The Greatest TV Theme Songs of All Time – Rolling Stone
From 70’s sitcoms with explanatory jams to modern prestige classics with experimental scores, from Sanford and Son to Succession, from Match Game to Game of Thrones.
We apologize in Ahead for all the TV theme songs we’re about to put right back into your heads. Or should we perhaps accept your thanks as a preventive measure?
Despite regular attempts to consolidate them or eliminate them entirely, theme songs are a crucial part of the television experience. The best get you in the mood to watch any episode of your favorite and can be just as entertaining on their own as any big joke, monologue, or action sequence. So we decided to pick the top 100 theme songs of all time — technically 101, since there are two as inextricably linked as peanut butter and jelly — and tried to rank them by size.
How did we figure this out, aside from just arguing about it via Slack, Zoom, Ham Radio, etc.?
First, we’ve compiled a massive list of great songs from across the long history of television. We then pared that down by looking for diversity in terms of music style, show style and era. (Honestly, the entire 100 could have been shows from the ’70s. Sorry about that The White Shadow, What’s happening??and many more that didn’t make the final list.) Some were written specifically for this show, while others were pre-existing songs that were given new life through their association with a specific series.
Then we considered two main factors: 1) How great is it as a song? 2) In terms of mood and/or a premise explanation, how well does it prepare you for the show to follow? Sometimes one factor outweighed the other and many bitter battles were fought. (There are still hurt feelings about which sitcoms in ABC’s TGIF family got the nod and which didn’t.) Ultimately, as with any attempt to quantify art, a lot of gut feelings were involved: In itself, Theme Song A is an objectively better piece of music than Theme Song B, but Theme Song B fits his show much better.
This list – with many of the blurbs owing to the richness of the story of the theme songs in the book The Greatest Hits of TV by Jon Burlingame – is our attempt to explain why we picked these 100 over some or all of your favorites.
Enjoy and get buzzing.