I miss the old great TV theme songs. I loved the old great TV theme songs. I used to even have books and vinyl LPs of TV theme songs when I was a kid. Nowadays, in the crunch to fit in advertisements and hold viewer attention, most shows just cut straight to the action with little more than a brief musical motif. Remember the days when just about every show (for better or for worse) had an actual song to start the show? I am in my early thirties. My generation has a few shows whose theme songs we can still recite line by line (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, ABC’s TGIF lineup). But those themes do not come close to what television viewers got back in the 1970s. I was not even born when most of these shows debuted but I remember catching numerous reruns after school and on the weekends before the cable boom expanded viewing options. Some of the biggest names in entertainment lent their skills and expertise to set the tone of the programs their themes were attached to. It was difficult to put this list together, as some great themes had to be cut (M*A*S*H and All in the Family to name a couple). To narrow the list I have only included shows which had their first air date in the 1970s, so all apologies to the likes of Hawaii Five-O and Mission: Impossible:
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
Theme Song: “Love Is All Around”
Written and Performed By: Sonny Curtis
An often covered theme song from one of the most beloved TV series of all time. No one can hear this song without thinking about Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air in the middle of a Minneapolis intersection.
Sanford and Son (1972-1977)
Theme Song: “Sanford and Son Theme (The Streetbeater)”
Written By: Quincy Jones
Can you imagine another song fitting a TV show so beautifully? Quincy Jones makes us feel like we are working at the junkyard alongside Fred and Lamont Sanford with this funky theme. The theme is referenced on numerous TV shows, including The Simpsons and Scrubs. Check out Jones’ 20th Century Masters best-of collection for the full length track.
The Rockford Files (1974-1980)
Theme Song: “The Rockford Files Theme”
Written By: Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
Mike Post is seen by some as the king of TV themes, having composed title songs for such shows as Miami Vice, Law & Order, and The A-Team. This instrumental theme for the James Garner private investigator show was a radio hit and earned a Grammy win for Post.
Barney Miller (1975-1982)
Theme Song: “Barney Miller”
Written By: Jack Elliot and Allyn Ferguson
One of the best ensemble TV shows of its time, Barney Miller also had a great opening theme, starting off with a solitary bass line leading off into a jazzy tune carried by a sharp guitar solo. The show is on DVD now so go catch up on what you have been missing all this time.
Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979)
Theme Song: “Welcome Back”
Written and Performed By: John Sebastian
This catchy theme by The Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian is made for friends (or Sweathogs), featuring call and response lyrics and a feel good vibe. Bolstered by the show’s success (it made John Travolta a star), the song became a number one hit in 1976.
Theme Song: “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow”
Written By: Dave Grusin and M. Ames
Performed by: Sammy Davis, Jr.
Originally just an instrumental track when Baretta first aired, “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow” reached TV theme song glory with the addition of Sammy Davis, Jr.’s vocal talents. “Sparrow” was a perfect set piece for this fairly short-lived (four seasons) police drama about a detective portrayed by Robert Blake. In light of Blake’s severe legal problems (acquitted of murder but convicted in a civil trial of being liable for the wrongful death of his wife), the song’s lyrics “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” carry just a wee bit of irony.
The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
Theme Song: “Movin’ On Up”
Written By: Ja’net Dubois and Jeff Barry
Performed By: Ja’net Dubois
A literal description of the basic premise of the show, “Movin’ On Up” speaks about George and Louise Jefferson becoming upwardly mobile and moving into a ‘dee-luxe apartment in the sky”, complete with rousing vocals and a backing choir. This spin-off of All in the Family featured the antics of George Jefferson and his wife (affectionately known as Weezy), his housekeeper Florence and neighbors Tom and Helen Willis.
Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983)
Theme Song: “Making Our Dreams Come True”
Written By: Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox
Performed By: Cyndi Grecco
For any other reason to love this one, it is hilarious parody of the show’s opening sequence done by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in the film Wayne’s World.
Which TV theme songs from the 1970s made your list?
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