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10 Great ’70s TV Theme Songs

The late 1970s were definitely golden years for television show themes. Most shows had a 90-second introduction that not only had to be catchy, it had to introduce the characters and the subject of the show. A number of these themes were extended into three-minute recordings and released as singles, some of which became Top 40 hits. Here are ten of the highest charting TV theme songs from the ’70s, presented in order of their respective chart peaks:

“Making Our Dreams Come True” – Cyndi Grecco (1976)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #25

Laverne & Shirley, a spin-off of Happy Days, was a sitcom about two single young roommates who worked at a brewery in Milwaukee in the late 1950’s. The show’s theme song spent five weeks in the top 40, peaking at #25. Grecco would later sing the theme to another sitcom, Blansky’s Beauties, a show about Las Vegas showgirls that lasted only 13 episodes in 1977.

“Disco Lucy” – Wilton Place Street Band (1977)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #24

I’m probably cheating by including this remake of the theme from I Love Lucy, which originally aired 1951-1957. But this single illustrates how, in the late ‘70s, record labels would release “disco” versions of older songs in order to make a buck on the current dance craze. You can’t really blame them, thanks to movies like American Graffiti, television shows like Happy Days, and musicals like Grease, baby boomers were saturated in nostalgia for the 1950’s and I Love Lucy is one of the most beloved sitcoms from that decade. No matter how cheesy the disco remake, the single peaked at #24 in a remarkable seven weeks in the top 40.

“Baretta’s Theme (Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow)” – Rhythm Heritage (1976)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #20

The cop show Baretta premiered in January 1975 with a theme written by Dave Grusin and performed by El Chicano, but this cover of the show’s theme hit the top 40 over a year later, peaking at #20. Rhythm Heritage was a studio group that eventually released four albums of disco music. Session musicians who participated in the Rhythm Heritage studio recordings include names like Michael Omartian, Jay Graydon, James Jamerson, Ray Parker Jr., and Dean Parks. Later seasons of the show had a version of the theme sung by Sammy Davis, Jr., whose version failed to reach the Hot 100. Grusin, an Academy Award winner, also wrote themes to other television shows such as Maude, Good Times, Alice, and St. Elsewhere.

“Different Worlds” – Maureen McGovern (1979)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #18

“Different Worlds” was the theme song to the series Angie, which starred Donna Pesco in the titular role, fresh off a turn in Saturday Night Fever. The sitcom also starred Robert Hayes (best known as Ted Striker from the 1980 movie Airplane) as Angie’s love interest. Love the disco beat, but there’s something awkward about the phrasing that’s off-putting to me. The moral of this story: don’t mix meters in a disco song.

“The Rockford Files” – Mike Post (1975)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #10

Mike Post was the king of the TV theme, mainly working for producer Steven Cannell. This theme to the James Garner show is immediately recognizable not only for its distinctive melody, but also for the Minimoog synthesizer that plays said melody. The Minimoog was invented in 1970 and was still relatively new (and expensive) when this instrumental was recorded. This single represents one of the synth’s first uses in a record to hit the Hot 100, and “Rockford” won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement. Post would continue to find chart success in the ’80s with TV themes from Magnum, P.I. and Hill Street Blues.

“Nadia’s Theme” – Barry De Vorzon And Perry Botkin Jr. (1976)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #8

Originally written as incidental music for the 1971 film Bless the Beasts and Children, titled “Cotton’s Dream,” this instrumental would serve as the theme music to the daytime drama The Young And The Restless, which premiered in 1973. After Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci’s won gold medals at the 1976 Olympics, ABC’s Wide World of Sports produced a montage of Comăneci’s routines and used the music as background. Notably, Comăneci never actually performed to the music during the summer games.  Viewer inquiries to ABC about the song led to its release as a retitled single in the fall of 1976. Almost 50 years later, The Young And The Restless is still on the air and still features this theme music.

“Makin’ It” – David Naughton (1979)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #5

It’s quite rare to have a TV theme sung by the show’s lead actor. Naughton wasn’t just the “Be a Pepper” guy, shilling for Dr. Pepper, he was also an aspiring pop singer. Now he’s best known from the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. I’ve always liked this song with its positive attitude over a disco beat. And I do remember watching a few episodes of the TV show. The theme song entered the Top 40 on May 12, nearly two months after the show had been canceled. Naughton’s only song to reach the Top 40, it peaked at #5 during its 16 week chart run. The TV series, by contrast, only lasted 9 weeks.

“Happy Days” – Pratt & McClain (1976)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #5

This retro sitcom premiered in January 1974, and originally used a re-recorded version of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” as its theme music. This new bespoke theme song was released as a single after it replaced the Haley classic. Not coincidentally, it was written by the same guy who wrote the Laverne & Shirley theme. Composer Charles Fox wrote both of those, along with the theme music to The Love Boat and Love, American Style, and Angie. Fox also co-wrote “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” which won a Grammy for Roberta Flack. [Editor’s note: Loved the instrumental b-side “Cruisin’ with The Fonz!”]

“Theme from S.W.A.T.” – Rhythm Heritage (1976)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #1

Two familiar names here: Barry De Vorzon wrote this intense instrumental, and Rhythm Heritage performed it. The Rhythm Heritage single version of the “S.W.A.T.” theme topped the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1976, one year after the ABC cop drama’s debut. However, the version used as the intro to the TV show was performed De Vorzon’s own orchestra (with an arrangement by Dominik Hauser). A variation of it is used for the 2003 film and for CBS’s current TV reboot. [Editor’s note: This was my jam and I still have my original 45 on ABC Records.]

“Welcome Back” – John Sebastian (1976)

Billboard Hot 100 chart peak: #1

The sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter was immediately popular upon its premiere in the fall of 1975, making a star of 21-year-old John Travolta and phrases like “up your nose with a rubber hose” a part of the popular lexicon. Singer-songwriter John Sebastian, former frontman for the ’60s folk rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful, wrote and performed the theme song. The show’s success helped this record top the chart just five weeks after it’s release as a single. It also topped the Adult Contemporary chart and amazingly placed on the country chart, peaking at #93.

There are many more TV theme singles that charted, but didn’t break into the Top 40. TV show themes hit the pop charts with decreasing frequency through the ’80s and ‘90s. With the proliferation of cable and eventually the Internet, network TV shows no longer delivered the mass audiences and shared cultural experiences that once boosted theme songs onto the singles charts. Now with streaming, a binge-watcher’s best friend is the “skip intro” button. TV themes are some of my most vivid childhood music memories. As parents, the tables have turned on us, and now we are haunted by the ear-worms of the themes to our kids’ favorite shows.

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