As a kid, my parents were constantly on my case for watching too much TV. If it wasn’t my future education that concerned them (“You’ll never get into college watching that crap!”), it was my ocular health. (“You’ll go blind if you don’t move away from that blasted TV!”)
As an adult, I find that I use the lessons learned from all those years of singing along to television theme songs far more than anything I ever learned in geometry. I’m often thankful for the kernels of ’70s-theme-song-wisdom that randomly pop into my brain at just the right time. Feeling shy? Not to worry, I can turn the world on with my smile. Got a sweet new apartment? Nice, I’m movin’ on up like George and Weezy. Perhaps if Ms. Powell, my tenth grade geometry teacher, had put her lessons to music and sang them over and over to me each week, I’d have done better than a B- (okay, C+) in her class. Pay attention, Ms. Powell … here’s what I learned instead.
1) We’re Gonna Make Our Dreams Come True
So simple, so pure (except for the whole “schlemeel, schlimazel” business), you've just gotta love the earnest proclamations of two beer-bottle-cappin’ women from Milwaukee when they tell you there’s no stopping them. In fact, the theme song was almost an eerie prediction of how Laverne and Shirley would eventually dethrone the number one show from which they were created: Happy Days. Sit on that, Fonzie.
2) Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out
The Welcome Back Kotter theme song was always a little bittersweet to me, but it hit on a common truth: sometimes after you ditch that one-horse town and go out on your own to shoot for your dreams, you realize the best place for you is the one place you wanted to leave. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Mr. Kott-air (as Horseshack and company liked to call him) returned to the bustling and vibrant city of Brooklyn instead of, say, Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky. (No offense, Monkey’s Eyebrow.)
3) Come On Get Happy
Even though The Partridge Family debuted in 1970, you have to think that maybe they were still a little bit tripped out on acid from the ’60s, what with their simple hippy message of “Come on, get happy!” Who can argue with getting happy, for God’s sake? Especially when happiness comes in the form of a psychedelic-ly painted bus carrying a young David Cassidy. Grrr.
4) Ain’t We Lucky We Got ‘Em
If ever there was a television anthem for finding the bright side during hard times, the Good Times theme was it. Temporary layoffs, scratchin’ and survivin’, easy credit ripoffs—I don’t know how James and Florida managed to keep such a positive outlook, but they did it with lots of heart and lots of humor. It also probably helped to have a kid who proclaimed everything was, “Dynomite!”
5) Those Were the Days
It’s human nature to sometimes pine for the way things used to be. Every week, Archie and Edith Bunker taught me the fine art of taking a nostalgic walk down memory lane, all while assuring me that it’s okay to feel a little out of sorts with the changing times. But if the Bunkers thought things were bad in 1971, I can’t imagine what they would lament today. Boy bands? Thong panties? Murses? Perhaps if Archie caught a glimpse of Marilyn Manson, he might finally be happy to have Meathead as his son-in-law.
6) You’re Gonna Make It After All
The theme song from the Mary Tyler Moore Show is all about positivity and girl power and, in my opinion, one of the greatest television theme songs ever written. In only four stanzas, songwriter Paul Williams (“We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Just An Old Fashioned Love Song”) delivers the message that not only is our star Mary special, but she’s gonna make it! She’s gonna take this town! And it’s time for her start living for herself and stop giving to everyone else, damnit! When you listen to the words, you almost have to wonder if Phil Hartman got inspiration for Stuart Smalley from this song. Mary, you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and goshdarnit, people like you!
7) We’re Movin’ On Up
I’m not a New Yorker, but I’m guessing it’s still pretty exciting to move on up to a deluxe apartment on the east side. But perhaps the most heart-warming thought behind the Jeffersons theme song (and the show itself) is the notion that you’ve got to have someone to share all that with in order to appreciate it (“As long as we live, it’s you and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ wrong with that). Now if somebody could just explain why fish don’t fry in the kitchen and beans don’t burn on the grill …
8) Come and Knock On Our Door
What I loved most about the Three’s Company theme song wasn’t the message of community, but more the encouragement to try something different (“Take a step that is new”). Who can argue with the logic that trying new things can help you to see that “Life is a ball again and laughter is calling for you?” Certainly not anyone who snorts when she laughs and wears her hair in a side ponytail, or who frequents a watering hole called The Regal Beagle.
9) Making Their Way the Only Way They Know How
I’ve always wondered about the process songwriters use when writing for TV shows. Are they given a brief about the show? Do they know who’s been cast as the characters before they start writing? Whatever process Waylon Jennings used, he nailed it when he wrote and performed the Dukes of Hazzard theme song. Modern day Robin Hoods and good old boys who don’t mean no harm. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, Waylon.
10) You Take the Good, You Take the Bad
It was a tough call between Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes (both co-written by Alan Thicke of Growing Pains fame), but the Facts of Life theme songs wins for its no-nonsense encouragement to do some inner therapy when things aren’t going so well, and to ultimately realize that sometimes, well, that’s just the way life goes. I’m sure that logic came in handy for Tootie, when she tried to come to terms with why she was nicknamed after flatulence.