Kids TV Themes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s

Usually my retro music reviews look at an entire album. This time, however, we’re going to look at some of our the most formative, yet often times most underrated songs of childhood. Today we take a look at kids TV themes. After all, who can’t recall the words to their favorite tv show when they were young? Maybe you were a SpongeBob Squarepants kid, or maybe a Smurfs tyke – some of you older folk can still recite the Howdy Doody’s theme song. Whatever era you hail from, the theme songs of your favorite TV show shaped you in some degree.

Kids TV Themes go back all the way to the 1950s.
It’s Howdy Doody Time!

My Era of Kids TV Themes

For me, the formative years were the 70s through the mid 80s (with a few late 60s throwbacks). I remember waking up Saturday morning and getting so excited about whatever cartoon show aired. I remember running home from school, just in time to catch the afternoon cartoon block. Oh, and those summer mornings, I didn’t sleep in. No…I watched cartoons darnit! One summer I remember my dad put a two hour daily limit on cartoons. There were only three that I really cared about, so the extra half an hour was spent watching Jayce and The Wheeled Warriors. I didn’t really care about the show, but hey! I had an extra half hour to fill, and I was entitled to two hours of cartoons a day!

Back to my point, these TV shows shaped me, and by proxy, the theme songs of these shows shaped my musical growth. So how do these kids tv themes rate now? Are they incredibly transcendent? Or do these songs simply sound like toy selling commercials?

A couple notes before we start – as these songs were always meant to accompany video, I will be commenting on such video. Also, if you’re wondering where the apostrophe in “Kids TV Themes” went, well…so do I. There are great debates, but on the proper version, ultimately I see “kids” as an adjective to tv theme (or show), as opposed to a possessor.

Enough grammar nerdiness – let the show begin!

Kids TV Themes: Educational Shows

The Electric Company (1971-1977)

What I thought in the 1970s

I LOVED The ELectric Company. In fact, my earliest memories of watching TV involved watching The Electric Company. So the moment I heard that weirdo shouting “HEY YOU GUYS!” I got excited! The Electric Company was on dangit!

Musically, I don’t remember much about my thoughts on the theme – I just remember bouncing around in my seat to the music.

One significant thing I did notice – the theme (and the video with the theme) highlights the show’s diversity, as half the cast was African American, and half white. This was not something I saw in many shows. Usually it was all, or mostly white, or in some cases, mostly African American (for instance, Good Times).

What I think now.

Firstly, that “Hey You Guys” is annoying! I guess it did it’s job to younger me. Secondly – that might be the cheapest looking Spider-Man ever.

Now, let’s talk about the highlighting of African American actors. This was a mere ten or so years after the civil rights movement, and while African Americans were getting to be more and more mainstream, there was still a lot of folks out there who saw them as vile, evil, subhumans (heck – there’s STILL those idiots out there). So highlighting these African American actors cast them, and other black people, in a positive light, especially for me.

As far as the music – well, it was a late 70s kids show. It did its job for late 70s me, but damn, that song is so annoying to 2019 me.

Sesame Street (1969 – Present)

What I thought in the 1970s and 1980s

I remember not really caring too much about the theme, even at age 4 and 5, but I still knew and sang all the words. What can I say? I was a Sesame Street junkie. I did wonder where all those kids’ parents were though! My mom would never let me run around a field like that, and she certainly would not let me approach a stranger in a big yellow bird costume! Sheesh!

What I think now.

Firstly, again I will point out the diversity. Sesame Street takes it further than the Electric Company, and even includes some Hispanic / Latino, Native American, and a few Asian kids. All were equal and all were just normal kids. So kudos on that!

Musically, however, I disliked the song as a kid and I hate the song now. Seriously – so annoying. The only good thing about the theme song was the remix done by Smart E’s in the 90s. Sing a Song was supposed to be the theme song, and dang it, that would have been so much better! I would much rather heard Karen Carpenter belt out a song than those annoying kids (who are all my age or older, so I don’t feel bad insulting them).

So…yeah, the theme song really sucks!

Kids TV themes: Action/Adventure Shows

The Transformers (1984-1987)

What I thought in the 80s

For starters, The Transformers were the BIGGEST toy of my childhood. Every boy in my age group was full on into them in 1984, and I was no exception. So when the commercial animated series came on, we ALL watched. Everyday. Even if it was a repeat.

The opening was almost like a praise song in our toycentric religion. No one really said anything about it, good or bad, but we all knew the song well. Once more, seeing those giant robots duke it out on the opening scene got us pumped for the episode. And if you were lucky enough to have one of the Transformers shown on the intro, you felt something golden!

What I think now.

What a bloody brilliant advertising campaign. There’s a reason congress passed the Children’s Television Act in 1990. Shows like Transformers were all about making you want the toy. And the theme song acted as a commercial for the commercial. Point being – you wanted the toys in the opening sequence more than any other Transformers. They were the stars of the series after all!

As far as the sound of the theme song, wow. It does not age well. And so simple. I feel like they phoned this one in to be honest. Though I will say I get a rush of nostalgia everytime I hear The Transformers theme song. Even now, I kind of want to chant “Transformers, more than meets the eye. Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the decepticons.”

By the way, if I am ever rich, I am so buying every Generation 1 Transformer, just like the guy who bought this collection.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1985-1986)

What I thought in the 1980s

From the moment we heard Duke yell “Yo Joe!,” we always got excited. G.I. Joe was the cartoon (and toy) that dethroned The Transformers! We saw action, explosions, and a host of good and bad guys battling it out with deadly weapons. Somehow, none of these good or bad guys ever died – but I digress.

The theme song also had a lot of words. This was a good thing, as we liked to sing along. We felt patriotic and altogether confident that the good guys would win! Why, because G.I. Joe always won. They were the good guys and the good guys knew how to win. And knowing is half the battle (Yo Joe).

What I think now.

I try to not get political in AudioPerfecta land, but I am kind of a hardcore pacifist. So, with that in mind, I kind of wonder how many of my classmates joined the military, and how many of them were influenced by G.I. Joe (consciously or subconsciously). Oh, and how many of these hypothetical classmates had the overly patriotic G.I. Joe theme song going through their head when they enlisted. Again, I digress.

Putting aside my extreme pacifism, G.I. Joe’s theme song was so much better than The Transformers. There was depth, there were explosions, and there were actual music and words. While those music and words were extremely cheesy, I still kind of want to go fight terrorists when I hear the G.I. Joe theme song. Maybe I too would have joined the army if circumstances were different. And maybe I too would have sung that theme song while joining. That annoying, cheesy theme song. I guess I’ll never know – which means I lost….half the battle. Yo Joe.

M.A.S.K. (1985-1986)

What I thought in the 1980s

So powerful! Those vocals are totally radical! Yep, these are things I might have said. And wow, I really wish I had those toys (I never did get any M.A.S.K. toys for Christmas). Seriously, M.A.S.K. somehow found a way to merge all the good things of Transformers with all the good things of G.I. Joe.

What I think now

How dated. The M.A.S.K. theme song sounds, like an overproduced power pop top 40 song. Strike that – the M.A.S.K. theme sounds like it wanted to be a top 40 hit, but never quite made the charts. Those vocals are 80s AF, and the M.A.S.K. theme song had way too many synthesizers (and I’m a man who loves synthesizers).

By the way, notice how the leader of the bad guys looks like Joseph Stalin? Yeah….I think that was on purpose. It was, after all, still the cold war.

Space Battleship Yamato (1987-1984)

What I thought in the 1980s

Star Blazers (as it was called in the United States), was my first exposure to anime (we called it Japanimation back then). The theme song for Star Blazers sounded inspiring and adventurous. I remember humming the theme song every now and then, as it was just so infectious! Oh, and of course I wanted the toys, which were really hard to find in the United States.

What I think now

The Star Blazers theme song actually has a great melody, but the execution could use some work. Look at the Japanese opening. It begins with a slower tempo, and a much more somber tone. You get a grim feeling, from the Japanese theme, which is totally appropriate as the whole planet was in jeopardy! The lyrics to the Star Blazers theme work at least.

Fun fact, the original Yamato was a significant battleship in WWII. In fact, the hull of the Star Blazers ship is actually supposed to be a refit (and repurposing) of the original WWII ship. But you won’t hear that in the American version of course. There were way too many WWII vets on both sides still alive. Heck, the producers of Star Blazers even changed the name of the ship to The Argus (an American WWII ship).

Spider-Man (1967-1970)

What I thought in the 1980s

I only saw returns of Spider-Man in the 1980s (about the same time I saw Star Blazers). Even then, I felt the theme song sounded dated. I remember thinking the blended vocals reminded me of a car jingle. Still – I got a sense of adventure from the Spider-Man theme song.

Lyrically, those ending lyrics always perplexed me. “Life is a great big bang-up / Wherever there’s a hang-up, / You’ll find the Spiderman!” I always wanted another “up” after that last word! Even though “Spider-Man up” didn’t make sense.

What I think now

How can I NOT love this damned song? From those opening drums, to the trumpet, and those bongos! Spider-Man’s theme song has an incredible beat! I can see why the Ramones covered the song! The Spider-Man theme song earns its place amongst the best kids tv themes of all time.

Kids TV Themes: Silly, Funny, and Wacky Shows.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990)

What I felt in the 1980s.

I always wondered where they got that vocalist, as she was kind of annoying. Regardless, I loved the theme song because it gave me an excuse to get nutty and wacky and silly. I was, after all, a very silly kid.

I did feel like the opening dragged on a bit too much though – that instrumental part where we’re led through the jungle and what not. Come on, let’s just get to the insanity already!

What I feel now.

Firstly, the singer in question happens to be Cyndi Lauper. She actually did the theme for Pee Wee’s playlist anonymously, as she wanted “True Colors” to be taken seriously. For whatever reason, this gives the Pee Wee’s Playhouse song a bit more cred. Maybe I’m just biased because I like Cyndi. Whatever.

I still hold my stance that the opening takes too long; get to the actual song! The part at about 50 second’s in where they say “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” seems really creepy. Heck, the entire song seems creepy. And annoying. God help us all if they ever do a reboot.

Galaxy High (1986)

What I thought in 1986

Those electric guitars! That robotic vocal! Oh, and the science fiction theme! Add to the mix a couple 80s teens (the quintessential cool thing to fifth grade me). Oh, and I think I had a crush on Aimee.

What I think Now

Yeah – the theme for Galaxy High does not age well. The computer voice sounded so futuristic in 1986, but in 2019 it just sounds hokey. The guitar part sounds cool, even now, but there isn’t enough of this part. I like that they work it inp at the last minute that the teens had a full on roll reversal at the new school. Yeah….instead of using half the song to explain who they were on Earth, maybe they should have used that time to explain who they are at Galaxy High.

I loved Galaxy High when it aired, but I’m afraid to watch it now because of how bad the theme song has aged. Maybe there’s a reason Galaxy High only lasted 13 episodes.

The Banana Splits (1968-1970)

What I thought in the late 1970s and early 1980s

I only have vague memories of seeing reruns of The Banana Splits in my early childhood years. I do know I was fascinated by the larger than life characters, though I don’t at all remember the theme song.

What I think now

What a fantastically catchy song. I know the Banana Splits themselves have an uncanny valley thing going on. Heck, there is even a Horror themed Banana Splits movie. Still I will always love the song. The Banana Splits show might be enough to make children cry, but at least it’s got a fun theme song.

Scooby Doo (1969-1976)

What I thought in the 1970s and 1980s

Scooby Doo’s original series had reruns, which is why I was able to see them. I’m not quite sure what I thought of the Scooby Doo theme song at the time. I knew it, both because the original series and the dozens of other series, but I really don’t associate any memories of the song. Of course, I was right. By the first time I saw the original series, it was over ten years old. But I loved the show regardless.

What Do I think of it now?

Show me someone who hates the original Scooby Doo theme song, and I’ll show you a liar. So many groovy vibes! How can you not like the Scooby Doo theme song? And that surfer dude singing! Seriously, Scooby Doo is the best cartoon theme song ever! If you don’t agree, then you’re wrong!

The Muppet Show (1976-1981)

What I thought in the 1970s and 1980s

Firstly, I always wondered if the person operating Kermit went up with the Muppet Show stage placard in the beginning. Secondly, I always laughed when the tough sounding, deep voiced muppets said “it’s time to put on makeup.” Of course, I laughed at Statler and Waldorf’s lines. The best part, however, was when the entire cast sang, each in their own arch. And of course, Gonzo never could get a break with his trumpet.

What I think in 2019

I finally figured out that the placard goes up after a hard edit, so whoever operated Kermit (Jim Henson) likely only had to do that move once. Phew…that could have been dangerous!

But about the song. I loved it then, and I love it now. Along with Spider-man and Scooby Doo, the theme for The Muppet Show earns its place amongst the bet Kids TV Themes of all time. Zoot’s sax really sets a groovy tone, and I still love everything I loved back then. And seriously, kudos to the writers for giving us a different Gonzo joke every single time.

A Final Note About Kids TV Themes

Of the 12 Kids TV themes rated in this article, we’ve seen the good and the bad. We’ve seen songs that served as de facto commercials for TV shows which were commercials for a toy line, and we’ve seen creative and even artistic songs. We’ve heard groovy tunes, and we’ve heard some really annoying, non palatable garbage. Some of these kids TV themes age well, some of them don’t.

So, if you find yourself writing a Kids TV theme, ask yourself this: how badly do you want to be mocked in 30 years? Someone like me WILL come along and either praise your song, or full on berate your kids tv theme. So…do you want to reach to Scooby Doo levels of excellence? Or do you want to make another Transformers trash fest? The choice is yours! Now you know…and knowing is half the battle.

Kids TV Themes know the battle.
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