Wednesday, January 07, 2009

TVLand Presents The Greatest Downloads Ever

Times are tough; music is cheap.

Let the teenagers spend $30 a pop on iTunes. You, however, are a savvy and thrifty shopper who knows how to navigate around high prices and high pressure. You don't need a debit card sitting beside your computer, draining your wallet of hard-earned money just so you can have quality music on your laptop or iPod.

All YOU need is a library card and deft downloading skills.

Fed up with the addiction of portable music and why I must pay for EVERYthing, I've done as most have done and transferred a lot of CD music over to my iTunes and, occasionally, to the iPod. "But Amy," you might be asking, "everybody does that, and don't you get bored with the same old songs?"

Why, yes, I do. And that's what led me to the music department at one of the larger libraries in our area -- in a county where I don't even live. Because while I'm not willing to plop down a few bucks, I am willing to drive a few miles to get free stuff.

My rewards were many. But perhaps the best find of the day was this:

Once upon a time, TV theme songs were as good as, or better than, the shows themselves. Much research has been devoted to their impact and why theme songs are substantially shorter than they once were. The findings revealed that advertising pays the bucks and theme songs (once upon a time) were way too long, so they were pared down to the garbage that typically introduces shows now.

Theme songs once beckoned kids and adults alike from different levels of a house. They signaled the beginning of a great 30 to 60 minutes of entertainment. And maybe I'm using the word "entertainment" loosely. But still, the theme songs resonate, and I am now the proud owner of some of the best recordings in TV music history.

Let's go through a few of them, shall we? (The following titles are included on my most recent loan from the library.)

Good Times

My mother would always shake her head and ask EVERY SINGLE TIME the Evans family sat down at the table, "Why do Esther Rolle and John Amos live in a Chicago tenement but eat off Franciscan china?" (It was the Apple pattern, which just happened to be the same dishes SHE had. What she lacked in sensitivity she more than made up for in consciousness. She would be a Where's Waldo ace.)

Rockford Files

When I grew up, I was going to have a boyfriend who lives in a camper on the beach and investigates crimes. And he would look like James Garner.

Theme from S.W.A.T.

Even now, I can hear this theme song and believe that I could do an Angie Dickinson full body roll across the hood of a car. Wait. Wrong show.

Happy Days

If you believe in the Jump the Shark theory, which was one of many offsprings of this show, you would know that "Happy Days" took an ugly turn when the Cunninghams went to California to follow Richie's dream of becoming a Hollywood actor. If that storyline wasn't enough of a stretch, Fonzie jumping over a shark, wearing a leather jacket no less, certainly was. And that's the story behind Jump the Shark, which is now somewhat linked to "nuke the fridge" in the Urban Dictionary. (Click on the links to learn more. And kiss away the next four hours of your life.)

Making Our Dreams Come True (theme from Laverne & Shirley)

Another "Happy Days" spinoff, "Laverne & Shirley" is best remembered for its theme song. And milk and Pepsi. My friend Ginny thought the lyrics were "Give us any broom, we'll break it."

Welcome Back (theme from Welcome Back, Kotter)

I loved this show, up until the point where Gabe and Jill had the twins. Then it got just stupid. It was the show's Jump the Shark moment.

What's Happening

I still get the urge to dribble a basketball when I hear this. Hey, HEY, hey.

Barney Miller

Not a funny show. Not a memorable theme song. And now it's on my iPod. Blcchh.

Charlie's Angels

When my friends and I would play "Charlie's Angels" on the playground during recess, I was always Sabrina (Kate Jackson). Glamour and physical prowess prevented me from playing Kelly (Jaclyn Smith). The absence of a trendy hair color, the Malibu Farrah tan and overall good looks prevented me from being Jill. Who played Jill? My friend, Jill, of course. Because she was a bully and nobody crossed her. She didn't look anything like Farrah Fawcett. We only let her play because she was one of those girls you would rather have as a friend, just to prevent her from being your enemy. I lost contact with her after about age 13, but word on the street was that she entered the University of Georgia, where she started smoking.

In the playground version of "Charlie's Angels," I kept the other girls in line and told them to stop being such girls and mumbled things like, "I have to do EVERYthing around here." While the others were off with their stupid boyfriends, I was busily holding things together and going to target practice. Bosley liked me best, I'm sure. I was the go-to girl and could cut my eyes just like Kate Jackson did.

Love Boat Theme

During one of about 100 rounds of Pictionary Man over Christmas break, a very young person had to illustrate "TV Show: Love Boat." She scored. And fast. (Sort of like the characters in the dicey storylines of Love Boat.)

And then she asked, "What is Love Boat? I've never heard of it." So I explained the premise and then sang the entire theme song, in all of its Las Vegas bravado. I'll admit, it sounded sort of made up. So you can imagine my glee when I stumbled across this very CD only two days later and was able to prove that this was, indeed, a theme song. A catchy theme song. Exciting and new. Come aboard. We're expecting you...

Diff'rent Strokes

It really ticks me off when one of my kids credits some smarmy Disney Channel character with coining a phrase that clearly originated long, long ago. "This is the theme song of the show that made 'what you talkin' 'bout Willis' so very famous. It was not, as you might believe, Hannah Montana." And I said it with such vitriol and smugness. I looked in the rearview mirror to see their surprise and expressions of renewed respect for their mother's knowledge of pop culture. They only looked out the window, chins in hands.

Good Ol' Boys (theme from Dukes of Hazzard)

Oh, my. Bo and Luke Duke. Not a funny show. But a very catchy theme song.

Hill Street Blues

On the way to my great-grandmother's 85th birthday party at Hill Street Baptist Church some 19 years ago, my boyfriend-now-husband saw the street sign, "Hill Street," and started rubbing his head and saying he didn't feel good. I said, "Oh, no, do you have the Hill Street Blues?" And then we laughed so hard like we were the funniest people in the world, and I hummed the theme song, which had no lyrics, but was still just as catchy.


How forgettable was this song? I don't even recall Dynasty having a theme song. Just the smack of women hitting each other and throwing vases against the wall would have been enough. Another wasted space on my iPod.

Magnum P.I.

Do I really have to comment on this one?

Greatest American Hero

If memory serves, this was a crummy show with a very handsome lead actor. Oh, but that theme song! It was the stuff Top 40 was MADE of.

And there are many, many more on this very underrated CD that likely found its place on the library shelf by way of a garage sale, a neglected cardboard box, a smart-aleck kid who didn't want his mom's CDs crowding the shelves any longer.

The library music department might not always sport the latest releases, as it is more of an island for misfit music, but occasionally, a person hits paydirt. And in case you're curious about other available titles, I suggest you explore for yourself. But if you visit this particular library, don't go looking for TVLand Presents Favorite TV Theme Songs, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison or Barry Manilow: The Greatest Songs of the Eighties. All three are right here.

Friday is Library Day, when I will return them. First come, first served. No pushing, no shoving, and single-file, please.