Here’s one way to become a millionaire at age 14: Write the words to a song that your dad wants for a particular scene in his movie about a US Army mobile hospital unit in South Korea run by a bunch of brilliant but certifiably insane medics. Oh, that Dad wants the stupidest possible lyrics he can’t write because he’s too intelligent might help. In 1970, director Robert Altman assigned that task to his teenage son, Mike, who allegedly churned out the words to a song titled ‘Suicide Is Painless’ in 5 minutes. Altman grew to love the song so much that it moved from the originally intended movie scene to become the theme song for both the film as well as the TV series M*A*S*H, making said lad inordinately wealthy at an unreasonably early age. Daddy Altman once claimed that his son had earned over a million dollars for being a co-writer of the song while he himself made a mere $70,000 for directing the movie.
A TV theme song that reached even greater renown is the title track to a series that shows no sign of losing any steam, even long after it has ended. Composed and written by Phil Solem and Danny Wilde, who make up the pop-rock duo, The Rembrandts, along with the producers of the show, the title track to Friends must likely be the most recognisable theme song in modern history. The Beatles-meets-The Monkees infectiousness gives it an ‘emperor of earworms’ stature. Phil and Danny’s sung assurance ‘I’ll Be There For You’, to shots of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross hectically prancing and cavorting is destined to remain burned into your brain long after it stops playing.
The ’80s were a time when TV themes were more jingles than songs, but damn were they catchy. Anyone who grew up on American sitcoms in that decade will remember Three’s Company, led by the brilliantly funny John Ritter, whose comic timing could rival John Cleese’s. But equally memorable as Jack Tripper and his comely roomies Janet, Chrissy and Terri, was the show’s title song.
Another ’80s hook was the opening song for Cheers, a show that launched a character who went on to span two TV series over two decades—Dr Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammer. It would be hard to resist joining in the anthem of barroom bonhomie, especially when it hits the chorus, ‘You Wanna Be Where Everybody Knows Your Name’. Grammer took his talents beyond the sitcom set and into the recording studio for Dr Crane’s sophomore show, Frasier. Apart from playing the hilariously
poncey radio shrink, he also sang the show’s quirky closing theme ‘Tossed Salads And Scrambled Eggs’.
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(This story appears in the Nov-Dec 2015 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)