From Crazy Ex-Girlfriend To Gimme A Break!, We Rank The Sitcoms Whose Stars Sing Their Theme Songs
You may never think about Linda Lavin the same way again.
Since it's late August and my DVR is down to nothing but cooking shows my husband might watch but probably won't, I've been using my TV time to catch what I missed last season. That includes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and while I may have many competing feelings about it, one aspect I appreciate without ambivalence is the show's delightful theme song, performed by series star Rachel Bloom. I love it not only because it's catchy, but also because it resurrects a glorious tradition of TV themes that are sung by the stars of their shows.
I've been thinking about this sub-genre quite a bit, and now I've ranked my favorite star-sung themes from least to most essential. If you'd like to add one to the list, holler at me in the comments. (And if you'd like to submit a recording of yourself singing your comment, then I will not complain!)
I'm not mad at ANY songs on this list, and God knows I will shake a tailfeather to this ditty any damn day, particularly when I'm back from a long day at work and I need to remember, as I unscrew a bottle of blush wine, that there is truly no place like home.
But if we're being real? This jam is AWFULLY SIMILAR to a theme that comes later on the list, and vocally, Marla Gibbs pales by comparison. Note, for instance, the way the background singers "helpfully" take over the high note at :32.
Still, Marla gives me world-class stank when she declares, "I mean no place, child." I can't shade her too much when she's telling the truth.
Until five minutes ago, I was prepared to rank this song..
...last, since I didn't think its lyrics had anything to do with Frasier itself. Then I read this report from the song's composer and learned that, in fact, the lyrics are TOTALLY about Frasier and his career. The titular foods are things that are mixed up! Just like Frasier's callers! That's such a weird and confident lyrical choice that I'm bumping it up a spot. And, of course, the song gets full marks for Kelsey Grammer's louche delivery. While he growls his lines, you can practically hear him rattling the rocks in his scotch.
NOTE: I realize this song played over the show's end credits, but I'm bending the rules. Complaints can be filed to Kelsey Grammer's representatives.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
This one might rank higher in a few years, but I'm hesitant to put such a new theme at the top of the list. Anyway...it's fabulous.
It's peppy and catchy, but both Bloom's line delivery and the song's tempo border on manic, which is appropriate for the show. I also enjoy how the sunny vibe is undercut by statements that the title of the series is sexist and insulting. And then an actual, animated sun sings that our protagonist is broken inside. How's that for irony?!?!
Meanwhile, this song continues ANOTHER vaunted tradition of using a theme song to explain the plot of the series we're about to watch. Someday, we'll see where this ranks alongside The Nanny, The Patty Duke Show, and the all-time classic Green Acres.
- The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
I've already declared my enthusiasm for "Parents Just Don't Understand," the Fresh Prince hit that's basically recreated here both visually and sonically. Did they get the same actress to play Will's mom both times? It sure seems like it!
But here's the thing: because The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran for such a long time, I feel like the theme song has surpassed "Parents" in the cultural memory. Many of us may have forgotten about the keys to the brand-new Porsche, but I'll bet we all know we have to smell the cabbie later.
- All In The Family
There is so much dramaturgy happening here!
For one thing, it's no accident that Lee Adams and Charles Strouse (who also wrote the musical Bye Bye Birdie) delivered a nostalgic theme like "Those Were The Days." Archie Bunker lives for the past, after all.
For another, it's important that Archie and Edith sing the song themselves (and that we see them doing it). Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton (especially in her Edith voice) aren't great vocalists, but that's not the point. Hearing them play off each other lets us know how much they love and enjoy one another. That connection helps us care about them, even as Archie says bigoted things.
Similarly, it matters that we hear a studio audience laughing along with their shenanigans. It encourages us to laugh with the characters from the start of the episode, which makes it easier to embrace them as they delve into politically fiery territory.
- Gimme a Break!
This is what 227 was aiming for.
Granted, they were both after the sweet soul sounds of themes for '70s series like The Jeffersons and Good Times, but when it comes to leading ladies doing their own vocals, you just can't beat the twangy fever of Ms. Nell Carter. Bonus points for showing her eating cake after she wonders what happened to her piece of it. I'll leave the scholars to parse the meanings there.
You guys! If you haven't listened to Linda Lavin's performance of the Alice theme song in a while (or have perhaps never heard it), then do yourself the sweet birthday favor of putting it on repeat right now.
WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? Was Lavin drunk when she recorded this? When she sang "feelin' good" in that first chorus, did she actually swat the air with her long silk scarf while tossing back her head (which was mostly obscured by massive sunglasses), or am I just assuming she did? And while I know we can't stare at it directly, lest it blind us for life, can we please cast a sidelong glance at that final high note? It's more scooped than a pint of Ben and Jerry's!
In other words, Linda Lavin's vocal performance is a perfect work of art. You can burn down Juilliard and La Scala, because music is never getting better. And guess what?!?! She recorded slightly different versions of the song for various seasons of the show. Spend a few minutes on YouTube to find your favorite!