The 30 Best Sitcom Theme Songs of All Time
Like commercial jingles, lyrical TV theme songs are a lost art. Years ago, it wasn’t possible to watch a sitcom that didn’t open with a little ditty. (It also wasn’t possible to skip the intro, which is why, decades later, some of these might still be lodged deep enough in your brain for you to bust them out at karaoke.)
After extensive study and careful evaluation, we’ve collected and ranked the 30 best examples of the genre. And since we know you’re going to anyway: Go ahead, scroll down to #1 and try to say we’re wrong. YOU CAN’T.
Among the many theme songs on this list that also broke onto the singles chart, this one has a complicated legacy for The Rembrandts, the band that performed it. But at the time, they leaned into it — just watch the official video, a masterpiece of corniness. (Then make someone else watch it so you don’t die in seven days.) But as a prelude to a show about six twentysomethings laughing and loving in New York? It effectively gets you in the mood.
“Story song” is a robust category of sitcom themes — the kind that lay out the whole series premise for you. Gilligan’s Island’s may not be the first to do it, but it’s definitely one of the best known. (Though did you know the version you’re already singing only came later? It’s true!)
The Beverly Hillbillies
Did someone say “story song”? Here’s another one, for another high-concept 1960s outing, and very likely the only song in any genre to rhyme “at some food” with “bubbling crude.”
In the 1980s, Miller-Boyett Productions and songwriter Jesse Frederick teamed up to pair gentle, family-friendly sitcoms with unexpectedly inspiring theme songs. Reasonable people can disagree on which TGIF theme song slapped the hardest, but “Standing tall / On the wings of my dreams” for a show about a guy who lives with his frustrating but sweet European cousin is way out ahead for me.
The Brady Bunch
This one is a favorite of kids because it was sung by kids — specifically the actors who played the six Brady kids. Does this make the song kind of loathsome? Yes. But syndication scheduling in the 1980s means it’s burrowed deeper into your head than the names of your great-aunts and uncles.
The Partridge Family
The psychedelic whimsy and harder-edged protest songs of the late 1960s had their time; the early 1970s were a time of AM gold, and “Come On Get Happy” is a delightfully content-free addition to the pop canon.
WKRP in Cincinnati
If you’re daring enough to set a show at a rock radio station, your theme song better sound like it could find its way onto a DJ’s playlist. This one does!
TV’s horniest sitcom gets an unexpectedly wholesome-sounding theme song (look, “the kisses are hers and hers and his” could mean anything — maybe they’re happening in succession), but the funky guitar situates you at a particular moment in time.
Though its hour-long format may not make you think of Moonlighting as a sitcom per se, watch an episode: The jokes fly fast and thick, and slapstick is frequent. But the theme song, performed by Al Jarreau, is the smoothest of jams. Aren’t we all moonlighting strangers who just met on the way?
Though it is true that the theme song we all associate with the show didn’t come along until later (and you can enjoy all versions of the opening credits here), the “Sunday, Monday, happy days!” version that locked in with Season Three is a classic for a reason.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
Inarguably the most meta entry on this list is the theme song for It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Much as the show comments on itself as it goes on, the theme song is about itself (“We’re almost to the part now / whe-ere I start to whistle”), and plays over a shambling beat that feels like it’s shrugging at you. Perfect.
The lead of this hangout comedy was Queen Latifah, one of the best-known hip hop stars of her era. Was there any universe in which someone other than her performed the theme song? “In a 90s kind of world / I’m glad I’ve got my girls” remains a motto to live by regardless of what decade we’re actually in.
All in the Family was loaded with memorable guest stars who would go on to get their own sitcom spin-offs, and so it was with Beatrice Arthur’s Maude. An unapologetic and outspoken feminist, the theme for her show is packed with great women from history like… Lady Godiva? Well, never mind; the song is “anything but tranquilizin’” anyway.
The premise of Family Ties is that a couple who fell in love in the turbulent 1960s now have to navigate raising their kids in the go-go 1980s. None of that is evident in the lyrics of their theme song, but I don’t care: the “sha la la la” that closes it out makes it essential.
Charles in Charge
Charles in Charge star Scott Baio is, as we all know, a bad person. Unfortunately, the theme song for his corny post-Happy Days sitcom is an expertly constructed earworm that is still pleasant to hear today.
Alan Thicke is known to some as the star of Growing Pains. To others, he’s a TV theme song hitmaker. Diff’rent Strokes is the first entry on this list to be credited to Thicke, but not the last.
Though it is rare these days for a TV show in any genre to have a theme song, a show about a band kind of has to buck the trend. And as delightful as “Famous 5Eva” is when it plays at the top of each Girls5Eva episode, this full music video version with multiple verses is even catchier and funnier. (Season Three premiering on Netflix when???)
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
As Queen Latifah would do later, Will Smith performs his own sitcom’s theme song — though this one is practically a Gilligan’s Island-ian deep dive into the show’s whole premise. The extended version from the pilot goes into more detail than you probably remember, but even the truncated version really tells you everything you need to know.
I’m not necessarily going to insist that you listen to every entry on this list. You should, but I’m not your boss. However, if you only have time to check out the evolution of one show’s theme song here, please make it Alice. The show itself is already a wild tonal shift from pensive divorce meditation in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the Martin Scorsese movie the show is based on; on top of that, the theme slides from sultry to ecstatic apparently depending on the mood of star Linda Lavin, who sings it. And: how come so many of the shots of her in the credits montages show her in drag?! I don’t have the answers, but please watch this video and we can discuss.
One Day At A Time
Surprise, this is actually a list of the 31 best sitcom theme songs because One Day At A Time is on here twice. How well built is this number? So good that it can start its life as a quasi-country-pop take in the 1970s…
…then get reinvented, for Netflix’s Latinx remake, with Cuban flair by Gloria Estefan herself.
The Facts of Life
…and Alan Thicke is back with this theme, co-written by his wife Gloria Loring (plus Al Burton, who to my knowledge was never married to either of them). If you have time to watch two clips of every season’s credits, add this one to your list. It’s fun to hear how the lyrics change — including ones warbled by series star Charlotte Rae in the early years — and also to see the setting move through girls’ school to cafeteria to fancy food provisioner to 1980s doodad store. (That’s it for Thicke but he really did write some all-timers!)
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Much like the Family Ties theme, “Love Is All Around” is a broad enough concept to apply to any number of shows throughout TV history. But since The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered one of the first truly great shows in its genre, the halo effect also shines on its (very good, just not particularly specific) theme song.
With all due respect to Clone High, The Nanny may be the last great story-song theme to make it to air on a primetime show, and is definitely one of the cleverest in the sub-genre. Rhyming “Flushing, Queens” with “crushing scenes”? I hope Ann Hampton Callaway took the rest of the week off after she came up with that one.
Laverne and Shirley
In the 1970s, women were striking out on their own, as was evident in the many opening credits sequences that show a series protagonist driving her own car to a new city (Alice, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, One Day At A Time) and the new opportunities it might contain. Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) might be a little less aspirational with their jobs at a brewery, but their theme song anticipates that of Perfect Strangers with its soaring emotion. We are gonna make our dreams come true!
It’s not that all sitcoms created by Norman Lear are notable for their lyrical dexterity. But much as the Maude theme name-checks such unlikely figures as Joan of Arc and Betsy Ross, Good Times may have the only theme song with such couplets as “Not getting hassled / Not getting hustled” and “Temporary layoffs / easy credit ripoffs.” The exhilarating soul melody obscures the bummer lyrics, which also subliminally prepares you to watch the show.
Welcome Back, Kotter
The top five entries on this list are all, I would say, embedded in the DNA of any Gen Xer whose parents let TV babysit them. Put a bag over any of our heads, drive us to a field and order us to sing any of these numbers, and I am confident we can. With Welcome Back, Kotter, the ambling tempo pairs perfectly with the repetitive yet comforting melody: This is what it feels like to go back to school.
The Addams Family
Four notes are all you need to hear to lock in on this one. The goofiness of rhyming “spooky” and “ooky” is, of course, perfectly suited to the content of the show; the crisp finger snaps give it an unexpected cool factor. The Mnsters could never.
The highest-charting Norman Lear show is also the highest-charting show of the 1970s: The Jeffersons brings the energy of a full gospel choir and arrangement to the story of a couple of successful entrepreneurs living their luxury condo fantasy. Is there an extra syllable in “tryin’”? Sure. The Jeffersons can afford those now.
At the ATX TV Festival earlier this summer, I got to witness what happens to a capacity crowd of TV fans when the Cheers theme starts playing: Everyone present sings along. (And yes, of course that includes me.) Whereas one might have expected a show about a bar to have a boisterous, party-rocking theme song, it’s impossible to imagine any other music ushering us into that below-street-level pub. Avoid the extended theme song (with a pointlessly mean side-swipe at “your husband” who “wants to be a girl”); stick to the wistful version we all know.
The Golden Girls
Arguably one of the most misheard lyrics in TV theme song history is “a pal and a comfort, hon” for “a pal and a confidante” in the theme for The Golden Girls. But it actually works both ways: Just as the titular Girls are comforts (hon) for one another, the show itself has been a comfort for multiple generations of viewers, and shows no sign of slowing in its acquisition of new fans. If you threw a party, invited everyone you knew… put on The Golden Girls and everyone will have a good time.