10. Angie (ABC, 1979-1980)
This sitcom — a vehicle for actors Donna Pescow and Robert Hays — wasn’t a success, but its theme song managed to top the charts. Singer-songwriter Maureen McGovern performed the aptly titled theme music, Different Worlds. (Pescow and Hays’ characters fell in love in the series, but had very different familial backgrounds.) In 1979, an extended version of the one-and-a-half minute theme song went No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts. In no time, however, this series faded into oblivion.
9. Laverne & Shirley (ABC, 1976-1983)
It sounds like an unlikely combination: start off with a Yiddish-American hopscotch chant – “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated” — and lead into a theme song titled, Making Our Dreams Come True.”But it worked, and audiences young and adult remember the images of free-spirited Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) skipping down the streets of Milwaukee. American singer Cyndi Grecco sang the theme song for most of the show’s eight seasons. The theme was released as a single and charted at No. 25 on July 25, 1976.
8. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (NBC, 1990-1996)
Although he took a career turn from rapper to actor in the early 1990s, Will Smith did not give up his musical roots as he rapped the theme song to this long-running sitcom starring Smith. The theme song, The Fresh Prince, was written by Smith and composed by Quincy Delightt Jones III, the son of famed music producer Quincy Jones. In one of the best examples of dropping a plot synopsis into the theme song, The Fresh Prince explains why Will Smith — the actor and the character shared the same name — was being shipped off from the ghettos of west Philadelphia to the opulent lifestyle shared by his relatives in the Los Angeles community of Bel Air.
7. WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS, 1978-1982)
Perhaps one of the most oft-recited themes, WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme tells the tale of Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) running a fictitious radio station in the Ohio city. Series creator Hugh Wilson — who worked previously in advertising sales at a top-40 radio station — penned the lyrics to the theme. Singer Steve Carlisle performed the theme, and Tom Wells handled the composition. A year into the show’s success, a full-length version was released by MCA Records. It eventually peaked at No. 65 on the pop singles chart in 1981 and at No. 29 in adult contemporary in 1982.
6. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975-1979)
John B. Sebastian, the frontman for the hit 1960s pop-rock band Lovin’ Spoonful, wrote and recorded Welcome Back, the popular theme song synonymous with the numerous gritty images of Brooklyn in this hit sitcom. The fitting music alluded to Gabe Kotter’s (Gabe Kaplan) return to the high school he attended. As a student, Kotter was a rebel-with-a-cause and, in a turn of events, teaches students of a similar mindset throughout the show’s four seasons. Welcome Back became a No. 1 hit single in spring 1976.
5. Bonanza (NBC, 1959-1973)
Perhaps one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever recorded for TV, the instrumental Bonanza theme song was composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. David Rose orchestrated the theme, which included banjos, guitars and other string instruments. Billy May is credited with arranging the theme music. Various iterations of the up-tempo, fast-paced theme song were used throughout the series’ successful 14-season run. Throughout the 1960s, various musicians, including Johnny Cash, released their own versions of the Bonanza theme with varying degrees of success.
4. Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-1987)
This fully-orchestrated instrumental served as the opening for the venerable Steven Bochco-produced cop drama that was set in an unspecified urban American city. Hill Street Blues Theme Song was written by Mike Post and featured Larry Carlton. Piggy-backing off the series’ success, the theme eventually reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts.
3. The X-Files (Fox, 1993-2002)
The X-Files, the theme to the hit Fox supernatural-paranormal drama, was an instrumental that featured various sound effects set to an eerie backdrop. The theme and all interstitial music throughout the program were composed by Mark Snow, a friend of executive producer R.W. Goodwin. In published reports, Snow said the echoing effects throughout the series were initially put in by accident through the mixing process, but were retained. The music was used throughout the series’ nine-season run. The embedded video features a full-length version of the song.
2. Greatest American Hero (ABC, 1981-1983)
Lasting less than three seasons, Greatest American Hero will not go down in history as a blockbuster hit TV series. But the series’ theme, Believe it or Not, certainly will. Joey Scarbury sang the lyrics to the superhero comedy-drama that starred William Katt as Ralph Hinkley, a high school teacher who receives superhero abilities following an accident during a geological field trip with his students. Mike Post composed the theme music, which debuted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1981, peaking at No. 2 and remaining on the charts for 18 weeks. Stephen Geyer wrote the lyrics.
1. The Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-1992)
Although Thank You for Being a Friend, the theme song to this hit geriatric gal-pal sitcom, was originally recorded in 1978, the lyrics will be forever synonymous with images of a Miami skyline and Dorothy Zbornak (Beatrice Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Musician Andrew Gold, who died in June 2011, recorded the song for his third album, All This and Heaven Too. In 1978, the single reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Singer Cynthia Fee re-recorded the song in 1985 to serve as the theme for The Golden Girls.