In order to immediately engage a viewer and make a television show memorable, it is essential that it has a fantastic theme tune and introduction. The theme tune should set the tone for the style of the show, so a comedy series should have an upbeat and entertaining theme and intro sequence, whilst a murder mystery should have something slightly sinister and intriguing. Throughout television history there have been countless classic theme tunes for all kinds of shows, and when heard they will immediately remind the viewer of the show and their favorite moments.
ER is the longest-running medical drama in American television history, and it also had an unforgettable theme which perfectly sets the tone for the show’s dramatic and exciting content. The tense music grips the viewer, and is is accompanied by dramatic footage of the staff at the hospital (this changed as characters came and went). The intro also has many unforgettable moments, such as Dr. Benton punching the air in success. Seeing as the show went on for so long, many characters came and went and it is famous for having a cast that included George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Sherry Stringfield, Eriq La Salle, Alex Kingston, Mekhi Phifer, Linda Cardellini and John Stamos throughout its history. With so many characters over the years, it needed stability and consistency, which was achieved with this unforgettable theme tune.
10. The Flintstones
Another instantly recognizable theme, despite the show finishing 50 years ago, “Meet the Flintstones” is brilliantly catchy, fun and exciting. This sets the tone for the cartoon, which is about a man, his family and his neighbors in the Stone Age. As the unforgettable theme tune tells us, “they’re a modern stone-age family,” and the show’s humor is in the modern everyday happenings in a Stone Age setting. The theme tune, which was recorded with a 22-piece jazz band a five-voice singing group, accompanies an intro sequence of Fred Flintstone finishing work and driving to pick up his family and neighbor. The Simpsons use a similar setup (that was possibly inspired by The Flintstones), plus they also do a brilliant parody of the theme too. The Flintstones originally used a different theme for the first two seasons, but it was changed to this classic theme in season three.
9. The Sopranos
Much like the show, there is something dangerous, cool and exciting about The Sopranos’ theme tune. “Woke Up This Morning” was written by British band Alabama 3, and it tells the story of a woman who kills her husband after years of abuse (based on the 1996 murder case of Sara Thornton). The opening line of “woke up this morning / got myself a gun” immediately grabs the audience’s attention, as well as fits in with the style and tone of the show. It is accompanied by Tony Soprano driving through New Jersey and passed various landmarks, before arriving at his suburban home, getting out the car and shutting the door. It is an interesting choice in theme tune because it is an electronica/trip hop song, which makes it stand out, since it is not the kind of music you typically find as a theme tune to a show.
8. Happy Days
Although not a song you would want to listen to when in a bad mood, “Happy Days” is a fantastic theme tune and, of course, sets the tone for the show. Happy Days ran from 1974 to 1984 and shows an idealized version of life in the ’50s and ’60s, and it is an unsurprisingly very positive and happy show. There were three versions of the song that were used during the show’s 10-year run, and for the first two seasons a different song was used as an intro—“Rock Around the Clock.” “Happy Days” was used during the closing credits at this time, but it was re-recorded in 1975 with different lyrics and this version would be used for seasons three to 10 (both opening and closing credits). In 1983, Bobby Arvon recorded the song again and this version was used for the final season (along with new opening credits).
The theme tune for M*A*S*H, “Suicide is Painless,” may seem a little morbid for a comedy series, but M*A*S*H was a dark comedy that highlighted the absurdity of war. The theme song is an instrumental version of the movie’s theme tune, and the lyrics were written by the director’s son, Mike Altman, who was just 14 years old at the time. Although instrumental for the hugely popular television series, the theme tune still has the same impact and does a fantastic job of setting the tone for the show. The show follows doctors and support staff that are stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea during the Korean War, and it would go on to become one of the most popular shows of all time. The theme tune is instantly recognizable and will bring back many fond memories for fans.
6. The Simpsons
One of the most immediately recognizable pieces of music, The Simpsons theme tune sounds as fun and entertaining now as it did when the show first started in 1989. The piece was composed by the legendary Danny Elfman, and many consider it to be his finest piece of work. An orchestral instrumental piece, it is attention-grabbing and exciting, and works perfectly along with the opening sequence. This has changed a few times over the years, but follows a similar structure in that it shows the family on their way home, with them all arriving on the sofa at the same time. What makes The Simpsons intro still fresh and engaging is that there are a few elements which change with each episode, including what Bart writes on the chalkboard, what Lisa plays on the saxophone and the famous couch gag right at the end of the sequence.
5. Hawaii Five-O
Although an instrumental, the Hawaii Five-O theme tune became so popular that it charted, and it can still be heard today, either being played by marching bands or in bars and clubs (and it is guaranteed to get people up and dancing). The theme tune is now, arguably, more popular than the cop drama show, and it has even become the unofficial fight song at the University of Hawaii. The theme was composed by Morton Stevens, who was also responsible for the scores of many episodes, but it was recorded by the Ventures who reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the song. The new version of the show, Hawaii Five-0, attempted to update the song with a synthesizer and guitar-based version, but this got a hugely negative reaction and they have now returned to the classic theme (albeit a shortened version).
4. The Addams Family
Criminally, The Addams Family only aired for two seasons between 1964 and 1966. Despite this, the show had one of the greatest and most immediately recognizable theme tunes in television history. Fortunately, the story and theme tune lived on through the popular films made in the ’90s, which also helped to bring new viewers to the show. The Addams Family is essentially the opposite of Happy Days, focusing on a close-knit family of strange, twisted and macabre characters. The theme tune reflects this, as there is something creepy, twisted and dark about the song, while still being entertaining and funny. The opening verse states “they’re creepy and they’re kooky / mysterious and spooky / they’re all together ooky / The Addams Family,” with a harpsichord being used along with finger-snaps as percussive accompaniment. An alternative, yet fantastic, show and theme, everyone is a fan of The Addams Family.
Friends is one of the most popular and successful television series of all time, and the theme tune “I’ll Be There For You” is a classic which will instantly bring back many fond memories for fans. Written by The Rembrants, and like all good theme tunes, it perfectly sets the tone for the show. The show is, of course, about a group of close friends who spend all their time with each other and go through life’s challenges together. This is the message of the song, and the show became such a hit that the song topped the Billboard charts. The theme tune now defines ’90s television, and although the show finished over 10 years ago, it still lives on with this classic theme tune (and the endless reruns on television). Be warned, this song will always spark a group sing-along when played in public.
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
You will struggle to find an ’80s or ’90s kid that won’t complete the entire theme if you utter the words “in West Philadelphia, born and raised,” which is a sign of a fantastic theme. Not only is the song impossible to not rap along to, it is also an entertaining intro that cleverly tells you the entire back-story of the show (this is useful for new viewers of the show and when it first aired). The song was written and performed by Will Smith, who plays a fictionalized version of himself on the show, and the music was composed by Quincy Jones III. You will often hear the music used throughout the show too, usually to bridge scenes, and this develops tone and consistency throughout. The music, lyrics and introduction to the show is painfully ’90s, and also one of the greatest and catchiest television themes of all time.
“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” has become an important tagline in television history, and the theme tune perfectly introduces Cheers and will give many people fond memories whenever they hear the song. It is synonymous with the popular show that ran between 1982 and 1993, which focused on a group of characters that meet in a bar to socialize and relax. The theme and tagline, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” suits the show as it is all about finding somewhere that you can feel comfortable and be yourself. This is the sign of a good theme tune, and all those that came after will first be compared to this timeless classic. The song was written and performed by Gary Portnoy, and it has been such an effective theme tune that many people will be able to sing the song despite never seeing the show.