Oh, how we miss the '80s.
It was a happy time, when life was full of neon spandex, leg-warmers and high-top Reeboks as far as the eye could see. Sure, there were too many dudes sporting man-perms, but they always threw in an accompanying mullet for good measure, and the beloved beard was always an added accessory.
But as much as we admire the creativity of the '80s fashion trends, the questionable attire wasn't the best part of the decade. Nor was the Lite Brite, on which your baby brother nearly choked on the tiny colored bulb, or the Teddy Ruxpin, which quickly became suspected of demonic possession. Those things were all great, but there was something much, much better: the TV theme songs.
You see, in those days, having access to four basic TV channels (and maybe a few more on cable, if you were lucky) meant that all the major networks had to fight to the death for your prime-time attention, which they did by not only bringing you the serial drama -- Dallas, anyone? -- but by rippin' shit up from the opening credits on with the theme song.
Here are the ten most memorable. Thundercats, hoooooo!
10. 21 Jump Street The 21 Jump Street theme was endearingly cheesy and dramatic in an epically '80s manner, so it was perfect for a cheesy drama about a group of baby-faced undercover cops. The fact that Holly Robinson, who played Judy Hoffs on the show, was the one who busted out those sweet vocals on the song (aptly named "Jump") only made it more of an earworm.
9. The Facts of Life Surely you know enough of this one to sing along, but don't worry -- you can just hum everything other than the part where you bust out with "the facts of life, the facts of life." What you may not know is that the song was composed by Al Burton, Gloria Loring and Loring's then-husband, Alan Thicke.
Yes, the same Alan Thicke who is responsible for Robin Thicke is partially responsible for this awesome theme song. But you can take that up with him on a different day, because we're willing to forgive that indiscretion today, especially if it means we can show our love for this memorable '80s ditty.
8. Pee-wee's Playhouse Man, Pee-wee's Playhouse was on some crazy shit back in the '80s, what with the talking chair and the creepy red-headed puppet thing and all. But the show, which excelled at the art of madness, was at its absolute best when it came to the music, and the theme song is no exception.
It starts off all mellow, and everything is really kind of zen and normal, with birds chirping and flowers blooming, and then? Sheer freaking madness. All of the calm tones are overturned, and a crazy Betty Boop-esque voice chimes in, singing about the fun of Pee-wee's playhouse while the possessed furniture dances. Cyndi Lauper, singing under the pseudonym "Ellen Shaw," was the one providing those Boop-like vocals, which somehow makes perfect sense.
(Side note: I remember this song specifically because the adults in my house watched the show with a cult-like devotion. I'm not saying they were stoned, but it's definitely suspect.)
7. Miami Vice Created and performed by Jan Hammer, it was successful not only as the theme song for Miami Vice, but also as an actual single outside of the television world. As an instrumental single, it landed on the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually found its way to No. 1. It remained the last instrumental song to pull that kind of weight until usurped in 2013 by that shitty Bauuer song, "Harlem Shake." But that can't claim a spot on this '80s list, so whatever.
6. The Greatest American Hero You may not remember the actual show this song was on, but you'll remember the song. Promise. "Believe It Or Not" enjoyed a really popular run on both the charts and the TV show, and in 1981, it wound up in the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, where it sat alongside other rad '80s tunes by Dianna Ross and Lionel Richie. Not too bad for a show intro, eh?
You may have even been privy to this song in recent years, since it's been used on shows like Seinfeld, where it was the outgoing message on George Costanza's answering machine. The song has used and abused on My Name Is Earl, The Chipmunks, Farenheit 9/11, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Gilmore Girls, and basically everything else ever. So there you have it.
5. Knight Rider Everybody knows the theme song for Knight Rider. Knight Rider involved David Hasselhoff. It also involved a talking car named Kit, and everybody knows Kit. Kit was awesome. End of story.
List continues on the next page.
4. Fame Remember the TV show Fame? Eh, it wasn't nearly as good as the movie, which is where this dope theme song came from, so don't worry about it. We hardly remember the plot lines to the show, but we remember every word to "Fame," since it's an incredibly catchy tune.
Performed by Irene Cara, who played "Coco Hernandez" in the movie, the song has been covered by other artists in the years since -- Girls Aloud and Mree, for starters -- which has resurrected it time and again. Oh, and those Golden Globe and Academy Awards it won for Best Original Song may have helped stamp it into our memories as well.
3. The Golden Girls You may know this song from Golden Girls, but the theme song to the '80s TV show about the sarcastic retirees was actually written by Andrew Gold for his 1978 album, All This And Heaven Too. His version had some decent success on the Billboard charts in '78, but became much more famous once NBC got its hands on it.
Cynthia Fee recorded her version after Gold's moderate success, and that one skyrocketed into fame as the intro to Golden Girls and the spin-off series Golden Palace. Now it's been everywhere, including Saturday Night Live, in which Betty White and the SNL cast of sang a metal version. Man, Betty White for eva.
2. Cheers What we wouldn't pay to have the less kooky version of Kirstie Alley back. Those were the days, man. And we'd probably pay double if she came in her Cheers character, Rebecca Howe, because that's when she was so rad. So was this theme song, which was written and performed by Gary Portnoy for the show. He went back into the studio to record a full-length version of the song after its success on Cheers, and in turn, we all started singing it at pubs and nicknaming barflies "Norm."
1. The Dukes of Hazzard Who wears short shorts? The chick from The Dukes of Hazzard, that's who. But this list isn't about Daisy Duke's rear, and that's why this song is our No. 1 pick. We're pretty sure it's impossible to forget "Good Ol' Boys," with the twangy banjos and the intermittent "Yee-haws" and all.
But the song is even more memorable when you realize it was written and performed by the legendary Waylon Jennings, and then slapped on a show about cars, shenanigans, and itty-bitty shorts on leggy brunettes. Factor in its major commercial success -- the single was Jennings' 12th No. 1 hit, and certified double-platinum -- and it's pretty obvious as to why we could never rid our brains of the tune. Nor would we want to.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism