Remember when the tv theme song was just as awesome as the show itself and you looked forward to hearing it as much as you did seeing the new episode? Thanks to the interwebs, great theme songs and their opening credits are never more than a click away. Whether the show itself was ultimately cheestastic or clever almost doesn’t matter. Great theme songs can spawn singalongs and is guaranteed to evoke nostalgia. It’s funny how the words come right back to you, even those you were singing wrong. There are literally hundreds of cool tv theme songs to reconnect with. The following list is but a sampling with a little history and a few fun facts thrown in. Enjoy and let me know what your favorite tv theme song is!
Whatchoo Talkin 'Bout Diff’rent Strokes?
This tv classic also has one of the best theme songs. On the air from 1978-1986, Diff’rent Strokes tells the story of two boys from Harlem, Arnold and Willis, who are black, who are adopted by Mr. Drummond, who is white and rich, when their mother, Mr. Drummond’s maid, dies. Their father is already deceased. The original cast was rounded out by Mr. Drummond’s daughter (Kimberly) and a new maid (Mrs. Garrett). Many of the first episodes found humor from the adjustment that came from becoming instantly rich. It also spawned the iconic catchphrase "What Choo Talkin 'Bout Willis?” Originally a hoot, the catchphrase became tiresome but mandatory for every show, It found new life after Diff’rent Strokes in the form of "Whatchoo Talkin "Bout" tee shirts and more.
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While this is one of the great theme songs that live on for fans to enjoy, most of the show’s stars did not have a storybook ending. Drug abuse, armed robbery, and lawsuits are a part of the show’s legacy. Dana Plato (Kimberly) committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 34 and Gary Coleman (Arnold) died following a head injury from a fall at age of 42 in 2010. Conrad Bains (Mr. Drummond) passed away at the age of 89 in January of 2013. The two remaining stars, Todd Bridges (Willis) and Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) still appear in projects from time to time. Charlotte Rae, who went on to star in another tv classic, The Facts of Life, released a book in 2013 about her life. Among the revelations are her feelings of betrayal upon finding out that her husband of 25 years had been unfaithful and was gay.
Fun Fact #1: A teenaged Janet Jackson played the role of Charlene DuPrey, Willis' girlfriend on the show.
Good Times and Dy-No-Mite!
This breakthrough series about a black family living in the projects on the south side of Chicago aired from 1974 – 1979. This great theme song has sad lyrics, but an uplifting gospel feel. Starring Esther Rolle as Florida and John Amos as James, they were the parents of three kids, J.J. (Jimmie Walker), Thelma (Bernnadette Stainis) and Michael (Ralph Carter). The cast was rounded out with best friend and neighbor Willona (Ja’net Du Bois) and Bookman (Johnny Brown), the building superintendent. The sitcom told stories of the Evans family’s struggles, love and survival. Jimmie Walker became the break-out star with the catch phrase, “Dy-no-mite!” It was popular with television audiences, but at least a couple of the show’s stars saw this and other aspects of J.J.’s character as buffoonish and perpetuating negative stereotypes about black people. This conflict lead to the departure of the show’s parent figures.
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Luckily, tragedy did not befall the cast of Good Times like that of Diff’rent Strokes. Following her run on Good Times, Esther Rolle went on to perform in various projects including film and made for tv movies. She died in 1998 at the age of 78. John Amos’ career has spanned more than 40 years and he has had roles in Roots, The West Wing, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Hunter. Jimmie Walker has made guest appearances over the years on shows such as The Love Boat and talk show Chelsea Lately and performs stand-up comedy. His book, “Dynomite!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times – a Memoir,” details his rise to fame and the on-set tensions. Ja’net DuBois, who co-wrote and sang the theme song for The Jeffersons (another one of those great theme songs and on this list) has won two Emmy awards and continues to work as an actress, usually in guest starring roles. Ralph Carter has appeared in a few Good Times reunion specials. Johnny Brown, who in addition to Good Times was also a cast member of Laugh In, continues to perform.
Fun Fact #2: Jimmie Walker is only eight years younger than John Amos. Either John looked much older than his years or Jimmie looked much younger or both!
Fun Fact #3: In later years of the series, Janet Jackson played the role of Penny Gordon, a little girl abandoned by her abusive mother and adopted by Willona.
In the clip below you gotta love the old school announcement of where Good Times was filmed.
The Jeffersons - Movin' on Up
Another American television classic, The Jeffersons tv theme song tells the story of a newly affluent black couple “movin’ on up,” to an apartment on the East Side of New York City. The series aired for 11 seasons starting in 1975 and is still one of the longest running sitcoms in history. Like the show it spun off from, All in the Family, the main character was loud mouthed and bigoted. Today’s television shows contain wanton violence, prolific sex and lots of potty mouth, but they are still waaaaay more PC than The Jeffersons and All in the Family were back in the day.
The show centered around George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley), and his wife Louise (Weezy) Jefferson, played by Isabel Sanford. The other main characters included friends and neighbors, Tom and Helen Willis played by Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker, who were television’s first married black and white interracial couple, and wise cracking maid Florence (Marla Gibbs). The show also had a number of series regulars. The show was unceremoniously canceled, with Sherman Hemsley finding out about it by reading it in the newspaper.
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Life after The Jeffersons was good for the cast, although all but one of the main characters has since passed away. Famous for his “little man confident strut (which can be seen in this great theme song clip),” Sherman Hemsley, an Air Force veteran was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and went on to perform in other projects such as the sitcom Amen. He died in July, 2012 at the age of 74. Isabel Sanford who died in 2004 at the age of 86 went on to guest star in many sitcoms such as Living Single and The Steve Harvey Show. Sherman and Isabel had such great chemistry that they made guests appearances together and starred in tv commercials for Old Navy.
Following The Jeffersons, Franklin Cover continued to make guest appearances. He had a supporting role in the movie Wall Street and also appeared on the tv sitcom, Will and Grace. He died in 2006 at the age of 77. Roxie Roker went on to guest star in many tv shows like the Love Boat (another one of those top theme songs), A Different World, and Murder She Wrote. She died in 1995 at the age of 66. Marla Gibbs, now 81 and the sole surviving main character, went on to rack up five Emmy nominations and star in her own sitcom, 227. She has also guest starred in many tv shows such as ER, Dave Chappelle, Cold Case, and Dawson’s Creek as well as movies and voiceovers.
Fun Fact #4: You wouldn’t have known it but Isabel Sanford was twenty years older than Sherman Hemsley.
Fun Fact #5: Roxie Roker is the mother of rock star Lenny Kravitz and the cousin of on air weather personality Al Roker.
The Love Boat - Set a Course for Adventure
This next top theme song is schmaltzy and buttery and perfect for the show. Based on a non-fiction novel by a former cruise director, The Love Boat, which aired from 1977-1986 was unique in that it followed multiple romantic and comedic storylines each week, specializing in guest star appearances. The stories were tied together by the ship’s captain and four crew members, the show’s stars. The original cast was led by Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod), the cruise director Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes), the purser, Gopher Smith (Fred Grandy), the chief bartender, Isaac Washington (Ted Lange), and the ship’s doctor Adam Bricker (Bernie Koppell).
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Happily, all of the cast members are alive and well, though a couple suffered through some challenges. Gavin MacLeod, age 82, who had fame prior to the Love Boat on a little series known as the Mary Tyler Moore show earned five Golden Globe Award nominations. Lauren Tewes, age 59, was fired from the Love Boat due to cocaine addiction which she overcame. She currently does voice over work and supports personal causes. Ted Lange, age 65, known for his wide smile, has had guest starring roles in series such as Psych and Drake & Josh, participated in one season of Celebrity Fit Club, and has directed and acted in theatre. Bernie Koppell, age 79, made guest appearances on many shows such as David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, the Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, often parodying his Love Boat character. Fred Grandy, age 64 mostly left television, pursuing a political career instead. He was a four term Congressman, meriting a number of awards for his work, and served/serves as a political commentator among other endeavors.
Fun Fact #6: The ship featured in the opening credits is a Princess Cruise ship named the Pacific Princess. The ship sailed until 2003 and was sold for scrap metal in 2012. If you watch closely you’ll see the cruise line’s trademark Sea Witch mascot.
The Odd Couple - Perfect Together
The Odd Couple is arguably the funniest of the sitcoms featured here. Catchy and hummable this is one of those great theme songs where it is as fun to listen to as the opening credits are to watch. Funny stuff! In this iconic show which ran for five seasons starting in 1970, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger (played by Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) are two divorced men who become roommates. They almost drive each other nuts because of their different personality styles. Oscar is beyond sloppy, laid back and likes to have fun with the boys, while Felix is a fastidious “Type A” personality with refined tastes. Hilarity ensues.
Both actors remained enormously popular after the show’s end until their deaths. Tony Randall had his own show, the Tony Randall Show and starred in the tv movie, Love Sidney. He and Jack Klugman often reunited on tv and on stage reprising their Odd Couple roles. He was a frequent and very popular guest star of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and the David Letterman show. He was also an advocate of the arts. He died in 2004 at the age of 84.
Jack Klugman who earned an Emmy Award prior to starring in The Odd Couple had another hit as the star of the tv show Quincy M.E. The role earned him four Emmy nominations. Though stricken with throat cancer which left him raspy voiced after the removal of a vocal cord, Jack Klugman continued to perform. He died in 2012 at the age of 90.
Fun Fact #7: Jack Klugman’s real life son, Adam Klugman play his younger self in a flashback scene on The Odd Couple.
Sweet Fact: Jack Klugman gave the eulogy at Tony Randall’s funeral in 2004.
When watching the opening credits and listening to the tv theme song for The Odd Couple, take a close look at the 16 second mark when Felix Unger is sitting on his suit cases in the rain. Do you think the man who stops to looks knows it’s not for real?