Back to Articles

11 forgotten TV theme songs made by super famous musicians


It doesn't take a Grammy winner to write a catchy theme song. You can sing along to the openings of Laverne & Shirley and Friends, even if you can't remember the names Cyndi Grecco and the Rembrandts.

Of course, if you're a TV show and you can afford a Beatles tune, by all means, go for it. It certainly helped The Wonder Years and Life Goes On stick in our memories.

But in some cases, a massive musician made a theme song for a TV show that is now forgotten by most. Perhaps the show flopped. Maybe the song is no longer used in the reruns. Or it could just be that you never realized a legend was playing the guitar on an instrumental.

We gathered some of our favorite obscure opening themes by Hall of Fame musicians. See if you recognize any of them.

1

The Beach Boys

"Karen" for Karen

In 1964, these Southern California kids were hot off a string of hit singles about surfing, cars, cheeseburgers and girls. NBC roped in the Beach Boys to harmonize the theme to its teen comedy Karen, part of trio of new sitcoms set in a Southern California apartment complex called 90 Bristol Court. "She sets her hair with great precision," Mike Love sang, somewhat aping The Patty Duke Show. "And by the light of television / She can even write a book report!" Perhaps book reports were not exciting enough to lure in viewers.

Image: NBCUniversal Television

2

Harry Nilsson

"Best Friend" for The Courtship of Eddie's Father

The Courtship of Eddie's Father remains the overlooked Bill Bixby show, overshadowed by The Incredible Hulk and My Favorite Martian. This charming 1969–72 father-son sitcom utilized the sweet pop sound of Harry Nilsson to great effect. One of his best-known songs, "Best Friend" was written specifically for the show, though it was an altered version of an older, unreleased tune called "Girlfriend." Nilsson never put the track on an album, surprisingly.

Image: Warner Bros.

3

Billy Joel

"My Life" for Bosom Buddies

Best remembered as Tom Hanks' big break, Bosom Buddies originally used the bouncy Billy Joel ditty from 1980–82. In reruns, however, the song was replaced with "Shake Me Loose" by Stephanie Mills. She was Dorothy in The Wiz!

Image: CBS Television Distribution

4

The Grateful Dead

Opening theme for The Twilight Zone (1985)

The Eighties reboot of Rod Serling's brilliant anthology series went for an artier approach. It opens like one of Pink Floyd's weirder moments, with shots of atom bombs, fetuses and tarantulas under eerie synthesizers. Yep, that opening was actually the Grateful Dead, with Jerry Garcia playing the iconic "do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do" riff his guitar. The credits even payed homage to the Dead, in a way, in the credits with the flash of a Rorschach-like skull before the title.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

5

The Rolling Stones

"Paint It Black" for Tour of Duty

Every Vietnam story needs a soundtrack of righteous rock & roll. Tour of Duty — one of the great, if not the great, TV shows about the war — nabbed the perfect tune, the angsty, exotic "Paint It Black." The show also featured classics by Creedence, Hendrix, The Animals, The Byrds and more inside the episodes, from 1987–90. But those rights are hard to clear for reruns and DVDs. The Stones were replaced with a very '80s instrumental filled with synthetic flutes.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

6

Diana Ross and the Supremes

"Reflections" for China Beach

Another Vietnam show, another stone-cold classic. China Beach, a sort of M*A*S*H for Vietnam, went a more soulful route during its run, between 1988–91. The 1967 Motown gem was the first song billed under Diana Ross & The Supremes. Previously, the trio was simply the Supremes.

Image: Warner Bros.

7

Randy Newman

"Under the Gun" for Cop Rock

Steven Bochco created cop-show classics, giving us both Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue. In between, he made his greatest folly, the widely panned musical police drama Cop Rock, later named as one of the worst shows of all time by TV Guide. Airing briefly in the fall of 1990, Cop Rock opened with Randy Newman pounding away on the piano. Hey, it worked wonders for Pixar later in the decade.

Image: 20th Century Fox Television

8

R.E.M.

"Stand" for Get a Life

We adore this forward-thinking cult classic from 1990–92. We even named it one of the 10 most rock & roll sitcoms of all time. Part of that was thanks to the theme song, R.E.M.'s shiny, happy "Stand" from its major-label debut, Green. Certainly, that is not the most "rock" R.E.M. song by any measure. It was the spirit of the show that was more punk.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

9

Queen

"Princes of the Universe" for Highlander: The Series

Somehow, Queen was the third choice to provide the soundtrack to The Highlander film in 1986. Both Marillion and Fish pulled out due to scheduling conflicts. Oops! Queen used much of the music to populate its 1986 album A Kind of Magic, the one with the cartoon album cover. One of those tracks, "Princes of the Universe," was used in the spin-off TV series from 1992–98. It was a prestigious get for a syndicated Canadian show.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

10

Carly Simon

"The Promise and the Prize" for Phenom

ABC gave Phenom every break in 1993. The sitcom was wedged between Full House and Roseanne on the schedule. Fresh off Who's the Boss?, Judith Light joined the show as the mom. And Carly Simon was commissioned to write and perform the theme song. The show did well in the ratings. Yet, despite all the love, this heartfelt tennis comedy lost out and got canceled after one season.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

11

U2

"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" for Gun

Robert Altman steered this inventive 1997 drama, an episodic crime series that followed a single pearl-handled pistol from story to story, rather than a character. Carrie Fisher, Daryl Hannah and Martin Sheen acted in it. Gun even gave James Gandolfini his first television role. U2, deep in its electro-tinged Pop phase, provided the theme, an industrial take on the Beatles classic. It lasted six episodes.

Image: ABC

Contact | About | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Advertise | Distribution