Jan Hammer and the Top 10 TV Theme Songs of the '80s
Not a lot of television shows win multiple Grammys. Then again, not a lot of television shows ever sounded (or looked) like Miami Vice. The cutting-edge series perfectly captured the pastel zeitgeist of its time when it debuted in 1984, influencing film, fashion, design and music in a way that few TV shows ever will.
A major piece of the show's successful formula was Czech composer Jan Hammer's sleek, synthesized score, including his iconic theme song. Released as a single in November 1985, the tune was a legitimate pop smash, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and bagging the Grammys for both Best Instrumental Composition and Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Not bad for a guy who looked like George Constanza with a keytar.
Hammer was already a successful keyboardist and score composer before the series premiered, having risen to prominence playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the '70s. But Miami Vice made him a star.
Music was a major component of the show, which featured many sequences with no dialogue or sound effects, just a soundtrack provided by Hammer and a who's-who of '80s pop stars, including Depeche Mode, Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and tons more. These sequences served as the template for many of the music videos to come.
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While none achieved the runaway success of the Miami Vice Theme, the '80s were an especially fertile time for television theme songs. Many, in fact, have outlived the memory of the shows they introduced each week. In tribute to Hammer's titanic TV hit, here are ten more of the best from the Reagan Years.
10. Knight Rider
The percussive theme from Knight Rider, David Hasselhoff's star-making Lone-Ranger-with-a-talking-car TV series, sounds a lot like it could have been influenced by the Miami Vice theme, but it actually pre-dates Hammer's tune by a couple of years. It's proven to be a popular and versatile track in the world of hip-hop sampling, appropriated by everyone from Punjabi MC to Lil' Kim.
9. Pee-Wee's Playhouse
Pee-Wee's Playhouse was one of the weirdest, most hyperactive kids shows of all time, and some of the best oddball musicians of the '80s contributed to its soundtrack, including Mark Mothersbaugh, Todd Rundgren, George Clinton, Dweezil Zappa and others.
The annoyingly catchy theme was performed by Cyndi Lauper at her most grating, but set the tone perfectly for the frenetic show by managing to introduce practically the entire cast of freaks and puppets that made the series so unforgettable.
8. Magnum, P.I.
If television theme-song writing has a superstar (it doesn't), it's got to be Mike Post, who has written classic themes for everything from Doogie Howser, M.D. to Law & Order. Post won a couple of Grammys for The Rockford Files and Hill Street Blues, but one of his best and most iconic themes was written for Magnum, P.I., the '80s detective show set in Hawaii and starring Tom Selleck's mustache. The song wasn't a hit, but that electric guitar line is tough to beat.
One of Post's tunes that was a big hit was his theme from The Greatest American Hero. The show itself, an altogether lame superhero parody, went nowhere fast, lasting only a couple of seasons.
But the theme song, "Believe it or Not," was a hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. Today, it's pretty much the only thing anyone remembers about the show, except for how fucking stupid star William Katt's perm looked.
The driving rock of the MacGyver theme song was terrific at getting the show's audience pumped up to see Richard Dean Anderson paper-clip his way out of another jam each week back in the late '80s and early '90s. The song was written by Randy Edelman, a longtime scorer of films and TV shows who also wrote the awesomely uplifting tearjerker theme to Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which has been used in approximately 60 billion movie trailers over the years.
Full disclosure: We don't like Dallas. About 72 percent of the Oklahoma capital's hilariously puffed-up air of blow-dried superiority can be traced back to this campy prime-time soap (the other 28 percent to Tom Landry). Still, much like its namesake, Dallas wasn't all bad, we guess. It did give us this eminently hummable theme song by John Parker, classic enough to be reused for the new series currently airing on TNT.
The A-Team, that bloodless action-adventure series that convinced the world that Mr. T could conceivably harm a fly, had perhaps the most perfect theme song of the '80s. It was big, it was brassy and it had one of those amazing hard-rock guitar breaks that became a TV staple for about a decade.
The only thing keeping this tune out of the top spot is its lack of lyrics. It was great for whistling, but we have to give the edge to the themes your whole family could sing along to.
3. Charles In Charge
Case in point: If you can't sing at least the first verse to the Charles in Charge theme song, you simply weren't around in the '80s. Scott Baio probably hasn't gone a single day in the last 25 years when some geek on the street hasn't sung this tune back to him.
It's not hard to see why: Listen to that chorus once, and it sticks with you forever, just like the herpes Charles caught in that episode that never aired.
2. The Dukes of Hazzard
It's not just our fondness for Texas outlaw Waylon Jennings that puts this theme song near the top spot -- though it certainly doesn't hurt. Before the advent of CMT, The Dukes of Hazzard theme was the best (and pretty much only) country song you were liable to hear on TV outside of Hee Haw. It takes a special theme to capture the spirit of a TV show as well as this one does, and the spine-tingling "Yeeeee-HAWWW!" at the end is how every outlaw country song should have ended.
Was there ever any doubt? The theme song to Cheers is not only the best of the '80s, but one of the greatest in television history. It's nearly pathologically impossible not to sing along to this tune, even if you're some kind of mutant who was never a fan of the show. For that very reason, it's still played every night relentlessly in every piano bar in the country.
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