Have you ever had that moment in your car when you stopped bobbing your head long enough to realize that you’ve been getting really into the “Knight Rider” theme song for the last 45 seconds?
That is what this list is all about. It’s the true top ten of well-crafted TV theme songs for great shows.
We’re not talking about the iconic stuff that is always on typical top theme song lists, like “Cheers” or “Friends.” We’re talking about songs that are valid pieces of music separate of their shows, even if they’re brief (“Friday Night Lights”) or are patently false (Cleveland Rocks!).
We want songs that you don’t skip when they’re on shuffle. We want songs so good you’re a little bit upset they’re TV theme songs.
10 – Friday Night Lights
This is more or less an ode to the whole aesthetic of this show, which is “this show is about football, but only if football was played in a really nice arty theatre on the moon.” It’s exactly what the show needed to establish itself as a show that’s not about football or sappy family drama. It’s big and sweeping and epic and when it comes back down it reminds you that the next 60 minutes aren’t going to be anything like “7th Heaven.”
It fits in well with with all of that music from Explosions in the Sky that scores the show and leaves you asking yourself “Hey, am I crying for no reason?” —Ben Collins
9 – Sanford and Son
You can’t think about a trashman without a little funk, and with a theme written by none other than Mr. Quincy Jones, it doesn’t get funkier. If you play this song in a dark bathroom, when you turn on the light you will be wearing platform shoes and bell bottoms. If you challenge this song to a “Yo Mama So Fat” contest, the song will win every time. And if you performed after this song on the Apollo, you would get booed off stage. It’s a funk thing; you wouldn’t understand. —Martin Moakler
8 – King of the Hill
Wingo! With its driving guitar riffs and rocking beat, I wouldn’t have been surprised if you told me the KotH theme was from a mid-90s Austin City Limits. Managing to be both a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, this song makes me want to dust off my old Stetson and boots which don’t exist and go check out that honky-tonk bar that also doesn’t exist and drink too many Alamo beers served to me by a desert rose waitress named Starla who carries a torch for Duke the bartender who ain’t been quite right since he got back into town. —MM
7 – The A-Team
“The A-Team” kicked ass not just because it was about an ex-Special Forces unit led by the unorthodox, cigar-chomping Hannibal (George Peppard). Nor was it the extra muscle provided by B.A. Baracus (Mr. T) decked out in his gold chains and Mohawk. It was also the theme — you know how it goes: “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the A-Team.” —Rebecca Harper
6 – Knight Rider
If the criteria for this list was based on how many Busta Rhymes remixes a theme song inspired, this thing would be the Michael Jordan of TV theme songs. And, to be totally honest, we don’t really know why that wasn’t the criteria to begin with.
This thing was built to be the sample on a rap song 20 years in the future. It’s the only song on this list that doesn’t get skipped when it comes up on shuffle in my car.
Unless I’m at a red light and someone is looking at me, in which case I look like a complete moron listening to the Knight Rider theme song by myself at an intersection. I’d kick my own ass. —BC
5 – The Drew Carey Show
Back when having pride in the Cleveland Indians was still sort of cute, The Presidents of the United States of America whipped up a cover of the 1979 Ian Hunter glam rock classic for Drew Carey’s TV show.
Drew Carey is giving away dinette sets on the Price is Right now, Christa Miller is the most reasonable mom on “Cougartown,” and Craig Ferguson is the prematurely crazy grandfather of late night. It seems like a hundred years ago since all of those people were on Drew Carey’s sitcom.
But everything involved in this show has held up surprisingly well. Especially this song, which could come out today and have you screaming, “Ohio!” in your car. And it would still be the only time you’ll scream “Ohio!” in a sort of positive fashion. —BC
To go through the litany of things right about this song would be to miss the point, but we’ll start here:
Vic Mizzy wrote the line “their house is a museum”—which is a powerhouse sentence for a show about domestic monsters—and when this is sung, the family is fencing while a lion just kind of strolls out of bed and walks into the living room. It’s a triumph, that whole sequence.
Oh, and the snapping. The snapping is what makes it. —BC
3 – Doctor Who
It’s fitting that this show premiered during the height of the Space Race of the Sixties, because this is exactly the kind of thing we expected to hear in spaceclubs on the moon when we got there: ethereal, a little dark, and a good beat you could space dance to (it’s like a combination of the Frug and the Cabbage Patch). Space teens would tell you that they were over the song, but behind closed doors, they still secretly moon rock out to it. And in the almost fifty years since its premiere, it’s only gotten more British, regal and majestic, just like Madonna. —MM
2 – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Long before we knew how to get jiggy with it, we were chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” It wasn’t the first time we’d heard of The Fresh Prince, of course — he was already known for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” — but the TV series allowed Will Smith to hone his acting chops, paving the way for blockbuster appearances in “Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” and “I Am Legend.” —RH
1 – The Muppet Show
This song needs no explanation, other than to say “It’s time to play the music…” In this iteration, we meet the motley cast of characters — including grumpy old Statler and Waldorf singing from the box seats above — as they get things started for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational Muppet-ational show to hit the airwaves. Yes, it’s “The Muppet Show,” most recently covered by the band OK Go for The Muppets’ “Green Album.” —RH