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Best TV Theme Songs: Music That Shaped the Soundtracks of Our Lives

From 'The Brady Bunch' to 'The Beverly Hillbillies' to 'Mister Ed' and beyond, enjoy our musical TV heritage


There are many people who consider television today — thanks to all of the streaming services available — to be the best quality shows ever produced, but you would probably be hard-pressed to find the best TV theme songs among them. Why? Because they simply don’t have them anymore. But if you were to look back to the 1960s or 1970s, and whether you’re talking comedies or dramas, you will find some of the catchiest TV theme songs ever!

We certainly did, pulling together a list — accompanied by videos so that you can hear those glorious songs for yourself — for your listening and viewing pleasure. The truly amazing thing is that there is so many more out there beyond these, but this seemed like a good start. Enjoy! (Tip: Turns out listening to songs from your youth, something known as neural nostalgia, boosts your health, too.)

Our Best 15+ TV theme songs

1. The Love Boat (1979)

ABC’s The Love Boat aired from 1977 to 1986 and was a form of comfort food television in that its regular cast was surrounded my a wide variety of guest stars on every episode playing couples in, discovering or renewing their love. The theme song was composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Paul Williams and sung by Jack Jones.

The Jones version would remain in place until season nine, where Dionne Warwick was brought aboard (see what we did there?). The extended 2:57 version of the song was released in 1979 and reached number 37 on the Billboard US Adult Contemporary chart.

2. Mission: Impossible (1966)

Long before it became a film franchise starring Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible was a popular television series that, like Star Trek, was given the green light for production by none other than Lucille Ball at Desilu. Running for seven seasons and 171 episodes between 1966 and 1973, the show chronicled the Impossible Missions Force who used acts of deception and manipulation to stop third world dictators, crime lords and corrupt industrialists, among others. The show would inspire two seasons of a new version in 1988 — bridged by Peter Graves reprising his role of Jim Phelps — and then seven films with an eighth on the way in 2025. Among the best TV theme songs, it was composed by Lalo Schifrin.

Schifrin recounts what he was told by series creator Bruce Gellar during an interview with the Archive of American Television: “He had the idea that I should write a theme for a team that would be very inviting, very exciting to get people to listen to the show, because in television, especially in those days — I don’t know about now — if people were in the kitchen having a soft drink and all of a sudden in the living room on the TV is playing the theme of a new show that’s on, they’re, like, ‘I have to go see what that is!’ It’s like a logo.”

The theme was released as a single in 1967, running 2:31. It peaked at number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 19 on the publication’s Adult Contemporary chart.

3. The Monkees (1966)

It may have been inspired by The Beatles‘ film A Hard Day’s Night, but from 1966 to 1968 The Monkees television show became a phenomenon in its own right, turning Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith into stars.

The show’s theme song was recorded in two versions, a shorter one to serve as the opening for each episode of the show and a longer one that appeared on their self-title debut album. Inspired by the Dave Clark Five song “Catch Us If You Can,” it features Dolenz on lead. The song was released as a single in Australia (scoring number 8 on the charts), Japan (Top 20) and Mexico (Top 10).

4. Dark Shadows (1966)

Dark Shadows, the gothic horror soap opera which ran from 1966 to 1971 and 1,225 episodes, was huge in the middle of its run thanks to the casting of Canadian actor Jonathan Frid in the role of vampire Barnabas Collins. In September 1969 a soundtrack from composer Robert Cobert and his orchestra, featuring 16 tracks including the main title track. It reached number 18 on Billboard‘s Top 200 album chart.

5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970)

Credited with being a quantum leap forward for women on television, The Mary Tyler Moore Show features the actress as news producer Mary Richards and follows both her professional and personal life. The show ran from 1970 to 1977 for a total of 168 episodes with one hell of a cast. Besides Mary, we had Gavin Macleod, Ed Asner, Betty White, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Phyllis Leachman and more.

The title song was written and performed by Sonny Curtis, featuring different lyrics in Season 1 compared to the rest. A 2:44 version was released in 1970 on Elektra Records. A second version was recorded in 1980 with a Country arrangement and reached number 29 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

Related: The Mary Tyler Moore Show Cast: Surprising Facts About The Beloved ‘70s Comedy’s Stars

6. The Six Million Dollar Man (1970s)

Back in the 1970s there were bionic men, women, boys, a dog and a watermelon (!), though the most popular of all was the first: Lee Majors as astronaut Steve Austin, transformed following an accident into The Six Million Dollar Man. Besides his weekly adventures, jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, arranger, composer and bandleader Oliver Edward Nelson gave us one of the best TV theme songs ever. His other television credits include Ironside, Night Gallery, Columbo and Longstreet.

7. M*A*S*H (1970)

The theme song for M*A*S*H which played over the opening and closing credits for 11 years of the TV series (about 4 1/2 times longer than the actual Korean War it’s set in) is titled “Suicide is Painless” and got its start in the 1970 film of the same name. The difference is that in the film it had somebody singing its lyrics while the show had a strictly instrumental version.

The music of “Suicide is Painless” was written by composer and arranger Johnny Mandel with lyrics by Michael Altman, son of the film’s director, Robert Altman. Due to the fact that the song would play over the fake suicide of actor John Schuck’s Walter “Painless Pole” Waldowski, Altman had two conditions for Mandel: the song had to be called “Suicide is Painless” and the lyrics needed to be “the stupidest song ever written.” Well, Altman himself tried to write the lyrics, but found them impossible, so he asked his son Michael to do so and the 15-year-old reportedly came back with those lyrics five-minutes later.

The M*A*S*H TV show, starring, among others, Alan Alda, Loretta Swit and Mike Farrell, ran on CBS from 1972 to 1983 for 256 episode. It was nominated for over 100 Emmy Awards and won 14.

8. Gilligan’s Island (1964)

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale … oh, you’ve heard it already? No worries, then. No guide to the best TV theme songs is complete without Gilligan’s Island, the brainchild of producer Sherwood Schwartz (who would also create The Brady Bunch) came up with this idea of stranding seven people from different walks of life on an island, but instead of going all Lord of the Flies decided to make it a screwball, slapstick comedy.

Many of the critics hated it, but the audience didn’t and, as a result, it ran for three seasons between 1964 and 1967 and 98 episodes, eventually spinning off two animated series and three reunion movies. Take that, critics! Schwartz wrote the opening and closing theme song that generations of viewers have learned and sung along to.

Related: ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Cast: Surprising Facts About the Stars of the Beloved Castaway Comedy

9. Perry Mason (1957)

Raymond Burr perfectly brought Erle Stanley Gardner‘s lawyer Perry Mason to life in this 1957 to 1966 legal drama that produced 271 episodes, as well as 26 TV movies that began airing on NBC in 1985. The theme song (which was actually titled “Park Avenue Beat”) was written by Fred Steiner, who, believe it or not, also wrote the theme for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The composer described the track as capturing the sophistication and toughness of the Perry Mason character.

10. The Beverly Hillbillies (1962)

Another one of those TV theme songs you get from the opening line: “Come and listen to the story of a mad named Jed…” That was our weekly introduction to CBS’ The Beverly Hillbillies, the Paul Henning culture clash comedy that ran from 1962 to 1971 for 274 episodes.

The theme song “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” was written by Henning and originally performed by bluegrass artists Foggy Mountain Boys, with Jerry Scoggins taking lead vocals. Another version was recorded by Scoggins and bandmate Lester Flatt, which reached number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart and number one on the Billboard Hot Country chart.

11. Star Trek (1966)

Despite limping through three seasons from 1966 to 1969 and producing only 79 episodes, Star Trek went on to become one of entertainment’s biggest phenomenons. It spawned 10 spin-offs and 13 feature films, a truly remarkable accomplishment.

The original series’ theme song, with William Shatner‘s “Space … the final frontier” narration, was composed by Alexander Courage. Series creator Gene Roddenberry wrote some pretty tacky lyrics to go along with it, knowing they would never be used, so he could get half the royalty the theme would generate. Although Courage never sued him over the matter, he did say that he felt the action was “unethical.”

12. The Munsters (1964)

From 1964 to 1966 there were two supernatural comedies on television, the first, The Munsters, aired on CBS for a total of 70 episodes (the second is a little further down). The show stars Fred Gwynne as patriarch Herman, essentially Frankenstein’s Monster; Yvonne De Carlo as his vampiress wife, Lily, Butch Patrick as their son, Eddie “Wolfgang,” Al Lewis as vampire Grandpa (who we’re led to believe is Dracula), and Beverly Owen and Pat Priest as human niece Marilyn (the former was in the first 13 episodes, the latter in the rest).

The instrumental theme song for The Munsters was composed by Jack Marshall and what few people may realize is that there were actually lyrics to the tune, as fans would discover when they picked up the 1964 album The Munsters — At Home with the Munsters. The video above has a version of the track with those lyrics as taken from the album.

13. Mister Ed (1961)

If you’d heard the premise of the sitcom Mister Ed — Wilbur Post (Alan Young) discovers that his horse, Mister Ed (voiced by Western actor Allan “Rocky” Lane), can talk, but only to him — you’d never believe that it would be destined to run for six seasons between 1961 and 1966 and a total of 143 episodes.

But it did, and the audience loved it. Adding to that love, of course, was the show’s theme song, written by the songwriting team of Jay Livingston (who provided vocals) and Ray Evans. It remains extremely listenable.

14. The Addams Family (1964)

Get those fingers snapping, because you’re about to pay a visit on The Addams Family. Like The Munsters, it ran (on ABC) from 1964 to 1966, but only produced 64 episodes compared to that show’s 70. Based on the cartoons of Charles Addams that appeared in The New YorkerThe Addams Family brought to life Gomez (John Astin), Morticia (Carolyn Jones), Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), Grandmama (Marie Blake), Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) Addams — not to mention Lurch (Ted Cassidy), Thing and Cousin Itt (Felix Silla), among others. They didn’t terrorize anyone, more than happy living their lives and wondering why people would react so strangely to them.

The show’s theme song was written by Vic Mizzy, whose other credits include the opening to Green Acres. Wikipedia describe the them as being “dominated by a harpsichord and a bass clarinet, and featured finger-snaps as percussive accompaniment.” You can hear actor Ted Cassidy saying the words “neat,” “sweet” and “petite” during it.

15. The Brady Bunch (1969) & Spin-Offs

With the words “Here’s the story,” producer Sherwood Schwartz strikes theme song gold again in the same way he did with Gilligan’s Island. In it, the concept of The Brady Bunch — two families becoming a blended one — is perfectly captured. The other thing to consider is that this show spawned quite a number of spin-offs, many of which utilized theme songs that were variations of the original. In the video above, you’ll be able to hear two versions of the opening from the original series, the animated series The Brady Kids, live-action sitcom The Brady Brides, drama The Bradys and the three “spoofy” films that the show inspired. A great way to round this list out!

Related: 13 Facts You Probably Never Knew About the ‘Brady Bunch’

Click through for more 1960s and 1970s nostalgia, or keep reading…

Remembering ABC’s 1971 Fridays — ‘The Brady Bunch’ to ‘Love, American Style’

Saturday Nights on CBS in 1973: The Greatest TV Line-Up Ever

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