?The past is getting further away everyday. That brilliant observation seems like something Criswell would say, yet it remains utterly, unchangeably true. Or does it? With the help of nostalgia, the Internet and a Hollywood production slate packed with remakes, reboots and sequels we may never have to leave this pop culture limboland from which we are firmly entrenched. Yesterday’s franchises become tomorrow’s tentpoles. The past is the present…and the future. Whoa. Here’s some more mindblowers: The Empire Strikes Back is 30 years old. “Rock Me Amadeus” is officially an oldie. Small Wonder is out on DVD, and some people are actually happy about this. Even though the 1980s are long gone, in a substantial way they never truly will be — because so many of its TV show theme songs are still stuck in our heads, more than 20 years later. But could a decade’s worth of television openings be whittled down to a mere ten best? Hard decisions would have to be made! So after many sodas were drank, strombolis eaten and YouTube clips watched, the following picks attempt to sum up the greatest themes of the 1980s (admittedly, it is a bit nerd-centric, but that is what this site’s all about after all). Sha la la la.
Daily List suggested by PossibleMisnomer.
10) Red Dwarf
In the first season of Red Dwarf, Lister yearned to return to Earth to live a peaceful life in Fiji. As the show progressed his plan was complicated by everything from genetically engineered life forms to the discovery that he and his crewmates were characters on a TV show. Yet his dreams of fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun stayed alive through the wonderfully bouncy closing theme of every episode. Given the downturn the series has taken since co-creator Rob Grant left, its nice to know that fans can rely on the theme for entertainment if nothing else in an episode gels.
Doot doot doot doot doot. Trouble again! Long before The Phantom Menace spewed its cinematic vomit in movie theaters everywhere, Lucasfilm gave us a Star Wars prequel in the form of the 1985 Droids cartoon. Its serialized stories could get a touch ponderous at times but the theme — “Trouble Again” — was aces. Performed and co-written by The Police’s Stewart Copeland, it taught a generation of latchkey kids to keep their chins up or risk the humiliation (and beatings) that whining like 3-P0 would get them.
8) The Greatest American Hero
“Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)” was such a monster hit that it still gets regular airplay on stations that happily tout their aversion to “rap and hard stuff.” I don’t know what happened to singer Joey Scarbury after this tune was released, but I hope wherever he is he spends his days flying away on a wing and a prayer (whatever the hell that might entail). How many of you scoffed this song’s inclusion here only to realize that you had it on your iPod? Hmm…
7) Inspector Gadget
Inspector Gadget may have been a square, but his theme song brings the funk thanks to some hushed coo-cooing and a “go Gadget go” chorus that is so sexy you want to throw your panties at it like it was Tom Jones circa 1968. [Topless Robot would like to apologize if this theme song causes any trauma after last Friday’s FFF. Ha ha! Not really. –Rob.]
Cheers was the series that made us realize that, to quote Freaks and Geeks, “everything good in life happens in bars.” It’s also hilarious and arguably the best show of the 1980s overall. Much like the theme for Taxi — Cheers‘ spiritual predecessor — “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” has a melancholic edge perfectly suited for a show whose flawed characters spend their days abusing alcohol. After all, making your way in the world today does take everything you’ve got, so you may as well drink up. That’s probably not the best lesson to be gleaned from the song, but it works for me.
5) The Kids in the Hall
Theme songs to sketch comedy shows are usually forgettable affairs that use wacky, vaguely upbeat opening tunes to musically reinforce to viewers that they are about to have their sides split by the funny (check out Saturday Night Live, In Living Color and MADtv for exceptionally awful examples of this phenomenon). Not so for The Kids in the Hall. The series utilized the awesomely jangly “Having an Average Weekend” by instrumental rock band — and fellow Torontonians — Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet as its theme tune. Those Canadians stick together, eh? The above video features some mad genius dressed as Jerry Sizzler playing the song on a harp. Don’t question why, just revel in its beauty.
4) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
A good theme song should be memorable and sum up the show in the process. This insidiously catchy theme to does these things…and so much more. The phrase “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is repeated eight times in roughly one minute, meaning that kids everywhere were able to memorize it instantly. Sadly, this also meant that parents everywhere never wanted to hear one more goddamned word about turtle power or what a radical rat Splinter was. Parents just don’t understand. The Fresh Prince is wise.
3) The Dukes of Hazzard
Having fun, mocking that fat piece of shit Boss Hogg and contemplating banging their cousin, them Dukes was “Good Ol’ Boys” indeed. Waylon Jennings’ theme is a trip back to a pre-Taylor Swift era when country music was about getting into scrapes, saying damn the man and various other, um, hazards of outlaw life. As epic as this song truly is, Johnny Cash’s “The General Lee” is a superior Dukes-related song that also would have also made for a great theme if it hadn’t been relegated to the dark recesses of the show’s soundtrack album. Hear for yourself:
2) Family Ties
Thanks to smooth vocals from easy-listening faves Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams, “Without Us” sha-la-la-laed its way into the hearts of sitcom lovers everywhere. Shows like Growing Pains and Perfect Strangers may have tried valiantly, but they never quite mastered the blend of schmaltz and sincerity that Family Ties perfected.
1) It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was a gleeful deconstruction of the sitcom genre that reveled in breaking the fourth wall and constantly reminding viewers that they were watching TV. Naturally this meta approach to comedy was reflected in the show’s earworm of a theme that is highlighted by a slapdash whistle solo. Over the course of the series’ 72 episodes, the song never gets tired. It is a sublime bit of silliness that still sounds as fresh today as it did when it first premiered back in 1986. Comedic brilliance, thy name is Shandling. Now bring on his cameo in Iron Man 2.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.