From ’70s sitcoms with explanatory jams to modern prestige classics with experimental scores, from “Sanford and Son” to “Succession,” from “Match Game” to “Game of Thrones.”
We apologize in ahead for all the TV theme songs we’re about to get back in your heads. Or maybe we should accept your thanks preemptively?
Despite periodic attempts to contract them out or eliminate them altogether, theme songs are a crucial part of the television experience. The best put you in the right frame of mind to watch every episode of your favorite, and can be just as entertaining on their own as any good joke, monologue, or action sequence. So we decided to pick the 100 greatest theme songs of all time — technically 101, since there are two as inextricably linked as peanut butter and jelly — and try to rank them in order of magnitude.
How did we figure this out, beyond just arguing about it on Slack, Zoom, ham radio, etc. ?
First, we’ve put together a massive list of great songs from throughout television’s long history. We then narrowed that down by looking for diversity in terms of music style, show style, and era. (Honestly, all 100 could have been 70s shows. Apologies to The white shadow, What is happening??and many others that did not make the final list.) Some were written expressly for this show, while others were pre-existing songs that were given new life through their association with a particular series. .
Next, we considered two main factors: 1) How good is a song? 2) How well does this prepare you for the show that follows, in terms of mood and/or explanation of the premise? Sometimes one factor outweighed the other, and many hard fights were fought. (There are still hurt feelings about which sitcoms from ABC’s TGIF family got the green light and which didn’t.) Like any attempt to quantify the art, there was ultimately a lot of intuitions involved: On its own, Theme Song A is an objectively better piece of music than Theme Song B, but Theme Song B fits its show much more perfectly.
This list – with many blurbs indebted to the rich history of theme songs in the book TV’s greatest hits by Jon Burlingame – is our attempt to explain why we chose these 100 rather than any or all of your favorites.
Enjoy and hum.