Dusting Off: The Sitcom Theme Song
Ah, those were the days. Archie and Edith agreeing in song, “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.”
We realize it’s a little odd to be waxing nostalgic about the Bunkers waxing nostalgic, but this much is certain: The All in the Family theme song—she wailing, he demonizing “the welfare state,” they embraced in the end over thunderous, authentic applause—had as much to do with setting the voice and tone of the working-class show as Meathead, George Jefferson and anti-Semitism. That’s because sitcom theme songs used to matter.
And that’s why we’re dusting them off…
As we first mentioned in our five-part series eulogizing the “sitcom moment” a variety of factors—TiVo, cable, longer commercials—have fundamentally changed America’s favorite 30 minutes.
And minute one took the biggest hit.
Consider this: the combined length of the theme songs for Modern Family (0:12), Two and a Half Men (0:17), Curb Your Enthusiasm (0:06) and Whitney (0:03) would barely take you to the chorus of The Greatest American Hero.
And as we all know, fists don’t start pumping until the chorus…
Yes, you’re right, technically The Greatest American Hero is a “comedy/drama” (like Moonlighting). And yes, that is an eight-bar intro, and okay, the chorus is sung three times. We’re not saying there wasn’t fat to trim off these puppies—after all, this was a time when theme songs contained second verses, pre-choruses, wholly unnecessary transitional bridges and a cappella clap breaks, seemingly none of which played with a great deal of urgency, at least when compared to the frantic, auctioneer-like cadences of theme songs today. At times they seemed endless, like this paragraph.
But endlessly optimistic, too. It’s fitting, then, that Seinfeld, the least optimistic sitcom ever, was the first to do away with the song altogether, choosing to instead go with a frenzy of bass slaps, tongue pops and guttural hiccups.
To properly dust off sitcom theme songs, we first need a refresher. To that end, we’ve organized the best of the best into eight categories: Expositional Ditties, Anthems, Liberated Women, The Jazz Age, Caucasian Sap, Funk Brothers, The Thinkers, Optimistic Groovers and, finally, The Bummers.
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…
Side note: Mercifully, Cheers cut the balance of Gary Portnoy’s “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” after the first chorus, otherwise you would have unawarely committed the third verse’s lyrics to memory as well.
Roll out of bed, Mr. Coffee’s dead
The morning’s looking bright
And your shrink ran off to Europe
And didn’t even write
And your husband wants to be a girl…
Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name…
(Side, side note: Cheap shot at Kelsey Grammer?)
Sha la la la…
- — C. Brian Smith