One of the most memorable standouts from a successful TV show is usually its theme song. In past decades such as the 1960’s it was filled with catchy tunes and exciting instrumentals. Usually the unforgettable songs with crazy lyrics were associated with comedies while instrumentals were designed for the serious dramas such as crime capers and detective stories. However, in the 1970’s it had its share of TV theme songs where some were #1 hits on the Billboard chart while others were so much fun to sing- a-long to. You’ll find an array of instrumentals for the drama shows and lyrical songs for the sitcoms. We’ll take a closer look at the eight TV theme songs of the 1970’s. You’ll get to know the name of the show and its song, who sang it, something about each television program and why it made the list. Get ready for a whole lot of fun listening to these theme songs while reading all about it.
This stellar television show’s theme song originated from its film version of the same name. In 1970 the feature film M*A*S*H, which was based on a 1968 novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, showcased a song titled “Suicide is Painless” as that film’s theme song. It was sung by several un-credited studio session singers. However, for the television series an instrumental version was used for the entire eleven seasons it was on. M*A*S*H premiered on September 17, 1972. The show ended on a grand scale on February 28, 1983. Its finale was the most watched television episode with 105.97 million viewers. However, in 2010 that record was broken with the broadcast of Super XLIV. Viewership for that Super Bowl telecast was at 106.5 million.
The show starred Alan Alda as Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce. He was the Chief Surgeon at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War. The show’s premise was a medical drama and a black comedy centered during wartime with its team of doctors and support staff, played brilliantly by Gary Burghoff as “Radar” O’Reilly. He was the only actor to have been in the film version. The opening montage of this incredible show, while hearing the theme song, never gets tiring. It always gets my attention when I see the part with the nurses running towards the helicopter as it approaches landing followed by the medics and surgeons. You can literally feel their sense of urgency.
7.) Welcome Back Kotter
Here is the show that featured a very young John Travolta before his rise to mega superstardom in the late ’70’s. Originally this comedy show was to be called Kotter based on the main character, Gabe Kotter, who was a special-education teacher at an inner-city high school in Brooklyn where he had gone to the same high school. The theme song was written and sung by John Sebastian. He had been the frontman for the popular 1960’s group the Lovin’ Spoonful. Sebastian stated he had trouble trying to find a rhyme for Kotter. The song’s title “Welcome Back” and the character’s last name became the television sitcom Welcome Back Kotter.
Incidentally, the theme song was released as a single where it reached #1 on the Billboard chart in 1976. Besides the main character it also starred a motley group of students in Kotter’s remedial class called the Sweathogs where Travolta’s character was its leader. Welcome Back Kotter ran for four seasons from September 9, 1975 to June 8, 1979. I must confess the actor, Gabe Kaplan, who played Kotter where it was based on his real life as a Sweathog reminded me so much of my boyfriend at the time. He used to get mad when I told him he reminded me of Gabe Kaplan.
You may recognize the name of this action/crime drama TV show from its 2003 remake film version of the same name that starred Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar) and Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker who was also nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars). S.W.A.T was an Aaron Spelling production that featured studio musicians who most likely followed Spelling around on all of his television show theme songs. You’ll notice a considerable likeness in sound from Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, The Rookies just to name a few. However, there was something rather appealing with regards to this TV theme song. It actually had an incredible beat, along with a fast tempo, that didn’t sound corny like so many of the other TV theme songs.
As a matter of fact this instrumental theme song was eventually released as a single. The “Theme from ‘S.W.A.T'” performed by Rhythm Heritage, who was a disco-funk band, reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. S.W.A.T. which stands for Special Weapons And Tactics ran for only two seasons premiering on February 17, 1975 up until April 3, 1976. It starred Steve Forrest as the unit leader of this elite paramilitary tactical unit who perform hostage rescues and terrorist encounters. One of the actors in the show who played a S.W.A.T team officer was a favorite of mine back then. I watched the show because he was on it. My sister said I performed a dance routine to the theme of S.W.A.T. in high school when I was in the dance squad. Quite frankly I don’t remember that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
5.) Happy Days
Situated around the idyllic mode of the 1950’s, which at the time of the show’s first season in 1974 was experiencing a huge nostalgic trend in anything from this era. It was only natural there was a successful television series set around the mid ’50’s to the mid ’60’s. The show evolved around an all-American family living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of the original stars of Happy Days was Ron Howard, who would later become an Academy Award-winning film director with a number of booming box office hits in the ’80’s, ’90’s and ’00’s.
Ron Howard played Richie Cunningham who was one of the main characters in the television series along with his buddies Potsie, Ralph and Arthur Fonzarelli, a.k.a The Fonz or Fonzie. It was the latter character who the show would center most of its attention on. He was the local high school dropout, rebel and lover of motorcycles wearing his ever present leather jacket. The Cunningham family consisted of Howard, the father who owned a hardware store; Marion, the mother who was a homemaker; Richie, one of their two sons who was in high school and Joanie, their only daughter and youngest child.
In the first season of Happy Days the TV theme song was from the 1954 iconic hit by Bill Haley & His Comets Rock Around the Clock. For the remaining nine seasons a customized theme song was composed by two songwriters noted for their successful track record with other TV show and movie theme songs. During the last season, their eleventh, another theme song was used, However, it is the one used the longest that represents what the show was about and the happiness of an innocent time during the 1950’s.
4.) The Jeffersons
How I loved this show. It would always make me laugh. It was a true sitcom and a revolutionary one at that in every sense of the word. This was a spin-off from All in the Family. George and Louise Jefferson were the African American next-door neighbors to Archie and Edith Bunker in Queens. George Jefferson owned a number of dry cleaners that were financially successful which enabled them to move to the prestigious Upper East Side in Manhattan where this TV show takes place. It’s centered on Louise Jefferson’s close friends, Helen and Tom Willis who are an interracial couple with two adult children; their British neighbor Mr. Bentley; the Jefferson’s wise-cracking housekeeper Florence; and the occasional memorable appearances of George’s mother, Mother Jefferson, who felt Louise was not good enough for her son.
Initially the show was very much ahead of its time, especially with the appearances of the interracial couple, the Willis’. However, television viewers gladly accepted the couple, the show’s use of what would now be politically incorrect words and topics that were deemed extremely controversial at the time such as suicide, illiteracy, gun control and racism. The Jeffersons lasted for eleven seasons from 1975 to 1985. It is the longest running comedy series of any genre with a notable African American cast in television history. The high spirited and lively theme song Movin’ On Up backed by a gospel choir was sung by Janet Du Bois. She appeared on the sitcom Good Times as the gossip mongering friend of Florida Evans. Whenever I heard this theme song each time I watched the show it always put me in a great mood. This is by far the happiest TV theme song where you can’t stand clapping.
3.) The Partridge Family
Its theme song would be classified as one of those remarkable songs with a sing-a-long lyrical content to it. The show centers on a musical family with the mother as part of the singing group, The Partridge Family. She is a widow with five children along with their ever present manager, Ruben Kincaid. In the first season you went along with their progress of getting established in the music industry with finally landing a gig in Vegas’ Caesars Palace. Each show in subsequent seasons you’d see the family perform at some venue. They traveled around in an old school bus painted in vibrant colors to their gigs.
During each show the stories were oftentimes centered on home life versus being on the road though you got a chance to see them as a show biz family too. The Partridge Family did release a single I Think I Love You that reached #1 on the pop chart in December 1970. They became the third fictional group besides The Chipmunks and The Archies to have a #1 hit song and gold record. The show starred Shirley Jones who was a musical theatre actress and an Oscar winner for her supporting role in Elmer Gantry. It also starred her real-life stepson at the time, David Cassidy, who would become an international teen sensation as a result of his starring role as Keith Partridge.
Initially, the idea of this musical sitcom was based loosely on a real life family group from the late ’60’s, The Cowsills. Barbara Cowsill, the mother of five sons and one daughter comprised the group. The Partridge Family consisted of three boys and two girls. Come On Get Happy, the show’s theme song, was actually sung by David Cassidy as lead vocalist. Shirley Jones sang background vocals along with studio musicians acting as the singers for the other actors who lip-synced their singing voice. Danny Bonaduce who played Danny Partridge, the third oldest child, would later become a part of the reality TV genre in the 2000s decade. The Partridge Family was on television for four seasons from 1970 to 1974.
2.) Hawaii Five-O
With its breathtaking opening montage featuring a huge ocean wave rolling along to the theme’s instrumental introduction on to the various sites of Honolulu make it all the more brilliant. This crime drama is naturally based in Hawaii about a fictitious state police force honoring Hawaii as the fiftieth state, hence five-o (50). The diverse state police officers are headed up by the star of the show Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett and his young partner, Danny “Danno” Williams, played by James McArthur. The other actors in the cast portraying officers were primarily Hawaiians and Asians. Hawaii Five-O each week took on a bevy of international criminals, secret agents, and Mafia syndicate bosses throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
When they successfully apprehended and arrested the criminal towards the end of the show the famous phrase “Book ’em, Danno!” was uttered by McGarrett to his partner Danny. It was the longest running crime show in television history for twelve seasons only to be broken by Law & Order in 2003. Even though the show premiered in the late ’60’s, September 1968, the show ran for the entire decade of the 1970’s until its last season in 1980. The theme song was composed by Morton Stevens who also composed many episodic scores. Eventually the Hawaii Five-O theme song was also covered by The Ventures. In the 1960’s many movies, especially the ones starring Elvis Presley, and other TV shows took place in Hawaii. The ’70’s saw Hawaii Five-O and when it ended Magnum P.I. was the Hawaiian TV show of the ’80’s.
1.) The Brady Bunch
Without question the quintessential television theme song of the 1970’s actually tells the story in the song’s lyrics what the entire show is all about. Its catchy melody and easy to sing lyrics made it completely irresistible to sing-a-long each and every week when it was on Friday nights from September 1969 to March 1974 for a total of five seasons. The show’s producer, Sherwood Schwartz, actually composed the theme song. The Brady Bunch, according to Schwartz, was inspired by a 1965 newspaper article he read on how 40% of marriages in the U.S. had a child or children from a previous marriage. He took his script for an idea on a TV show about a family with stepchildren to the three major networks. They all liked it, but wanted to drastically change it.
Luckily a theatrical film titled Yours, Mine and Ours about two blended family with a total of 18 children in 1968 was a commercial success would eventually lead to the television series The Brady Bunch. This particular TV show basically tied in to the surge of divorce and remarriage that was becoming prevalent at the time creating families with stepchildren and half-siblings. The music of the Brady Bunch theme was created by the Peppermint Trolley Company with vocals by studio musicians. After all this time I thought it was the actors portraying the Brady Bunch kids singing the theme song. You certainly do learn something new everyday. However, The Brady Bunch was made into a highly successful feature film in the 1990’s that also lead to a sequel
Some of these 1970’s television programs are still shown presently on TV, but you can purchase DVDs of all or some of the seasons or certain episodes from www.amazon.com. The theme songs that were released as singles can be purchased also from Amazon or downloaded from www.iTunes.com. A couple of the theme songs were by popular recording artists while most were from contracted studio musicians. Whatever the case you will enjoy hearing these theme songs from another era that is sure to bring a smile to your face or get you up off your feet.