Jan Hammer and the Top 10 TV Theme Songs of the '80s

Categories: TV Party

HammerVice Nov8.jpg
Not a lot of television shows win multiple Grammys. Then again, not a lot of television shows ever sounded (or looked) like Miami Vice. The cutting-edge series perfectly captured the pastel zeitgeist of its time when it debuted in 1984, influencing film, fashion, design and music in a way that few TV shows ever will.

A major piece of the show's successful formula was Czech composer Jan Hammer's sleek, synthesized score, including his iconic theme song. Released as a single in November 1985, the tune was a legitimate pop smash, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and bagging the Grammys for both Best Instrumental Composition and Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Not bad for a guy who looked like George Constanza with a keytar.

Hammer was already a successful keyboardist and score composer before the series premiered, having risen to prominence playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the '70s. But Miami Vice made him a star.

Music was a major component of the show, which featured many sequences with no dialogue or sound effects, just a soundtrack provided by Hammer and a who's-who of '80s pop stars, including Depeche Mode, Phil Collins, Dire Straits, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and tons more. These sequences served as the template for many of the music videos to come.

While none achieved the runaway success of the Miami Vice Theme, the '80s were an especially fertile time for television theme songs. Many, in fact, have outlived the memory of the shows they introduced each week. In tribute to Hammer's titanic TV hit, here are ten more of the best from the Reagan Years.

10. Knight Rider

The percussive theme from Knight Rider, David Hasselhoff's star-making Lone-Ranger-with-a-talking-car TV series, sounds a lot like it could have been influenced by the Miami Vice theme, but it actually pre-dates Hammer's tune by a couple of years. It's proven to be a popular and versatile track in the world of hip-hop sampling, appropriated by everyone from Punjabi MC to Lil' Kim.

9. Pee-Wee's Playhouse

Pee-Wee's Playhouse was one of the weirdest, most hyperactive kids shows of all time, and some of the best oddball musicians of the '80s contributed to its soundtrack, including Mark Mothersbaugh, Todd Rundgren, George Clinton, Dweezil Zappa and others.

The annoyingly catchy theme was performed by Cyndi Lauper at her most grating, but set the tone perfectly for the frenetic show by managing to introduce practically the entire cast of freaks and puppets that made the series so unforgettable.

8. Magnum, P.I.

If television theme-song writing has a superstar (it doesn't), it's got to be Mike Post, who has written classic themes for everything from Doogie Howser, M.D. to Law & Order. Post won a couple of Grammys for The Rockford Files and Hill Street Blues, but one of his best and most iconic themes was written for Magnum, P.I., the '80s detective show set in Hawaii and starring Tom Selleck's mustache. The song wasn't a hit, but that electric guitar line is tough to beat.

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Jack Gilbert
Jack Gilbert

When you think about the 70's and how many TV shows had people from the 1920's trying to be hip making programming decisions with so many themes and background pieces going waka-waka-chawaka like a bad porno, it wasn't a steep climb for improvement.

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