50 TV Theme Songs Every 50-Something Knows By Heart
"Here's the story... of a lovely lady!"
Today's 50-somethings grew up in a transformative era for television. Over the course of the 1960s, TV shows transitioned from black-and-white imagery to vivid, lifelike Technicolor—not to mention the sheer number of programs expanded, too. Gilligan's Island! The Jetsons! Get Smart! And each came with a super-catchy earworm of a theme song. From lyrics that creatively introduced characters to instrumental tracks that were impossible not to hum along to, here are 50 TV theme songs that are imprinted on the brains of everyone who grew up in the '60s and early '70s.
Mister Ed (1961-1966)
The first seven episodes of Mister Ed used an instrumental version of the theme song. For the eighth episode, the famous lyrics ("a horse is a horse, of course, of course") were added, and they've been stuck in viewers' heads ever since.
The Partridge Family (1970-1974)
While the first season of The Partridge Family used "When We're Singin'," the theme song you probably remember is "C'mon Get Happy," performed by the titular family band. Equally memorable: that vibrant opening title sequence, in which partridges hatched from different colored eggs, like a Woodstock-inspired Easter egg hunt.
The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966)
Before the premiere episode even began, The Patty Duke Show theme song shared everything you needed to know about identical cousins Cathy and Patty in a little ditty: the former "adores a minuet," while the latter "loves to rock and roll." What a crazy pair!
Sesame Street (1969-Present)
"Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?" Everyone who grew up watching the series certainly can. Sesame Street has been on the air for a staggering 50 years, which means that the theme song is familiar not only to 50-somethings—but also to 40-somethings, 30-somethings, and everyone else who was raised on PBS.
The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)
You'll have to know how to whistle if you want to perform "The Fishin' Hole," the theme song to the long-running Andy Griffith Show. Technically, yes, there are lyrics, but for those who watched the show throughout the '60s, it was that melody and those whistle tones that made the most lasting impression.
My Mother the Car (1965-1966)
The title pretty much tells you all you need to know here. My Mother the Car was not particularly loved by audiences or critics, but the series is at least remembered for its downright absurdity. The theme song is a reminder of how silly the concept is: Reincarnation is real, and sometimes dead moms come back as 1928 Porters!
The Archie Show (1968-1969)
Decades before Archie got a sleek and sexy update with Riverdale, The Archie Show brought comic book characters Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead to the small screen in this faithful cartoon adaptation. There wasn't nearly as much drama as there is on The CW's soapy update; as the theme song explains, these kids just wanna dance, sing, "have some fun, and go adventuring."
Josie and the Pussycats (1970-1971)
Archie wasn't the only character from the Archie comics to get his own animated series: The titular girl group had their own adventures and solved mysteries in Josie and the Pussycats, but they also played a lot of music. Their most well-known tune is the one that was used in the show's opening title sequence—a "neat, sweet, a groovy song."
Green Acres (1965-1971)
Stars Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor recorded a legendary duet for the catchy theme song that underlined the central conflict of Green Acres: Oliver (Albert) gave up big city life to fulfill his dreams of being a farmer, but his wife, Lisa (Gabor), longed to return to New York. Could this couple find a compromise? Over the course of six seasons, they certainly tried!
F Troop (1965-1967)
Lest you take the Wild West sitcom F Troop too seriously, the theme song let you know exactly what kind of farce you were in for: "The end of the Civil War was near when, quite accidentally, a hero who sneezed abruptly seized retreat and reversed it to victory." On the whole, the series was less about historical accuracy and more about slapstick comedy and sight gags.
The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)
Even if you never watched The Brady Bunch, there's a good chance you know the theme song, which has been inescapable over the past few decades. It's another one of those catchy tunes that gives you all the set-up you need—woman with three daughters marries man with three sons. That's the way they became the Brady Bunch!
The Addams Family (1964-1966)
You'll have to be able to snap if you want to get this theme song right. But you'll also want to sing along, because the Addams Family theme is hard to get out of your head. It turns out the best way to introduce this family is with a series of rhyming adjectives: "kooky," "spooky," and "ooky" really paint a picture.
The Munsters (1964-1966)
Sadly, the other horror-infused sitcom of the era didn't get a theme song with lyrics—or snapping. That doesn't mean the Munsters' theme is any easier to forget, though. Anyone who tuned in to watch the adventures of Frankenstein's monster Herman, vampire Lily, and their werewolf son Eddie should have no trouble humming the whole jaunty tune.
Love, American Style (1969-1974)
For the first season of this romantic anthology series, the theme song was performed by The Cowsills, but subsequent seasons used the version by the Ron Hicklin Singers, who also provided the singing voices of the Partridge Family. The lyrics are a blend of—you guessed it—love and Americana: "We pledge our love 'neath the same old moon, but it shines red and white and blue now."
Happy Days (1974-1984)
One segment from Love, American Style became a sitcom that ran for an impressive 11 seasons—and that sitcom was Happy Days. When the show started, it used the classic "Rock Around the Clock" as a theme song, reflecting its 1950s setting. But starting in the second season, the show got a theme of its own, the appropriately titled "Happy Days." Ayyy!
George of the Jungle (1967)
While the original animated series only ran for one season, the theme song to George of the Jungle lives on. Maybe it's because of the 1997 film, which starred Brendan Fraser as the Tarzan-inspired hero and featured a "Weird Al" Yankovic cover of the theme song. Or maybe it's because the song is just that catchy.
The title "Suicide Is Painless" is bound to raise some eyebrows, but the lyrics to the M*A*S*H theme song—which was borrowed from the 1970 film the show was based on—weren't sung over the opening titles. Nevertheless, the haunting, bittersweet tune pairs well with the long-running series' blend of comedy and drama, and its keen sense of irony.
All in the Family (1971-1979)
Jean Stapleton's very distinctive voice is what most people remember about this theme song. As Edith Bunker, she joined her husband, Archie (Carroll O'Connor), on the piano as they reminisced about better times in "Those Were the Days." The song underlines the show's theme, with Archie clinging to the past in the face of the inevitable march of progress.
The first spin-off of All in the Family, Maude is largely remembered for Bea Arthur's performance and her character's staunch feminism. But the show is also known for its exceptionally clever theme song, which has some really sharp lyrics about other women in history: "Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her, she was a sister who really cooked."
The Flintstones (1960-1966)
While some might think of The Flintstones as a Saturday morning cartoon, the series was actually the first primetime sitcom, making it an important predecessor to The Simpsons. And The Simpsons was one of countless shows to parody the "Meet the Flintstones" theme song, which introduced viewers to this "modern Stone Age family."
The Jetsons (1962-1963)
What The Flintstones was to the Stone Age, The Jetsons was to the future. The theme song doesn't exactly have a lot to say beyond naming the characters—George, Elroy, Judy, and Jane—but the opening titles' eye-popping Hanna-Barbera animation gave viewers a clear picture of life in the 2060s.
Get Smart (1965-1970)
No lyrics here, but everyone who watched this spy spoof series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry can hum along to the theme. The title sequence itself is fondly remembered in its own right: In 2010, TV Guide readers ranked it as No. 2 on the top 10 TV credits sequences of all time.
The Monkees (1966-1968)
Though they eventually pursued a real music career, The Monkees were created alongside a TV show that bore their name. The theme song introduced audiences to the group, a goofy, fun-loving, slightly-less-fab Fab Four who were "too busy singing to put anybody down." While the band was never that successful on the show, they quickly earned real fame after its cancellation.
The lyrics to the Bewitched theme song were never performed on the show, which is a pity because they're a lot of fun: "Before I knew what you were doing, I looked in your eyes / That brand of woo that you've been brewin' took me by surprise." But even without any words to sing, it's an awfully fun tune to hum.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
Who can turn the world on with her smile? Well, you know the answer to that. Few theme songs are as widely known and adored as "Love Is All Around," which has been covered by everyone from Sammy Davis, Jr., to Joan Jett. While the series dealt realistically with Mary's problems, the song's unbridled optimism reminds us all that we're gonna make it after all.
The Fugitive (1963-1967)
"The name: Dr. Richard Kimble. The destination: Death Row, state prison. The irony: Richard Kimble is innocent." Okay, so you can't exactly sing along, but the opening narration to The Fugitive gives way to propulsive theme music, which sets the tone for the suspenseful action series about a man who has been falsely accused.
Gilligan's Island (1964-1967)
The biggest injustice of the original Gilligan's Island theme was that it referred to the Professor and Mary Ann as "the rest." Thankfully, the popularity of the characters—and a personal request from star Bob Denver—inspired an update to the song for the second season, with new lyrics that listed the two alongside Gilligan, the Skipper, the millionaire, his wife, and the movie star.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968-2001)
Because Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ran for more than 30 years, you'd be hard-pressed to find many adults who wouldn't recognize the theme song (and subsequently get emotional hearing it). There's something about the warm, welcoming "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" that can make even the most cynical grown-ups get a little weepy.
Of course there are lyrics to the Batman theme song. "Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da—Batman" absolutely counts! Anyone, literally anyone, who watched the Adam West series—and also anyone who absorbed it thanks to cultural osmosis—has tried to sing some version of that.
The Doris Day Show (1968-1973)
The song "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" has been linked to Doris Day ever since she sang it in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. Obviously the lighthearted family sitcom The Doris Day Show had a much different tone, but the song worked just as well over the opening titles.
The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971)
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, otherwise known as the Foggy Mountain Boys, created an enduring TV theme classic with "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." It's another story song that succinctly sets up the show: Poor mountaineer Jed Clampett strikes oil, becomes a millionaire, and moves his family to Beverly Hills. A culture clash (and hilarity) ensues.
H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)
H.R. Pufnstuf only ran for a single season of 17 episodes. Its theme song, however, left a lasting impression. Not everyone was a fan: Paul Simon sued based on the fact that the theme sounded an awful lot like his song "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." He won and was credited as a co-writer.
Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980)
Easily one of the most famous instrumental theme songs of all time, the Hawaii Five-O theme is a favorite of high school marching bands everywhere. It does have lyrics—well, kind of. Sammy Davis, Jr., added some for his hit song "You Can Count on Me." When Hawaii Five-O got a reboot in 2010, the new series kept the original theme, because how could you not?
Daniel Boone (1964-1970)
Who was Daniel Boone? Allow this theme song to tell you! "Daniel Boone was a man, yes, a big man, with an eye like an eagle and as tall as a mountain was he." Though there was an actual Boone, he became a folk hero with countless larger-than-life stories about him being told. (Fun fact: Daniel Boone star Fess Parker had previously played another folk hero, Davy Crockett.)
While there have been dozens of iterations of Spider-Man over the years—from comics and cartoons to feature films and video games—the 1967 animated series has the distinction of opening with the most famous song about the superhero ever written. And truly, how better to sum up the character than with "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can"?
I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970)
Like so many classic instrumental TV theme songs of the era, the I Dream of Jeannie theme does have lyrics—you've just never heard them. And that's probably for the best, because they're not great: "Jeannie, fresh as a daisy, just love how she obeys me." Honestly, you're better off sticking to singing "do do do do do do do."
Can a dolphin really be faster than lightning? That's what the Flipper theme song would have you believe. Maybe it's hyperbole, but the title character—who basically functioned as a dolphin version of Lassie, rescuing people in need—was often able to outwit the humans around him. "No one, you see, is smarter than he." Well, fair enough!
Atom Ant (1965-1968)
You don't need a great voice to replicate the Atom Ant theme song: It's just spoken word over the score. But those who grew up watching the adventures of the pint-sized hero can still recite that opening introduction to a "tiny ant and his atomic power." Up and at 'em!
Land of the Lost (1974-1976)
Here's another theme song that gives you the whole high-concept plot of the series. As we learn, the Marshall family fell through a portal into an alternate dimension, the so-called "Land of the Lost." When the series was rebooted in 1991, it got an all new theme song that's still good—but not quite as catchy.
Sally Field got her start playing Frances "Gidget" Lawrence on this short-lived series about a free-spirited teenage girl and her widowed father. Field's undeniable charm made viewers fall in love with the character. The theme song, "(Wait 'Til You See) My Gidget," warns you that's inevitable: "Wait'll you see my Gidget, you'll want her for your valentine."
The Magilla Gorilla Show (1964-1966)
The lengthy opening to this Hanna-Barbera animated series painted a very flattering portrait of Magilla Gorilla, who is "full of charm and appeal, handsome, elegant, intelligent, sweet" and "really ideal." Though just 31 episodes of the show were ever made, The Magilla Gorilla Show aired in syndication for decades, ensuring that a few generations know this theme by heart.
The Odd Couple (1970-1975)
Here's another theme you can't sing but will absolutely try to. Of course it's catchy—the Odd Couple theme was composed by Neil Hefti, who also gave us the Batman theme. The opening titles of this sitcom, based on the Neil Simon play, depict the irreconcilable differences between neat freak Felix Unger and slob Oscar Madison.
The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969-1972)
Young Eddie cares a lot about his dad, Tom—that's why he's desperate for him to find a new wife. The close relationship between father and son is reflected in the theme song, the Harry Nilsson song "Best Friend." Younger generations might recognize the song from the very different series Rob & Big, which also used it as the theme.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1970)
Of all the versions of Scooby-Doo over the years, none have had the cultural impact of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! And while that's about more than the theme song, this ditty has had a long life decades after the show's cancellation. It's been covered by everyone from Billy Ray Cyrus to Third Eye Blind.
That Girl (1966-1971)
Before The Mary Tyler Moore Show, there was That Girl, which introduced audiences to another independent young woman with big dreams. And here's another theme song that's bright, bubbly, and filled to the brim with optimism. Marlo Thomas's Ann Marie was "tinsel on a tree" and "everything that every girl should be." Talk about aspirational!
The Electric Company (1971-1977)
Like Sesame Street, The Electric Company was a PBS series designed to educate young children. The show didn't last as long as Sesame Street has—few shows ever do—but it was still an important and formative experience for many children in the '70s, who learned to "light up the dark of night like the brightest day in a whole new way."
"The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." Years before Law & Order, Dragnet was the police procedural that directly addressed viewers alongside an iconic instrumental theme. While 50-somethings know it from the late '60s series, the theme first appeared on the original series, which ran from 1951 to 1959.
The Banana Splits (1968-1970)
The Banana Splits weren't a real rock band—sorry to blow your mind if you grew up with this variety show and had never been informed. Still, Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky produced some very catchy tunes, including "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)," The Banana Splits' memorable theme song.
The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978)
"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man." It's not about the theme music but that famous opening narration, in which an unseen scientist talks about transforming injured astronaut Steve Austin into—you guessed it—the six-million dollar man.
Mission Impossible (1966-1973)
The instrumental theme to Mission Impossible is certainly up there with the most famous themes of all time—is there anyone who doesn't know it? The theme was composed by the legendary Lalo Schifrin, and reworked versions of it have been used in both the late '80s reboot and the Tom Cruise-fronted blockbuster movie series, helping solidify it as a tune anyone can hum. And for a peek at the future of television, meet these 12 New Stars About to Burst Onto Your TV Screens This Fall.
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