When you’re binging the latest Netflix hit or deeply attached to a particular show, the theme song has a permanent slot in your mental jukebox. You can be working, chasing after the kids, sitting in traffic, or feeding your inner gym rat, and the song can suddenly pop into your head for no apparent reason. You’re lucky if one of the songs that most often pops into your head is one of these.
1. Cheers: “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – Gary Portnoy
Fans who pulled their barstool up to Sam Malone’s bar for their weekly Thursday night dose of Cheers between 1982 and 1993 developed a Pavlovian response to the theme song. When they heard “Everybody Knows Your Name,” they’d immediately feel the warmth and camaraderie of America’s most beloved watering hole. Cheers delivered all the beer-soaked ribbing and camaraderie of a local pub without the hangover. It’s no surprise that Gary Portnoy’s theme inspires more nostalgia than most.
2. The Wire: “Way Down in the Hole” – Various Artists
The Wire creator David Simon’s decision to update The Wire’s theme song in each of its five seasons is one of its many perfect strokes. From Tom Waits’ gravely, boisterous rendition to The Neville Brothers’ bassline-driven version and Steve Earle’s send-off to the series, “Way Down in the Hole” is one of the few theme songs you could keep in your Spotify rotation.
3. Friends: “I’ll Be There for You” – The Rembrandts
Friends is definitely a love-or-hate show, as many of America’s most popular entertainment tends to be. Even if you never watched an episode of Friends, odds are you could recognize the theme song “I’ll Be There for You” within ten seconds of hearing it. Everyone had at least one friend who was obsessed with Friends. Americans know the sound of Ross, Phoebe, Joey, Rachel, Chandler, and Monica well. If brand recognition is the goal of crafting a show’s theme song, “I’ll Be There for You” is the blueprint.
4. The Sopranos: “Woke up This Morning” – Alabama 3
Who knew that Alabama 3, a British rock band, was responsible for the masterpiece “Woke Up This Morning,” which accompanied viewers through a tour of New Jersey, from the turnpike to Tony’s mansion in the burbs? The song debuted two years before The Sopranos’ debut in 1997, but “Woke Up This Morning” playing on The Sopranos was the world’s proper introduction to the perfectly-chosen theme. If you don’t love this gritty intro, Tony needs to have a “talk” with you out on The Stugots way out in the Atlantic.
5. The Golden Girls: “Thank You for Being a Friend” – Cynthia Fee
Cynthia Fee covered “Thank You for Being a Friend” as the theme for The Golden Girls. Fans of the show were bummed when the show wrapped in 1992, but fortunately, they would have reruns, DVD box sets, and now streaming to keep the gals in their lives. And, with each viewing and rewatch, “Thank You for Being a Friend” would play, imprinting a permanent recording in your brain waves. The B-roll of Miami and several scenes of Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy cuttin’ up perfectly match the upbeat, piano-powered theme.
6. The X-Files: “Materia Primoris: The X-Files Theme” – Mark Snow
Mark Snow’s haunting electronic theme for The X-Files perfectly captures the supernatural vibe of the original show that took audiences by storm (or by an unidentified flying object). The song charted impressively in France upon its release in 1996. Various remixes also became modest hits in other countries. The truth is out there, and people love The X-Files (and its theme).
7. The Leftovers: “Opening Credits” – Max Richter
When you think of a musical masterpiece, several classical songs may come to mind. The Leftovers’ string-heavy Season 1 intro song is the classical choice on this list. The song gains steam as it moves forward, reaching a fever pitch that captures the characters’ desperation in a show set in a world where many people mysteriously disappear, leaving nothing but broken loved ones and questions in their wake.
8. Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Frolic” – Luciano Michelini
If you find yourself in a self-inflicted situation that leaves a carton’s worth of eggs on your face, cue the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme to soften the blow. Life is just funnier when you view the annoyances, petty grudges, and awkwardness through the lens of Larry David. The entire Curb Your Enthusiasm score shows how the most subtle sonic additions can elevate an already hilarious comedy to the next level.
9. The A-Team: “The A-Team Theme Song” – Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
Showrunners would need a macho, triumphant theme song to introduce B.A. Baracus, Howling Mad Murdock, Hannibal, and Faceman. Pete Carpenter and Mike Post hit the mark, leaving us with one of the most recognizable theme songs ever.
10. The Jeffersons: “Movin’ on Up” – Ja’Net Dubois
“The fish don’t fry in the kitchen, the beans don’t burn on the grill” is the type of line that immediately catapults a TV show’s theme song into the top ten. A jingle with the uplifting rhythm and design of a gospel song, “Movin’ On Up” got fans to laugh along with George and Louise.
This article was first published and syndicated by The Cents of Money.