Best TV Theme Songs of the 80s
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
Bruno shares his favorite television theme songs from the 1980s. These standalone songs are a spark of nostalgia.
TV theme songs are the quintessential masterpieces of music composition that set the stage for our favorite sitcoms and television shows of all time. Is the theme song memorable because of the show or does the song hold a special place in our hearts because it encapsulates the feeling of the show perfectly? Either way, TV theme songs are a favorite of mine and spark the sweet sense of nostalgia in my brain whenever I hear one- whether or not I go on to watch the show. Sometimes, I'll just listen to a plethora of theme songs on Spotify, because I'm weird like that.
We're not including original scores, instead, we're going to look at television theme songs with lyrics that are standalone songs...
With the launch of our new podcast, Gotta Watch, I wanted to kick off a new blog series where I pull some of my favorite theme songs of all time. Let's kick off with the golden age of sitcoms, the 1980s. Sitcoms started to thrive in the 80s and with that came a plethora of memorable theme songs that tug on the heartstrings of nostalgia. For that reason, We're not including original scores, instead, we're going to look at television theme songs with lyrics that are standalone songs- not just a song made for the show with the title of the song sung over and over. Let's get to it!
Suicide is Painless by Johnny Mandel
A hauntingly beautiful song choice for a series about a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital set in the Korean War. While M*A*S*H was billed as a comedy-drama, the song's lyrics were, fortunately, cut instead of an instrumental version that was a tad less morbid. M*A*S*H remains one of the highest-rated shows in U.S. television history with its final episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", was the most-watched television broadcast in American history from 1983 until 2010. According to Wikipedia, it remains both the most-watched finale of any television series and the most-watched episode.
The Wonder Years
With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker
With a reboot on the way, The Wonder Years had the perfect mix of opening sequences containing "home movies" of the Arnold family enjoying a typical suburban summer day with baseball, BBQ, and friends. The song evokes feelings of the late 60s and early 70s with a raspy Joe Cocker leading the song and soulful backup singers echoing the song's main motif, "have a little help from my friends". Which, ultimately, the Wonder Years was a show to reminisce on the years of one's youth- to look back in wonder.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Gary Portnoy
Arguably the most recognizable theme song of all time and one of my personal favorites. I used to drop whatever I was doing to come to stand in front of the television when Cheers came on just to listen to the theme song. I must've been 2 or 3 years old, but I knew a banger when I heard one. It pretty much cemented my love of theme songs from that day forward. A bar where everyone knows your name is ultimately what all social drinkers want. Deep down, I feel that we all want a home away from home.
The Greatest American Hero
Believe It or Not by Joey Scarbury
I'll be honest, I've never seen The Greatest American Hero other than parodies from Family Guy, and of course, who could forget George Costanza's Answering Machine from Seinfeld that used this song as the foundation for his parody, "Believe It or Not, George Isn't At Home". I'm not going to go too deep into this one but it's quite the memorable theme song.
Without Us by Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams
An interesting family sitcom that reflected the cultural and political shift from liberalism to conservatism in the 80s was perfectly portrayed by Michael J. Fox as young Republican Alex P. Keaton- a stark difference from his ex-hippie parents. The soft singing of Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams delivers a dynamic performance that instantly gives you the feels to fit the stage of this beloved 80s family sitcom. The painting style intro was even parodied on an episode intro for Wandavision.
As Long As We Got Each Other by B.J. Thomas
Family Ties may have had Michael J. Fox but who could deny the bravado of Alan Thicke, the swagger of Kirk Cameron as Mike Seaver, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio. That's right! Growing Pains was filled with budding stars including a young Matthew Perry as daughter Carol's boyfriend. We won't ruin that heartbreaking story arc, but let's just say- the 80s had a very special way of dealing with familial and cultural issues. And yes, the other half of the WandaVision intro parody is that of Growing Pains.
The Golden Girls
Thank You For Being A Friend by Andrew Gold
Ah, the Golden Girls. Picture it: Four sassy senior ladies navigating life as single older women in Miami is sure to bring the laughs. "Thank You For Being A Friend" is the quaintest of companions for such a funny and nostalgic show. While the TV show theme had female vocals, the original song is by Andrew Gold. Either way, listening to this song will spark waves of nostalgia for old friends, fun times, and the feeling of family.
Married With Children
Love And Marriage by Frank Sinatra
While most sitcoms of the 80s focused on upper-middle-class families, Married With Children flipped the script of the perfect family unit to a barely functional working-class family- The Bundy's. With Ed O'Neill as the titular misanthropic head of the family, he yearns for the days when he was a respected high school football star instead of the life he lives now as an unfulfilled women's shoe salesman supporting a family that mocks him. It might sound bad on paper, but it's funny on screen. The circus-like bop to Frank Sinatra's song demonstrates the sarcastic tone of the show as it's paired with shots of a less than enthused family and cast of characters.
Honorable Mention: Full House
Everywhere You Look by Jesse Frederick
Although Full House started in the late 80s, we all know it reached legendary status once little Michelle, played by Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen, started running around and coined the phrase, "You Got It, Dude!". The Full House theme song is in this weird limbo where it doesn't necessarily exist as its own song, but doesn't use the cliche of show title in the lyrics- I'm looking at you- 21 Jump Street (great theme song, but doesn't fit our criteria).
Honorable Mention: Family Matters
As Days Go By by Jesse Frederick
I couldn't mention the Full House theme song without mentioning its Black American counterpart- Family Matters, created by the same composer, Jesse Frederick. Of course, right? They sound quite similar and soulful singing is featured in both theme songs, did we even realize this as kids?! Again, I had to mention this even it barely makes the cut, seeing as the series first aired in 1989, because it deserves the honorary mention.
This blog series will continue with TV theme songs from the 90s along with other television & movie themed content on the way!