon a single listening sesh. I recall bits of this being used to tease upcoming episodes ad nauseum, but there's no denying its effectiveness.

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Josie
#112 "Josie & the Pussycats" by Patrice Holloway, Josie & the Pussycats (1970—1971)

Simply purr-fect! This surprisingly Motown-inspired theme livened up many a Saturday morning.

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Night-Court
#111 "Theme from Night Court" by Jack Elliott with Ernie Watts, Night Court (1984—1992)

This hip, jazzy tune used to make my wall vibrate it was so bassed out!

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Mannix

#110 "Theme from Mannix" by Lalo Schifrin, Mannix (1967—1975)

A totally classy number by a world-famous composer. The show itself is almost beside the point. While it fails as an earworm, it succeeds as good music.

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#109 "Theme from Will & Grace" by Jonathan Wolff, Will & Grace (1998—2006)

Punchy like the show's own screwball pacing and instantly memorable, a durable, unassuming opening that's nonetheless hummable.

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Carol

#108 "Carol's Theme" by Joe Hamilton, The Carol Burnett Show (1967—1978)

As is befitting a woman who would become TV royalty, Carol Burnett's hubby gave her a grandiose, theatrical opener. But the greatest parts are the burlesque sound-effects.

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Partridge-Family

#107 "C'mon Get Happy" by The Partridge Family , The Partridge Family (1971—1974)

This hit-ready theme replaced "When We're Singin'" from the first season. Lovely, joyful and "free," like the free-wheelin' Republican hippies it was about.

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Chico-and-the-Man

#106 "Chico and the Man" by José Feliciano, Chico and the Man (1974—1978)

A rare Latin-themed opener by veteran Feliciano which, combined with the evocative imagery of the opening credits, gave the show a warm, harmless start.

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Jetsons-title-slate-sm

#105 "Theme from The Jetsons" by Hoyt Curtin, The Jetsons (1962—1963)

Similar to Curtin's jumpin' Flintstones opener, this one always felt superior to me for its stronger lyrical narrative and the inventive use of "Chopsticks" after "Jane—his wife!" Far out.

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Rockford-FIles

#104 "Theme from The Rockford Files" by Mike Post & Pete Carpenter, The Rockford Files (1974—1980)

As amiable and yet as textured as the reluctant hero it was about.

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SafariScreenSnapz001

#103 "Mister Ed" by Jay Livingston, Mister Ed (1961—1966)

This one's goofy, galloping gait is off to the races—it's the glue that holds the show together.

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Lost-in-Space

#102 "Theme from Lost in Space" by John Williams, Lost in Space (1966—1968)

An awesomely period-space composition that sounds like the lark the show itself was, crafted by one of the greatest movie and TV composers of all time. Note that it replaced, after most of the first season, Bernard Herrmann's "Theme from The Day the Earth Stood Still", and that the theme was reworked and made more upbeat by Williams for the show's ultimate season.

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Speed-Racer

#101 "Theme from Speed Racer" by Nobuyoshi Koshibe & Peter Fernandez, Speed Racer, (1967—1968)

This one is like the best party you ever went you, distilled into a song about a "demon on wheels."

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Parker

#100 "Theme from the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" by ?, from The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977—1979)

Love this eerie, suspense-building theme song, which always came to an end with a manly voice intoning the title of that particular episode.

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Little-House-on-the-Prairie

#99 "Theme from Little House on the Prairie" by David Rose, Little House on the Prairie (1974—1983)

Wholesome and a lovely interpretation of the expanse of America being settled in the 1800s. The kid tripping in the visual part of the intro is still priceless.

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TVStars3

#98 "The Munsters' Theme" by Jack Marshall, The Munsters (1964—1966)

Frenetic and '60s-friendly opening theme always reminded me of that far catchier Peter Gunn theme, and had just enough appropriate spook to it thanks to the lumbering bass.

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Barney-Miller-theme

#97 "Theme from Barney Miller" by Jack Elliott & Allyn Ferguson, Barney Miller (1975—1982)

Funky, loping intro with a lot of street character to match a show filled with lovable lunatics and the people they arrest, followed by a more standard, big-band trumpety body.

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Gal_sbtb_title

#96 "Theme from Saved by the Bell" by Scott Gale, Saved by the Bell (1989—1993)

A case of a theme that's better than its show, this rockin' number always reminded me of "Workin' for the Weekend" by Huey Lewis and the News.

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Knight-rider

#95 "Theme from Knight Rider" by Stu Phillips, Knight Rider (1982—1986)

Love the pulsing, key-pounding effect. Very techno.

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Scooby-Doo

#94 "Scooby-Doo, Where are You?" by Larry Marks & Paul Costello, Scooby-Doo, Where are You! (1969—1973)

Groovy song that could pass for a Monkees hit, with or without those "Scooby" outbursts throughout.

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Roseanne-barr-tv-show-and-series-credits

#93 "Theme from Roseanne" by Dan Foliart, Howard Pearl & W.G. Snuffy Walden, Roseanne (1988—1997)

This hilarious—which is hard for a non-lyical track to be—sax wail is the musical embodiment of Roseanne Barr's sly, gutsy humor.

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Spider-Man

#92 "Theme from Spider-Man" by Paul Francis Webster & Bob Harris, Spider-Man (1967—1970)

I still love this saccharine narrative about who "Spider-Man" is—it's just so hypnotic. (And for this animated series, did you ever notice the spider on his back looks more like a tick?)

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Six-Feet-Under
#91 "Six Feet Under Title Theme" by Thomas Newman, Six Feet Under (2001—2005)

This theme, like the show is precedes, is filled with unexpected twists and turns, yet its composer didn't forget a simple, easy-to-remember hook on which to hang his hat.

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Aames tb costume 1it70s

#90 "Eight is Enough" by Grant Goodeve, Eight is Enough (1979—1981)

I love this folk song masquerading as a theme—it's a huge improvement over the first two seasons' generic instrumental. And did you know it was sung by Grant Goodeve? He sounds like he's about to burst into righteous tears on this thing. But as cute as he was, Willie Aames showed more skin, so let's focus on him.

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Perry-Mason

#89 "Park Avenue Beat" by Fred Steiner, Perry Mason (1957—1966)

A totally swingin' theme song that feels like an open and shut case—oozes confidence and drama.

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Gilmore-GIrls

#88 "Where You Lead" by Carole King & Louise Goffin, Gilmore Girls (2000—2007)

Really pretty, homey little homily would rank higher for me, but I always thought it was kind of a self-rip of King's own "You've Got a Friend". Still, a quality tune for a quality show.

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Muppet-Show

#87 "The Muppet Show  Theme" by Jim Henson & Sam Pottle, The Muppet Show (1976—1981)

A fun, old-fashioned Broadway-type number sung in character by the zany Muppets, this one is a guaranteed good time every time.

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Hill-Street-Blues

#86 "Theme from Hill Street Blues" by Mike Post with Larry Carlton, Hill Street Blues (1981—1987)

The electronic touches make it a bit dated, but the great thing about this tune is how it seems to rise up slowly (like a weary cop facing another long day) and then ascend majestically, like a first responder at his or her finest.

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Miss-Kitty
#85 "Theme from Gunsmoke" by Rex Koury & Glenn Spencer, Gunsmoke (1955—1975)

One of TV's most familiar tunes thanks to its attachment to one of TV's longest series, it's a shots-fired-in-the-air winner.

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Designing-Women-Dixie-Carter-Delta-Burke

#84 "Georgia on My Mind" by Doc Severinsen/Ray Charles, Designing Women (1986—1993)

An inspired, jazzy take on the Ray Charles classic was a hat tip to the Southern belles/ball-busters of this middle-aged Golden Girls. For the second to last season, Ray Charles himself did the honors. If you want to hear a spectacular original theme song that I just couldn't fit, try the one for Filthy Rich—a failed series that also starred Dixie Carter and Delta Burke.

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Wanda-2

#83 "In Living Color" by Heavy D & Eddie F, In Living Color (1990—1991, 1994)

This (hysterical) show wasn't joking around when it came to knocking down a high-quality theme song, contributed by a Top 40 hip-hop star.

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Seinfeld

#82 "Theme from Seinfeld" by Jonathan Wolff, Seinfeld (1989—1998)

Bobby McFerrin-esque, but don't hold that against it. This theme, with its distinctive pops, instantly calls to mind a dozen of your favorite episodes. Who needs words? This is gold, baby.

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Larry_Hagman_Dallas_Intro_1978-500x381

#81 "Theme from Dallas" by Jerrold Immel, Dallas (1978—1991)

This zippy theme strikes me as a bit too urban for the upper-crust country crowd profiled in the series, but it definitely has real character to it, more so than themes for nighttime soaps that I just could not fit on this already monstrous list—Falcon Crest, Knot's Landing, The Colbys.

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The-Nanny

#80 "The Nanny Named Fran" by Liz Callaway (aka Ann Hampton Callaway), The Nanny (1993—1999)

Joyful, kitschy and unabashedly flashy, this spunky theme song heralded a winning series from the moment you heard it.

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That GIrl
#79 "Theme from That Girl" by Earle Hagen, That Girl (1966—1971)

Oddly, I hear a flash of The Flintstones in there, but for the most part, this theme has a devil-may-care quality that calls to mind being young and adventurous, like series star Marlo Thomas's "Ann Marie," a struggling actress in NYC. Sidebar about the show: Another reason to despise Trump is his insistence that he's The Donald when the only one I would think of in that way was played by Ted Bessell.

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Bob newhart show

#78 "Home to My Emily" by Lorenzo & Henrietta Music, The Bob Newhart Show (1972—1978)

Jazzy, big-band intro that always felt custom-made for the droll (visually) opening of this hysterically funny, classic-with-a-capital-C sitcom.

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Nell-Carter

#77 "Gimme a Break!" by Nell Carter, Gimme a Break! (1981—1987)

Love this Broadway-ready belter by series star Carter, who builds and builds in a sort of laid-back "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" redux.

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Law-order

#76 "Theme of Law & Order" by Mike Post, Law & Order (1990—2010)

This one is classic if only because it allegedly makes a large percentage of dogs howl when they hear it.

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Patty-Duke
#75 "Theme from The Patty Duke Show" by Sid Ramin & Robert Wells, The Patty Duke Show (1963—1966)

Tell me this show didn't cause Patty Duke's mental issues! Who could've made it out of this mind-screw of a dual role without them? But the theme song is just absolutely hysterical. How far, exactly, does one have to go in order to be, "Cousins! Identical cousins"? Yep—"all the way."

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#74 "Brand New Life" by Larry Weiss/Jonathan Wolff/Steve Wariner (three versions), Who's the Boss (1984—1992)

This theme is like curling up into a Sham-Wow on the couch with a bowl of pretzels it's so familiar and comfy, yet it also has an annoyingly preachy quality that at least makes you feel better about being a couch potato. It's like, it's okay to watch this show because it's about something. (It's not.)

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Growing-Pains

#73 "As Long as We Got Each Other" by B.J. Thomas (solo, and in duets with Jennifer Warnes & Dusty Springfield), Growing Pains (1985—1992)

Ever noticed how the opening looks like Cheers meets Desperate Housewives? An indulgently nerdy song for the nerdiest TV show ever, it nonetheless gets stuck in your brain as ferociously as fundamental Christianity did in Kirk Cameron's.

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StarTrek-opening-TOS

#72 "Theme from Star Trek" by Alexander Courage, Star Trek (1966—1969)

This theme's stunning use of an altered female voice singing (wordlessly) behind a hard-driving musical track is unique among theme songs. One for the geeks to cherish, and a million light-years ahead of the painful theme used for the later Enterprise installment of this undying franchise.

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Bewitched

#71 "Theme from Bewitched" by Howard Greenfield, Jack Keller & Warren Barker, Bewitched (1964—1972)

Light as air—and hey, the main character flies on a broom—this theme bounces from note to note, but is inarguably enhanced by "Samantha"'s lip-twitching sound effect.

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Family-TIes
#70 "Without Us" by Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams, Family Ties (1982—1989)

Such a pretty song—it's actually better suited to Mad About You, whose theme song always annoyed me. It sounds so much like a one-on-one-love song. Unforgettable, though, thanks to the creamy vocals; would've been a good single. 

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Ann-Margret-Margrock-Flintstones

#69 "Theme from The Flintstones" by Hoyt Curtin, The Flintstones (1962—1966)

Dig those crazy horns? This kinetic opening (which only started with season three; the original was lame) really gets you revved up (the old-fashioned way—foot on stone) to watch the charming, animated Honeymooners rip-off homage.

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Dukes

#68 "Good Ol' Boys" by Waylon Jennings, The Dukes of Hazzard (1979—1985)

Easy-breezy, undeniably catchy country tune sung by a legend, and it has just the right boys-will-be-boys lyrical content.

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Bonanza
#67 "Bonanza" by David Rose, Walter Scharf, Harry Sukman, Fred Steiner & William Lava, Bonanza (1959—1973)

Well, git along li'l dawgie! An instantly memorizable tune that mimics a cattle stampede but with a big ol' smile on its face. Yee-haw!

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Baretta_intro

#66 "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" by Sammy Davis Jr., Baretta (1975—1978)

Not too many theme songs qualify as art, but this one sure does, a funky blend of disco and soul that was every bit as cool as the Robert Blake used to be before he went nuts. That squeaky, rubber on rubber intro just kills me. What is that??? (Parts of this remind me of the later '80s pop hit "Ain't Nothin' Goin' on But the Rent".) The song only hit #101 on Billboard's Hot 100 as "Baretta's Theme".

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Diffrent-Strokes-Television-Show

#65 "Diff'rent Strokes" by Alan Thicke, Diff'rent Strokes (1976—1983)

Finger-snapping theme song takes on the show's racial set-up with the line: "Then along come two, they got nothin' but their jeans." Get it? Jeans/genes? I'm not sure if it's the theme itself that's memorable, or the show's ubiquity that has hammered it into my head.

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25000-Pyramid

#64 "Tuning Up" by Ken Aldin, $25,000 Pyramid & $100,000 Pyramid (1982—1988)

It's like a mariachi band, a casino and a cruise ship, all rolled into one. I hear this and I smell money. I also dread that my partner will be someone impatient like Nipsey Russell, Dick Cavett or that dreadful Jamie Farr. Please, give me Shelley Smith!

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SWAT

#63 "Theme from S.W.A.T." by Rhythm Heritage, S.W.A.T. (1975—1976)

This one is packed with all the intensity and intrigue you'd expect from being a real-life S.W.A.T. member. That is, if you'd expect a good portion of that action to be happening on the dance floor. Burn, baby, burn!

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Doris-Day

#62 "Que Sera Sera" by Doris Day, The Doris Day Show (1968—1973)

This newly recorded version of Day's classic made use of rugrat back-up singers and went down like warm milk. She's one of our greatest vocalists ever—what's not to love?

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Courtship-of-Eddies-Father

#61 "Best Friend" by Harry Nilsson, The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969—1972)

Jeez, should a theme song make you weep quietly every time you hear it? It's just that beginning bit about how your dad is your bestie—the rest of the song is oddly whimsical, sounding like good theme music for a mime at a kid's birthday party, and it also kinda sounds like they forgot to finish writing the lyrics.

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Jan-hammer-miami-vice-theme-mca-2

#60 "Miami Vice Theme" by Jan Hammer, Miami Vice (1984—1989)

A huge #1 hit—matching the show's success—this (at one time) up-to-the-second slice of electronica outclassed most of the TV theme songs on the tube in its era, sounding more like a big-budget movie theme.

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Theme-Whats-Happening-Rerun-Fred-Berry
#59 "Whats Happening!!" by Henry Mancini, What's Happening!! (1976—1979)

Loved the odd roller-rink organ sequence in this happy-go-lucky theme, which successfully sets up a show that has an urban setting but an effervescent outlook.

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#58 "Theme from Dynasty" by Bill Conti, Dynasty (1981—1991)

This exuberant, full-on composition peacocks just as the series did. The theme got stronger, more in-your-face as time went on.

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Mickey-Mouse-Club

#57 "The Mickey Mouse March" by Jimmie Dodd, Mickey Mouse Club (1955—1959)

What kid or former kid isn't familiar with "M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E"?

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Good_Times_Title_Screen

#56 "Good Times" by Jim Gilstrap & Blinky Williams, Good Times (1974—1979)

Who knew a simple theme song could have so much soul? This churchy-sounding, rip-roarin' theme benefits from the female gospel touches, which can still give you goosebumps nearly 40 years on.

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Howdy-doody

#55 "It's Howdy Doody Time" by Bob Smith & audience, Howdy Doody (1947—1960)

One of the most enduring themes from early TV, this simple number has no writer—it's just laid over "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay", an 1890s Vaudeville song.

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Linda-Lavin-Alice

#54 "There's a New Girl in Town" by Linda Lavin, Alice (1976—1985)

A probably very welcome opportunity for Lavin to over-vocalize, this theme's inventive lyrics and indomitable spirit are probably even more memorable than the pretty-darn-good series they adorned. Played this in my head whenever I moved.

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Sanford and Son Opening Redd Foxx Screen Shot

#53 "The Streetbeater" by Quincy Jones, Sanford & Son (1972—1977)

Quincy Jones crafted an ingenious instrumental for a TV show that takes place, unapologetically, in the ghet-TO. It conjures up lead character "Fred Sanford"'s ebullience and earthiness in a way that Roseanne's theme would later do.

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Batman

#52 "Batman Theme" by Neal Hefti, Batman (1966—1968)

What it lacks in lyrical creativity it more than makes up for in its iconic, swingin'-'60s sound. The horns taking the place of body blows are brilliance, every one of 'em.

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Will-Smith-Fresh-Prince

#51 "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" by The Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990—1996)

A hip-hop novelty song of epic proportions that was at least as entertaining as the TV show. Remember when Will Smith was cute and fun?

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Sarah-Jessica-Parker-Sex-and-the-City
#50 "Sex and the City Theme" by Douglas J. Cuomo & Tom Findlay, Sex and the City (1998—2004)

The series is all about women pampering themselves, self-medicating via shopping, getting ahead, lagging behind, falling in and out of love—and discussing it all over cosmos. And that's exactly what this snappy, iconic tune communicates whenever you hear it.

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Wonder-Woman

#49 "Theme from Wonder Woman" by ?, Wonder Woman (1975—1979)

Yes, this theme rides high on my list due to a personal obsession with the campy show, but how could any theme containing these lines not be deemed an undying classic: "In your satin tights/fighting for our rights"? (Not that she ever wore satin tights.)

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X
#48 "The X-Files" by Mark Snow, The X-FIles (1993—2002)

Only The Twilight Zone did creepy better than this inspired theme. Any time something weird happens, you're either gonna whistle this one or that one to communicate, wordlessly, just how inexplicable you think it is.

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Jackie-Gleason

#47 "You're My Greatest Love" by The Ray Bloch Orchestra, The Honeymooners (1955—1956)

The dramatic romance of this theme is at odds with the surface tension and at times even anger percolating amidst the marrieds it's about, but it sure packs a punch even if "Ralph Kramden" never actually did.

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Murder-She-Wrote

#46 "Theme from Murder, She Wrote" by John Addison, Murder, She Wrote (1984—1996)

This one holds a special place in my heart; I think I've seen every episode, even though many of them are so ridiculously cookie-cutter ("Ah, but you made a huge mistake...you said [this] and only the killer would know [this].") and quite a few feature Angela Lansbury phoning in her performance because "Jessica Fletcher" was such an easy role for her. The song screams "fussy ol' lady who won't take no for an answer." It has a bit of an Arsenic and Old Lace feel.

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I-love-lucy-title_thumb

#45 "Theme Song from I Love Lucy" by ?, I Love Lucy (1951—1957)

A delightful earworm and just right for the show, this theme song perfectly echoes "Ricky Ricardo"'s big-band day job. Did you know the song had lyrics? It's not as high on my list as the show itself would be on a list of all TV shows (#1!), but it's still pretty frickin' great.

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Soul-Train
#44 "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" by MFSB with The Three Degrees, Soul Train (1973—1975)

Soul Train had its pick of happenin' songs and wasn't shy about using themes, going with 10 or more over the years. But this #1 hit was the one most associated with the venerable dance show, and rightly so.

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Twin-Peaks

#43 "Falling (Twin Peaks Theme)" by Angelo Badalamenti, Twin Peaks (1990—1991)

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David-Naughton-Makin-It

#42 "Makin' It" by David Naughton, Makin' It (1979—1979)

David Naughton's disco hit had a great pedigree (from the folks who brought you Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive") but was attached to a crappy show; the song went to #5 on Billboard's Hot 100, but only after the short-lived show had come and gone!

A total work of art as befits one of TV's most artful—and inscrutable—shows.

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Abc_dick_clark_celebs_13_nt_120418_ssh

#41 "Bandstand Boogie" by Charles Albertine/Larry Elgart/Joe Porter/Barry Manilow, American Bandstand (1957—1968; 1974—1989)

This theme started out as a sock-hopper's wet dream and slid into a discofied staple of every teenager's week.

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Maude-Opening-TitleCard

#40 "And Then There's Maude" by Donny Hathaway, Maude (1972—1978)

The best thing about this spirited song has to be its lyrical whimsy. I mean, "Joan of Arc, with the Lord to guide her, she was a sister who really cooked"? Really captured the lead character's spunk and wit.

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Alfred-Hitchock

#39 "Funeral March of a Marionette" by Stanley Wilson, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955—1965)

Short and sweet, the meandering quality of the song makes you think of the host waddling into place for his bone-dry introduction.

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GreenAcres

#38 "Theme from Green Acres" by Eddie Albert & Eva Gabor, Green Acres (1965—1971)

Ultra-catchy and guaranteed to put you in a good mood, this theme song's real score comes in the form of the series stars actually singing it. A ball.

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Bosom-Buddies

#37 "My Life" by ?, Bosom Buddies (1980—1982)

Though Bosom Buddies is a personal fave of mine, I wouldn't rank it so high on this list if its theme song weren't gold. And, I mean, it's an original Billy Joel song! (Although not performed by Joel.) You can't go wrong with this, and it definitely matches the opening scenes, showing stars Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari's inspired buffoonery. (The Stephanie Mills song "Shake Me Loose" was used in syndication—still cute, but far inferior.)

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Charlies-Angels-Farrah-Fawcett

#36 "Theme from Charlie's Angels" by Jack Elliott & Allyn Ferguson, Charlie's Angels (1976—1981)

It's hard, but not impossible, to separate the theme song from John Forsythe's classic voice-over. But either way, this languorous, glamorous instrumental captured the show's discofied style and potential for danger.

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Odd-Couple

#35 "Theme from The Odd Couple" by Neal Hefti, The Odd Couple (1970—1975)

There's something about the proportions of the notes in this one that neatly calls to mind the give-and-take element central to this way-above-average buddy comedy.

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Threes-Company

#34 "Three's Company, Too" by Ray Charles (not that one) & Julia Rinker, Three's Company (1977—1984)

This song sounds wholesome yet has a slimy undertone thanks to the glib delivery. It's inviting and insinuating at once, and the lyric "where the kisses are hers 'n' hers 'n' his" is to die for.

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Taxi10
#33 "Angela" by Bob James, Taxi (1978—1983)

The plaintive woodwind on this will tear your heart out; has zero of the show's hilarity, but definitely sketches out a scene of a lonely driver in a cab late at night trying to make ends meet.

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Beverly-Hillbillies-Irene-Ryan

#32 "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" by Jerry Scoggins with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962—1971)

To understand how great this theme is, think about the fact that it's played on a banjo and explains the show's premise in full—and yet you never get tired of hearing it. Hilarious cornpone.

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Living_first

#31 "It's a Living" by ?, It's a Living (1980—1982, 1985—1989)

Just an outta-the-ballpark theme song with a full-throated delivery that calls to mind '20s flappers hoofing it on the Great White Way. Not sure who sang it, though it was composed by Leslie Bricusse.

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Andy-Griffith

#30 "The Fishin' Hole" by Earle Hagen & Herbert W. Spencer, The Andy Griffith Show (1960—1968)

You know how to whistle, don't you? This homespun theme is burned into the brains of everyone who's ever watched television for more than 10 minutes.

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Mr-Rogers

#29 "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" by Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (1968—2001)

This guy was as genuine as a sunny day, and his sing-song invite to be his neighbor will go down in history for something almost wholly absent from TV day—its utter lack of irony.

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Pegs_lauren_patty_slash

#28 "Square Pegs" by The Waitresses, Square Pegs (1982—1983)

An aggressively hip show like this deserved an aggressively hip theme, which it got in the form of the closing-credits number by New Wavers The Waitresses. Skip the opening-credits theme, also performed by The Waitresses, which is a completely generic take on "Chopsticks".

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#27 "Happy Days Theme" by Jimmy Haas, Happy Days (1975—1984)

Perfectly period, this knee-slapper wouldn't be out of place in a production of Grease. It was good enough to replace the first season's theme, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets.

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MASH

#26 "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)" by Johnny Mandel M*A*S*H (1972—1983)

Even though the show was frequently a riot, there was always the undercurrent of war and tragedy—and that's what this classic theme picks up on and hands back to us, a mournful but determined quality that makes it unforgettable.

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Dick-Van-Dyke
#25 "Theme from The Dick Van Dyke Show" by Earle Hagen, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961—1966)

Even without ever having heard this tune before, I bet a person could visualize Dick Van Dyke—not just any guy, but Dick Van Dyke—tripping over a chair while hearing this zingy, still-modern musical signature.

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Hawaii-Five-O

#24 "Theme from Hawaii Five-O" by Morton Stevens, Hawaii Five-O (1968—1980)

This song is just a hell of a lot of fun, daring you to hop on a board and ride that tsunami wave. Loved how Jack Lord looked whipping around to face the camera in time with the music.

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Mission-Impossible
#23 "Theme from Mission: Impossible" by Lalo Schifrin, Mission: Impossible (1966—1973)

The height of cool, this exciting, totally danceable number compares favorably to most James Bond songs, doesn't it? 

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Barbara-Eden
#22 "Jeannie" by Richard Wess, Hugo Montenegro, Nelson Riddle, Van Alexander & Sonny Burke, I Dream of Jeannie (1965—1970)

You'd think this show would have some kind of Arabian Nights pastiche as its theme, but in spite of that missed opportunity, it doesn't get much better than this spirited go-go music.

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Rawhide

#21 "Rawhide" by Frankie Laine, Rawhide (1959—1966)

I've never seen an episode, and yet I know this song almost by heart. It really gets those doggies rollin'.

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Love-boat-nithyananda-cruise

#20 "Love Boat Theme" by Jack Jones, The Love Boat (1977—1986)

The perfect marriage of song and show—you can just picture a frayed-around-the-edges lounge singer crooning this on a darkened ship's stage before retiring to his cabin with a drunken lady half his age whose dad used to play his records for her.

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Friends-opening-scene.jpg

#19 "I'll Be There for You" by The Rembrandts, Friends (1994—2004)

One of the biggest pop hits to serve as a theme song (#17 in spite of no physical single for sale for weeks), and for a show that was the phenomenon of the '90s. Amazingly snappy and iconic from the first CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP.

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#18 "Making Our Dreams Come True" by Cyndi Grecco, Laverne & Shirley (1976—1983)

Irrepressibly optimistic song embodies the can-do "Shirley Feeney" attitude as well as the derring-do of "Laverne De Fazio". It doesn't recall the '50s/'60s when the show was set, but instead has a more timeless, razzle-dazzle quality and plenty of heart.

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Ginger_7

#17 "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle" by The Wellingtons (1964)/The Eligibles (1965—1966), Gilligan's Island (1964—1966)

A classic story-telling song that cleverly apes tropical kitsch in its cadence, it's most memorable to me for switching, a season in, a key line from "and the rest" to "the Professor and Mary Ann."

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Tumblr_lqzf86NcH51qhansmo1_400
#16 "This Is It" by Mel Blanc, The Bugs Bunny Show (1960—2000)

Every little gay boy—I mean, every aspiring performer—heard this and knew that: (1) good cartoons were about to come on, and (2) everything, even the introduction of an animated rabbit, warrants a properly extravagant lead-in.

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Angie-Dickinson
#15 "Theme from Police Woman" by ?, Police Woman (1974—1978)

Was there ever a sexier, more beautiful woman on TV than Angie Dickinson? This theme song does it for me and more importantly did it for Angie, setting her curves to music unforgettably.

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All-in-the-Family

#14 "Those Were the Days" by Carroll O'Connor & Jean Stapleton, All in the Family (1971—1979)

Incredibly inventive use of the lead actors singing in character. It's not pretty to listen to, but it's funny every time hearing "Edith" shrieking her part in this nostaglic/distressingly reactionary tune.

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TGAH_title

#13 "Theme from Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)" by Joey Scarbury, The Greatest American Hero (1981—1983)

This one was a bona fide #2 pop hit—and deservedly so—even if turned out that this show's kryponite was, well, scrutiny.

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Addams-Family

#12 "Theme from The Addams Family" by Vic Mizzy, The Addams Family (1964—1966)

How can you not join in and snap along with this inspired kookiness?

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One-Day-at-a-Time

#11 "This Is It" by Polly Cutter, One Day at a Time (1975—1984)

Rollickin' good time, this one—"so up on your feet!" always had me doing so. Well, in my head. I was usually sitting cross-legged on the floor whenever this show was anywhere close to coming on.

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Angie860627

#10 "Different Worlds" by Maureen McGovern, Angie (1979—1980)

Don't get me wrong—I adored Angie, a show I'd probably find painful/painfully nostalgic today, and I still have a shrine to the late Debralee Scott. But in no way did that cute-enough sitcom deserve this soaring slice of post-disco fabulousness by the great vocalist Maureen McGovern. She took it to #18 on Billboard's Hot 100.

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Facts-of-Life

#9 "The Facts of Life" by Gloria Loring, The Facts of Life (1979—1988)

One of TV's longest-running comedies was blessed (hat tip to Lisa Whelchel) with this toe-tappin' theme song, which hammered home the coming-of-age theme. Could sing the whole thing any time you ask me to. The Loring vocal is more desirable than the original one with a wobbly Charlotte Rae.

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Brady-Bunch-Grid

#8 "Theme from The Brady Bunch" by The Peppermint Trolley Company (1969)/Paul Parish, John Beland & Lois Fletcher (1970—1974), The Brady Bunch (1969—1974)

God, how much more saccharine can you get? And yet, that was what the show was—pure cornball. The show and the song are interchangably mesmerizing. And don't even get me started on De Vol's hypnotic incidental music.

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Cheers
#7 "(Theme from Cheers) Where Everybody Knows Your Name" by Gary Portnoy, Cheers (1982—1993)

It's damn hard to do "sweet" without doing "obnoxious," but this song does it in spades, spiking the proceedings with a yearning feeling of nostalgia, as if the titular bar existed in the past instead of an idealized, (then-) present-day Boston. Who else freaked out when they first heard the full version about your husband wanting to be a girl???

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Jeffersons
#6 "Movin' On Up" by Ja'net Dubois, The Jeffersons (1975—1985)

What a flawless theme song! Explicitly describes the burning-in-the-belly experienced by "George Jefferson" that led to his ascension to an Uptown life and does so with the kind of show-offy flourish he would do himself if he could sing.

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Peter-Gunn

#5 "The Peter Gunn Theme" by Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn (1959—1961)

It was ground-breaking at the time for a series to open with modern jazz—and it's still a strikingly unusual song, one that has long outlived the pop cultural impact of the series it ushered in.

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Mary-Tyler-Moore

#4 "Love Is All Around" by Sonny Curtis, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970—1977)

Just unbelievably intimate, this song picks up on the series lead character's need for approval—and ours—and offers not only approval but an assurance that everything will work out for the best.

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Angelyne

#3 "Moonlighting" by Al Jarreau, Moonlighting (1985—1989)

A gorgeous, silky vocal by Al Jarreau helped this song to #23 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. It really set the tone for the show's romantic undercurrent, ignoring its snappy humor and the offbeat situations it often featured, which is as it should be—Moonlighting was all about "Dave and Maddie."

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#2 "Thank You for Being a Friend" by Cynthia Fee, Golden Girls (1985—1992)

True, it's probably a little too schmaltzy, but aren't your feelings of affection for this classic show also probably a little too gooey for your own comfort? The show could be ribald and it could be over-the-top touching, and the theme song focused on the latter. But damned if it doesn't nail it.

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Twilight-Zone

#1 "Dramatic Twilight" by Gregor F. Narholz, Twilight Zone (1959—1964)

The ultimate theme song, nobody doesn't recognize this tongue-in-cheek creepy instrumental. It brings to mind dozens of classic episodes, as well as host Rod Serling's disturbingly soothing tones. All those crazy conspiracy theories we deal with today can trace their roots to the deeply unsettling hidden messages entering our brains from this track.

   

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