Recently, I spent a couple hours listening to TV theme songs (which I recommend, by the way) and realized that TV theme songs fall into two categories: Good music used as a theme song, and classic theme songs written for the shows. As an old school sitcom nerd, I had to tackle the classics. Later today Joshua, a slightly higher-brow TV nerd, will be posting about solid songs used on even more solid shows. Until then, revel in the sometimes cheesey, sometimes heartfelt, usually-a-smattering-of-both glory that is the traditional TV theme song. And leave your favorites in the comments!
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Will Smith uses his early 90s, wholesome rap chops to layout the entire, complicated back story of Fresh Prnce of Bel Air. In two head-bopping, sure-to-be-stuck-in-your-head, theme-song-listening-minutes, Smith preps the viewer so they arrive at the episode fully debriefed on Will’s hometown, journey, and newly minted status as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This is probably the best TV theme song ever, if only because it does everything a theme song needs to do, and does so with good music, sharp lyrics, and a keen eye for detail. He’s been busy putting out blockbuster movies and tiny blockbuster children for the past several years, but lets take a minute to remember the awesomeness of Will Smith the rapper. Parent Just Don’t Understand? Summertime? All those movie themed Top 40 hits he put out when my generation was wading through middle school? He was awesome. If you need a non-Men In Black dose of Will Smith in your life, check out this video of him from a few weeks ago, performing the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song.
The theme song to Maude is basically Women’s Studies 101 summed up with a bouncy musical backdrop. The lyrics paint Maude as part of a larger feminist tradition, a compatriot of bra-burners (they reference the first one) and historical icons (they reference…a lot. That Family Guy joke is pretty accurate). The song was spot on: Maude became a sitcom feminist icon. She was political, opinionated, she did unheard of things on television like have an abortion and handle her husband’s mental health issues and consequent suicide attempt. She was brawny, tough as nails, and portrayed by the ever delightful Bea Arthur. Maude was also part of a suite of game-changing sitcoms by Norman Lear—it was a spin-off from All In the Family, as was the Jeffersons (and Gloria, and 704 Hauser, and Archie’s Place, but I wouldn’t really call those game-changing). And Good Times was a spin-off of Maude—okay, Norman Lear trivia lesson over. Go forth and win your 70s sitcom trivia league tonight. (If you’re actually in one of those, you KNOW you want me on that team. firstname.lastname@example.org. This is not a drill)
Boy Meets World
I always thought of Boy Meets World as a modern Wonder Years, and not just because each show starred a Savage brother. They were both smart, earnest shows about being a kid, complete with relatable sensitive everyman stars (The Savage brothers), heartthrob lady loves (Winnie, Topanga), and doofy older brothers (Wayne, Eric). And they spanned so many seasons that we actually watched these kids grow up on camera—a fact reflected in the range of theme songs above (click the image for a video of all the theme songs), which starts with a middle school era Corey surrounded by cartoons and baseballs, and ends with a college-aged Corey jostling and joking with friends, his gorgeous girlfriend laughing on his lap. The version that actually has lyrics (“When this boy meets worrrrrld…”) is a solid theme song: Brief, to the point, catchy, and clearly designed for it’s target audience— 11 and 12 year old girls who wanted to listen to something soft rocky and guitar based as they ogled Rider Strong.
Did you ever feel like 90s family sitcom theme songs sounded…the same? Like their own funny genre of music, several TGIF staples started with songs sung by a throaty singer, featuring big sweeping instrumental moments, wholesome nonsensical lyrics, and a distinctly 90s lite-rock flavor. There’s a reason for that: They were by the same opening credits songwriting power team, Jesse Frederick/Bennett Salvay. Like the Lennon/McCartney of 90s family fare, they penned the opening tracks for Full House, Step by Step, and Family Matters. Of the three, Full House best exemplifies this style, if only for the opening lyrics where Frederick/Salvay wax poetic on the wonders of predictability, and mourn the loss of paperboys and milkmen. It’s a weird 50s-wholesome, nostalgic moment for a show geared towards kids and preteens
The Golden Girls
There are a lot of cheesy songs about the joys of friendship, which I won’t list here because we all exhausted them at youth group bonfires and in middle school choirs. I think the theme song of the Golden Girls is much better than all those songs (I’m looking at you James Taylor. This whole blurb is about you, buddy. There, I said it.). This song is a cheerful, straightforward ode to friendship. The whole message is “Hey! Thanks for being my friend! I think you’re a good person! I’ll show up to your party! I’ll bring a big gift! Yay.” It doesn’t get much better than that. Keep it simple, friendship songwriters.