(Pictured: Vince Edwards as TV doctor Ben Casey, from a 1964 episode with guest star Anne Francis.)
Here’s the second part of an unstructured ramble through the archives to find more TV themes that became radio hits. To read the earlier part, click here.
—A couple of TV themes are so iconic that it seems as if they must have been big chart hits, but they weren’t, really. Gary Portnoy’s recording of “Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Theme From Cheers)” has 19 listings at ARSA, all but six from WNBC in New York City, where the song peaked at #10 during the summer of 1983, after it had run to #83 on the pop chart in the spring, at the end of Cheers‘ first year on the air. Steve Carlisle’s recording of “WKRP in Cincinnati” has a single listing at ARSA, from WIEL in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, at the end of 1981, at about the same time it went to #65 on the Hot 100. (Both Portnoy and Carlisle scraped onto the AC chart at #28 and #29 respectively.) Portnoy and songwriting partner Judy Hart Angelo also wrote the Mr. Belvidere theme; Carlisle was a native of Akron, Ohio, but is pretty obscure otherwise.
—The medical shows Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare are linked in history, premiering five days apart in the fall of 1961. The Ben Casey theme, by pianist Valjean Johns, ran to #28 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1962. Valjean also recorded the Dr. Kildare theme, but it was Kildare himself, Richard Chamberlain, who hit with it, taking “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight,” co-written by Jerry Goldsmith and backed by David Rose’s orchestra, to #10 on the Hot 100, also in the summer of ’62.
—One of the earliest TV themes to become a significant hit was also from a doctor show, Medic, starring Richard Boone, which ran on NBC from 1954 to 1956. Its theme song was written by Victor Young, who wrote such famous songs as “When I Fall in Love,” “My Foolish Heart,” and “Stella by Starlight,” as well as literally dozens of film scores, which gained him 22 Oscar nominations. In 1955, a few months after Medic premiered, Young’s frequent collaborator Edward Heyman wrote lyrics for its theme, and the retitled “Blue Star” was recorded by Felicia Sanders. Sanders had sung on Percy Faith’s “Song From Moulin Rouge,” which did 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Best Sellers chart in 1953. Her “Blue Star” went to #29.
—The Ventures cut a version of “Blue Star” in 1966, but their TV theme claim-to-fame is “Hawaii Five-O” in 1969. They got some airplay with a version of the Green Hornet theme (mentioned in my earlier post) in 1966, and the theme to the short-lived legal drama Storefront Lawyers (later retitled Men at Law), which ran in 1970 and 1971. In 1974, they hit the adult-contemporary chart with “Main Theme From The Young and the Restless” two years before the more famous recording of the same song by Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. known as “Nadia’s Theme.” In 1977, they recorded a single with the theme from Starsky and Hutch on one side and Charlie’s Angels on the other.
—Following up his #1 hit single “Calcutta,” Lawrence Welk took a version of the My Three Sons theme to #55 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1961. Nashville bandleader Bob Moore, best known for the instrumental “Mexico” that same year, also charted in a few places with his version. It was a Top-10 hit at WRIT in Milwaukee and Top 20 at WLS in Chicago. (The greatest version of the My Three Sons theme, however, remains this one.)
—I’ll bring this discussion of TV themes to a close with Merv Griffin, who was a big-band singer before he became a talk-show host and TV mogul, and who once wrote a lullaby for his son. When Jeopardy! went on the air in 1964, Griffin repurposed that lullaby into the program’s theme music. (It’s apparently closest to its original form when it’s used as the “think” music during Final Jeopardy.) In 1970, he released it as a single titled “A Time for Tony,” on an album called Appearing Nightly. It didn’t get much airplay anywhere, but I am guessing Merv didn’t care. That single piece of music is estimated to have earned him something like $80 million over the years.
This series of posts on TV themes was based on a reader request. If you have a request, send it in.