Is ‘The Jeffersons’ “Movin’ on Up” the jammin’est TV theme song of all time? Let’s explore.
TV theme songs used to be serious business. They were real life compositions, with verses, chorus and vamp, sung by established artist. Rather than start a fight over by trying to rank some of the best, let’s revist the golden years of TV & TV themes in chronological order.
Starting with one of the funkiest. “The Streetbeater” by Quincy Jones, aks the Sanford & Son theme (72). This bassline…
Speaking of great bass lines in theme songs, the Fat Albert theme was the sample in Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” and sampled in “Method Man”
Also in 72, “Then There’s Maude” sung by Donny Hathaway. Donny spits bars near the end of this.
As I mentioned, in the ‘70s and ‘80s TV theme songs would have full verses, hooks and vamps. John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” (76) hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. I love this joint.
If the congregaion would please rise for our favorite TV show negro spiritual, “Good Times” (74)
…and this good real life choir rendition. (Waves church fan)
Also in the gospel category of tv theme songs, and the impetus of tonight’s convo: The Jeffersons. Foot stompin’, hand clappin’, talmbout frying fish, humming like your nana in closing credits…come on now. Written by Jeff Barry and Wilona (Janet DuBois). Sung by Janet Dubois (and once you know it’s her, you totally hear it).
WKRP’s theme song is an smooth groove with kinda beautiful lyrics for a show about a radio station “Baby, if you ever wonder… wonder whatever became of me…”
There were full jazz fusion compositions, like Barney Miller (where literally the sole request for the theme was “do something with some bass”, because it was NY and had to be funky…)
…and the smooth grooves of Taxi’s theme song, “Angela” by Bob James (78)
Jeff Barry (“Movin’ On Up”) gave us another gem with the One Day at a Time theme (79). Again, this is a WHOLE ASS SONG.
The low key (high key) TV theme song king Alan Thicke gave us two classics in addition to many, many game show themes. “Now the world don’t move…” (78)
And the theme for the Diff’rent Strokes spin off… (79) (Sung by Robin Thicke’s mom)
The early to mid eighties might really have been the golden age for soulful ass theme songs. Speaking of soulful ass…what we not gonna do is continue to leave Nell Carter out of TV conversations (81)
Jeff Barry (again) with Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams and this groovin’ Family Ties theme. Again, a WHOLE. ASS. SONG. (82)
Night Court was another smooth and groovy jazz vibe. (84)
You can sing the first six words of this theme song in a crowded room and the whole place join in by second line. Even though The Golden Girls debuted in ‘85, “Thank You For Being a Friend” was originally released in ‘78.
Of course we can no longer ever reference the Golden Girls theme without this acknowledgement…
Keeping the soulful themes going, Marla Gibbs and the crew were reminding you who the real ones in your life are (85). Shout out to Pearl.
Another clutch entry in the theme song gospel category, written by André Crouch himself… If you know the words, sing along… (86)
“Moonlighting” is one of the smoothest joints ever to open a TV show, with Al Jarreau on vocals and produced by Nile Rogers. Also a chart hit. (85)
Let’s talk about The Cosby Show’s incredible theme song run.Every year the series used a different interpretation of the song, but Season 3 was when it started getting crunk. Part of the anticipation of the fall premiere was excitement to see the new show opening.
In the midst of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mania, season 4 with Bobby McFerrin.
Season 5 with major theatrical production, giving you South Pacific vibes.
And season six with a funky jam session (my personal favorite).
While we’re here, let’s get into the two versions of the Different World theme song (co-written by Dawn Lewis, aka Jaleesa) that actually matter (i.e not Season 1, no shots to Phoebe Snow).
Seasons 2–5 with ReRe…
Vulture recently did a piece on the creation of Auntie Re’s version of the theme.
Season six (last season) was Boyz II Men (sounding very much like Take 6 to me)
In the ‘90s, seems like these full lyrics and production theme songs fell out of fashion, but we still had a few. Like Different World, and Fresh Prince…
Living Single (La on the hook and rhymes, Big Lez on the ‘90s moves. How people ever thought this bawdy was Erika Alexander is beyond me).
And we can’t forget the super New Jack Swing In Living Color theme with the Bum Diddley Heavy D.
Which Bruno and Cardi just recently (and perfectly) paid homage to…
There are a few themes we should still acknowledge because they slap, or simply becasue they’re classic and deserve.
Starting with another funky instrumental, for What’s Happening (76)
One of the most classic theme songs ever, a rally cry for a generation of women, “Love Is All Around” from Mary Tyler Moore (70)
One of my personal favorites and I don’t care if ya’ll judge me. Written by theme song great Mike Post (Law & Order themes, LA Law, Hill Street Blues, Rockford Files, etc) This is my shit. (81)
Knight Rider was very important appointment television for young Naima. The theme’s been sampled by Busta, Kim, Ciara, Timb… There might be more.
This one was not my era, but I know it was a jam.
I think this was the universal Thursday night “Go to Bed” theme song for Gen X. Another Mike Post classic, it was also a top 10 single.
This one is possibly niche, but I loved Fraiser, and I loved this nonsense little ditty. I just wish I didn’t know all now know about Kelsey Grammar and his political affiliations… sigh.
Which leads us into the closer. My guess is this is at the top of alot of “Best Theme Song Ever” lists. One of the greatest all time lyrical fits for a program. We all wanna go where everybody knows our name.
Actually no, this is the closer. Called one of the most memorable TV theme songs ever, a full jam.
After our review, I still maintain that “Movin’ On Up” is, indeed, the most jammin’ theme song, but let me know what you think.
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