From Laverne and Shirley’s enlivening “Making Our Dreams Come True” to Cheers’ melancholic “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” – television theme songs have provided us with some great musical numbers. Being a student of pop culture and songwriting, I felt compelled to try and choose a favorite.
I had to begin this process by establishing some criteria that would limit the choice to some degree. So first I decided that instrumental songs wouldn’t count. I’m a lyrics guy – always have been. Thus, I eliminated all the classic instrumental pieces such as the themes from Doctor Who and The Andy Griffith Show (I do have a cool story about that one, but we’ll save it for another post).
The next round involved disqualifying songs that were previously written and co-opted such as The Runaways’ “Bad Reputation” as used in Freaks and Geeks or Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes” as used in Weeds.
So, with these guidelines in place, I embarked upon making my choice, and I will soon tell you what it is, but first you have to hear the story.
When my family sold our farm in the late ‘70s and announced that we had to move into town, I was devastated. One of the only things that softened the blow was the fact that we could now have cable television, which had not been available out in the sticks.
Most of my first week at our new home was spent in the basement brooding as only a tween can, and shuffling through My Favorite Martian episodes and obscure Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Soon I came across a show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, which featured a song called “Best Friend”. Upon hearing it I immediately recognized the tune, and even the lyrics seemed familiar, but I didn’t know how or why. I had no context for it or any solid memory of ever having heard it before, but somehow I knew it. I was only a baby when The Courtship of Eddie’s Father originally aired but that song must have seeped into my infant brain and found a quiet corner to sleep in. I’d never experienced something lying completely dormant in my mind for years and then being suddenly awakened and presenting itself in a hazy yet very solid familiarity. It’s only happened a few times since.
“Best Friend” takes the concept of “catchy” to the extreme. Usually, it is the melody of a song that attracts, or “catches” our attention. But with “Best Friend”, everything is catchy. The jaunty chord pattern, the urbane horn part, and the suave melody could all have separate careers as earworms. Simple lyrics, i.e. “People let me tell ya ‘bout my best friend”, are relevant to almost everyone and as comforting as soft serve ice cream in a little plastic football helmet.
Eventually, I left the basement, went out into the neighborhood and made friends. In fact, at one point I actually ended up walking down the street with my arm around a new pal, both of us singing “People let me tell ya ‘bout my best friend”. This kind of thing happened in the ‘70s. I often wonder if some conspiratorial entity was putting Prozac in the Mountain Dew.
Like many people, I didn’t discover Harry Nilsson until the middle aughts. When I did, the thing that amazed me was not only the number of songs that I recognized, but the odd places that I knew them from. There was “One” which we all knew from the Three Dog Night version, followed by a song that Olive Oyl sang in the Popeye movie, and then the theme song to a softcore nudie film that I snuck in to see at 14 (“You’re Breaking my Heart/Fuck You”). But the real kicker was “Girlfriend”. Originally recorded in the ‘60s but (until recently) never released, the melody and lyrical premise of “Girlfriend” morphed into “Best Friend” when Nilsson was commissioned to write and perform the theme song to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. To some degree I’d forgotten about the song all over again, and the second coming was almost as sweet as the first.
Musically the song has a lot to offer, but to me it has a lot more than that. It has the power of being attached to reminiscences of making new friends and of what it feels like to have hibernating remembrances suddenly spring forth. This is why I am officially declaring “Best Friend” from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father as my favorite television theme song. What’s Yours?