Nothing beats a catchy theme song with fun lyrics you can sing along to, but some instrumental sitcom theme songs are so catchy that I find myself trying to sing along with them too. It usually comes out something like, “Dah dah-dah dah-dah daaaaah dah dah-dah dah dah-daah daaaaah,” or “Doo-doo doo-dooooo doo-doo doo doo-doooo doo doo-doo doo doo-doo doo-doo-doooo.” (If you recognized either of those, I’m really impressed.)
Here are my top 10 best instrumental sitcom theme songs of all time.
When you want to sit back and relax, there’s no better theme song to listen to than the mellow tones of the Taxi theme song, “Angela” by Bob James. James originally composed the song for the third episode of season one, “Blind Date,” and named it after a character in that episode, Angela Matusa, played by Suzanne Kent. The producers had planned to use another one of his songs, “Touchdown,” but when they heard “Angela,” they thought it was perfect for the theme. The smooth synths and horns put you in just the right mood to watch a show about people who drive cabs in New York City at night. I like to call this mood “Big Apple, 3am.”
#2: The Bob Newhart Show
The theme from The Bob Newhart Show, “Home to Emily” by husband and wife duo Lorenzo and Henrietta Music, is like a multi-part symphony. It starts out rocking with heavy drums and horns, then it cools off with a smooth piano solo before finishing with a bang. The music follows Bob as he heads home from work, walking briskly and hopping on a train. When he arrives home to Emily, the music relaxes like it’s sighing in relief. It’s a rollercoaster ride for your ears, and you’ll enjoy every second of it.
#3: The Odd Couple
The theme from The Odd Couple is probably the catchiest instrumental theme song of all time. Once you hear it, it’ll be stuck in your head, and you’ll be singing it all day. Neal Hefti composed the song for the 1968 film and then adapted it for the TV series. The upbeat horns and jazzy drums make you want to snap your fingers. It’s instantly recognizable even over 50 years after the show first aired.
#4: Barney Miller
While the Barney Miller theme song varied slightly throughout the show’s run, it always featured the same hot bass line played by Chuck Berghofer. The song was composed by Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson, who also collaborated on the Charlie’s Angels theme song. It starts out mellow with just the bass, then the horns kick in and it starts to rock as hard as jazz can possibly rock. You can’t help but hum along.
#5: Night Court
The Night Court theme song is second only to The Odd Couple in its catchiness. It’s no surprise that it was composed by Jack Elliot, part of the duo who composed the Barney Miller theme song, due to the hot bass line and jazzy feel. It features slap bass, jamming brass, and slamming symbols over classic 80s synths. It makes you want clap your hands and tap your feet, especially during the brief breaks toward the end when the claves kick in. You know what I’m talking about. The “clack-clack” is as recognizable as the Law & Order “donk-donk.”
#6: Sanford and Son
The theme from Sanford and Son, “The Streetbeater” by Quincy Jones, is probably the most musically interesting theme song on the list. It’s layered with bass, horns, guitar, harmonica, and unique percussion you won’t hear anywhere else. It starts with a bass harmonica, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. In fact, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a bass harmonica. Then the horns start their catchy melody, then the percussion explodes with texture. It has what’s referred to in the video game world as “replay value.” Every time you hear it, you notice something new that you didn’t hear before, so you want to listen to it over and over again.
#7: Too Close for Comfort
Too Close for Comfort topped my list of sitcoms with the most sitcomy intros, and its catchy theme song definitely contributed to its sitcomyness. The theme was composed by Johnny Mandel, who was famous for composing the theme from M*A*S*H. It’s distinctly 80s in every way, from its synths to its rhythm to its infectious horns. It’s laid back and easy to listen to, much like the show is easy to watch. You can’t not hum along to the melody. Try it. I dare you.
#8: What’s Happening!!
The theme song from What’s Happening!! by celebrated film and TV composer Henry Mancini is probably the most upbeat and fun theme on the list. Like the Sanford and Son theme, it’s layered with lots of interesting instrumentation and texture, including catchy horns, a steady beat, a cool organ solo, and whatever makes that “boing boing” sound in the background. It works perfectly with the fun atmosphere of the show’s opening credits. Every time I hear it, it gets stuck in my head all day, and I love it every minute of it.
#9: Sledge Hammer!
Sledge Hammer! is a more obscure 80s sitcom that never quite reached the popularity of some of the other shows on the list, but it boasts a kickass them song composed by the legendary Danny Elfman, known for heading the band Oingo Boingo and providing the music for most of Tim Burton’s movies. If you’re a Tim Burton fan, you’ll probably notice a certain similarity between the Sledge Hammer! theme and Elfman’s movie work as well as the themes from The Simpsons and Tales from the Crypt, which he also wrote. He has an individual style that comes through in all of his music.
The Sledge Hammer! theme oozes 80s flavor with its electronic drums and harmonizing synths. Background brass and keyboard vocalization add another layer of texture that’s uniquely Danny Elfman. Its exciting tone goes perfectly with the feel of the action-packed show, and it puts you in just the right mood for Sledge’s trigger-happy antics.
#10: Doogie Howser, M.D.
While you could make the argument that Doogie Howser, M.D. is not strictly a sitcom, it definitely plays for comedy with some dramatic accents. The theme song, written by veteran TV composer Mike Post, fits this tone perfectly. Played entirely on an 80s keyboard, the theme is both fun and mellow at the same time. When it plays over the image of Doogie’s clunky computer monitor, it makes you feel like the computer could be playing it. Its simplicity makes it stand out from other theme songs with layered instrumentation, and it fits the tone of the show perfectly.