by Sheldon Rocha Leal
I was brought up in the 1980s and as a child of the ?decade of excess? I was brought up in front of a television set. In the time I spent in front of the TV I watched many shows, especially sitcoms. Sitcoms were a ?thing? in the 1980s and at the time the theme on many of these shows was families and the altering role of these entities in modern society. As a musician I was always fascinated by the music of these shows.
Although I was drawn to the theme music of many of my favorite shows, the ones that stuck with me were songs that contained vocals and these were usually contained in sitcoms. Shows like ?Dallas?, ?Murder She Wrote?, ?Dynasty?, ?The A-Team?, ?MacGyver?, ?Knight Rider?, ?Magnum PI? and ?Airworlf? all had very recognizable theme songs, but none of them contained vocals and as a vocalist, singing is what interested me most. I therefore decided to focus my energies in this article on those shows that contained theme songs with vocals, songs that could possibly chart on the single?s chart as stand alone hits.
In this article I am going to focus on 10 of my favorite 1980s sitcoms and their theme songs. The journey to research this article was very nostalgic for me and brought back many memories and I hope that it takes you all on a similar journey. So without further ado here we go?my favorite sitcom themes from the 1980s:
Golden Girls (1985?1992)
The Golden Girls was an unlikely television hit sitcom. The show is about 4 elderly ladies who decide to live together in a house in Miami and all their shenanigans. The show is only one of three sitcoms in history in which all the main characters have been awarded Emmy Awards.
I remember waiting weekly for the theme song to play so that the new episode could be aired. To this day ?Thank You For Being A Friend? is one of my all time favorite television show theme songs. The song was originally written and performed by Andrew Gold. Andrew Gold was a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who attained relative success in the 1970s and 80s. The version used for the TV series, however, was performed by Cynthia Fee.
Andrew Gold was better known as a composer, session musician and arranger and even produced and arranged Linda Ronstadt?s No1 single ?It?s No Good?. He went on to work with major recording talent like Cher, Trisha Yearwood, Celine Dion, Art Garfunkel, Wynonna Judd, The Eagles, Roy Orbison, Carly Simon, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt and Bette Midler. ?Thank You For Being A Friend? was originally released in 1978 and is featured on Andrew Gold?s third solo album ?All This And Heaven Too?. The song peaked at No25 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Perfect Strangers (1986?1993)
The show is about a Mediterranean man (from what sounds like a Greek island) who moves in with his distant cousin in Chicago and documents their tempestuous relationship. The gap in culture and language made for many hilarious situations, which made the show a hit in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The theme song, ?Nothing?s Gonna Stop Me Now?, was written by Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay. The songwriting team also wrote the themes for ?Full House?, ?Step By Step? and ?Family Matters?, which was a spin-off of ?Perfect Strangers?. Although the song never attained chart success it has become a cult classic and was even used on an episode of ?The Leftovers? (season 2) and ?Master of None?.
The lead vocalist on the song is David Pomeranz. David is a composer, singer and lyricist and his songs have been performed by some of the music industry?s biggest talent, including Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Missy Elliott, The Carpenters, Cliff Richard, Barry Manilow and Freddie Mercury. His songs have accumulated 22 platinum certifications and 18 gold records. Between 1971 and 2012 he also released 11 studio albums. He is also known for work he completed on various musical theatre projects.
Growing Pains (1985?1992)
The show is about the Seaver family who live in Long Island, New York. The dad, Dr Seaver, is a psychiatrist and the mom is a reporter, who has decided to go back to work, leaving the dad to take care of the three children, and later 4. The show features Alan Thicke (Robin Thicke?s dad), Kirk Cameron and a young Leonard Di Caprio who plays a homeless child adopted by the family.
The theme song for the show is entitled ?As Long As We?ve Got Each Other? originally performed by B.J. Thomas in season 1, in season 2, 3, 5 and part of 7 Jennifer Warnes was added as a duet partner, in season 4 Jennifer Warnes was replaced by Dusty Springfield and in season 6 and part of 7 it was performed by an acapella group consisting of Joe Chemay, Jim Hass, Jon Joyce and George Merrill. B.J. Thomas is better known for his 1969 hit ?Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head? from the movie ?Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?.
The song was composed by John Bettis and Steve Dorff. John Bettis composed ?Human Nature? for Michael Jackson, ?When You Tell Me That You Love Me? for Diana Ross, ?One Moment In Time? for Whitney Houston and ?Crazy For You? for Madonna. He was inducted into the Songwriters? Hall of Fame in 2011. Steven Dorff is better known for songs he has written in the Country music world, having written for George Strait, Clay Walker and Kenny Rogers. He was inducted into the Songwriters? Hall of Fame in 2018. The song peaked at No5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in 1989.
Family Ties (1982?1989)
The show is set in a suburb in Columbus, Ohio and revolves around a family headed up by two hippy, baby boomer parents, their three teenage children and their dichotomous relationships. The eldest son Alex Keaton (played by Michael J Fox) is a wannabe billionaire, the middle daughter is a typical fashion conscious teen and the youngest daughter is a tomboy. Michael won 3 Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Alex Keaton on the show.
The show?s theme is entitled ?Without Us? and was written by Jeff Barry and Tom Scott. Jeff also wrote the themes for the sitcoms ?One Day At A Time? and ?The Jeffersons?. Besides for writing television sitcom themes he also wrote some major hit singles, including: ?River Deep Mountain High?, ?Chapel of Love? and ?Leader of the Pack?. Tom Scott, on the other hand, was a key member of The Blues Brothers and a session saxophonist, who played on recordings for Carole King, Ringo Starr, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Whitney Houston, amongst others, and released 24 albums on which he was the band leader.
The song was written in 1982 and was originally performed by Dennis Tufano and Mindy Sterling for the 10 episodes of season 1 and for the rest of the show?s run it was performed by the legendary Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams. The song never attained any chart success but was a fan favorite and an iconic piece of music.
Who?s The Boss (1984?1992)
The show follows the trials and tribulations of a single mom, her mom, child and relationship with her widower housekeeper and his daughter and is set in Fairfield, Connecticut. The show?s main stars were Tony Danza (Tony Micelli), Judith Light (Angela Bower), Katherine Helmond (Mona Robinson), Danny Pintauro (Jonathan Bower) and Alyssa Milano (Samantha Micelli). It was very popular with critics and viewers alike and landed up winning a Golden Globe and Emmy Award. Alyssa Milano landed up pursing a recording career and acted on ?Melrose Place?, ?Charmed? and ?My Name Is Earl?. Judith Light later acted on ?Ugly Betty? and the remake of ?Dallas?, whilst Tony Danza has previously attained success on the sitcom ?Taxi? and Katherine Helmond on ?Soap?. Danny Pintauro acted in a few shows, but was never able to replicate the success he had on the show.
The theme song is entitled ?Brand New Life? and was co-written by the series producers and creators, Martin Cohan and Blake Hunter and musicians Larry Carlton and Robert Kraft. The song was performed by different vocalists over the years: Larry Weiss (1984?1986); Steve Wariner (1986?1989) and Jonathan Wolff (1989?1992). Larry Weiss is famous for having written ?Rhinestone Cowboy?, Steve Wariner is a well known country singer who has attained 10 No1 hit singles on the US country charts and Jonathan Wolff is a well known US composer, who has written music for various TV shows including ?Will & Grace?. ?Brand New Life? is probably one of the most recognizable TV sitcom theme songs in history and I love the Folk/Pop sound of the track, which echoes the setting of the location of the show.
The show is about a group of locals that meet and socialize at their local pub, Cheers, in Boston, Massachusetts. The show was almost cancelled after its first season because of low ratings, but went on to become a historically significant piece of television history. In the 11 years that it ran it won 28 Primetime Emmy Awards and spun off another significant television programme, ?Frasier?, which ran between 1993?2004. Key actors on the show included: Ted Danson; Shelley Long; Kelsey Grammer; Woody Harrelson; Kirstie Alley and Rhea Pearlman.
The theme song ?Where Everybody Knows Your Name? was written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo and performed by Portnoy. Gary also went on to write the theme songs for ?Mr Belvedere? and ?Punky Brewster?. Judy, originally a music publisher, started writing music with Gary after meeting a Broadway producer who was looking for someone to compose music for a show.
?Where Everybody Knows Your Name? was written for the show after Judy submitted an unrelated song to a group of TV producers who were looking for a theme song for a sitcom on which they were working. After reworking and resubmitting various songs to the producers, ?Where Everybody Knows Your Name? was born. The song was released in 1983 and peaked at No83 USA/No58 UK and was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Designing Women (1986?1993)
The show focuses on the relationship between 4 Southern ladies and one guy working at an interior design firm in Atlanta, Georgia, Sugarbaker & Associates. It ran for 7 seasons and in that time it won various awards including an Emmy award. The show?s main home facade is actually the Arkansas Governor?s Mansion. Designing Women made Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Jean Smart and Dixie Carter household names. Although the show had a mixed reception in its initial season it slowly became a TV favorite. The show was a victory for women in Hollywood, proving that a series that featured a predominantly all-female cast could be a success, just like the Golden Girls before it.
The theme song for the show was a cover of a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, ?Georgia On My Mind?, and in this instance performed by the legendary blues man Ray Charles. The legend even appears performing the song in the opening credits of the series. Ray Charles originally released the song in 1960 and at the time it peaked at No1 in the USA. I remember getting excited to watch the show just to watch Ray Charles perform this classic number, but I soon realized that it requires some skill to perform ?Georgia on my Mind?.
Full House (1987?1995)
The show revolves around a widower who works as a television sports anchor, who co-opts his brother in law (a rock musician) and best friend (a comedian) to assist him in raising his three daughters after the passing of his wife. Set in San Francisco, California, the show made John Stamos and the Olson twins household names. Although the show was a fan favorite, it was slated by critics. As a result of its cult status a sequel series, ?A Fuller House?, was commissioned by Netflix and premiered in 2016. It is currently on its 4th season.
The show?s theme song ?Everywhere You Look? was written by Jesse Frederick, Bennett Salvay and Jeff Franklin (the show?s creator). Jesse Frederick is the vocalist on the track and his smokey, Rod Stewartesque vocals add to the songs uplifting feeling. Jesse Frederick and Bennett Salvay are also known for having written the theme songs for ?Perfect Strangers?, ?Step By Step? and ?Family Matters?. It is speculated that Jesse Frederick inspired the creation of the show?s rock musician character played by John Stamos, who also happens to be called Jesse.
Married With Children (1987?1997)
The show is set in Chicago and revolves around Al Bundy and his dysfunctional family, almost like a mainstream version of ?The Adams Family?. The show ran for 11 seasons and is considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. It is also the longest running live-action sitcom in Fox history (the channel on which it was broadcast) and was nominated for 7 Golden Globes. The show made Ed O?Neill (Al Bundy), Katey Sagal (Peggy Bundy) and Christina Applegate (Kelly Bundy) household names. Katey Sagal went on to voice the character of Leela on Futurama, which ran for 7 seasons and Ed O?Neill played Jay Pritchett on ?Modern Family? which has to date run for 10 seasons.
The theme song for the show was a cover of a Frank Sinatra song that was featured on another TV show entitled ?Our Town? released in 1955, which went on to win an Emmy Award in 1956 for Best Musical Contribution. The same recording of ?Love and Marriage? written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen was used as the theme for ?Married With Children? in 1987. I love that such an old song was revived for the TV show and it?s lush arrangement completely compliments the theme of the sitcom.
The show revolves around a widower deacon, Ernest Frye (played by Sherman Hemsley), of the First Community Church of Philadelphia, his congregation and the dynamic between the characters. The show was part of a roster of all-black cast shows promoted by NBC in the 1980s and early 1990s. Shows like ?The Cosby Show?, ?The Fresh Prince of Bel Air?, ?227? and ?A Different World?. The show received generally good ratings and was eventually syndicated, which resulted in its continued run into the 21st century.
The theme song for the show was written by Andra Crouch a gospel music legend, equivalent to Quincy Jones in the Pop world. His fort was the arrangement and composition of music for Gospel choirs. If an artist wanted a Gospel sound on their tracks in the 1980s and 1990s they went to Andra Crouch. He went on to collaborate with artists like Elton John & Little Richard (?The Power?), Madonna (?Like A Prayer?) and Michael Jackson (?Man In The Mirror?) at this time. The theme song for the show is entitled ?Shine On Me? and was performed by Gospel recording artist Vanessa Bell Armstrong. This song introduced me to the world of Gospel music and made me want to explore the genre in greater depth.
The journey through all of these songs and shows has been immensely gratifying and brought back so many wonderful childhood memories. The one thing I noted about the songs included in these shows is that they generally followed a Folk/Pop audio aesthetic.
The use of this Folk aesthetic could have been purposefully engineered by the producers and creators of these shows as the genre usually encapsulates the sentiments of the ?volk? (people). This would elicit in the viewer certain familial and homey emotions which the shows, at the time, were often trying to encourage and evoke.
Since the 1980s the theme of sitcoms has changed as the zeitgeist has altered and clearly the mood and feeling of the era will never be replicated. But at least we are left with the sounds and images that transport us to that era in our historical evolution, which have resulted in the society we are today.