When TV themes had lyrics, those were the days
Last updated 10/17/2019 at 12:02am | View PDF
I was listening to the radio in the car the other day and all of the sudden realized I was singing along.
“Believe it or not,
I’m walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free.”
How did I know this song?
“Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it’s just me.”
And then it hit me.
“The Greatest American Hero.”
I had an immediate visual of the guy who starred in the show, with his curly blond hair and his red superhero costume.
The show was on ABC for only three seasons when I was in high school. William Katt played a teacher who was asked to be a superhero using a special alien suit with powers he could barely control.
I remember watching the show and enjoying it (but I owe IMDB for the details).
The flashback got me thinking about TV theme song lyrics — specifically how I couldn’t think of any shows on the air now that open with songs.
Maybe I’m just fast forwarding past the lyrics, I thought, since I watch most shows on my DVR.
But that’s not the case. Words, apparently, are out when it comes to TV theme songs. Instrumental pieces are in.
“This Is Us.” “Stranger Things.” The three “Chicago” shows. I could go on. All have instrumental theme songs.
And this is not a new phenomenon.
“Hawaii Five-0,” “Mash,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Seinfeld,” “NYPD Blue,” “West Wing” — all opened with instrumental pieces. So, of course, did “Little House on the Prairie” (whose opening transported me immediately back to my childhood when I introduced my daughter to the series) and the “Andy Griffith Show” (which you can watch a parrot whistle online).
The best theme songs, though, are the ones you can sing along with, the ones whose words speak to you.
“So no one told you life was going to be this way,” The Rembrandts sang when “Friends” premiered in 1995. I was 28, and I could relate.
“You want to be where you can see the troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name,” Gary Portnoy sang for 11 years while Sam and Diane worked at “Cheers,” reminding us all of the virtues of a good neighborhood bar.
Then there’s Al Jarreau, crooning the opening to “Moonlighting.” I hear him sing and am transported back to the second floor TV lounge of my sorority house, where I spent every Tuesday night my sophomore, junior and senior year.
Then there are the songs we sang as kids — “It’s a Beautiful Day in this Neighborhood” and “Sunny Days” — as we watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.”
Speaking of childhood, Disney shows seem to be the only ones that have preserved the sing-along theme songs of the past. As the mom of a 10-year-old, I’m pretty well-versed in these tunes.
My favorite? “Bunk’d,” a show about a bunch of kids from Manhattan who spend their entire summer at the remote Camp Kikiwaka.
“Hangin’ out, with someone new, then fallin’ out of a camp canoe. What’s that smell? It’s on your shoe! Kikiwaka!
“Got a s’more in my hair! Mosquitoes in our underwear. Shower’s broke, but we don’t care! Kikiwaka!”
The lyrics describe all the worst things that can happen at summer camp and make them sound fun. Now that’s a theme song.
— Pamela Lannom is the editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected]