Great TV Theme Songs, Part 1

In light of the recent death of beloved actor James Garner, I have been reminiscing about my favorite…TV theme music.

Really. It’s not the effect of his death I would have expected. He was an actor, and when an actor dies we normally talk about which of his movies we loved (The Great Escape) and hated (The Notebook, there, I said it, though he was the best part of that crapfest).

James Garner, for those who didn’t grow up with me, was in a scrappy little show in the 1970s called The Rockford Files.

Don't mess with Jim Rockford. From fansshare.com

Don’t mess with Jim Rockford.
Photo from fansshare.com

He played Jim Rockford, a smooth-talking private eye who drove a giant car, had a really nice…answering machine…and loved the ladies. And this show had one of the GREATEST TV theme songs of all time.

I mean, I’m part of the generation that grew up with TV as a babysitter, and make no mistake about it–these shows provided much of the soundtrack of my youth. They’re often more readily retrieved from the inner recesses of my brain than, say, the Preamble to the Constitution. Is that unfortunate? Maybe. But if the most lasting side effect is that I suffer from an abundance of useless information…meh. There are worse things.

On second thought…I can access the Preamble easily enough. It was burned into my brain thanks to the efforts of Schoolhouse Rock!. Saturday morning cartoons weren’t complete without at least one SHR short coming across my TV screen. They were catchy. The songs were peppy. And I learned stuff from them; SHR also taught me, in no particular order, how to unpack my adjectives, how bills becomes laws, and how to determine multiples of 3, because it’s a magic number. Here’s the Preamble, which I used to have to sing to remember; at least now I can recite it in my normal speaking voice.

One of the many things I’ve always loved about the Rockford theme is that it’s purely instrumental. There’s nothing wrong with TV theme songs that tell a story (i.e., The Brady Bunch theme), but to be able to hook the viewer in without chirpy and/or heartwarming narrative? It’s a talent. In more modern TV themes, think of the unforgettable music from Law & Order.

Infectious, right? You’re going to walk around doing that “Boom-boom, doot-do-do-do-DOOOO” thing for the next hour, at least. All day, more likely. Because that’s how music hooks work. They anchor themselves in your head and fuse themselves into your mental DNA like controlled nuclear strikes that irrevocably litter your brain with pop culture references.

There are a few other instrumental theme  pieces besides Rockford that have been bound unto me from my adolescence and are part of my permanent mental loop. One is the bass-heavy, groove-funk theme from the cop sitcom Barney Miller.

Cop shows aren’t funny? Watch Barney Miller‘s legendary hash brownie episode and get back to me.

But if we’re talking about instrumental TV themes that infiltrated the core of my consciousness–and indeed, the public consciousness at large–then no conversation is complete without a celebration of the incredible theme from (non-sitcom) cop show Hawaii Five-0. Performed by The Ventures, this instrumental theme helped define surf-rock and set a new standard of TV-based awesome.

It wasn’t unusual for me to think that Hawaii Five-0‘s theme song was the best part of the show; the show itself could be a little formulaic, but I could always dance to the song.

Added TV show bonus? Jack Lord had the best hair.

Slick. Photo from ctva.biz

Slick.
Photo from ctva.biz

Looking back, I’ve realized…there was a lot of fun music bouncing around the airwaves when I was a wee paisley. I’m just getting started with this; there are family-based themes and women-show-oriented themes and weepy themes…and on and on. These shows worked their way into the fabric of my life, and I’m glad to take a sun-dappled, gauzy, nostalgic look at them. If you were (or are) a TV kid, then the theme music you’ve encountered along the way has informed you too. Don’t disregard; embrace! And tell me…

What’s your favorite theme music?

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15 responses to Great TV Theme Songs, Part 1

  1. jp

    That Rockford song is SUCH a time capsule of 1970’s music. Synthesizer mayhem!
    And mad baseline on the Barney Miller, yo.
    For me, this is the most perfect and compelling tv introduction: a seamless blend of music, image, and foreshadowing.

    Like

  2. Glenn Peterson

    Great selections “BP”……….Among my fave TV themes (past and present) are Dr. Who, Game of Thrones, Hill Street Blues, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mad Men, the Twilight Zone………so many classic themes, so little time. But how about this!

    Like

  3. One of my favorites was the Simon & Simon theme. Their “We’ll be right back” messages were hilarious. Examples:

    Jameson Parker: “Simon & Simon will be right back after these messages.”
    Gerald McRaney: “Where we goin’?”

    Jameson Parker: “Simon & Simon will be right back after these messages.”
    Gerald McRaney: (exasperated tone) “They KNOW that!”

    Like

    • beyondpaisley – Author

      John…

      I am speechless. This is one of the greatest things…but what a…I think something in my head popped just a little…WOW. WOW! Wonderful. Yes.

      Like

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