Close your eyes for a moment. Well, I guess read this paragraph first and then close your eyes. Breath deep. Relax. Now, think of the most comforting, soothing song you can imagine. One that has instantly conjures up a state of warm safety. One that you have a strong personal association but is also a great song by any objective basis. Think of that song. Hear it in your mind. Let it sink into your bones. Feel the tranquility and the security that comes from experiencing its depth and beauty. Let yourself float away into a glowing cloud of blissful happiness as you are transported from the drudgery of reality by the cherubic magic of the greatest song ever composed by man.
Are you like me? Did you sing the theme song to Cheers? If not, do it again while you play this.
Wasn't that a needed escape? The combination between that song, the old timey sepa-tone pictures and the greatness of the actual show, creates a nostalgic effect every bit as real as your grandma singing a lullaby. That's right! I said it. Cheers was my childhood lullaby. Does that reflect poorly on my childhood? I don't think so. Sure, you can call me Kenneth Parcell if you wish and ridicule my affection for sitcoms of the 80's. Go right ahead, dick. Of course, I would respond by pointing out that you have just mocked my alleged pathetic connection to a television show by referencing a character from a television show. Take that, imaginary insult.
Television. Teacher, mother, secret lover.
Cheers reruns were on nightly at 10:00 on channel 13 when I was growing up. I watched it every night. Whenever it ended, my mom would start hassling me and my brothers to go to sleep. Night Court came on after Cheers (although that was on channel 4, if I recall) and she didn't like her impressionable children being exposed the filthiness of Dan Fielding. Probably a smart move. So, the theme song to Cheers became my Pavlov's bell for bedtime. Especially the closing credits. It's the same theme, but played on a clarinet over very pleasant piano. That clip is a bonus, since it includes the first parts of MASH which is what my parent's would be watching upstairs (it came on after the news on channel 5) as they were telling us to go to bed. Man, I'm really tired all of a sudden.
Through the magic of the search feature on my DVR, I have discovered the KJZZ plays Cheers reruns every night at 3:00 in the morning. I now have two Cheers episodes waiting for me every night. It's been at least ten years since I've seen an episode, and man is it nice to become reacquainted with an old friend. And reexperiencing something that is so familiar and yet also forgotten has inspired me to honor one of the great overlooked musical genres of our time. The 80's sitcom theme.
Don't scoff. You may dismiss them as a commercial jingle, but they are very effective at telling a story and setting a tone. In fact, considering the rest of the music that was written in that decade, I would venture the 80's sitcom theme song was the most prolific music genre of the era. I realize that Ted's band on Scrubs has paid a fitting tribute to this music. And I'm pretty sure that Family Guy has about one 80's sitcom reference per episode. But I figured I'd focus on the musical value of these familiar bits of nostalgia.
Now don't you feel empowered? The Stevie Wonder harmonica dancing over the bouncy piano accents the affirming lyrics and builds the anticipation as we see helicopter shots of Chicago. Then BAM! the chorus crashes over you like a tidal wave, compelling both your spirits and your neck hair to rise. The string section comes sweeping in and you are "Standing taaaaaallll!" while Cousin Larry and Balky walk through fake wind and go to Wrigley Field. Sure, the world can be a drag but you know what? It's my life and my dream and nothing gonna stop me now. Oh and that happy harmonica comes back like a fluttering butterfly just before it all ends on a nice refrain. Now don't you want to just go out a grab the world by the tail and put it your pocket? Of course you do.
But the greatness of this music is not limited this kind of Tony Robbins brand of feel goodery. No, the 80's brought us some real ass kicking theme songs as well. Check out this bad boy.
Magnum. Seriously, what a badass. He has a friggin Ferrari and a helicopter that looks like a pair of OP shorts.
One element that was well used in the 80's theme song was the sweeping string section. It wasn't the disco strings that we heard in the 70's. No, this was the 80's, baby. It was all about feeling good and kicking ass. You heard the strings give us all hope for a bright tomorrow on Perfect Strangers. But here it punctuates that funky guitar at the beginning, punching you in the face as you watch aerial shots of the ocean and a shirtless Tom Sellick loading his gun. You're stammering, about to fall over from this musical assault. But just when you can't handle any more energy, the strings mellow out and sooth you into a calm state of submission as you are introduced to Higgens and TC. But just so you don't forget whose wearing the dad pants in this show, the strings return to the assailing power chords that you barely survived earlier. Da Da Da DAAAA! (funky guitar riff) Da Da DAAA! You can't really write what music sounds like, but you know what I mean. These strings have kicked your ass. And in a final display of their dominance, they open hand slap your face by ending with a final build up as Magnum raises his eyebrows while looking over our shoulder. Then it suddenly ends. It drops the mic and walks off stage. That theme song just dominated you.
But TV didn't just teach us how to believe in ourselves and how to teach hot chicks how to swim. No, it taught us how to love. And what better way to do that than with an adult contemporary, emotional duet that ends with a word that nobody knows but everyone recognizes.
Sha Na Na Nie? Shad A Na Lie? Shine on a light? It's one of the great mysteries of the world.
I also appreciate that echoey percussion you hear at the beginning. It's between those guitar riffs that have all of the accepting, paternal warmth of Michael Gross' beard. The ones that sounds like an aging hippie striking a wood block in a wet cave. Son, we may be grown up leftist radicals and you may be a Reagan conservative, but we still love you just the way you are.
You know that shot of Alex P. Keaton sliding across his room on the chair, checking his homework while he wearing the Ohio shirt? That shot makes me happy. As I rewatched the Family Ties intro just now, I knew it was coming. It's been years since I've seen this. But it's dependability still delighted me. Like a sunrise. Or Kyle Whittingham making a terrible play call on the goal line. (Relax Utah fans. I am well aware that BYU pissed themselves again under the national spotlight. Feel free to take a shot in the comments.) The same applies to the shot of Daisy kicking Roscoe P. Coltrain in the butt, stealing his cop car and then flipping her head around so that her hair was in her mouth. Or Webster being picked up by the balloons. Or when Willis picks up Arnold so he can make the basket with the Red White and Blue ABA ball. I know they're coming and man, it makes me happy when they do. The world really isn't that complicated.
You know how little kids get completely obsessive about the things that interest them? My four year old nephew loves trucks and heavy machinery. Loves them. He will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about front end loaders and cherry pickers and why some excavators have wheels and others have tracks. He has a book that displays a picture of the piece of machinery with the name next to it. He has mastered every detail of that book and will happily tell you everything he knows. And here's the thing. He'll still be able to tell you all of that when he's 30. That kind of stuff stays with you.
Why am I bringing this up? Because sitcom intros were inadvertently my heavy machinery as a child. I never studied them or anything but I know these damn things like the back of my hand. Now, I don't want to misrepresent myself as some unbalanced, antisocial freak. I also loved dinosaurs, break dancing and Transformers, all of which are undeniably cool. But I didn't realize sitcom intros had such a prominent place in my mental archive until I rewatched these particular ones just now.
I know which actor plaid which part in just about every sitcom from this time period. Why? I guess there's something about a character turning around and smiling and then freezing while the actor's name appears below them that really sticks to my memory. It's better than flashcards. Go ahead, test me. Natalie from The Facts Of Life? Mindy Cohen. Carol from Growing Pains? Tracy Gold. Wesley from Mr. Belvedere? Brice Berkham. Willie from Alf? Max Wright. Elvin from the Cosby Show? Geoffry Owens. Ricky's hot step mom from Silver Spoons? Erin Gray. Cherry from Punkie Brewster? Cherry Johnson. Buddy from Charles In Charge? Willie Ames. Roz from Night Court? Marsha Warfield. Joe from Wings? Tim Daily. That's right, Wings. It was on after Cheers on Thursday night, give me a break. I can assure you, I did zero IMDB research to come up with those names. And I have not seen an episode of any of those shows in at least a decade. Why would I lie about that? Then again, why would I brag about that? But sadly that information is rattling around up in my spoungy brain, taking up valuable space that should be used for . . . I don't know. Why can't I think of a better use for my brain? Because the part of my brain that's supposed to be able to do that is busy remembering that Laurie Metcalf played Jackie on Roseanne.
So do yourself a favor and take ten minutes today to review all the great theme songs from those 80's sitcoms we love so much. Your childhood will come flooding back. (That is assuming you're about my age.) It's better than looking at a home video of your fifth grade school play. You will remember the way the brown shag carpet in your basement smelled. Or having to sit on the floor to change the channel because you didn't have a remote and your older brother made you do it. In fact, while watching the Cosby intro, I remembered specifically making a Valentines Day box thing out of a shoebox, red construction paper and aluminum foil. Why? I guess Valentines Day was on a Friday one year and I made my stupid box thingy the night before watching channel 2 on a Thursday night (7:00 before A Different World). In fact, I remember that Valentines box thingy quite well. It was an arcade with a joy stick made out of a gumball. That thing was sweet.
Here are a few classics. Feel free to fact check my work. Enjoy.
Charles In Charge. Creepy lyrics. Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights? That's just lazy. But man, Nicole Eggert sure was hot. You know Scott Baio plowed the hell out that.
Mr. Belvedere. Remember the very special episode where Wesley got molested at camp? That was funny.
Night Court. As long as we turned the volume down during the intro, my parents couldn't tell we stayed up and watched Night Court anyway. Damn fine show.
Punky Brewster. Is it wrong to say that a twelve year old Soleil Moon Freye looks hot? Let me rephrase that. I thought the twelve year Soleil Moon Frye was hot when I was eleven. Better?
Silver Spoons. Man, I wanted that giant toy train.
Dukes of Hazzard. Note the Daisy Duke butt kick.
Webster. I once knew a family of midgets whose actual last name was Webster. I'm dead serious. Father and mother were midgets and they had two kids. One was also a little person (the preferred nomenclature) and one was normal sized. All cheap jokes aside, they were great people. And their last name was Webster.
Simon and Simon. I never watched the show, but it has a cool theme song.
Facts of Life. A true classic. Written by who? That's right, Alan Thick. Dr. Jason Sever himself. He also wrote the themes to Diff'rent Strokes and Wheel of Fortune. Wikipedia. Crazy stuff.
Diff'rent Strokes. Is the apostrophe necessary? I mean really. I get that it's a show about racial differences, but do we really need fake ebonics in the title? Everyone skips that "e" when they say the word "different". That is a racist apostrophe.
Golden Girls. I really want to eat some Cheesecake.
Alf. Check out that slapping bass line.
Wings. That's right. I repeat. Wings! It was a Cheers Spin off, damn it. Actually, the theme sounds a lot like Alf.
Newhart. Sit Boo Boo, sit. Good dog.
Hogan Family. Yes, that is Michael Bluth playing hockey.
Growing Pains. I plan on incorporating the phrase "As long as we got each other, we got the world spinning right in our hands." in my wedding vows.
Who's The Boss. Alright, I hate this show and everything about it. I hate the theme song, I hate Tony Danza, I hate Judith Light, I even hate Mrs. Rosini. But in watching that intro, isn't it funny how you can totally tell that Danny Pinauro is gay. He's like ten years old in that clip and yet you can totally tell he'll eventually come out of the closet. Which he has. Not that there's anything wrong with it. The same way you can spot that Alysa Milano will turn into a slutty hot chick. That was meant to be a compliment. Every once in a while you can look at a kid and intuitively know what they are going to be. It's probably not fair to do too often, but sometimes it's just obvious.