Television theme songs are usually upbeat, often to the point of nauseous sweetness, but as our research indicates, in the 1970s, television theme songs took a uniquely depressing and melancholic turn. The six saddest are featured below. (Cheers, which premiered in 1982, is included on this list as a representative from “the long 70s.”) Today, TV theme songs are generally more uplifting.
I. Taxi (1978–83)
* THEME-SONG TITLE: “Angela”
* WRITTEN BY: Bob James
* HOW SAD: quite sad
* THEMES: lonely taxi, bridge
* REPRESENTATIVE LYRICS: The song is an instrumental.
* NOTA BENE Tony Danza drove the taxi in the opening-credits sequence.
II. MASH (1972–83)
* THEME-SONG TITLE: “Suicide Is Painless”
* WRITTEN BY: Johnny Mandel (music) and Mike Altman (lyrics)
* HOW SAD: very sad
* THEMES: suicide, melancholy, hopelessness, depression
*REPRESENTATIVE LYRICS: “Suicide is painless / It brings on many changes / and I can take or leave it if I please.”
III. Cheers (1982–93)
* THEME-SONG TITLE: “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”
* WRITTEN BY: Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy
* HOW SAD: incredibly sad
* THEMES: alcoholism, life disasters, death, divorce
* REPRESENTATIVE LYRICS: “Roll out of bed, Mr. Coffee’s dead; / The morning’s looking bright; / And your shrink ran off to Europe, / And didn’t even write; / And your husband wants to be a girl; / Be glad there’s one place in the world / Where everybody knows your name”
IV. The Incredible Hulk (1978–82)
* THEME-SONG TITLE: “The Lonely Man”
* WRITTEN BY: Joe Harnell
* HOW SAD: the saddest
* REPRESENTATIVE LYRICS: None. Only very sad piano.
* NOTA BENE: A home video piano performance of this song is the first Google video search result for saddest television theme song
V. All In The Family (1971–79)
* THEME-SONG TITLE: “Those Were the Days”
* WRITTEN BY: Lee Adams (lyrics) and Charles Strouse (music)
* HOW SAD: pretty sad
* THEMES: nostalgia, financial worries, gender, the ’60s.
* REPRESENTATIVE LYRICS: “Didn’t need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight. / Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days. / And you know who you were then, girls were girls and men were men. / Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.”
* NOTA BENE: Archie and Edith sang the song live on camera at the beginning of every episode, which resulted in many different lyrical permutations.
VI. Welcome Back, Kotter (1975–79)
* THEME-SONG TITLE: “Welcome Back”
* WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: John Sebastian
* REPRESENTATIVE LYRICS: “Welcome back, / Your dreams were your ticket out. / Welcome back, / To that same old place that you laughed about.”
* NOTA BENE: The song was originally supposed to be called “Kotter,” but was changed due to the lack of words that rhyme with “Kotter.”