All things must pass away

“Hallelujah, you were an angel in the shape of my mum, you got to see the person I have become, spread your wings, and I know that when God took you back, He said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home’…”  Ed Sheeran

Music can be such a powerful force.

It can make us joyous and get us up off our feet, it can soothe our aching wounds, it can take us back in time, it can bring us to our knees.  In celebration or in desolation, it’s always there to help us crystallize our thoughts and emotions about the joyous and tragic events of our lives.

Through the years, popular music has tended to be mostly sunny and optimistic, but there have been hundreds of examples of songs that deal with loss and grief.  For example, we can reach back to George and Ira Gershwin’s groundbreaking 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess,” which includes a heart-wrenching song of longing called “My Man’s Gone Now”:   “My man’s gone now, ain’t no use listening for his tired footsteps climbing up the stairs, old man sorrow’s come to keep me company, whispering beside me when I say my prayers…”


Five years ago, on her 90th birthday

Earlier this month, I lost my mother, who passed away at age 95.  It was quite a long and wonderful life she had, but it still hurts mightily — for me, for my sister, for the grandchildren and other relatives, and for the many who called her their friend — to lose her.

“Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking, but I stay strong and I hold on, ’cause I know I will see you again, this is not where it ends, I will carry you with me…”  David Hodges/Hillary Lindsey/Carrie Underwood

These kinds of events take your breath away in their suddenness and their finality, and no one knows exactly what to do, or feel.  It just doesn’t seem real, like a nightmarish scene from a bad movie.  And those left behind to mourn are searching for ways to cope, to heal, to put it all in perspective and somehow make sense of it.

“Like a comet blasting ‘cross the evening sky, gone too soon, like a rainbow fading in the twinkling of an eye, gone too soon…”  Michael Jackson

The Internet is full of documented scientific studies that show conclusively that music can reduce the intensity of pain, improve sleep, reduce stress, enhance blood vessel function, raise spirits and enhance mood, induce meditative states.  I’m pretty certain, though, that mankind has known this for many centuries before science proved it.  As they say, music has charms to soothe the savage breast:  “Music, sweet music, you’re the queen of my soul…”  Hamish Stuart

Musical eulogies come in a variety of forms, and they can provide just the right words and musical passages to help with what you’re going through.  Hymnals are full of songs to help deal with loss.  Gospel music reaches to the heavens to search for answers in life and death.

Country music is famous for its down-home laments about heartbreak and suffering: “The roses aren’t as pretty, the sun isn’t quite as high, the birds don’t swing as sweet of a lullaby, the stars are a little bit faded, the clouds are just a little more gray, and it feels like things won’t ever be the same…”  Gordon Garner


With granddaughter Emily, 1994

If it makes you feel better to get right down into the depths of grief and have a really good cry, there are so many songs that can accompany you on that journey.  Some are merely about relationships that ended, but once you’ve lost someone, the same song takes on a more profound meaning: “She’s gone, she’s gone, oh why, oh why, I better learn how to face it, she’s gone, I can’t believe it, she’s gone, I’ll pay the devil to replace her…” Daryl Hall and John Oates

If, instead, you feel the need to snap out of it and celebrate the wonderful memories you have of the person you’ve lost, there are plenty of tunes for that too (“Celebrate good times, come on…”)  When I lost my dear friend Chris nine years ago, we didn’t have a funeral, we had a “celebration of life,” and it was wonderfully cathartic.  We listened to “Reelin’ in the Years,” among many others, and cherished him for the way we know he would have insisted that we focus on the positive and not dwell on the loss.  My mother felt much the same way.

Pop music can be so fleeting, but it can still tug at the heartstrings when it addresses serious topics, and very effectively:

“And I know that you’ve reached a better place, still, I’d give the world to see your face, it feels like you’ve gone too soon, the hardest thing is to say bye bye…”  Mariah Carey

“I’m so tired but I can’t sleep, standing on the edge of something much too deep, it’s funny how we feel so much, but we cannot say a word, we are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard…”  Sarah McLachlan

“Now you’re gone, now you’re gone, there you go, there you go, somewhere I can’t bring you back…”  Avril Lavigne


With granddaughter Rachel, 1997

Even hip-hop, infamous for its rage and bombast, can offer solace. In 1997, rapper Puff Daddy and Faith Evans collaborated on “I’ll Be Missing You,” which used The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to create a eulogy to The Notorious B.I.G., who died that year.  “Every step I take, every move I make, every single day, every day I pray, I’ll be missing you…”

Perhaps words of any kind are distracting, and you need instruments without voices.  Classical music is often ideal in that situation.  Or perhaps jazz, or “easy listening” music like Sinatra or Nat King Cole.  Anything that lets you float in your thoughts.

Sometimes the lyrics aren’t quite right for what you’re feeling, but the music… the music is exactly what you need to hear.  For instance, check out the majestic chorus of the amazing Leonard Cohen piece, “Hallelujah,” a waltz/gospel piece written in 1984 and interpreted by dozens of artists in arrangements that are alternately melancholy, fragile, uplifting or joyous.

Of course, there will always be specific songs that acutely remind us of the departed — songs you danced to together, songs you laughed to together, songs you sang with them at the top of your lungs.  And songs that you know they loved deeply, songs that will now always, always remind you of them.  If they liked Johnny Mathis or Frank Sinatra or even The Beatles, like my mother did, well then, perhaps that’s what you need to crank up.  Whatever works.  I feel pretty confident in saying that, somewhere, there is music that will help.

If I may be so bold, let me strongly suggest:  Immerse yourself in music.  It can be profoundly beneficial.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Just hearing something as iconic as James Taylor’s line “Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone…” will take on a whole new meaning for you now.  It may make you cry initially, but eventually it will help you heal.


The Hacketts in 1990

Losing a loved one is so profoundly painful.  But it’s a certainty.  We will ALL lose people we love.  Grandparents, parents, friends, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren.  It never seems fair, or right, or in any way good, but we all must eventually find a way to cope with the loss, to fill the void, to find the answer.

One of the time-honored ways for easing the pain is to surround yourself with friends and family who share your loss.  They get it.  They know exactly what you’re going through, and can call up a fun memory, an old story, a time from the past when it was all good and fun and right. “With a friend at hand, you will see the light, if your friends are there, then everything’s all right…”  Bernie Taupin  


With the family in 2013

You can also look through old photos, which can be wonderfully comforting.  They transport you to an earlier time.  They can remind you, emphatically, why you miss this person so much. “Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer, I was taken by a photograph of you, there were one or two I know that you would’ve liked a little more, but they didn’t show your spirit quite as true…”  Jackson Browne

But music…well, if you’re like me, and you’re motivated to compile a mix of songs that focus on what you’re going through, you might look at these selections:

“Tears in Heaven,” Eric Clapton

“See You Again,” Carrie Underwood

“She’s Gone,” Hall and Oates

“All Things Must Pass,” George Harrison

“Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel),” Billy Joel

“Supermarket Flowers,” Ed Sheeran

“Gone Too Soon,” Michael Jackson

“Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen

“Here Today,” Paul McCartney

“Candle in the Wind,” Elton John

“Dreaming With a Broken Heart,” John Mayer

“I Grieve,” Peter Gabriel

“Everybody Hurts,” R.E.M.

“Let It Be,” The Beatles

“Heaven Got Another Angel,” Gordon Garner

Music is a remarkable medicine.  Let it help you cope with loss.

“The darkness only stays at nighttime, in the morning it will fade away, daylight is good at arriving at the right time, it’s not always gonna be this grey, all things must pass, all things must pass away…”  George Harrison

All I need is a TV show, that and the radio

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip…”

Of all the TV theme songs that have come and gone over the decades, probably none has been so ingrained into our minds as the theme to “Gilligan’s Island.”  The show lasted only three seasons (1964-1967), but the combined music and lyrics created an insidious “ear worm” that burrowed its way permanently into the subconscious of anyone who grew up in the ’60s, and even some in the ’70s and ’80s as well.

And there were others.  The ’60s and ’70s were full of programs with theme songs with Vintage TV - Addams Family - blue screenlyrics that basically explained the shows’ premise in a catchy, sing-songy way:  “Petticoat Junction” (1963-1970), “The Patty Duke Show” (1963-1966), “Green Acres” (1965-1971), “Flipper” (1964-1967), “The Brady Bunch” (1969-1974), “Mister Ed” (1961-1966), “The Addams Family” (1964-1966), “F Troop” (1965-1967), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977), “All in the Family” (1971-1979), “The Jeffersons” (1975-1985).

Yet none of these songs ever proved popular enough to be played ad infinitum on the radio, but then again, they weren’t really meant for that.  Other theme songs, on the other hand, turned out to be far more suitable as Top 40 hits, sometimes because they were intended as such, more often not.

Most involved lyrics, but a select few instrumental pieces also made the charts.  I’ve chosen 15 TV theme songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that I found either appealing to me or noteworthy enough to examine in more detail.  As I often do, I add a list of “honorable mentions at the end, followed by a Spotify playlist.

If you watched as much TV as I did back then, you I think you’ll find this musical trip very entertaining.

And here we go:

“Happy Days”

Happy-daysWhen the “Happy Days” sitcom debuted in early 1974 as TV’s answer to the film “American Graffiti,” the show used Bill Haley and The Comets’ 1955 classic “Rock Around the Clock” as its opening theme song.  Over the closing credits was an early version of “Happy Days,” written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, and sung by Jim Haas.  By Season 3, the song was re-recorded with different lyrics by the team of Pratt & McClain, and used in both the opening and closing credits for the remaining seven seasons of the show’s run.  When it was released as a single in 1976, it reached #5 on the Top 40 charts.

“Secret Agent”

268x0w-1P.F. Sloan, a successful pop songwriter who wrote more than 20 hits for various ’60s artists like The Turtles (“You Baby”) and Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”), came up with the iconic guitar lick that was selected for use on the American broadcast of the British spy show “Danger Man,” retitled “Secret Agent” by CBS.  Initially, the producers wanted just a 20-second snippet for use in the show’s opening, but eventually Sloan and partner Steve Barri wrote the full length song entitled “Secret Agent Man.”  Famed producer Lou Adler brought in Johnny Rivers, who’d already had four Top Ten hits by then, to record the song (with extra verses) live at the Whiskey A Go Go club on the Sunset Strip.  That recording went to #3 on the Top 40 charts in 1966.

“Welcome Back, Kotter”

MI0000742688When producer Alan Sachs was putting together a Gabe Kaplan sitcom in 1975 to be titled “Kotter,” he wanted a theme song that sounded like one of his favorite ’60s pop groups, The Lovin’ Spoonful.  As luck would have it, Sachs’s agent also represented former Lovin’ Spoonful singer-songwriter John Sebastian, and he brought the two together.  Initially, Sebastian struggled trying to write lyrics that included the Kotter name, so instead he focused on the idea of the series’ premise of a teacher returning to the high school where he’d grown up.  Sachs was so pleased with Sebastian’s song “Welcome Back” that he changed the show’s title to “Welcome Back, Kotter.”  A scaled down version was used for the opening credits, but Sebastian’s full-length recording included two verses, a chorus, and a harmonica interlude, and that version reached #1 on the charts in May 1976 and eventually sold a million copies.

“The Monkees”

Single Spain RCA 3-10357 Monkees Theme pwIn 1966, producer Don Kirshner was tasked with the job of coming up with a TV series that mimicked the zaniness of The Beatles’ 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night.”  He held auditions and signed one true musician (guitarist Mike Nesmith), one struggling musician (bassist Peter Tork) and two actors who could sing (Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz) to become The Monkees (derisively known as “the Prefab Four”).  Kirshner employed staff songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to write not only the group’s infectious debut single “Last Train to Clarksville” but also “Theme From The Monkees,” which introduced each episode of the show, which ran for two seasons (1966-1968).  Released as a single in early 1967, “Theme From The Monkees” reached the Top Ten in Mexico, Australia and Japan, but curiously, it didn’t chart in the US, pushed aside in favor of the enormous hit “I’m a Believer” and its follow-up, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”  Still, it gets a fair amount of radio play on oldies stations even today.

“Dr. Kildare”

R-1526198-1392323700-4638.jpegThe fictional character Dr. James Kildare was created in the 1930s for a literary magazine, then made into a series of theatrical films in the 1940s, a radio program in the 1950s before becoming a Top Ten-rated TV show in the early 1960s.  The instrumental theme music used for the series was written by Jerry Goldsmith.  Although it was never heard as part of any “Dr. Kildare” episode, the theme music had lyrics and the parenthetical title “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight.”  Actor Richard Chamberlain, who had a decent singing voice as well, took a shot at recording the full version and releasing it as a single, and lo and behold, it peaked at #10 on the Top 40 charts in 1962.

“Laverne & Shirley”

maxresdefault-22“Happy Days” proved to be so wildly popular that it successfully spun off another sitcom starring two supporting characters, Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney, who became stars in their own right on “Laverne & Shirley.”  A young lady named Cyndi Grecco was tapped to sing the theme song, “Making Our Dreams Come True,” written again by Normal Gimbel and Charles Fox, the same songwriting team behind the “Happy Days” hit tune.  Grecco’s rendition reached #25 on the Top 40 charts in 1976.

“Miami Vice”

R-160921-1408974527-7861.jpegJazz-rock keyboard virtuoso Jan Hammer came up with a catchy synthesized instrumental piece that swayed the producers of Miami Vice to make it their theme song beginning in autumn 1984. The show, which used a lot of rock music in its soundtrack, was conceived by NBC honcho Brendon Tartikoff in two words he wrote on a napkin one evening:  “MTV Cops.”  The original “Miami Vice” soundtrack LP, which included Glenn Frey’s #2 hit “You Belong to the City” as well as “Smuggler’s Blues,” was the #1 album in the country for six weeks in November/December of 1985.  Hammer’s “Theme From Miami Vice” also topped the singles charts that year.

“Peter Gunn”

MI0002958720The original “night in the city” music, written by the great Henry Mancini.  He said he was trying to evoke a mysterious “danger lurking” feeling that has been imitated hundreds of times since, most notably by John Barry when he wrote the James Bond Theme three years later that has been used in every Bond film since.  Meanwhile, Ray Anthony and His Orchestra recorded a full-length version of the 45-second theme music used in the show (which ran from 1958-1961), and it ended up #8 on the Top 40 charts in 1959.  Mancini’s original soundtrack album “The Music from Peter Gunn” won an Emmy for Album of the Year in 1959.


R-1171786-1266736043.jpegThe punchy dialog and sexual chemistry between David Addison (Bruce Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) made “Moonlighting” one of the most popular shows of the 1980s, although it lasted only four seasons (1985-1989).  The Los Angeles locale required a jazzy, jet-setting theme song, and who better suited than singer Al Jarreau to co-write and perform it?  His recording of “Moonlighting” reached #23 on the Top 40 charts in 1987.

“Hawaii Five-0”

H50-Retro-Cover_100510It’s no surprise the the producers of a detective show called “Hawaii Five-0” would want to use surf music as the basis for its theme song.  Morton Stevens, a successful film and television score composer, wrote the instrumental music in 1968 for the show’s first season, played by the CBS Orchestra.  It became so popular that it was soon re-recorded by the California pop group The Ventures and released as a single.  It reached #4 on the Top 40 charts in early 1969.  “Hawaii Five-0” lasted another 11 years (and was recently revived in a new prime-time version), so the theme music has become a dominant soundtrack in popular culture.


118321The theme song to the campy TV version of the Caped Crusader story was basically an infectious guitar riff that was part spy movie score and part surf music, with “Batman!” shouted ten times by a female chorus.  Neal Hefti wrote the three-chord blues structure and gave it to The Marketts, a popular Hollywood-based surf music combo of the mid-’60s, who had already scored a #3 hit with “Out of Limits,” based on the “Outer Limits” TV series.  The “Batman!” song ended up reaching #17 on the Top 40 charts upon its single release in the fall of 1966.


220px-Theme_from_S.W.A.T._-_Rhythm_HeritageComposer Barry DeVorzon, who also wrote “Nadia’s Theme” for “The Young and the Restless and “Bless the Beasts and the Children” for The Carpenters, wrote “Theme From S.W.A.T.,” a disco song used in the short lived “S.W.A.T.” series in 1976.  DeVorzon’s orchestra recorded the short version used during each episode’s opening, but the full length version, recorded by Rhythm Heritage, had a dance arrangement and catapulted to #1 on the Billboard Top 40 chart in late 1976.  The song is remembered far more than the series that inspired it.

“The Rockford Files,” “Hill Street Blues,” “The Greatest American Hero,” “Magnum P.I.”

281738874500Mike Post is one of the most successful writers of television theme songs, winning multiple Emmys and Grammys for his work over four decades.  It’s Mike Post’s music you heard on each episode of “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law,” “Quantum Leap,” “The A-Team,” “Murder One” and “CHiPs,” among many others.  His breakthrough came in 1974 with his “Theme From The Rockford Files,” an instrumental piece that ended up reaching #10 on the Top 40 charts in 1975.  In 1981, the music he co-wrote with jazz guitarist Larry Carlton as “Theme From Hill Street Blues” also reached #10 on the Top 40 charts.  One of Post’s few theme songs which had lyrics was “Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not),” co-written by Stephen Geyer, which became a #2 hit single in 1981 for one-hit wonder Joey Scarbury (although he later had success as a songwriter on the country music chart).  Finally, in 1982, Post’s “Theme from Magnum P.I.” charted at #25 on the Billboard Top 40.

“Makin’ It”

220px-David_Naughton_Makin'_It_singleDon’t recognize this TV show?  You’re not alone.  If you blinked in 1979, you missed it, because it aired for only eight episodes.  Created to capitalize on the popularity of the “Saturday Night Fever” film and the disco craze, the show was a victim of poor timing, debuting as the public’s love affair with disco was dissipating.  The show starred actor David Naughton, who later starred in the 1981 film “An American Werewolf in London,” and it was also Naughton who sang the show’s disco-based theme song, written by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren.  Naughton’s recording of “Makin’ It” reached #5 on the Top 40 charts in May 1979, two months after the show’s cancellation.



R-1015660-1426612606-2484.jpegFrom 1994 to 2004, there was “Friends,” and then there were all the other shows.  Wildly popular, the show about six friends based in Manhattan still pulls in a billion bucks a year in syndication residuals.  Danny Wilde and Phil Solem, savvy music veterans who had been writing and touring as a duo called The Rembrandts, were signed to write and record a theme song for this new sitcom.  In 1995, a Nashville DJ looped the one-minute theme into a longer version and put it on the radio, where it proved so popular that The Rembrandts had to go back into the studio and re-record it as a proper single.  “I’ll Be There For You” reached #1 in Canada and #3 in England, and it reached #17 on the US Top 40 that year.


“The Beverly Hillbillies

886444229869_1080W_1080HPaul Henning, who also wrote the “Green Acres” theme song, wrote “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song that tells the story of how Tennessee hillbillies came to live in a Beverly Hills mansion.  Bluegrass musicians Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs recorded the song, with two verses, for the show opening, with Flatt handling the vocals, then recorded the third verse as a separate bit for the show closing.  The single version released to radio, merging the opening and closing lyrics, ended up at #1 for three weeks on the Top Country Hits.


Other notable “honorable mention” theme songs that got radio play:

Theme from Taxi (Angela),” Bob James, 1978

Theme From Bonanza,” (1959-1973) Al Caiola & Orchestra, 1961

Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless),” Johnny Mandel and The Mash, 1972

Theme From Cheers (Where Everybody Knows Your Name),” Gary Portnoy, 1982