The decline of the TV theme song


Television theme songs can be something to revel in, and they can also drive you mad. They can rely on a lyrical message or an instrumental interlude. They can be made to order, or ripped from the pop charts. Love them or hate them, the best theme songs suck you in no matter when you hear them. Images of the show they represent saunter through your mind at the first word or the first chord. The X-Files theme is like that for me.

(Well, most of the images that come to mind when I hear it have more to do with my buddy Mo than with the show itself.) Here’s that eerie theme:

But according to some, the TV theme song is going the way of the dodo. ER‘s theme keeps getting shorter and shorter. The Closer doesn’t really even have a theme. Other than the Who being used as the lead-in to CSI, I can’t think of any current theme songs that really catch my attention and cause images to pop into my wacky brain unbidden. So maybe the TV theme song really is fading away. I mean, I’ll admit that the L Word theme is memorable and causes reactions, but I wouldn’t really consider those positive. Unless we go back to season three’s opening credits so I can still see Erin Daniels on the back of that motorcycle.

The theme songs I remember most fondly come from my childhood. And maybe that’s why I remember them fondly. They don’t just pull me into visions of the shows they introduced — they also take me back in time. Among my favorites is the theme from Cagney & Lacey. It takes me back to one of my favorite shows, but it also reminds me of being forced to watch it on my little 9-inch black-and-white while my dad watched Monday Night Football on the color TV in the living room. Cagney & Lacey takes me back to my first real girl-crush too. I thought I wanted to be Christine Cagney, but the truth is that I was infatuated with Sharon Gless.

I also remember going to the place where everybody knows your name. And not just in TV land: It was on the list of stops when we took a family vacation out to Boston. So the theme song reminds me of the show, but more than that, it reminds me of the joy of my own family, my first ever bowl of clam chowder and all that time we spent driving crooked streets looking for Paul Revere‘s house.

I also had a fondness for a couple of good ol’ boys with the coolest car I’d ever seen. OK, and I really liked their cousin Daisy, too. Hearing Waylon Jennings belt out this toon reminds me of the toy jeep I had that looked just like Daisy’s. My brother had the matchbox version of the General Lee, which I somehow managed to appropriate from him.

Of course, I don’t enjoy all theme songs. In fact, there are one or two that get stuck in my head for no apparent reason at the oddest times and simply won’t go away. The Brady Bunch is one of those, as are C.O.P.S. and Gilligan’s Island. But the one that drives me absolutely mad is The Love Boat. I offer you this warning: Do not watch this video if you do not want to be singing this song to yourself for the next hour or so.

There are so many more good ones that come to mind, from M.A.S.H. to China Beach and The Facts of Life to Friends. And there a few that still make me cringe. Which ones do you revel in? Which ones drive you mad?

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