TV & CULTURE

11 Greatest Television Theme Songs of All Time

March 22, 2020

Keely Tzoukos

It’s time for me to dust off my novelty Central Perk coffee mug, serenade my neighbour’s stinky feline, and dance wildly in the fountain behind the Royal Exhibition Building, because the cast of Friends is reuniting.

Oh. My. God. Could I be any more excited?

Friends is the cockroach of television sitcoms: it refuses to die. In fact, it’s become even more popular since the finale aired in 2004. Reruns are televised around the clock here in Australia. Streaming giants have paid astronomical fees for content rights (in 2019, HBO Max acquired the rights for an eye-watering $500 mil). And age-old debates – Were Ross and Rachel on a break? Does the theme song feature four or five claps? –  routinely dominate social media.

In honour of the forthcoming reunion special, I’ve compiled a list of the best television theme songs of all time. Because we all know Friends would be nothing without those four – NOT five – iconic claps…

11) Beverly Hills 90210

Like Friends, BH90210 has traversed the rocky reboot/reunion track. In 2019, the 90s teen drama was given a very meta reboot, with the original cast returning to play both themselves and their angsty, hormonal characters. Despite the reboot receiving mixed reviews (I personally despised its cheesiness; watching it felt like being repeatedly dunked into a tub of melted cheddar), one thing remains clear: the theme song is a categorical bop. The punchy anthemic opener, which is a perfect blend of rock and jazz, expertly harkens back to a time of denim-on-denim, head-to-toe spandex and portable CD players.

In saying this, I’ve put it as no. 11 because it doesn’t have any lyrics and I think theme songs are infinitely better when you can sing or screech along (just ask my perpetually-strained vocal cords).

10) Party of Five – Closer to Free, BoDeans

Party of Five is ANOTHER show that has been rebooted in 2020.

If you look up the word “banger” in the Oxford English Dictionary, you’ll find a picture of the BoDeans shredding their guitars while performing “Closer to Free”. OK, obviously that’s not true. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be true! This song inspired me and my mum to put on a little dance – well, we mainly pumped our fists in the air aggressively à la Judd Nelson – whenever the opening credits to Party of Five rolled.

That being said, it’s at no. 10 due to the repetitive and platitudinous lyrics: “Everybody wants to live, like they want to live. And everybody wants to love, like they want to love.” This is utterly meaningless, but my 13-year-old self ate it up.

9) Letters and Numbers

This list wouldn’t be complete without a game show theme. (Game shows are a dying breed in Australia, so I try to celebrate the good ones whenever I have the chance.)

This rhythmic opener is extremely catchy and reminds me of music class in primary school, when everyone would ignore the teacher and frantically bang their instruments at the same time. It’s a surprisingly energetic tune, and never fails to bring back memories of my granddad and myself competitively doing multiplication in our heads.

8) Cheers – Cheers (Where Everybody Knows Your Name), Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo

No, my fellow Gen Zers, I’m not talking about the Netflix show about cheerleaders. Cheers is an 80s sitcom starring Ted Danson.

This song is pretty emotional for a sitcom opener. Portnoy’s country lilt adds an element of mournfulness to the song’s themes of friendship and togetherness, which renders it a particularly heart-warming tune (Joey from Friends even cries upon hearing it). What makes it a great theme song is that there’s a gradual build-up to the powerful, climactic chorus, which means it’s a thousand times more earworm-worthy.

Still gets a 10/10 in cheesiness, though.

7) Full House – Everywhere You Look, Jesse Frederick

ANOTHER SHOW THAT’S BEEN REBOOTED!!!!!!!!!!!

The original theme song (not the Carly Rae Jepsen version) has quite a strong vocal backing, which gives it a choir-like quality and means it’s nearly impossible not to sing along to. Additionally, the lyrics are very nostalgic, as they express a longing for the good ol’ days, which certainly strikes a chord in today’s fast-paced media environment. (Although, today’s generation is more likely to lament the loss of privacy over evening TV.)

This song is a time capsule of childhood innocence and will always make me wish I grew up in the 80s.

6) One Tree Hill – I Don’t Want To Be, Gavin DeGraw 

Full disclosure, this show gave me nightmares when I was 14. I can still remember the whole Peyton-stalker storyline in vivid detail…

Anyway, this theme song is ensconced in one of my moody Spotify playlists. It’s a perfect reflection of the identity struggles that afflict teens. Plus, it rocks REALLY hard.

5) Wizards of Waverly Place – Everything Is Not What It Seems, Selena Gomez

Watching Saturday Disney was the closest I ever came to playing a sport. It was an activity I performed with unwavering dedication and fierce competitiveness (I always endeavoured to wake up before the rest of the house, so I could have sole control of the TV from the hours of 7-9am).

Unsurprisingly then, Selena Gomez was my idol and this song only solidified her pedestal status. This opener includes a blistering beat – which incidentally inspired Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy – and flawless rhymes (“head”, “read” and “bed” all feature in the same verse… pure sorcery). It’s a total banger and club DJs should really get around it. 

4) Saved by the Bell – Saved by the Bell, Scott Gale

ALSO GETTING A REVIVAL IN 2020. THIS LUNACY NEEDS TO END.

OK so this song kind of fetishises being a bad student (Zack Morris is trash and we should not aspire to be like him). Regardless, it still ranks highly as one of the greatest TV themes of all time. My logic as to why is a bit circuitous, but try to stay with me.

I think this theme sounds exactly like Workin’ for a Livin’ by Huey Lewis and the News, a song which was released in 1982 and experienced a modern-day resurgence in 2019 when it was included in season 3, episode 1 of Stranger Things (it plays when Nancy power-walks down the street while carrying the lunch of her obnoxious bosses). Now, it’s common knowledge that Stranger Things is the best show in the explored universe (it’s an objective fact, don’t @ me). Ergo, Saved by the Bell’s theme is amazing because it resembles a song that features (admittedly, for no more than 15 seconds) in Stranger Things.😊

3) The Golden Girls – Thank You For Being a Friend, Andrew Gold

A.N.O.T.H.E.R SHOW WITH A REBOOT IN THE WORKS… In all honesty, I think I’ll love this reboot, so I’ll stop my moaning.

It’s absolutely impossible not to love this song. It’s a friendship anthem; a wise reminder to celebrate your female friends and not take them for granted. Also, it’s so unbelievably wholesome that Coles even used it in one of their Christmas ads last year.

2) The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

Do I really need to explain why this song is so amazing?

1) Friends – I’ll Be There For You, The Rembrandts

Of course, this is the GOAT. You’d be hard-pressed to find a living soul who doesn’t know the lyrics by heart.

The chant-along song brilliantly captures twenty-something culture – specifically an endless disaffection with love, life and work – and manages to bundle up this discontent in an upbeat chorus and string of light-hearted oohs.

The theme helped make Friends into the juggernaut it is today, and I will be giddily clapping and screeching along to it come reunion time (my neighbours should consider this a warning).