18 classic TV theme songs that made the pop charts
Peter Gunn and Kotter were musical titans, too.
With streaming and YouTube going towards the counts, some very unlikely songs can make the pop charts these days. One genre that hardly graces the Billboard Hot 100 today, however, is the TV theme song. The Walking Dead may be the most popular show on television (and that's another topic) but viewers aren't requesting the music at their local radio station.
Back in the day, TV theme songs were smash hits. That's because TV themes sounded more like pop songs. Yet even the intrumentals climbed to the top.
Let's take a look at and listen to some of them. To make the list more manageable, we're focusing on the years 1959–1979. The '80s are an era for another day.
Which is your favorite?
1. Peter Gunn - "Peter Gunn"
No. 8 in 1959
Henry Mancini brought rock 'n' roll to the orchestra with that killer riff. You can stream Peter Gunn episodes right here on MeTV.com.
2. Bonanza - "Bonanza"
No. 19 in 1961
David Rose and his Orchestra took the official theme song written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans into the charts. Then just about everyone in the world of country seemed to cover it.
3. Ben Casey - "Theme From Ben Casey"
No. 28 in 1962
Pianist Valjean tinkled the ivories in this romantic piece by David Raksin.
4. Dr. Kildare - "Theme From Dr. Kildare (Three Stars Will Shine Tonight)"
No. 10 in 1962
The hunky doctor himself and star of the series Richard Chamberlain crooned over this work by David Rose.
5. The Beverly Hillbillies - "The Ballad of Jed Clampett"
No. 44 in 1963
Not only did Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys break into the Hot 100, they took this folksy ditty to No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
6. Secret Agent - "Secret Agent Man"
No. 3 in 1966
It's no wonder they renamed the British spy show Danger Man — Secret Agent Man sounds so much cooler over a twanging surf lick. Johnny Rivers knocked this out of the park.
7. Batman - "Batman Theme"
No. 17 in 1966
Hall of famers like the Kinks, the Who and the Jam all tackled this superheroic tune, but it would be the relatively obscure group the Marketts that swung into the Top 20 with "Na na na na na na na…"
8. Mission: Impossible - "Mission: Impossible"
No. 41 in 1968
This jazzy, eternally cool riff by Lalo Schifrin always makes us want to head out on a caper.
9. Hawaii Five-O - "Hawaii Five-O"
No. 4 in 1969
Surf music was a natural fit for the cop show in paradise, and the Ventures were the band to do it.
10. All in the Family - "Those Were the Days"
No. 30 on Adult Contemporary in 1972
Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton were billed as "The Bunkers" on the single version of this warbling sing-along.
11. The Rockford Files - "The Rockford Files"
No. 10 in 1975
Mike Post was the king of the instrumental theme song. He gave L.A. Law and Magnum, P.I. chart hits, too.
12. S.W.A.T. - "Theme From S.W.A.T."
No. 1 in 1976
Things got seriously funky in the disco age. Los Angeles act Rhythm Heritage knocked out a few boogified theme songs that got play on radio and in nightclubs…
13. Baretta - "Baretta's Theme (Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow)"
No. 20 in 1976
Yep, it's Rhythm Heritage again. A year later, the band would hit again with its version of the Rocky theme.
14. Happy Days - "Happy Days"
No. 5 in 1976
Jerry McClain and Truett Pratt sang the single version of the iconic opener to Happy Days, which replaced an updated version of "Rock Around the Clock" as the show's theme song for its third season. The "Brotherlove" credit on the 45 is confusing — that's just the older name used by the duo.
15. Laverne & Shirley - "Making Our Dreams Come True"
No. 25 in 1976
Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated! Even the Happy Days spin-off spawned a hit. Grecco performed the uplifting theme "Making Our Dreams Come True" for Laverne & Shirley.
16. Welcome Back, Kotter - "Welcome Back"
No. 1 in 1976
The show would have simply been titled Kotter had it not been for this brilliant, melancholy tune from the former Lovin' Spoonful leader.
17. Makin' It - "'Makin' It'"
No. 5 in 1979
He was "a Pepper" and the star of the briefly lived sitcom, but Naughton's biggest moment in the 1970s was rocketing all the way to No. 5 on the pop chart.
18. Angie - "Different Worlds"
No. 18 in 1979
Though it lasted a little longer than Makin' It, Angie was another series to see its theme song go on to greater success than the show itself. Fluffy, funky and folky, this great tune by Maureen McGovern also topped the Adult Contemporary chart.