The Stories Behind 10 T.V. Theme Songs

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You know them and love them (or maybe you hate them) - those T.V. theme songs that are so catchy they get in your head for days and refuse to leave. But how did they come to be in the first place? Here are the stories behind 10 of the most famous T.V. theme songs of all time. I could do 10 more pretty easily - if I missed your favorite, leave it in the comments and I'll try to include it next time.

1. "Suicide is Painless" - M*A*S*H*

The
song was written by Robert Altman's son, Mike Altman, when he was only 14
years old. The tune was written by Johnny Mandel, a musician who worked
with Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee (among others). Mandel sings
the song as well. When Altman wrote the lyrics, he told producer Ingo Preminger
that he just wanted a guitar in return, but Preminger insisted that he be
paid the regular way and set up a contract that would give Altman royalties.
He ended up making more than a million dollars, at least according to his
dad, who directed the movie. Incidentally, Robert only received $75,000
for directing it.

2. "Those Were The Days" - All in the Family

According
to series producer Norman Lear, the reason Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton
sang the theme song themselves was simply to save costs. Although it was
the same thing at the beginning of every episode, there were a few different
versions. In one, Archie hugs Edith at the end. In another, Edith smiles
at Archie and he returns the look with one of irritation. And we shouldn't
be surprised that the lyrics and music were so memorable: songwriting
duo Charles Strouse and Lee Adams were very good at their jobs, having
already won a couple of Tony Awards (Bye Bye Birdie and Applause).
Another interesting tidbit: after the theme song aired for the first few
times, viewers wrote in and complained that they couldn't understand what
the actors were supposed to be saying, especially the line "Gee our old
LaSalle ran great." If you've ever wondered why that line is so clearly
enunciated in the theme song, that's why - Jean Stapleton recorded her
part again and made sure to speak ridiculously clearly during those words.


3. "The Addams Family Theme" - The Addams Family

Composer
Vic Mizzy wrote the theme song, which is pretty well known, but what isn't
as commonly known is that he wrote the theme song for another very popular
sitcom from the same era. "The Munsters?" you might be wondering.
Nope - the other theme song is a true testament to Mizzy's versatility
- it was Green Acres. Mizzy also contributed parts to the Mr.
Ed
and Petticoat Junction theme songs. He still receives
royalties every time The Addams Family theme is played, even
when it's on an organ at a baseball game. (Photo from VicMizzy.com)


4. "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" - The Beverly Hillbillies

This
tune joins the elite group of T.V. theme songs that were so popular they
actually ended up on the mainstream music charts. The song was written
and composed by Paul Henning, who was also the series' creator. The man
who sang the song, Jerry Scoggins, was a stockbroker trying to break into
the music business when he landed "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." This luck
break paired him with the legendary Foggy Mountain Boys, who played the
music that backed him. The Foggy Mountain Boys, Lester Flatt and Earl
Scruggs, were already well established in the country and bluegrass world
and had been members of the Grand Ole Opry for years... which probably
helped the theme song reach #44 on the charts in 1962.


5. "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle" - Gilligan's Island

What
ended up being one of the most recognizable theme songs of all time started
out as a very amateur recording done in a noisy house. Sherwood Schwartz,
the show's creator, couldn't afford to rent a recording studio to get
the theme down, so he called in a favor from a friend with the necessary
equipment. The only day they could all do it in time for the pilot was
a day that his friends were preparing for a big charity event at their
house, so the song had to be recorded when waiters weren't clattering
silverware and plates and serving trays around. It took forever to adjust
the levels just right; they finally got a usable take just as guests were
arriving for the event. It's not exactly the one we know today - Sherwood
had injected a sort of calypso solo that didn't make the cut - but it's
the general theme. And for the first season, the portion of the lyrics
that served as a roll call completely neglected poor Mary Ann and the
professor, saying, "The movie star and the rest, here on Gilligan's Isle!"
Schwartz said he never had an inkling that the professor and Mary Ann
would become such popular characters and therefore didn't think to name
them in the theme song. Although this changed by the second season, Dawn
Wells and Russell Johnson liked to send each other birthday cards and
presents with the signature "The Rest" as a nod to the first theme song.


6. "Happy Days" - Happy Days


For the first two seasons of the show, the theme song was simply an oldie
but goodie - Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock." And it
served the purpose just fine - it was so popular, in fact, that the song
recharted after nearly 20 years. After season two, though, they decided
to use an original song instead of Bill Haley's, and fans were already
familiar with it since it was being used as the closing theme music. "Happy
Days" got bumped up from the end of the show to the front, and the song
has been stuck in our heads ever since. It was written by Charles Fox
and Norman Gimbel, who gave us the lyrics and music to a ton of other
memorable theme songs: Laverne and Shirley, Lifestyles of the Rich
and Famous, Wonder Woman
and the score for H.R. Pufnstuf.
"Happy Days" was performed by a roster of studio musicians, including
some of the same guys who sang The Partridge Family theme song.
As popular as the Happy Days theme song was, they decided to
record a new version of it for the show's final season. It didn't go over
as well, and I can see why... check it out for yourself:

7. "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" - Cheers

The
famous theme song was nearly just a recycled song from a Broadway musical
called Preppies. The producers of Cheers heard it and
thought it would be perfect for their new show if the lyrics were just changed
up a little. Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo, the songwriters, were understandably
thrilled - but the producers of Preppies weren't. They refused
to give up rights to the song. Portnoy and Angelo were devastated, but the
producers of Cheers told them not to worry - they should just take
a shot at writing something totally new. The first version, a pretty blatant
rip-off of their first song, was quickly rejected. After reading a script,
the duo took a third shot, which was closer - the producers loved some of
the lyrics - but still no cigar. Version #3 was rejected. Portnoy and Hart
were getting a little dejected and concerned that they were going to get
fired any second, and to make matters worse, Gary and his girlfriend had
just broken up. This set the mood for version #4, a melancholy little tune
about the Red Sox losing, being too poor to pay the electric bill and needy
girlfriends who wanted to get married. They almost decided it was too depressing
for a sitcom, when they came up with the line "Sometimes you wanna go where
everybody knows your name," and the whole song turned from depressing to
hopeful. The folks at Cheers loved it, but changed the opening
lines from "Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose, it's a crisis in your
life," to the now-famous, "Making your way in the world today takes everything
you've got." The rest is history.


8. "Jeannie" - I Dream of Jeannie

There were three theme
songs composed for the show about a blonde genie and her Master - the first
season featured an instrumental waltz over the opening credits. And no less
than Carole King wrote a theme song for the series, but Sidney Sheldon rejected
it. The winning song that we know as the I Dream of Jeannie theme
song today was composed by Hugo Montenegro. And, believe it or not, there
were lyrics to the song. Written by Buddy Kaye, this gem was never used
for the show:

Jeannie, fresh as a daisy. Just love how she obeys me, Does things that just amaze me so. She smiles, Presto the rain goes. She blinks, up come the rainbows. Cars stop, even the train goes slow. When she goes by, she paints sunshine on every rafter, sprinkles the air with laughter, we're close as a quarter after three. There's no one like Jeannie. I'll introduce her to you, but it's no use sir, cause my Jeannie's in love with me.

9. "Thank You For Being a Friend" - Golden Girls

Unbeknownst
to me, this song wasn't original to our four happening grannies. It was
first recorded in 1978 by Andrew Gold, who hit #25 on the Billboard charts
the same year. Cynthia Fee sang it for the show, though.

The song was later reworked a third time for the opening credits to The
Golden Palace
. I hate it. But check it out! Don Cheadle!

 

10. "The Facts of Life" - The Facts of Life

If you didn't already know this, prepared to be floored: Alan Thicke, better known as Jason Seaver to legions of kids who grew up in the late '80s and early '90s, co-wrote "The Facts of Life." He also co-wrote and sang the theme song to Diff'rent Strokes. At the time, Thicke was married to his co-writer Gloria Loring, who sang the "Facts" song you probably remember. There was also an earlier version that featured the cast of the show singing the wise lyrics, but it was only used for the first season.

Previously on Neatorama: Stories Behind Hollywood Studio Logos

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With Gilligan's Island, I heard a different story regarding the "and the rest." Apparently, in Tina Louise' contract she was to be the last person named in the title sequence (much like how Tom Bosley was always at the end of the Happy Days theme)...that's why the Professor and Mary Ann were originally "and that rest."
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