TV theme songs serve a very important role. They need to feature instantly catchy melodies and instrumentation, of course. But they often also need to explain the basic plot of their series, and if possible, set the mood and emotional stakes for whatever comedic, dramatic or romantic adventures the viewers are about to enjoy. The art form reached a new peak in the ’70s, as demonstrated by this list of the best TV theme songs from shows that debuted between 1970 and 1979.
20. Good Times
Award-winning jazz pianist and film score producer David Grusin wrote the Gospel-inspired theme for the Norman Lear sitcom Good Times, which aired on CBS from February 1974 to August 1979. The lyrics, sung by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams, chronicle the economic challenges (“temporary layoffs, easy credit rip-offs”) that the low-income Evans family had to overcome each week, while urging them onward: “Keeping your head above water, making a wave when you can…”
19. All in the Family
Norman Lear asked All in the Family co-stars Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton to sing their show’s theme song themselves for a very simple reason – to save money. Written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, the song found O’Connor’s Archie Bunker and Stapleton’s Edith looking back with longing on earlier, simpler times in their lives. It was the perfect setup for the show’s groundbreaking depiction of complex and often controversial social issues.
The gentle flute and electric piano-based theme song now famous as Taxi‘s theme song was originally only supposed to be used to introduce a guest character in one episode. But the producers liked jazz keyboardist Bob James’ “Angela” better than his song “Touchdown,” which was originally supposed to be the main theme, and made the switch. Both songs can be heard on his 1978 album Touchdown.
17. The Electric Company
HEY YOU GUYS! Did you know that Eric Rogers, who wrote the theme song for the ’70s Children’s Television Workshop series Electric Company, also served as the conductor for Sean Connery’s James Bond debut Dr. No, the animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes and Spider-Woman, as well as 22 movies from the British Carry On franchise? These are the truest words that you ever heard anybody say.
16. One Day at a Time
The One Day at a Time theme song “This Is It” was co-written by Brill Building songwriter Jeff Barry, who also helped compose ’60s classics such as “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “River Deep – Mountain High,” “Then He Kissed Me” and “Sugar, Sugar” from the fictional band the Archies and their Saturday morning cartoon The Archie Show. When a new version of One Day at a Time was launched in 2017 Gloria Estefan recorded her own take on “This Is It” as the theme.
15. The Dukes of Hazzard
Outlaw Country legend Waylon Jennings not only provided the theme song for the hit series The Dukes of Hazzard, which debuted in 1979, he appeared weekly as the show’s narrator. “Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol’ Boys)” hit No. 1 on the country charts and No. 21 on the pop charts. The extended version released as a single features an extra verse with Jennings joking about the fact that only his face is never seen on the show.
14. The Odd Couple
How’s this for a resume? In addition to writing the theme music for the 1968 movie The Odd Couple – which was used again when the former Broadway play became a TV series – composer and trumpeter Neal Hefti worked with Count Basie and Frank Sinatra. Oh, and he also wrote the theme song for the ’60s Batman TV series. Which you’re singing right now, correct?
13. The Muppet Show
Written by Muppets creator Jim Henson and Sam Pottle, “The Muppet Show Theme” evolved in each of the original series’ five seasons. In addition to re-worked lyrics, various gags were floated in and out of the show’s opening sequence, giving Gonzo the Great, Fozzie Bear and in particular the ever-critical Statler and Waldorf time to shine: “Why do we always come here?,” they sang / asked during the show’s fifth season. “I guess we’ll never know. It’s kind of like a torture to have to watch this show!”
12. The Facts of Life
Did you know that Alan Thicke, star of the ’80s sitcom Growing Pains, was also a successful TV theme composer? Together with his then-wife Gloria Loring he wrote the themes to both Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. The latter theme was originally sung by Charlotte Rae, who played housemother Edna Garrett, and her younger co-stars. But from the second season on Loring, who also teamed up with Carl Anderson for the 1986 No. 2 hit “Friends and Lovers,” took over the vocals by herself
11. Three’s Company
Ray Charles sings the theme song to Three’s Company. You read that right. What’s important to know is that there have been two very different successful singers named Ray Charles. One was an R&B, jazz and blues legend known for songs such as “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road Jack.” The other spent over three decades working with easy listening star Perry Como. Guess which one teamed up with Julia Rinker Miller to sing the frothy “Come and Knock on Our Door?”
10. Sanford and Son
The producers of the Redd Foxx showcase Sanford and Son did not mess around when it came time to hire a theme song writer, recruiting songwriting and producing legend Quincy Jones to compose “Sanford and Son Theme (The Streetbeater).” The song later appeared on Jones’ 1973 album You’ve Got It Bad Girl.
9. The Jeffersons
Well, weren’t 70s TV theme song writers one big happy, talented and interconnected family? Ja’Net DuBois, who starred as the gossipy Willona Woods on the Norman Lear-created Good Times, co-wrote the theme song for another Lear-led project, The Jeffersons with Jeff Berry, who you may remember from earlier in this list of ’70s TV theme songs as the co-author of One Day at a Time‘s “This is It.” Ain’t nothing wrong with that!
8. The Partridge Family
It’s pretty important for a TV show about a band to have a good theme song, and luckily The Partridge Family lived up to that Goal. There are two distinct versions of the song, featuring the same music but completely different lyrics and titles. The 1970-71 debut season featured “When We’re Singing,” while the more famous version titled “C’mon Get Happy” took over for the next three years.
7. Laverne & Shirley
Two songwriting stars and a complete unknown teamed up to create “Making Our Dreams Come True,” the beloved Laverne & Shirley opening theme song. Longtime collaborators Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, best known for the Lori Lieberman / Roberta Flack / Fugees smash “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” wrote the song for newcomer Cyndi Grecco, who took the song to No. 25 in 1976. Fox also wrote the original theme for Monday Night Football, ABC’s Wide World of Sports and co-wrote the next song on our list…
6. The Love Boat
Come aboard, we’re expecting you! With music from Charles Fox and lyrics by Paul Williams, the gloriously tacky The Love Boat theme welcomed viewers aboard the Pacific Princess cruise ship for new romantic adventures every week. Jack Jones sang the song for the show’s first eight seasons, but was replaced by Dionne Warwick for the original series’ final year. The song has appeared or been parodied in numerous movies and TV shows over the years, none more weird than when Sandra Bullock used it to seduce Sylvester Stallone into having virtual sex with her in 1993’s futuristic Demolition Man.
5. Welcome Back, Kotter
Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian had his first and only chart-topping solo hit in 1976 with the wistful “Welcome Back,” theme song for the Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta-starring sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. “I saw a pilot and read some early scripts, and went away thinking, ‘I could hit this out of the park!’ I came back with this song ‘Welcome Back,’ and their reaction was to change the name of the show from Kotter to Welcome Back, Kotter,” Sebastian told Uncut in 2014.
4. Happy Days
Remember earlier, when we were running down the impressive resume of songwriting partners Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox? Well, we forgot to mention that they also wrote the theme for Happy Days. For the first two seasons the song was only used as the show-closing song, with Bill Haley’s re-recorded “Rock Around the Clock” serving as the opening theme. A new version of “Happy Days” recorded by the duo Pratt & McClain took over in 1975’s season three, and hit No. 5 on the pop charts in 1976. That same year Gimbel and Fox also hit the charts with the theme from Laverne & Shirley, which starred two characters who originally appeared as friend of the Fonz on Happy Days.
3. Diff’rent Strokes
We’ve got more repeat winners and another spin-off connection to discuss. “It Takes Diff’rent Strokes” was co-written by “The Facts of Life” authors Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring, together with Al Burton. Thicke and Loring also sing on the track. Charlotte Rae appeared as housekeeper Edna Garrett for the show’s first season and a half before being moved over to a starring role in her own show, “The Facts of Life.”
2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Sonny Curtis, who also wrote the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back” and the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” delivered another classic with “Love Is All Around,” which served as the theme for the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. After the show’s first season the opening and closing lines were changed, with the latter switching from the doubtful “You might just make it after all” to the more confident “You’re gonna make it after all.” The song has been covered by a diverse range of artists including Joan Jett, Husker Du and Sammy Davis Jr.
1. WKRP in Cincinnati
Written by Tom Wells and series creator Hugh Wilson, the “WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme” perfectly sets up the show’s premise and sets a melancholy underlying mood, describing the often transient lifestyle of local radio disc jockeys, “tired of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial.”
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso