The Greg Brady Project

Welcome to the official Barry Williams' blog

My friends call me Barry. From time to time I also hear the name Greg. Yeah, as in Greg Brady. The Brady Bunch represents a fun time in my life. But it’s only part of the story. There’s more to say and that’s what The Greg Brady Project is all about – a place to say it. So, I’ve invited some friends to join me and share their perspectives on the Brady’s, the 70′s and just about everything else. Now, I’m inviting you…

20 Sep
Eric Greenberg

The Old Kotter Crossover

written by Eric Greenberg in Blog | 5 comments

Time for some more pop culture kiss up. A few weeks ago, I went on and on about ”Family Ties” creator Gary David Goldberg and how well he incorporated new characters into his show. Well now it’s time to acknowledge another rare feat in television. Let’s show a little respect for those few and far between TV themes that break out of the box to become legitimate hit songs.  

Now I’m one of the first people to say it’s a shame that theme songs have been virtually eliminated from television, but that’s a completely different argument. When it comes to enjoying a good TV theme, it’s pretty much all about context. Yes, the theme from “Good Times” is a solid tube tune that gets you in the right mood for a classic sitcom. But no, you’re probably not gonna play it at your wedding, run to it at the gym, or throw it on a mix tape (that’s sort of like a playlist kids) between “Thunder Road” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” And you’re certainly not gonna hear it on the radio nor would you want to. Along the same lines, “The Brady Bunch” theme is another one of those great songs that’s not only entertaining, but also sets up the backstory of the show. Sherwood’s done that well a few times.  That said, when the DJ decided to close out my high school senior prom with it, is was just ridiculous, considering it had nothing to do with the backstory of OUR last four years.

Yet every once in a great while, somebody comes along and writes an original song for a TV series that does a little bit more and is able to cross that line to become a radio hit. But even of that group, how many have the total package of effectively opening a memorable TV show and then not only making a dent in the charts, but still being listenable after they drop off and the show ends its run? You might remember the number one hit “How Do You Talk to an Angel?,” but there’s a good chance you don’t remember that it came from a “90210″ era show called “The Heights.” Sure, the themes to both “Party of Five” and “Friends” got some radio play, but while they might qualify on the radio end, I’m not sure I would put them in that top class of themes on the TV side of the bargain. If you talk about ”Believe it or Not,” a legitimate radio hit from ”The Greatest American Hero,” we’re getting a little closer. But if I had to sit here right now and name the king of the TV/Radio crossover, there’s nothing to talk about.

“Welcome Back” does it all. It tells the back story of Gabe Kaplan’s character in “Welcome Back, Kotter” better than most TV themes, but it does it in a way that’s not too in your face to stand on it’s own. The idea is fairly universal and adaptable, at least compared to say, the story told in the theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Maybe most importantly, it has the rare distinction for a TV theme of being written and performed by a music legend, which is one of the reasons it turned out as good as it did.  

The big two part question is: How did John Sebastian, a member of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the leader of the influential 60s band The Lovin’ Spoonful, end up recording a TV theme, and what does he know that every other TV theme composer seems to be missing, that landed “Welcome Back” in the number one spot on the Billboard Charts in 1976? I’ll let him tell you…

(Hit the arrow on the left to play.)

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5 Comments

    Renee
    on Sep. 21st, 2008

    Like the theme song from “Welcome Back Kotter” – did not care for the show AT all.

    Another theme song that I hear played on the radio once in a great while is the song from “WKRP in Cincinnati”.

    Amy
    on Sep. 23rd, 2008

    Of course I remembered that “How Do You Talk to An Angel” was from The Heights…as soon as I read the name of the song I thought of the show!!!!

    Garth
    on Oct. 21st, 2008

    Eric, I would argue that the theme songs from “Taxi, and “Cheers” fulfill your requirements as well.

    Vic
    on Oct. 21st, 2008

    Pretty tough to leave out “Theme from the Monkees”, especially given the fact that the Monkees were just 4 guys on a TV show before anybody had the idea to actually make them a working band.

    Also, the themes from “SWAT” and “The Rockford Files” were Top 40 hits in the mid-70′s.

    Dan
    on Oct. 24th, 2008

    What a sad time we live in when the TV theme is completely dead. Some of my favorite memories of old shows include the opening themes: “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Wonder Woman,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Love Boat,” etc. Even short-lived series like Donna Pescow’s “Angie” and David Naughton’s “Makin’ It” had really catchy songs. “The Brady Bunch” of course had one of the best, along with the visuals.

    The instrumentals were equally exciting. I collect classic shows on DVD and was thinking recently that nothing tops the themes to “S.W.A.T.” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Today’s TV audiences don’t know what they missed.

    “Welcome Back Kotter” was definitely one of the more effect themes. I almost get a lump in my throat when I hear it now or watch the opening…as a native New Yorker, the shots of the elevated subway and the streets of Brooklyn really take me back to a wonderful era.

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