Top 5 Artist-Performed TV Theme Songs

Yes, they will be stuck in your head all day.

TV theme songs were once just an afterthought. In the days before SFX-dominated, ten second-max ‘themes’ like, say, Lost‘s, theme songs were an integral part of a show’s brand. They introduced characters to the audience, sometimes acting as the story’s creation myth (see Gilligan’s Island), but always bringing it, melody-wise. Seriously, these were songs as catchy as anything in the Hot 100. The tunes below are songs that were commissioned of established recording artists—original tracks that were written specifically for their respective shows.

5. PERFECT COUPLES, AC NEWMANGot a snappy show about criss-crossed modern love? Then why not get the master of snappy pop, lead New Pornographer AC Newman, to write and record the theme? Debuting January 20, it’s the newest entry on the list—might it lead a renaissance in proper song TV themes?

4. DUKES OF HAZZARD, WAYLON JENNINGS Country outlaw, Highwayman, and onetime Buddy Holly bassist Waylon Jennings not only wrote and recorded “Good Ol’ Boys,” the theme from The Dukes Of Hazzard, he also served as ‘the Balladeer,’ the show’s narrator.

3. MIAMI VICE, JAN HAMMER Jan Hammer already had an accomplished career before the people behind a neon-tinted, South Florida-based crime show came calling: the Prague-born keyboardist had worked extensively with fusion pioneers Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as Al DiMeola and also Jeff Beck, as well as leading his own group. The “Miami Vice Theme” Hammer wrote and recorded, however, gave him something he’d never had: a Number 1 song, still the last instrumental to top the Hot 100.

2. THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, HARRY NILSSON LA songwriter Nilsson’s voice always had the character to communicate sweetness with melancholy—an apt combination for an ostensibly comic but inherently sad show about a widower and his six-year-old son. “Best Friend,” typically Nilsson in its jumps up and down the vocal scale, was not only used as the show’s theme, but also in the show, often as accompaniment whenever the father/son (Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz) bond was particularly apparent. Though it would have fit on many of his releases, Nilsson never included the song on one of his proper albums.

1. WELCOME BACK KOTTER, JOHN SEBASTIAN There’s something inherently nostalgic about John Sebastian’s voice and laid back instrumentation on this 1976 track, which made it a perfect fit for the Gabe Kaplan-starring sitcom about a onetime remedial student who returns to his high school alma mater to teach the current crew of academic non-all-stars. Crazy fact: New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, which was the fictional Buchanan High’s inspiration, and which appears in the opening credits, counts Vanilla Fudge and Rod Stewart bassist Carmine Appice, comedian Buddy Hackett, Bowie producer Tony Visconti, and two of the Three Stooges as alumni.