Great ’70′s Sitcom Theme Songs and Scenes

My son and I were enjoying the sunset on the porch and talking about many aspects of many things. Somehow we got to discussing commercial jingles and I related how easily I can remember old beer and cigarette jingles — and McDonalds and Breakstone Yogurt. And Tang Breakfast Drink, too:

“Do the Moonwalk like the astronauts! (Tang!) Join the space gang, drink your energy Tang! (Taaang!)…So if you want to do like the astronauts do, join the space gang, and do the Moonwalk, to, come on and Tang, Tang, Tang, Tang, Tang….”)

And of course,

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That all led, quite naturally, to a discussion on the current dearth of catchy commercial jingles and sitcom theme songs. My son was a little surprised to hear that the 1970′s was so full of great ones that they often ended becoming stand-alone hit records. He knew the theme from The Jeffersons, of course and the one from the The Greatest American Hero, but he was unaware of so many others. Like this one, which may have started the trend:

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Duly impressed that I could sing most of these accurately, my son wondered if the theme from “Diff’rent Strokes” had been done by Sly and the Family Stone.

I was confused. I mean, I knew he was slightly Sly-obsessed, growing up, but what song could he mean?

So he sang this and I said, “uh, no. Nowhere near as funky”:

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And then there’s . . .the great (and distinctly cooler) Donny Hathaway and the theme from Maude:

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It wasn’t just sitcoms, though. Dramas had their own theme songs, instrumentals, that also became hits. I think most of them were written by Mike Post: The Rockford Files, Hill Street Blues come to mind.

It was the sitcoms that got the big splashy vocals — with one huge exception:

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They heyday of great television theme songs started going downhill as stars negotiated to bark them out for themselves like this. There were still some great ones — Cheers extended things into the 1980′s, and Friends into the ’90′s. These days I like the themes from 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory

Let me leave you not with a theme song, but with a great scene from an old ’70′s show full of great scenes:

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No, one more, I can’t resist, from another show with a great theme:

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I look back on all of it and it like during the 1970′s, despite the bad clothes and hair, and the social upheaval that has so negatively affected the family, we were perhaps doing better racially, than we are today. Back then everyone was watching the same stuff — television wasn’t segregated and balkanized into 500 theme-and-special-interest channels aimed at particular demographics. Back then, the demographic was everybody: everyone was watching Good Times and Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man, and Taxi and loving it all. We even dared to laugh at some of the stupider aspects of racial stereotyping — could Blazing Saddles even be made today without cries of outrage and victimhood from all corners, including from the Cranky Old Lady Community, the Mongo-Defenders; the Intestinal-Gas-Afflicted; the German Bombshell Brigade, the Chorus Line Gypsys, Animal Rights Activists and everyone in the world named Johnson?

Maybe it was the drugs, but we seemed to have more fun, back then, and take every little thing just a little less seriously than we do, these days. At least, it seems that way.

What about you? What commercials and themes and scenes do you remember?

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  • Thomas L. McDonald

    And then there’s “You take the good / You take the bad / You take them both and then you have / the facts of life.”

    I don’t know why I know that.

  • Mario

    Night Court had a great theme. The creator of the series was a writer on Barney Miller.

  • vox borealis

    My wife and I were just discussing the loss of commercial jingles and TV theme songs. A few factors contribute to this:
    1. Many shows seem to have dispensed with theme music, or at least greatly shortened the theme intro, instead running opening credits over the opening scenes. This is does not to get more show in, but to shorten the show (most hour shows run now only about 42 minutes compared to 50 to 52 minutes back in the 1970s), allowing more time for commercials. Likewise, it is rare to hear music over closing credits, rather than a promo or ad.

    2. Several shows use classic rock or other well known songs rather than have their own theme music. I wonder if this is to appeal to Baby Boomers?

    3. As for commercials (and maybe also for show intros), they seem to focus much more on visual appeal than audio catchiness. I suspect this has to do with the mute button.

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    Let us remember the themes to WKRP in Cincinnati and Cagney & Lacey also.

  • Heloise1

    I’m way older than you. I can still sing the opening songs from Davey Crockett, Rawhide, Paladin, and from the Way Back Machine, the closing song from Roy Rodgers and Dale Evens.

  • Mike B

    I have a whole CD of 65 classic themes from that time. It was the golden age. Sanford and Sons, Wonder Woman, The Dukes of Hazzard… good times. (Hey, Good Times! “Not gettin’ hassled, not gettin’ hustled! Keeping your head above water… makin’ a wave when you caaaaannn.”)

  • Heloise1

    OH! From really way back is the theme from Mighty Mouse!

    He’s come to save the day, you know.

  • Dan

    I love this post. I am miss the TV shows and theme songs of the ’70s. I miss the fact that a lot of people would be familiar with the same shows. The Rockford Files theme song is great. Not sure if it was ’70s or /80s but WKRP featured a good song.

  • DaTechGuy on DaRadio

    I prefer the 60′s with Daniel Boone, F-Troop and Hogan’s Heroes (with McHale’s Navy thrown in for good measure)

    But remember in the 70′s you still pretty much had a faculty that had been brought up on and taught judeo-christian values so even if they could not be directly taught it still had an effect to some degree on the students who they dealt with.

    It would take 20 more years for those teaches to be replaced with ones never taught those values to rule the roost and turn our culture into the one we have today.

    Sorry to be a downer on the subject but it’s whats been on my mind

  • Joseph

    Controversial topic here! Seriously, it’s a welcome respite.

    I thought Linda Lavin singing the first season opening of “Alice” was okay, but later went downhill. As for 70s commercials, one of the most famous was the Coke commercial featuring the song “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”. The Burger King commercial with the song “It Take Two Hands To Handle A Whopper” and little Rodney Allen Rippy singing the Jack in the Box jingle also stand out.

  • peg

    Real old TV shows had songs written by excellent songwriters.

    1. The Perry Mason and Peter Gunn themes are great blues songs—sophisticated and holding their own as songs. Sarah Vaughan sang the latter.
    2. I think the (1960s) Avengers theme (plus its accompanying video of Patrick McNee and Diana Rigg) is stylish, complicated in a good way, and of its time. It is groovy.
    3. Hawaii Five-O, by the Ventures is exciting, swinging surf rock. I love it, my all-time favorite.
    4. The High Chapparel beckons us to our American Western myth. It makes you want to git your horse and ride out a spell. Great violin action. I also like Bonanza’s Theme.
    5. I like the theme to the Joan Hickson Miss Marples.

    I do not watch TV now, but have heard and like How Good it Can Be from the OC. Also, the theme to the US version of House of Cards is strange and appealing.

  • Peg

    Oh, I nearly forgot that Coke that went ballistic. Sorry if it gets annoyingly lodged in your head. It’s “I’d Like to Teach The World to Sing”, from 1971

  • Adam Frey

    And then there was the Cheers theme song. Which was the 80s, but still…it’s the Cheers song.

  • victor

    In terms of being an absolutely perfect thematic fit with its show and a good piece of music in its own right, you cannot beat Bob James’ theme for “Taxi”.

  • Christine~Soccer Mom

    Blazing Saddles has always been one of my favorite movies. It’s something that I know would NEVER be made today (except maybe for the “we’ll take the Chinks, but not the Irish!” part). ;)

    My family has to hear me lament this every time I watch it. Or talk about it.

    I hadn’t really thought about how shows were so much more integrated than they are today, but it’s true. And I remember people getting all up in arms that Friends didn’t have any black friends, but at the same time having no problem with Living Single ( having no white friends. It’s all so subjective and weird. And I really think there are segments of society that think we NEED more race riots. Sadly, I think there are significant portions of our executive branch that fits into that mold, based purely on their actions and comments on selective cases that Deal with Race and Racismâ„¢.

  • Joe D

    My favorites were always the more thrilling ones, like The Mod Squad and Mission Impossible. But the one you left out that’s just as great as Chico and The Man’s theme song is “The Streetbeater,” by Quincy Jones, better known as the theme from Sanford and Son.

  • crazylikeknoxes

    Very coincidental that you bring this up. Yea, I watched all these shows when I was a kid and have spent most of my adult years trying to forget. But the other night as I was passing through the living room I heard the sounds of O’Connor and Stapleton crooning “and you knew who were then; girls were girls and men were men,” and the effect was that of the Sirens’ song.

    I’d also mention the theme for M.A.S.H. Still love that melody.

  • Clare

    I know these shows were originally done in the 60s, but they ran in syndication in the 70s — so I think that counts!! (So there!):

    The Brady Bunch (Let’s see if I can do this from memory. It’s been maybe 35 years since I’ve watched an episode..?)

    It’s the story..of a lovely lady…who was bringing up three very lovely girls…all of them had hair of gold…like their mother…the youngest one in curls.

    It’s the story…of a man named Brady…who was busy with three boys of his own…they were four men…living all together…but they were all alone.

    Then the one day when the lady met this fellow…And they knew that it was much more than a hunch…that this group…must somehow form a family…that’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.

    The Brady Bunch…The Brady Bunch…That’s the waaaay we becaaaame the Brady Bunch!!

    (Well, I think that was pretty darn impressive thank you very much!!)

    And the other one: the Star Trek opening theme! Who couldn’t resist the sing-a-long, opera-style, with the lady going “Ah-aaaaaaaaah….aah…aah..aah…aah
    ……aaaaaaaah….. and so on…

    Awesome article!! I feel like a kid again!


  • Hugh Wilson

    As the creator of WKRP in Cincinnati and a loyal reader of yours, I am broken hearted not to be included here!

  • Joseph Moore

    It is times like this that make we wonder if I’m an adopted space alien: people I respect going on fondly about 70s sitcoms. As I kid, I could not sit through them; as an adult, they stand as monuments to the vacuity that spawned the cultural, moral and artistic cratering that was the 60s and 70s (and 80s. And 90s). Not to put too fine a point on it.

    But all kinds of nice, smart people love these things. The problem is clearly me: I like cilantro, after all.

  • Lyn

    Wow…this is a great post! I feel like I’m ten…what about Three’s Company…and All in the Family…or the Love Boat, ROFLOL…I wonder how many of these are available on hulu or netflix?

  • Romulus

    Rawhide had an awesome theme song. I Love Lucy had an exotic Cuban flavor. Combat’s was martial but upbeat and almost cheerful, reflecting the reality that wartime with its horrors was an experience many men of that time look(ed) back upon with fondness and nostalgia.

  • Jacqueline Craney

    Reverend Jim’s driving test makes me laugh until I cry. Every time.

  • Bertha

    I have great memories of watching Mighty Mouse (revealing my age) and, of course, singing the theme song. My four brothers play-acted Mighty Mouse all the time. Several years ago I bought a Mighty Mouse t-shirt at a big box store that has a bunch of retro t-shirts. And in 1975, many of us got a kick out of Andy Kaufman’s performance of the Mighty Mouse theme song.

  • MeanLizzie

    Oh no! I DID actually think of including WKRP but felt it was getting too long and I needed to publish! Loved the show, though, and of course I would have run “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!” One of the most brilliant moments in ’70′s sitcoms. Thanks for reading! :-)

  • hotboogers

    I think that was Underdog, saving the day.

  • Mike

    Wow, opening up lots of good memories from a much simpler time in life. The theme songs for me is a toss up between Bonanza and Hawaii five-0 ( not the new one).

  • crazylikeknoxes

    Mr. Wilson, when WKRP in Cincinnati began in 1978, my family had just been relocated from Ohio to Georgia. For whatever reason, watching WKRP made us feel that we were still connected with the Buckeye State. And Les Nessman’s hog reports made me wonder if maybe Ohio and Georgia we not so different after all.

  • ’67

    Having grown up watching many of these shows (some were not allowed in the guise) I am surprised that you would gush nostalgic about shows that celebrated (and/or normalized) divorce, fornication (hooking up), radical feminism, abortion, drugs, males ogling jiggling tightly clothed mammaries, bumbling doofus dads, and the feminized man. Sure, shows are even worse now, but I know the 70s shows hypersexualized me before I was even a teenager and made my generation very accepting of the immoralities catalogued above. Nothing to celebrate publicly (even if privately we may experience positive nostalgia for days gone by, hopefully its the people and not the tv that tugs at your minds heart).

  • Joseph

    I have it as my ringtone.

  • seaoh

    Huge thumbs up LOVED WKRP The two funniest half hours in television history are the WKRP Thanksgiving episode and the episode where the masscot for WPIG and the Carp fought each other.

  • seaoh

    As for theme songs “green acres” is a classic even my daughter loves to sing that one.

  • Sue

    I vote for the Bob Newhart show. Great theme, great footage, and truly a show about adults for adults.

  • George V.

    Lest we forget… animation and some of it on prime time TV in the 60′s!! The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, the Jetsons. I think The Bugs Bunny Show was on in the evening for a brief period. Yes, I do remember the theme songs.

    Back then, it was animation you could watch with your kids (or that could be watched with your parents). The idea watching today’s prime time animation with a child makes me cringe.

    George V.

  • MeanLizzie

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