Five by Friday: Top TV Theme Songs

When we started discussing our last Five by Friday, we came to the realization that we felt so strongly about musical themes for TV shows we would have to split it into two different categories: Instrumental Themes and Theme Songs. (While we promised this post “next week” last time, what we really meant was “next next week.”) And while there was some debate over what exactly counted as “singing”, we went ahead and defined “theme songs” as pretty much anything that includes words of any sort, for reasons that will become clear as you read along.

Five by Friday

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This one was even harder for me than instrumental themes, because I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, when everything had a memorable theme song. The ones that made my list are there because they’re both catchy and memorable, standing the test of time (case in point: none of these shows are from the past decade). They also all pass the “never skip” test — I will watch the full opening credits to every one of these shows every time it’s on, even if I’m bingeing.

But my honorable mentions for this category are plentiful, and because I love them so much, I’m going to link to their videos here, in case you want to get a TV theme song fix (and this doesn’t even include the songs on Sarah’s and Teija’s lists, most of which I also love): Saved by the Bell, Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, The World of David the Gnome, Sesame Street, A Different World, Roswell, Vikings, The Addams Family, and Gummi BearsI love you all, just not the MOST.

5. “I’ll Be Ready” by Cory Lerios and John D’Andrea, sung by Jimi Jamison, Baywatch

Goodbye, credibility, we had a good run.

So, I know I’m probably being judged super hard by everyone right now, and… well, that’s fair. But I watched every episode of Baywatch (it was the ’90s, there was no accounting for taste), which was honestly really engrossing and — stop laughing — took itself way more seriously than most people gave it credit for. And despite the fact that I have the benefit of many years of hindsight and could have picked so many other songs for this spot… I just legitimately like this one the fifth best.

Plus this video thoughtfully spliced in David Hasselhoff singing “Current of Love,” which closed out every episode. You’re welcome.

4. “Fraggle Rock Theme” by Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee, Fraggle Rock

I’ll be honest, I have listened to the Fraggle Rock theme more than I have watched the actual show. Sometimes I’d be channel surfing and would stop on Fraggle Rock just long enough to listen to the full theme, and then change the channel. It’s not that I didn’t like the show; it’s just that I loved the song so much that I would pretty much always be in the mood for it, even when I wasn’t in the mood for the show itself.

3. “Save Me” by Remy Zero, Smallville 

I still remember watching the very first episode of Smallville on DVD (back in the days of the good ol’ 5-DVDs-at-a-time Netflix plan), and turning to my husband during the opening credits to say, “this is a great theme song.” Smallville had its ups and downs during its 10-year run (I actually still haven’t watched every episode — I fell behind somewhere in season 5 or 6, and then spot-watched until the end), but the theme remained consistently great, perfectly balancing the angst of Clark’s life as a teenager/20-something with the epic scope of his ultimate destiny.

2. “Closer to Free” by the BoDeans, Party of Five

Ugh, I love this show so much it’s gross. This was probably my favorite show of the ’90s, and it still has a significant soft spot in my heart to this day. (They’re rebooting it soon with an immigration twist, and I desperately want it to be good.) And while I would’ve loved this show with or without a catchy opening credits sequence, I’m so glad that every episode opened to “Closer to Free,” which didn’t entirely fit with the super dramatic tone of the show, but made me almost unreasonably happy anyway.

Sidebar: why don’t dramatic shows open with credit sequences of highlight clips set to pop songs anymore? That trend was great and it needs to come back.

1. “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts, Friends

You knew this was going to be at the top of at least one of our lists, right?

I love this song so much I used it in my sister’s wedding slideshow — which, if you’ve ever put together a wedding slideshow, you know you have to listen to those songs approximately one bajillion times to make sure they’re all timed right, so it’s good to actually enjoy them going in. “I’ll Be There for You” is a perfect fit for Friends, both musically and thematically, with its high-energy, driving guitars and lyrics about being there for your friends through thick and thin.

And I know we’re judging songs here, not the actual credits themselves, but for my money, Friends is still the gold standard for sitcom opening credit sequences (and really, opening credits sequences in general). Everything about them is perfect, from the dancing in the fountain, to the show clips used for each character, to the font choice, which doesn’t work for any other show (just search YouTube for “[any show title] friends style opening credits” and you’ll see what I mean) but somehow works for Friends.


This was a really tough week, y’all. It required a lot of debating, discarding, swapping out, and finally cutting some really great themes. Even with Lauren taking gems like Friends and Party of Five and Teija stepping up to claim Carmen Sandiego and Battlestar Galactica, there were still many, many themes that almost made the cut. And while it almost physically hurt to leave themes like Darkwing Duck, The Gummi Bears, Gilmore Girls, Psych, CSI, and Golden Girls behind, ultimately it came down to these five, delightfully catchy theme songs.

This is going to get a little bit weird y’all. My taste in tv is vast.

5. “The Muppet Show Theme” by Sam Pottle & Jim Henson, The Muppet Show

As kid re-runs of “The Muppet Show” played in the evenings on Nick at Nite. And during the summer my sister and I would beg my parents to let us eat in the living room so we could watch. As a result this theme song immediately takes me back to those lazy summer nights with my entire family, watching the muppets and laughing at their antics.

In fact, this song became so entwined with family to me that for years it was the ringtone I had set to play whenever my parents called me. Though, I’d often put off answering the phone to sing along to the theme. It’s just so darn catchy!

4. “The Outlander Theme” by Bear McCreary, Outlander

Confession time, I actually had this theme on my top five from two weeks ago, because somehow my brain refused to remember that it had words? However, this theme is so great that there was no question it would simply be moved to this week’s top five. Everything about this is amazing, from the haunting voice that starts the theme over to the drums and strings that join in, and eventually the bagpipes that truly drive home the pure Scottishness of it all.

Bear McCreary, who made an appearance on last week’s list and shows up twice this week, is a damn musical genius. He manages to create the perfect theme for a time travel show set in Scotland that sounds absolutely nothing like his theme for The Walking Dead or Battlestar Galactica.

3. “We Used to be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols, Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars has one of the most perfect seasons of tv that I have ever seen. And while the quality of the show dropped off in its final two seasons, the theme song never got old. This is one of a handful of tv themes that I have in my music library and I’ll be honest, I listen to it regularly. The words give you a glimpse into Veronica’s life, while the catchy instrumentals give you a feel for the quirkyness that this show provides.

2. “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

As Teija said, it would be a travesty for me to not list this as one of my top five as I am known to break into this song anywhere, any time. I even know all the words to the extended theme, which I consider one of my crowning lifetime achievements. This is one of the best themes of all time and even people who never watched the show can probably sing along with the lyrics as soon as it starts playing.

And honestly, while it is not in the number one spot know that it only missed that by millimeters.

1. “Ducktales Theme” by Mark Mueller, Ducktales

What exactly would life be like if it were like a hurricane? I don’t know, but apparently, these ducks faced it daily. So parts of this song don’t make a lot of sense, it doesn’t mean that it’s not fun and catchy and gets you dancing in your seat.

Honestly is there anyone out there who doesn’t love this theme song? This song is a classic and I’m fairly confident that most any child of the 80s can sing it on command. And just to be clear, while I’m a huge fan of the new Ducktales show, it’s this version that holds a special place in my heart.

Ducktales? Whooh ooh!


I have to go ahead and thank Lauren for linking what has to be the vast majority of my “rejected for slot #5” list in her honorable mentions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have more honorable mentions to list. I grew up watching Nick at Nite back when it showed black and white TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and Green Acres instead of what it’s showing these days, which include things like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Friends (this kind of thing is what makes me feel my age increasing minute by ticking minute). My young self knew all the words to the songs for shows like The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, and Gilligan’s Island just as well as I knew the words to shows like Rainbow Brite, Jem, and Captain Planet.

Regardless, I had to narrow it down to five, and narrow it down I did. My adult brain and my inner child had to do some bartering, as you’ll see.

5. Denver, the Last Dinosaur theme song, by Dale Schacker

This is one of those cartoons that seems to have missed a large segment of my peers somehow, so half the folks I bring it up with look at me like I’ve grown a second head, and the other half–without fail–starts singing this theme song. It’s hands-down the catchiest cartoon theme song of my entire life, and one that takes nothing but a passing mention to embed itself into the constantly-running jukebox that is my brain for an incredibly long time afterward. Despite all the catchy theme songs we’ve been discussing leading up to this post, this is the one that’s been playing on a loop in my mind.

4. Farscape theme, by Chris, Toby and Braedy Neal, SubVision

So this is one of my selections that may be stretching the definition of “theme song” a little bit, but since we excluded things with vocals last week, here it is. Farscape is one of my favorite shows of all time, and its theme song is this bizarre blend of dramatic drums and techno sounds and alien chanting. That alien chanting not only puts this choice on this list, but it’s also really, really unique. The only other place I’ve ever heard anything remotely like it is in The Witcher 3, bizarrely enough. It’s a little polarizing, at least in my small group of fellow irreversibly contaminated viewers, but I’m one of the people that adore it wholeheartedly.

3. Battlestar Galactica theme, Bear McCreary

This show is funky in that it had different theme songs in the US and the UK for a time, and of those two versions it is the UK version that is so vastly superior that after season one, they used it everywhere. It begins with a beautiful and haunting rendition of the Gayatri Mantra, a Hindu mantra dedicated to Savitr, the sun deity. I recall once upon a time Bear McCreary wrote on his blog about his inspirations for instrument use and melodies throughout the run of Battlestar, and it’s always fun to deep-dive and try to find it, but that’s a likely vortex of intrigue that is better left for days on which I do not also need to work. After the gorgeous vocals, the music picks up and starts to drive on a pretty relentless drum clip, battering up and up a hill until it zips right over the edge and into the episode you’re about to watch. It’s a great theme song. I’m glad the US release eventually came around.

2. “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” by Joe Davis and Osvaldo Farrés, performed by Mari Wilson for Coupling (UK)

This is an oooooold song, first recorded and released by Desi Arnaz in 1948 and rereleased by countless artists including Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Nat King Cole, The Pussycat Dolls, and Cake. But because it was the opening credits to Coupling, it’s Mari Wilson’s rich, sultry voice that I hear every time it pops into my head. This show is a favorite of mine for a number of reasons that begin with Jack Davenport as Steve, King of Rants and continue onward, and this opening theme is just one of them. It’s fun to sing along with when it starts up, and it really does fit the show so, so well.

1. “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” by Rockapella

You knew this would be somewhere on these lists. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for you, to hear it, I couldn’t find a single clip of just the song, so here’s an entire episode of the show. The thing about it is that Rockapella didn’t just perform the opening credits, or the end credits, they did all the background music for the entire show. Their familiar and famous “Where in the world is–” followed by that lovely bass “CARMEN SANDIEGO” is all you get at the beginning of the show, since it goes straight into the game show fun. However, it is unmistakably the theme, as you get little bits and pieces of it throughout the episode until the end, when you finally get the whole thing (skip to 25:40 for “Do it, Rockapella!” and the following live performance of the entire song). This show was a staple of my childhood, and Rockapella is more than likely responsible for my generation’s fondness for a capella music to this day (I mean, have you been on YouTube these days? We clearly freaking love a capella).

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