Supreme Themes: The 60 Greatest Title Songs of All Time
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For years TV Guide Magazine has told you what's worth watching, but what about what's worth hearing — over and over again? In the best TV theme songs, lyrics can summarize the backstory or comment on characters, while instrumentals can sell the mood or set the scene. Just try reading this list of shows without getting a few of their songs stuck in your head. (Additional reporting by Kevin Schlittenhardt)
Music to your ears! Listen to our playlist right here:
1. Cheers: Could 11 seasons of bar-stool bantering be represented by more perfect lyrics? Singer-songwriter Gary Portnoy's bonhomie-filled track has become so iconic, it has even been featured in other shows on this list, including Ally McBeal and Friends.
2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show: In our October 2010 issue, readers voted this opening the No. 3 credits sequence of all time—for good reason. The optimistic lyrics to "Love Is All Around" (a song later covered by Sammy Davis Jr. and Joan Jett) perfectly suit the cheery protagonist, TV news producer Mary Richards.
3. Hawaii Five-0: The original series' brassy instrumental, composed by CBS's then—director of music, Morton Stevens, became a huge surf-guitar hit for the Ventures in 1969 and is still popular among marching bands, especially at (where else?) the University of Hawaii. CBS's reboot features a rerecorded version.
4. M*A*S*H: The beautifully forlorn "Suicide Is Painless," our only Top 10 track not written for its show, originally appeared (with lyrics) during the credits of the 1970 film on which the series was based and was later reprised for the movie's Last Supper scene.
5. Friends: The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There for You" may have announced one of America's longest-running sitcoms, but it was clearly influenced by a British sensation—the Beatles' "I Feel Fine." The single topped the Hot 100 for eight straight weeks in 1995.
6. The Beverly Hillbillies: Over banjo strumming by bluegrass legends Flatt and Scruggs, the lyrics tell the story of a man named Jed who discovers "Texas tea" and relocates his family, effectively setting up the sitcom's premise before the credits roll.
7. Route 66: Nelson Riddle hit a high note in music history, writing one of the first TV theme songs to make Billboard's Top 30. Charting just after Dragnet and Mr. Lucky did, the brash orchestral piece was the ideal soundtrack for the Corvette road trip that jazzed up the '60s.
8. The Jeffersons: Who can listen to "Movin' On Up" without thinking of George Jefferson's slick dance moves? The gospel song, which celebrates the upward mobility of the African-American dry-cleaner mogul and his family, was even referenced in a 2001 Nelly video, which featured a cameo by star Sherman Hemsley.
9. Sesame Street: Need to know how to get to Sesame Street? Just ask anyone who was a preschooler in the past 44 years. It's been tuned up over time, but the kids' sing-along hasn't changed much since the show's 1969 debut.
10. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: It may be hard to remember Will Smith as anything but a mega movie star, but it's even harder to forget him dribbling through the '90s in this graffiti-filled opening sequence. Then known as one half of hip-hop's DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Smith wrote his rap; the track was composed by Quincy Jones.