We grew up on television. Whether it was Saturday morning cartoons, afternoon re-runs, Sunday Disney and Wild Kingdom or Thursday night "must see" TV, we saw it. We noticed that on November 2, 1985, the Miami Vice soundtrack went to number one on the Billboard charts where it would stay for 11 weeks. As Archie Bunker might say, "Those were the days."
So, we took a little trip down nostalgia lane and made our list of the top 20 throwback theme songs. We limited our selections to television shows that aired in the 70s and 80s to keep with the whole throwback thing. As a result, you won't see Gilligan's Island, The Addams Family or Mission Impossible, as good as they may be. You also won't see references to Friends or Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, for example.
We'll start with 20-11. Check back Thursday for the top 10.
20. The Love Boat
The Love Boat may have had a somewhat memorable regular characters like Isaac Your Bartender (finger guns pointing atcha!), but it was the weekly list of mostly b-list guest stars that brought viewers back episode after episode. The campily sung theme in full-on Vegas mode by Jack Jones (though Dionne Warwick recorded it for the final season) was a prefect background for the rundown of Charles Nelson Riley's and Charro's that would occupy the cruise ship for that episode.
19. Chico and the Man
This highly under-appreciated theme was performed beautifully by Jose Feliciano (yes, the "Feliz Navidad" guy). With its Latin vibe and the Chicano imagery, it was well suited for a show that would produce Freddie Prinze's tragic suicide and the guy that played Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It was also fairly controversial as a pro-Latino song about looking for the good in "the (white) man."
18. What's Happening
Rocks Off didn't even realize until we did some research that this classic sitcom theme was written by Henry Mancini, the man responsible for some of the most well-known themes of all time including Pink Panther and Peter Gunn. What we love about this theme is how well it meshes with the clip that opens with the three main characters dribbling a basketball down the street.
One of our favorite things to ask our friend Ian Varley (Drop Trio, Black Joe Lewis) to play this theme on his Fender Rhodes. We're pretty sure he got annoyed, but he never showed it. Written by Grammy-award-winning jazz musician Bob James -- best known as one of the founding members of the group Fourplay -- the silky smooth electric piano provides the perfect accompaniment to the shot of Tony Danza (yes, it's really him) driving a cab across the Queensboro Bridge.
16. WKRP in Cincinnati
One of the more unfortunate consequences of a show that uses lots of popular music as part of each episode is that syndicated showings and DVD releases are often prohibited from using the songs that became so integral to the plot. While WKRP may have lost some of its great music during the show, it's awesome theme remained as intact as the sound of Jennifer's doorbell.
15. Greatest American Hero
GAH reminds us of fish sticks because we often ate a half dozen of those tasty little bastards while getting ready to watch the show when it came out. The complete series DVD is even on our Amazon wish list (hint, hint). Multiple Grammy award winner Mike Post wrote this (you'll see his name a couple more times on this list) and it reached number two on the Billboard charts. If you happen to be at Big Top when Lite Rock Express is playing, offer them a Lowenbrau and they will no doubt whip out a killer version for you on the spot.
14. All in the Family
The stripped down, piano duet of "Those Were the Days" was made perfect with the high-pitched, near-screams of Jean Stapleton's Edith Bunker character and the clear disgust in Archie Bunker's (Carol O'Connor) voice when he sung "didn't need no welfare estates" with his trademark Queens accent in later episodes.
13. Dukes of Hazzard
Waylon Jennings' "The Good Ol' Boys" (technically, a barely different version from the song used on the show) theme actually reached number one on the country charts and 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Jennings was more than just the theme song writer; he also was the show's narrator.
12. Miami Vice
Jan Hammer, the keyboardist who penned the hit theme song for the show, was a heavyweight musician in his own right having performed with Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Carlos Santana and Al Di Meola, among many others. But, he is best known to most for his work on television and film scores including the Miami Vice soundtrack which, until 2006 and High School Musical, was the best selling TV soundtrack of all time. His classic Moog keyboard sound was heavily used in the 80s, particularly on "Axel F" from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, which was written by Harold Faltermeyer, not Hammer.
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11. Barney Miller
If there has ever been a better bassline on a TV theme than this one (don't say Night Court), we haven't heard it. The distinctive low end mixed with a guitar that sounds a lot like Steely Dan regular Larry Carlton (it was actually studio ace Dan Ferguson) was a perfect fit to the shots of the Manhattan skyline in the intro.
Top 10 coming Thursday!