What’s the Most Recognizable Theme Song of All Time?

It should be obvious by now that I have an unhealthy obsession with theme songs. I’ve already covered the cheesiest intros of all time. And apart from a small segment of weirdos, people don’t generally remember the theme songs all that well. So I got to thinking: What is the most easily recognizable TV theme song of all time? Movie theme songs are too easy. It’s this one:

But what about TV shows? Remember, they don’t actually have to be good. They only need to be memorable. Here, in no particular order, are 10 that I thought of. Feel free to suggest your own.

Gilligan’s Island

My thoughts: This was my original pick, because come on, who doesn’t know the Gilligan’s Island theme? Apparently, most people. And besides, even if we all know the beginning (“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”), who really knows the middle (something about losing the minnow, and an uncharted desert isle?). Still, the fact that a high percentage of Americans can at least hum the theme song of show that lasted 3 seasons in the early 60s is pretty impressive, so it makes my list.

The Andy Griffith Show

Ditto the above, except this one has no words, so that stumbling block doesn’t even exist. Everyone who has whistled in their life has probably whistled this at some point, but it gets docked points because a lot of people who know the tune have no idea it came from this show. Plus, even those who do know where it comes from might not be able to tell you anything about the show itself. That said, any jingle that retains some measure of cultural relevance 50 years after it was penned has to be in the running.

The Jeffersons

Here’s another one that pretty much everyone gets the gist of. We’re movin’ on up, piece of the pie, de-luxe apartment in the sky, etc. There’s no doubting where this one comes from. Definitely a contender. Hilariously, this intro used to be impossible to find on YouTube. Watch it now before it gets taken down. You know, because people watching the intro to a show that went off the air in the 70s is basically the same as stealing a car.

Batman

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN! Doesn’t get much more succinct than that.

It’s sort of a tragedy, this one. Now that we’re all pretending a guy who runs around at night dressed as a bat chasing bad guys dressed as penguins, cats, clowns, etc. is actually a topic worthy of gritty realism, we may never get a chance to relive this theme song. About 5 years ago, my Dad came up with the idea to remake the 60s Batman TV show with Ben Affleck as Batman and Matt Damon as Robin. I’m picturing Javier Bardem as Cesar Romero as the Joker. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see it.

The Brady Bunch

Do you know the story of how the Brady Bunch came to be? Yeah, even if you’ve never seen an episode all the way through (like me), you still know about the Lovely Lady and her Lovely Girls and the Man Named Brady and the 3 Boys of His Own. Whatever their names were. Points have to be deducted because the song, to be honest, sucks. But lots of things that suck are recognizable. Like Hanson or the Macarena or Ronald Reagan.

The Simpsons

When a show’s been on for 20 years, you get to know the theme song. It’s not very good, but can anyone hear this and not know where it’s from? I’m pretty sure they don’t even put this in “Name That Tune” any more.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

This is the dark horse of the list. I have a feeling a lot of people would drop this one. Here’s my rationale: it’s one of the most successful shows of its era and out of every show on this list, it has the most memorable lyrics. I never watched it, but I know all the words. As soon as those opening bars start up, you know exactly what’s coming. So yeah, this is on there for me.  I’ll wait until the statistical analysis shows me why I’m wrong.

Happy Days

Fun fact that everyone already knows: this isn’t the original theme song. It was originally “Rock Around the Clock,” but the producers realized it would cost a fortune to keep it in syndication. So they dashed out this, to be respectful, dreck to put us in that 7os-50s nostalgic mood. But, my personal feelings aside, people know what this song is from. It’s hummable, the lyrics are easy to remember, and so it deserves a spot on this list. I’m always impressed that Happy Days, a show about teenagers and their rebel friend, has a theme song as cheesy as the Brady Bunch, a show about second marriages and being swell. Aaaaaaayyyyyy!

The Twilight Zone

In my admittedly unhelpful opinion, the theme from The Twilight Zone is one of the most perfect themes ever. It’s creepy and strange and sets the mood perfectly for the show. I haven’t really thought if it’s fair to include both lyrical and non-lyrical themes on this list, since it’s inherently easier to remember a tune than a bunch of words about taking the next step and living for the day and getting stranded on desert isles. That said, it’s pretty obvious to me that this theme belongs here, even if it’s just a creepy “do-do-DO-do” repeated a few times and a trumpet blast. When you hear it, whether you’re old or young, you know what’s coming.

Sesame Street

No, they may never tell you how to get to Sesame Street, but I’m pretty sure there’s not a single person in the United States (the world?) who can hear this and not know exactly where it’s from. Something about little children singing just sticks in your head. It’s annoying, but man, it’s effective.

Bonus: Ducktales

This didn’t make the cut for pretty obvious reasons. Most people did not watch Ducktales. I’m pretty sure parents and grandparents left the room when this show was on. But I have to include it here because everyone who has ever seen it probably knows at least part of the theme song. You could travel to the remotest tribes of the Amazon, cross the African Savannah, climb into the Himalayas. Just mention this show and you’ll get this response: “Ducktales? Wooo-oo!” So maybe it’s not one of the most recognizable songs, but only because not enough people have heard it. If this show lasted longer, this would be number one. It is indescribably catchy. It’s almost criminal this was written for a mediocre Disney TV cartoon.

So there you have it. My list of 10 most recognizable TV theme songs. Feel free to add your own or argue on behalf of your favorite. It makes a great topic at parties*. So ask your friends!

*I’ve never actually been to a party, but I assume people stop talking about their jobs for at least a few minutes.

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2 Responses to “What’s the Most Recognizable Theme Song of All Time?”

  1. Wow, Gilligan’s Island was only 3 seasons? I always assumed it was like 12. My vote is for The Brady Bunch, but your list makes it a pretty tough call. I didn’t recognize The Andy Griffith Show and I barely recognized Sesame Street even though I watched it all the time.

  2. My favorite is definitely Fresh Prince even though I don’t quite know the extended version like you do.

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