“Just the good ol’ boys
Never meanin’ no harm
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born.”
Sound familiar? It should if you were a Friday night television watcher in the 1980s. Those are the opening lyrics to the theme song of The Dukes of Hazzard. You could watch Bo and Luke Duke cruise around, evading Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane, while hanging out with Daisy, Cooter, and Uncle Jesse.
This show was quite the hit, and some of that had to do with the theme song that Waylon Jennings sang to start each episode. It was such a catchy tune that I’m sure some of you are humming or singing it right now, possibly even finding a recording of it to listen to again.
The television theme song used to be an important part of a show. Many of them had words which described the premise of the show, such as with The Dukes. Other shows like that included Cheers (“Where Everybody Knows Your Name”), Friends (“I’ll Be There For You”), Laverne and Shirley, The Addams Family, and The Monkees. I won’t hold it against you if you take a moment to listen to all those again before you continue reading – they’re very catchy!
Thus, if you had never seen the show before, just by watching the theme song portion, you were pretty much caught up on what you were going to see. Even cartoons like Scooby Doo, Where Are You? gave kids that chance to jump right in by letting them know the show would involve Scooby and the gang solving a mystery. Plus, there would be Scooby Snacks!
Other TV themes had few if any lyrics, but the tone was really set by the music. Just think of the music that started such series as Hill Street Blues, Hawaii Five-O, Mission: Impossible, Seinfeld, and The Office. From the police desk to the surf beat to super spies to a twangy comedian to hijinks selling paper, these theme songs are synonymous with the characters and settings of the shows they accompany.
There are the songs that use one word over and over again (Batman) or just say the name of the show (The Simpsons) before giving us good music that seems to fit well. There are even theme songs that have words that you never hear on the show (M*A*S*H*).
Many of those shows’ songs had multiple verses. You might only hear the first one, but there are expanded versions of the songs available. I can only imagine this was done for the purpose of selling single albums that fans would buy, but the song would have to be longer than thirty seconds to make it worthwhile. Cheers has a second verse which explains a few things that happen in the first couple of seasons. The Facts of Life also has additional verses which seem to fit some of the happenings on the show. Even The Big Bang Theory has more to it than what you see each week on TV.
These songs stuck with me as I grew older. I remember buying sheet music books for the piano with many of these in there because they were easy to learn and fun to play. When I got to college, I ran across a cassette tape with many TV themes from the 70s and 80s. We had fun in the dorms trying to name that tune first.
So what’s happened to these songs? They are a rarity on shows these days. You have a few exceptions, but most have a very brief snippet. You don’t see the long montages with all the characters and the actors’ names along with them as much. Why is this?
I’ve seen a couple of theories. One is that the producers are trying to get more story into that time slot, so it’s easy to cut back on the weekly theme. Another is that they are trying to sneak more advertising in there, so the theme is the area that’s hit. Part of it might have to do with the binge-watching some people do where they just skip over some of those parts anyway.
Whatever the cause, it’s a little sad that our kids might not have as many of these fun songs to remember. If they don’t, we can always remind them of the rest of the intro to the Duke boys:
“Straightenin’ the curves
Flattenin’ the hills
Someday the mountain might get ‘em
But the law never will.”
Word of the Week: This week’s word is oniomania, which means an irresistible urge to buy things, as in, “He felt a sense of oniomania looking for TV theme songs to buy on iTunes.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!