The Top Ten Television Theme Songs of All Time
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. There is much wisdom in that. Songs can be worth a thousand words as well. A simple melody can tell a story. A tune can paint a beautiful and powerful picture in our minds. And if the song has words, then it’s worth like a thousand words multiplied by the number of words in the song, then divided by how long the song is….carry the one…complete the square…Yep. Lots of words. So many words…
Here are some great TV theme songs that tell us stories, set the scene for the show, or simply make us want to smile. We present to you the Rambling Ever On Top Ten Television Theme Songs of All Time. Enjoy!
10. Miami Vice
The synthesizers. The drums. The pastels. It can only mean one thing: Miami Vice. There was a time when the sights, sounds, and world created by this TV show defined what was cool in America. Everything the show was about was epitomized in the music. It was flashy, loud, and lacked all subtlety. I remember seeing Miami Vice when I was a kid. I wanted to be Detective Sonny Crockett. I wanted to look and be that cool. I wanted to be able to wear those clothes and drive that car. And by “when I was a kid” I actually mean right now. Today. The dream will never die. (Phill Lytle)
9. Magnum P.I.
Magnum P.I. had a lot of things going for it:
- The beautiful scenery of Hawaii
- Tom Selleck’s mustache
- T.C.’s helicopter
- Pretty much everything about Higgins
- Tom Selleck’s mustache (it is so glorious it had to be mentioned twice)
The amazing theme song is what tied it all together, though. It is fast, but with a nice change of pace in the middle. It is cool, but inviting. It is the perfect background music for helicopter and/or Ferrari chase scenes. And let’s face it, Magnum gave us plenty of those. Mike Post and Pete Carpenter blessed us with several classic TV themes and this may be their best. (Michael Lytle)
8. Hawaii Five-0
After being gone for about 30 years, Hawaii Five-0 came back to TV. And a lot was different. It was more modern. It was flashier, brighter. There is a stark contrast between 70s TV and TV from the current decade. Yet a couple of things didn’t change at all: the gorgeous views from the island and that music. That melodic, unforgettable bass drum, trumpet-led music. This list is filled with music and (some) lyrics that put people back into the worlds of the TV they represent. But perhaps more than any other on this list, I can recognize the song after two notes. And my mind always immediately sees the giant “Hawaii Five-0” on the screen with its images of perfect beaches and pristine ocean waves. And I’m certain that when they decided to bring the show back to TV a few years ago, the theme was absolutely going to be the same. It’s that good. (Gowdy Cannon)
7. Friday Night Lights
I don’t think I can put into words what this theme song means to me. I know that sounds completely absurd, but it’s true. I hear the guitar, and I am immediately transported back to Dillon, Texas. I see the town. The people. The football team. Mostly though, I see coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami. I see a TV show that championed the underdog, celebrated small town America, and glorified a stable, loving marriage. I hear the theme song, and I’m back cheering on the Panthers as they try to win State. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose indeed. (Phill Lytle)
6. Mission Impossible
I love the theme song for Mission Impossible. It’s not complicated. It starts with that high pitched sound (you know what I’m talking about, not sure what instrument) and then that awesome bass line followed by a flute. Who knew mixing those sounds would be so cool? It’s only a few notes but instantly recognizable. This song is the quintessence of action themes. Once you hear this song you will immediately recognize that something awesome (and most likely unrealistic) is about to happen. (Brandon Atwood)
5. The Jeffersons
It was a mild September day. I had my second floor apartment window open, but apparently had forgotten. I had just finished my laundry and was folding it in my tiny living room. As I often do, I started singing. The Jeffersons theme song. And I really got into it. I was singing with great passion, all the lyrics, inventing lyrics, using socks for drums, eyes closed, wailing at the top of my lungs. As I got the end, I really nailed the last “Finally got a piece of the pie” and held out that last glorious long I in ‘pie’ over several syllables. Like the actual song but ten times longer. I opened my eyes and looked out the open apartment window and there stood a family of four on the sidewalk staring at me. I stood there, stunned. They stood there, stunned. I couldn’t move. They didn’t move. There was no way I could play off what happened and I was too embarrassed to keep going. We were entranced in a face-off of awkwardness for the ages. It could have lasted 10 seconds or 10 hours. I have no idea. Eventually they moved on and I closed my window. And took inventory of my life. But one thing I do know: a theme song that is the centerpiece for THAT kind of story has to be among the greatest theme songs of all time. (Gowdy Cannon)
4. The Andy Griffith Show
Old Andy, he said to hiself, he says, “Hark!” he says, “What beauteous whistlin’ diddy is this that cometh to my ears?” This whistlin’ diddy, it was a tune that was originally written with lyrics. Although the lyrics are just fine, it is fortunate that these lyrics were replaced with the now iconic whistling. This simple, whistling tune makes you want to haul off down that dirt road and join Andy and Opey down at the fishin’ hole—and Barney and Floyd it if they have a notion to. This old theme song, it brings back a time of simplicity and wholesomeness and laughin’ and gigglin’ for the rest of your born days. (Benjamin Plunkett)
3. Band of Brothers
It’s pure orchestral goodness. No lyrics. No snappy tune. Just two of the most beautiful minutes of music ever recorded. When I first watched this epic mini-series about the second World War, I knew I was in good hands as soon as the theme music started playing. It told me that this was going to be a respectful and honoring look at the brave men who fought to protect our country. Do yourself a favor. Even if you won’t watch the mini-series because you have a hard time with war violence on the screen, just watch the opening credits and listen to the music. That’s the essence of the show distilled to two minutes and 26 seconds of sound and imagery. Perfection. (Phill Lytle)
The simple but beautiful piano jingle of this theme song is accompanied by equally iconic lyrics that introduces a place where A) everyone knows your name, B) they’re always glad you came, and C) our troubles are all the same. I don’t think all three of these points were always consistent throughout the show because I remember watching episodes where at least one of these wasn’t true. Still the spirit of the song remained steadfast in every single season. By the end, you truly felt as if this song truly spoke into your life and was definitely the “Norm!” The show makers could scarcely have chosen a better song to go with their show about camaraderie and the love of friendship. Want to see what I mean? Just turn on the tube to a rerun. Boom! Piano jingle. Iconic lyrics. Everybody knows your name. Cheers. (Benjamin Plunkett)
1. The A-Team
In a matter of seconds, A-TEAM’s theme gave you a significant background story and then put you right in the battle with explosions and fighting music and four of the greatest, most distinct character in 80s TV lore. Don’t mess with B.A. Baracus. You just don’t. The intro tells you that. I’m pretty sure I watched A-TEAM as much for the opening music as for the show itself. After hearing the history of the four men, and hearing their song, I always wanted to go out and fight. But not just fight anyone. I wanted to fight bad guys. A-TEAM’s theme made me a better man of justice. And a better American. So to vote it #1 was an honor. (Gowdy Cannon)
33 thoughts on “The Top Ten Television Theme Songs of All Time”
Good list, and I mostly agree (never watched Friday Night Lights, so can’t say there), although I might quibble here and there with the order. But a good list. Some suggestions as apparently also-rans:
M*A*S*H: if you can get away from its depressing lyrics (not used on the TV theme/credits anyway), it’s great.
The Addams Family/Gilligan’s Island: These on the other hand are nothing without the lyrics.
Tour of Duty: Paint It Black was an easy choice for opening the show, but they all also had their own theme at the end.
King of the Hill: (click) Yep (click) Yep
Not sure if they count as “theme music” the way most people think of them, but the “mostly music-themed introductions” to House and ER fall into a rather interesting category.
P.S. I wanted to use the Miami Vice theme as the intro for a deputational slide show back in the day. They didn’t go for it….
There were several individual-character themes that figured prominently in that series, too.
Allan, M*A*S*H did really well, but just missed making the Top 10.
I love the King of the Hill song. LOVE IT. It would probably be in my personal Top 10.
MASH always seems to barely miss getting on our top 10 lists. It really is a shame.
Hey…you left out Gilmore Girls!!l
Oh, and Downton Abbey has cool music, too!!
I’m probably what is causing the M*A*S*H failure to crack the Top 10. I just can’t get into that show. And the theme doesn’t do if for me. Perhaps it’s jealousy that its finale was bigger than Seinfeld’s.
Pretty sure it’s me too, Gowdy
Should I admit that my love for Netflix includes fast-forwarding through theme songs?
Get thee behind me Amy!
This list was chosen by a group of men. Thus no Gilmore Girls or Downton Abbey.
I’m actually sad and a little annoyed with myself that we overlooked Downton Abbey. I love that music.
Gilmore Girls is another story…
Very good list. I never watched Friday Night Lights so can’t comment on it but the others are strong selections.
My first thought was that MASH should’ve been included. Showing a little bit of my age, but I would hope that Gilligan’s Island, Welcome Back Kotter, and Happy Days received some consideration. I also like the theme to Hogan’s Heroes.
My initial reaction was to hope Scrubs was on the list, but it is actually not that strong on theme song. But it may be the show that best used music to help tell its story.
Happy Days had a good run. It got knocked down to our “loser’s bracket” by Hawaii Five-0. Then, it got it’s second loss 7 rounds into the Loser’s bracket by Band of Brothers. So both times, it lost to an eventual Top Ten theme song.
Scrubs had some support as well.
M*A*S*H* was beaten by The A-Team and Friday Night Lights.
Won’t argue with the list but “Simon & Simon” and “The Rockford Files” are a couple of my personal favorites.
“Rockford” got a strong push. There are many great themes that didn’t make the final 10.
This list by far was the toughest as far as “I don’t want to see that one eliminated!” because half the list was like that to me. I had forgotten about Simon and Simon. Good call, Joey. Just music if I remember right but if fit the show perfectly.
How close did “Dallas” come to making the final list?
You are going to hate us, but I don’t think it was even in the master list. None of us watched it and I think it slipped through the cracks.
I was just checking the bracket myself. And was stunned at its absence! In looking at the discussion, I mentioned it AFTER we had the 128 song field in place and it’s just a headache to add something at that point. We pretty much only make adjustments if the oversight really could affect the voting. I don’t think Dallas could have. I will say I love it (along with about 60 other themes apparently) and that my parents didn’t let us watch the show, but they let us watch the theme and then we had to go to bed.
Sounds like the Postlewaite household. No telling how many times I’ve heard that intro but not sure I’ve ever actually watched an episode.
Did “Bonanza,” and “Branded,” “Monk,” or “Psych” make the original bracket?
Bonanza and Psych for sure were on there. I’ll have to check on Monk and Branded. Psych had some strong support and some strong opposition.
I had Psych as my #1 from the very beginning. Another guy had it very high, either in his Top 2-3 or maybe first. I can’t remember if there was much other support. This wasn’t the competition, but Psych is the 2nd best comedic show to me behind Seinfeld and the theme just nails the show to me. I could watch Psych intros all day.
I love that “Friday Night Lights” made the Top Ten. The paragraph description for that one took me back.
I don’t know how it (or any other song) ended up ahead of “Hawaii Five-0,” but good list of songs. It’s hard to argue against any on the list.
Thank you. I was probably the biggest fan of FNL among the voters.
The thing I love most about this post is that it is proof some people actually read our blurbs. Awes!
I read some of them. Definitely the titles that interest me the most. “Friday Night Lights” is in my top 5 all-time favorite shows, with “Psych” being #1, and it’s not even close.
I will say, Gowdy’s story about “The Jeffersons” had me cracking up. It sounds exactly like something I would get caught doing. That is a great theme song. Gets me every time.
Something for anyone who is interested to know: We voted based on having actually seen each intro. They were youtubed to each voter. All 128. Unlike just about every other list where there are always some you know and a few you don’t when voting, we could rank all of these based on merit. I had never heard Band of Brothers but I ended up loving it and helping it get to #3.
I was wondering about that. Good decision.
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