TV show theme songs have been on my mind lately, so this weekend I am kicking off a new mini series of posts in which I will attempt to identify the best tv show theme songs in various categories. To begin with, I will have separate posts for sitcoms and dramas, as well as for the “instrumental only” vs. “with lyrics” in each of those genres. Also, I am staying within my realm of knowledge, which is shows since 1980. If you know of any great pre-1980 theme songs, please let me know!
Before I get any further, I must share a link to an awesome website that also happens to be an excellent time waster. It also helped jog my memory on these theme songs, though. Basically, it is an archive of almost every tv theme song ever made:
First up: best instrumental sitcom theme songs. Without any lyrics to guide the audience in what the show is about, we rely on the tone of the music to set up our expectations. These songs aren’t necessarily the best musically speaking; perhaps it’s better to say that they are the best at conveying the essence of the shows they introduced. Looking back on some of the classic shows on this list, there is also a certain amount of nostalgia that influenced my selection process. It would have been too difficult for me to rate the best of the best, so instead I’ve just listed them in roughly chronological order. Without further adieu, here are my “Top Ten Instrumental Sitcom Theme Songs.”
Best Instrumental Sitcom Theme Songs
- The Cosby Show (Bobby McPferrin version from 1987) – I remember being irritated how every season this show had a different opening theme and sequence. I have always thrived on familiarity! But looking back, Bobby McFerrin’s jazzy performance is the one that seems quintessentially Cosby to me. It has a fun vibe, and (pardon me if this is cheesy) some nice harmonies that reflect the family togetherness that the show represents.
- Doogie Howser – “Da da da da dada, da da da da dada…” I can’t think of a more distinctive opening to a theme song than this one for the boy genius who becomes a doctor as a teenager. The robotic sounding opening notes are reflective of Doogie’s (at the time) high tech computer journal, on which he recorded his thoughts about his experiences in both the world of medicine and teenagedom. I was reminded how much I like this theme song when Neil Patrick Harris appeared on SNL awhile back and performed it with a full orchestra for a Digital Short. The SNL version sounded much better, but the original opening theme isn’t too bad either.
- Designing Women – What better song for a show about four southern women than “Georgia on My Mind”? The song was classy, just like these (mostly) sophisticated interior designers. I especially loved Julia (Dixie Carter) and Mary Jo (Annie Potts). There have been few tv shows that I can think of that show a smarter side to the South. We aren’t all backwoods hicks, you know.
- Roseanne – Roseanne was the polar opposite of most family sitcoms of its time. It represented life for a working class family, and Roseanne and Dan weren’t raising clean cut, perfect kids like the Seavers or the Huxtables. The gritty, bluesy theme song was perfect as an introduction to the daily lives of the Connors.
- Night Court – The jazzy, saxophone-infused opening theme to this courtroom comedy was a perfect fit. Most of the show’s events took place at night, and gave us a glimpse of some bizarre misfits through the cases that Harry presided over. In addition to it having the right tone for the show, this song is simply fun to listen to.
- Kids in the Hall – I couldn’t find a video of this opening on YouTube, but you can listen to it on the provided link. Like the Night Court theme, this one is fun to listen to, but it also has a quirky, fun, slightly irreverent tone, which is just what the guys on this show were.
- The Simpsons – The opening to this longest running animated show is almost as entertaining as the show itself. Epic in scale, the music builds and builds as we meet the various members of this strange little family of yellow people.
- King of the Hill – I really love this opening theme. It is so catchy and perfect for the show, with its guitar driven melody and fast pace. Sometimes I liked the opening sequence more than the show itself!
- Seinfeld – I haven’t always enjoyed listening to this theme song, mainly because I had a boyfriend in college who thought it was hilarious to frequently imitate the bass guitar section of the song after saying something he thought was funny. (It wasn’t.) But this song is so strongly connected to the show and the characters that I couldn’t imagine seeing Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer without it.
- The Office – Oh, how I love this opening theme. There are so few shows anymore that have a fun opening sequence, so I always watch The Office intro, where we see various employees of Dundler Mifflin going about their daily work. For me, this song represents how pointless many of the hours spent in offices are (the tedious tasks, the office politics over things like who didn’t brew a new pot of coffee when they drank the last cup, etc.), and how the employees just have to make the most of them, and make their own fun.
Like I said before, I limited my list to shows since 1980. I am sure there are some worthy contenders from before then. One that comes to mind is The Andy Griffith Show. And so, I’ll leave you with that theme song, so that you’ll have something fun to whistle all day. (Hmm… does whistling count as an instrument?) What other comedies with instrumental theme songs are your favorites?
Stay tuned next weekend for the next installment of “The Best TV Theme Songs.”