Monday, June 2, 2008

Sitcom Theme Music: The Return

A few years ago in a different life I had an irregular habit of reviewing famous--and infamous--television theme songs online. As a way of reintroducing the concept I repeat my initial entry in the series (complete with MP3s for those who wish to have a more than eclectic iPod library). With any luck more such entries will follow.

The Brady Brides

MP3: The Brady Brides Theme Song
Today if you miss more than one airing of 24, Lost or Desperate Housewives--and are not in possession of a DVR--you might as well take up reading or conversing with loved ones because you will never be able to make heads or tails of the shows' narratives. But back in the 70's and 80's--back before the prevalence of multi-episode plots and diligent story editors--you could easily skip one, two, twelve of your favorite show's broadcasts and still never miss a beat. That's because back then each episode was its own little world, without any connection to or reflection on future or past developments. Characters never evolved. Motives were never questioned. Premises were left unaltered until late in the series' run and only then by way of a live-in cousin or new restaurant lease. It was television for people who liked to watch but not necessarily recall television. Sensing this, the producers of the 1981 series The Brady Brides opted to do their contemporaries one better by playing a theme song so rich in exposition that one need not watch the rest of the program. Ever. Yes, over the course of one familiar-sounding tune you got the premise, the set-up of the premise, how the premise unfolded and how said premise would affect each and every character. In fact, the only thing you didn't get was the eventual time and date of Jan and Marcia's deaths. Small wonder the series lasted a mere ten epsiodes. They used up the plots of at least 40 shows in the opening title sequence alone.


MP3: Angie Theme Song
Before Doris Roberts played an Italian mother on Everybody Loves Raymond she played an Italian mother on Angie, a sitcom about a waitress (Donna Pescow, hot off her success as the mistreated "Annette" in Saturday Night Fever) who meets and marries a doctor and scion of Philadelphia high society (Robert Hays, hot off the success of Airplane! and only beginning his long, slow descent into "Gee, that's a shame" professional obscurity). The title tune "Different Worlds" (sung by Maureen McGovern at a time when the phrase "We got Maureen McGovern to sing the title tune!" ensured radio play) cracked the Top 20, alas achieving greater success than the short-lived Angie ever would. In all honestly not only do I remember this program but I remember actually liking both it and--adding to my ever-growing "secret shame" music list--the theme song. However, what I don't remember is the almost pornographic food fetishism in the opening credit sequence. Popcorn, hot dogs, apples, whipped cream, ice cream, whole turkeys, salt--these people never stop eating! This is true love truly in need of counseling. Still, it makes me curiously happy to know that someone thought to save this 1979-1980 oddity on the Net if not for posterity then for me.


MP3: Alice Theme Song
Most sitcom theme songs of yore tried to immediately grab the ever-fickle viewer by being upbeat and uptempo, whether by way of chirpy horns, corny lyrics or copying BJ Thomas. But the theme song to Alice practically dared you to stick it out for the long haul with a slow funk/cabaret groove that didn't say "merriment" so much as "malaise." That is until we hit the triumphant call of lyric line five, when suddenly the song embodied the self-esteem and self-stylized feminism of an Enjoli perfume commercial. But just as we were ready to join that EST class and sleep with that swinger the tune once more switched gears and closed out on an almost muted note, not so much born of regret but relief. Highs, lows, nap time. This song had it all! Clearly this was one woman's story worth getting to know! And clearly viewers agreed. Based on the Academy Award-winning Martin Scorsese movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which also featured Vic Tayback as crusty Mel), Alice ran a whopping nine seasons, easily outlasting the only other sitcom derived from a Scorsese film--1977's Taxi Driver, starring Tom Poston and a pre-Love Boat Jill Whelan, which ABC pulled the plug on after only one epsiode.

Joanie Loves Chachi

MP3: Joanie Loves Chachi Theme Song
For a certain generation Joanie Loves Chachi--like Hello, Larry--defined deplorable television. But while I sadly remember the plot of the latter (pre-Frasier Frasier minus the Noel Cowardesque wit, stellar casting and any possible reason for existence), I couldn't quite recollect the former's premise. I knew that the principal characters left Milwalkee. I knew that diner owner Al married Chachi's mom for reasons necessary for the spin-off. I knew that the show's portrayal of Italian-Americans made Moonstruck look like a Ken Burns documentary on ethnic heritage by comparison. And I knew that Erin Moran looked like Scott Baio's aunt.. But I couldn't call to mind anything else. The theme song--a Christopher Cross knock-off minus the "rawk"--did little to evoke any memories. But then I watched the opening credit sequence and oh my god oh my god oh my god OH MY GOD! Never before has an era and an error been so perfectly captured in under two minutes. Never before has something so earnest been so deserving of the phrase "gloriously tragic." Never before has a programming mistake been so obvious from the initial frame. To say anything more would spoil the fun. Just click on the video and watch. Watch, reflect and recoil.


Jodi said...

Enjoli! Oh man... we had the same television childhood. I had to go watch an Enjoli commercial on youtube just to relive the brilliance.

My husband just asked me if I was a 24 hour woman. I said "Hell yeah! I love bacon."

Dvandom said...

I remember Angie...ISTR a recurring theme was "Boy, are rich people dumb!" I recall a Family Feud episode in which the rich side of the family blows a "things you might find in the fridge" by answering stuff like caviar.

There was also an episode which seemed to center on getting better reception out of the working-class family's old TV, and at the end of the episode the entire cast had formed a human chain. (Only much later would I learn the science behind why this works.)

The only Joanie Loves Chachi I can recall is that they visited the La Brea Tar Pits, which seems somehow symbolic of the series....

Withyouinrockland said...

"Never before has an era and an error been so perfectly captured in under two minutes."

I beg to differ. We may have about a decade's difference in age, but this may have been around early enough for you to have seen it some Saturday morning:

Withyouinrockland said...

Let's make that last bit clickable so that people will actually watch it.

The 80's in under 2 minutes

Nom du Jour said...

Thanks for wasting a few more of my brain cells. Plus, when the selected Youtube videos were done, there were plenty of options offered up to kill more brain cells.

Thank you.

But, at least I got to see Nancy McKeon again in all that "Facts of Life" glory. Ok, ok ok, did watch the show but I will not tell you how old I was when I was watching it.


Oh, Nancy, let's run away together.