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The Top 5 1980’s TV Show Opening Themes: Knight Rider, Airwolf, More

May 21, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Knight Rider

The Top 5 Best 1980s TV Show Opening Themes

One of the things that I’ve always loved about old TV shows, especially TV shows from the 1980’s, is that they all had opening theme songs. That’s how you knew what you were about to watch if you had the TV on and you were in another room and could still hear the TV. And that theme usually lasted around a minute or so. And every episode started this way. Every single one of them. How many TV shows have real deal theme songs today? Hell, how many TV shows have actual opening credits? The NCIS shows still have opening themes and credits. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit still does it. The new Magnum P.I. does a shortened version of the iconic opening theme. Blue Bloods does it. There are probably others that I’m missing, but you get my drift. An opening theme is just something TV shows don’t do anymore. And that’s sad. I know it’s all about adding more commercial time to the TV hour, but it’s still sad and it’s something I wish that TV shows still did and would return to doing.

Now, for this list I’m only using TV shows that started in the 1980’s. A show could have gone on into the 1990’s or longer, but it had to start no earlier than 1980. And I’m only using dramas/1-hour TV shows. Sitcoms are not eligible for this list (I may do a list based on 1980’s sitcoms at a later date). And I’m sticking with instrumental themes only. The theme can’t have lyrics.

And so, without any further what have you, here are my Top 5 Best 1980’s TV Show Opening Themes.

Honorable Mentions:

MacGyver: It took me years to actually like this theme. When the show was first on I hated it. I’m not sure why. I just didn’t care for it (maybe I thought it was a tad too jaunty?). When the show hit syndication and I watched reruns that’s when the theme started to kick ass.

Matlock: The best part of the theme from Matlock is like the last five seconds, when the brass instruments get their loudest and we see Andy Griffith’s lawyer Ben Matlock walk down the stairs. That’s the part of the theme you’re most likely to remember.

Magnum P.I.: The original theme for Magnum P.I. was some lame as fuck jazz thing that, well, was just lame as fuck. The classic theme didn’t show up until episode 12 and TV theme music history was born. I don’t understand how every rock band in the world doesn’t do a cover of this theme.

Simon & Simon: The classic Simon & Simon theme didn’t show up until season 2, but I doubt anyone remembers what the very first theme was (I had to go look it up. It’s called “Best of Friends” from the band Thrasher Brothers). The real theme is the rocking one that has a bluesy country rock sound to it. Still amazing after all these years.

Street Hawk: This theme probably would have made the main list if the show had lasted more than 13 episodes. It’s still great, though. Created by Tangerine Dream. Really sets the tone for the action and adventure that’s going to commence momentarily.

Miami Vice: You just can’t have a list of 1980’s TV show themes and not include Miami Vice. You just can’t.

The Equalizer: The theme to this show is so goddamn badass. I was really hoping that the Denzel Washington movies had recreated the theme/did a serious parody of the opening credits. It would have kicked so much ass.

5- Airwolf: The best way to describe this theme is “epic synth,” because when the theme actually gets started after the whirring blades of the Airwolf helicopter you know you’re in for true blue TV show theme greatness. You’re not sure if you’re supposed to dance to it or if you’re supposed to practice opening doors and walking into the room, similar to the way series star Jan Michael Vincent does in the credits. I mean, you can see yourself doing that, right? That and flying the attack helicopter, blowing shit up and realizing that no one can stop you because you have goddamn Airwolf. An incredible theme.

4- Hill Street Blues:The great thing about the theme for Hill Street Blues is that it seems like it should be the theme to a night time soap opera, not a cop show. I mean, a cop show is all about cops and robbers, guns and shootouts and car chases and investigating shit. A TV show about cops is supposed to be upbeat and exciting, or at least action packed. The theme to Hill Street Blues is instead serene, beautiful, and, to a degree, contemplative. And when you actually watch the show the theme fits the show perfectly because the show isn’t just about fighting crime. The show is also about the personal lives of the cops and lawyers and everyone else at the precinct. Just listen to the theme again and you will understand how perfect it is.

3- The A-Team: Easily the greatest action TV show theme ever produced. From its opening narration setting up the plot of the show to the very end, when it’s all about boisterous sounds (trumpets?) as that jeep flies through the air and crashes into the ground. It’s a good mix of orchestra (well, it sounds like an orchestra to me) and then moves into kick ass guitars, then gets a little mellow until it gets loud again through the end. This theme is so brilliant that I’m shocked no one ever tried to copy it in the 1980’s or later. It’s the best theme that announces what you’re about to watch is fun, is ridiculous, and is going to make you laugh. The fifth and final season “update” to the theme is okay, but it can’t touch the version used in the first four seasons. Who else hears this theme and, when the guitar part starts, you instinctively do air guitar? It really is one of those themes, isn’t it?

2- T.J. Hooker : Specifically, I mean the theme used for season 2 of the classic William Shatner led cop show. The theme is a perfect mix of dramatic and heroic strings and a driving beat that showcases just how epic of a badass T.J. Hooker is. He runs, he jumps onto the hoods of cars, onto buses, onto the sides of fucking planes. Yes, there are other characters and actors shown in the opening, but, even then, it’s still about Shatner. Now, the theme changed a bit for season 3, becoming a tad slower and more deliberately bombastic, and that seems to be the version of the theme most people remember. But the theme for season 2 is so perfect. That should have been the version used for the rest of the show’s run.

1- Knight Rider: This is probably the ultimate synth TV show opening theme. There’s a bit of narration, explaining who Michael Knight is and the essential philosophy of the Knight Rider concept, but the pulsing synth is what the theme is all about. And as soon as you hear it you’ll never forget it. It’s consistent throughout and could conceivably go on forever but it ends because they have to get the show started. And I think that’s why I like it the most. The song could go on forever, and it is eternal.


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