When I was a kid, I made a TV theme song compilation with my cassette recorder. In my teens, after we acquired our first VCR, I committed a long string of show openings to video. In my 20s, I purchases more than one theme-song compilation CD.
From these facts, you can deduce two things:
- I’ve always been kind of a loser.
- I’ve always really loved theme songs.
Recently, I started thinking about my favorite TV show openings. The perfect opening combines music and visuals to tell a story, set a mood, and prepare the viewer for their imminent TV experience. These five openings do their job well.
(The first two shows on this list are celebrating anniversaries today. The Addams Family debuted September 18, 1964, and The Patty Duke Show premiered on that same date the previous year.)
The Addams Family
Composer: Vic Mizzy. Vocal Performer: Ted Cassidy.
Who can resist that finger-snapping rhythm? Recently, I saw a touring production of The Addams Family musical, and the crowd came to life as soon those familiar notes rang out. No wonder the tune is a favorite at sporting events. The lyrics are fun, too, with words like “kooky” and “ooky” to contrast with the deadpan visuals.
The Patty Duke Show
Composers: Sid Ramin and Robert Wells. Vocal Performers: The Skip-Jacks.
In classic television, the stranger a show’s premise was, the heavier a burden its theme song bore. For a premise like “this is a family with three kids,” you don’t need words at all. But if your show’s about a group of passengers on a three-hour cruise who get shipwrecked, you have some explaining to do. Few premises are as unlikely as “identical cousins,” but The Patty Duke Show theme does a good job laying out the situation and distinguishing between the girls. This opening also gives us fun lyrics like “Our Patty loves to rock and roll/A hot dog makes her lose control” over images of teenage life.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Composer: Earle Hagen.
The tune is as jaunty as Van Dyke himself, and the producers’ clever ploy of filming two opening sequences (used during seasons two through five) kept viewers guessing from week to week–would Rob Petrie trip over the ottoman or deftly sidestep it?
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith.
I have a soft spot for this one. The recorder-laced melody captures the mingled excitement and ennui of a new school day. Besides, the mini-skirt-and-knee-socks fashions are adorable.
All in the Family
Composers: Lee Adams and Charles Strouse. Vocal Performers: Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton.
As a kid, I didn’t know who Glenn Miller or Herbert Hoover were, and “Gee our old La Salle ran great” was a undecipherable string of syllables. Still, I understood where these characters were coming from. Maybe it was the line “Girls were girls and men were men” that gave it away. Like my own blue-collar grandparents, the Bunkers were pining for a simpler world that was slipping away. Even the visuals of Queens reminded me a bit of my grandparents’ neighborhood outside Pittsburgh. And Jean Stapleton’s tortured high note sums up her character beautifully.
What are your favorites?
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