This morning I woke up with the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati in my head. “I’m living on the air in Cincinnati; Cincinnati WKRP.” I’m not sure why my mind pulled up this ditty to get stuck in my head; it wasn’t even one of my sitcom staples and I’ve been consumed with listening to Hamilton the Musical on repeat.
I once read if you can’t get a song out of your mind, you should listen to the whole thing from beginning to end. I went to YouTube to get the song out of my head and instead got sucked into a world of TV theme songs. Like a comfort food or cozy afghan, they served as a mental time machine, teleporting me to 1986 and I was surprised to learn how many lyrics I knew. I was in the first generation of latchkey kids who came home to our TV babysitters. We heard these songs daily and now they’re a direct thread to our youth, a musical shortcut to nostalgia. I listened to over 50 TV theme songs which were instantly recognizable, ingrained in our collective pop culture history; a soundtrack to our past. It’s amazing how you can identify Mission Impossible, Hawaii 5-0, or the Knight Rider within seconds.
TV serves a social unifier; it’s a way we connect across social and cultural divides. Prisoners and debutantes alike can join in the chorus of the Facts of Life theme song because great life lessons can be ascertained from the opening seconds of a good sitcom: “you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life.”
My favorites, it turned out, were the ones which were full songs in their own right, beyond what we hear in the 30-second show introductions. Some shows had entire sitcom summaries in their theme songs and those didn’t engage me as much (Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Love Boat).
My 7 Favorites:
7) Laverne and Shirley
6) WKRP in Cincinnati
4) Greatest American Hero
3) Family Ties
Here’s is a fun frolic through sitcom theme song history: