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July 2, 2012 4:35 PM   Subscribe

A Cultural History of Black Sitcom Theme Songs
posted by latkes (58 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by latkes at 4:35 PM on July 2, 2012


I am shocked that Waynehead only lasted a single season.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:36 PM on July 2, 2012


Wait, were all those Smolletts in "On Our Own" related?
posted by nathancaswell at 4:38 PM on July 2, 2012


I thought there was going to be some sort of commentary on the theme songs rather than just a collection of videos of them.
posted by orange swan at 4:41 PM on July 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


That’s So Raven (2003 - 2007)

I have about 5 or so "I would lie at gunpoint rather than admit to being a fan of" songs on my mp3 player. This is one of them.
posted by The Gooch at 4:43 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sanford and Son theme is still one of the best ever ever ever.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:45 PM on July 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


I thought there was going to be some sort of commentary on the theme songs rather than just a collection of videos of them.


This...am I missing some content here?
posted by werkzeuger at 4:45 PM on July 2, 2012


Being british I always Put Sanford and Son being a Black Sitcom down to American producers not really seeing how poor people could be anything but.
posted by Artw at 4:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a good start, but the site appears to need more work.
posted by Hicksu at 4:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


At least it wasn't called an "oral history".
posted by DU at 4:53 PM on July 2, 2012


Sanford and Son theme is still one of the best ever ever ever.

I'd have to agree. Good Times is not far behind.
posted by jonmc at 4:53 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


No Freah Prince of Bel Air , for a start...

You know the lyrics to that are basically a reselling of the life of Ice T. True fact.
posted by Artw at 4:54 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


No Freah Prince of Bel Air , for a start...

Now this is a story all about how
Artw's life got flipped upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there
I'll tell you how on page five there's the song about the prince of a town called Bel-Air.
posted by Talez at 4:56 PM on July 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Sanford and Son theme is still one of the best ever ever ever.

I'd have to agree. Good Times is not far behind.


I'll take Sanford and Son and Good Times and raise you The Jeffersons.
posted by The Gooch at 5:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


WTF, no Jeffersons? How do these people even LIVE WITH THEMSELVES I ask you.
posted by elizardbits at 5:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Slapping "A Cultural History" or "A Cultural Study" onto a list of YouTube links (with no other commentary) is exactly where the whole "web curator" label takes a dive.
posted by deern the headlice at 5:03 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Jeffersons in my favorite and is not yet on the site. Coming soon I presume - there are only so many black sitcoms.
posted by latkes at 5:04 PM on July 2, 2012


Yeah, I think to be a cultural history, you have to at least put the videos in chronological order (I mean, seriously).

The links to Wikipedia are pretty good for giving the cultural significance of each show. But if you're talking about the cultural significance of each theme song, you need something more specific.

I mean, when I listen to the theme songs for The Jeffersons or Good Times, it clearly indicates to me a very relevant sociocultural aspects of growing up poor -- and, with Good Times, specifically of being associated with some African American subcultural cues ( "jivin'") -- in the inner city. The latter emphasizing pitfalls and triumphs of life in the face of hardships, the former emphasizing winning financial success and the upward mobility that finally comes with it after such a long, hard struggle. Given the era (in the 70s), the themes in these theme songs seem all the more pointed.

As a white person, it is perhaps difficult for me to identify with much of this, but as someone who grew up poor in the 70s, I can understand some of it, I think.
posted by darkstar at 5:05 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


(The Jeffersons theme was co-written and performed by Ja'net Dubois who was one of the actors on the show.)
posted by latkes at 5:06 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did you know that the intro to Sanford and Son actually has lyrics?
posted by Talez at 5:08 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the lyrics to Sanford and Son were:
I'm Fred Sanford
And I have a son, Lamont
He's a dummy
He's my stupid son, Lamont
Here comes the Big One, Big One, Big One!
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:18 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fun Fact: Telma Hopkins appears in every one of these shows!

Okay, no she doesn't, but she sure is one prolific actress.
posted by xingcat at 5:25 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


That is not the Good Times intro I remember. The one I remember featured the painting Sugar Shack
There are also more lyrics in the end credits
posted by Ad hominem at 5:29 PM on July 2, 2012


A through and critical analysis of the Fresh Prince Of Bel Air
posted by The Whelk at 5:29 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fun Fact: Telma Hopkins is 63.

That means when she was in Family Matters she was in her 40s. And she was still smoking hot.
posted by Talez at 5:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Being british I always Put Sanford and Son being a Black Sitcom down to American producers not really seeing how poor people could be anything but.
Evidently you had missed The Real McCoys, The Beverly Hillbillies and the Honeymooners.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best episode of Whats Happening is the one where Roger and Rerun meet the Doobie Brothers and get front row seats to a concert. Some nefarious person convinces Rerun to bootleg the show so Rerun brings in an old school tape recorder in hidden under a trenchcoat. While he is doing his Rerun Dance in his trenchcoat the tape recorder falls out and the Doobies stop the show and look down at Rerun from the stage with total sadness and say "Rerun, we thought you were our friend"

Who would have thought Whats Happening would have been so prescient about music piracy.

Second best is "No Roger, No Rerun, No Rent"

Third is the one where Rerun joins a cult. Featuring the line "It's not nice to fool mother nature'

Best episode of Good Times is when they make the white principal of the local school a "black IQ test" and he fails.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:37 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


What a strange and uncomfortable flashback those credits were.

I grew up black and semi-affluent in the '70s and only watched shows like that when I was stuck at my relatives'.

I've never been a big fan of black comedy, short of Aaron McGruder's short-lived Boondocks.

The Cosby Show ought to have been some sort of salve, but I didn't like them either.

They were too bourgeois.
posted by vhsiv at 5:45 PM on July 2, 2012


Total overpromise-underdeliver here. So much potential. I'd have loved to have read about how the songs came to be, an examination of the sounds, the constraints, how stars loved or hated them, and perhaps a tracing of style, giving certain sounds a musical family tree.

Or examining political events that shaped the songs, or talking about the collection of images that form the background of them.

Or at the very least, offer up the blog' author's own experience with them. Theme songs to these shows framed my experience growing up and to this day I love watching city scenes set to music. I was watching the Finals this year and as they showed different views of Miami or the arena with background music, it just made me nostalgic.

So much possibility here.
posted by cashman at 5:50 PM on July 2, 2012


No Freah Prince of Bel Air , for a start...
You know the lyrics to that are basically a reselling of the life of Ice T. True fact.


Well, the show was based on Benny Medina's life. He moved within the state from Watts to Beverly Hills, and the "Banks family" were not relatives and were in fact white. Ice T was orphaned, and eventually did move (from New Jersey) to live with his aunt and uncle in southern LA. They were black, but middle class. Smith wrote the song (Q is co-credited in end titles, but apparently that had more to do with the edit, Smith gets sole credit on recordings of the full version). Soooo... did Smith and/or the show's writers know Ice T's story and use it? Enquiring minds want to know!
posted by likeso at 5:57 PM on July 2, 2012


IN A NINETIES KIND OF WORLD I'M GLAD I GOT MY GURLZ
posted by Redfield at 5:57 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Needs more Hanging With Mr. Cooper.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:03 PM on July 2, 2012


Sorry--Hangin'.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:03 PM on July 2, 2012


Well, damn. Or like the lady in Whelk's link said.
posted by likeso at 6:06 PM on July 2, 2012


> WTF, no Jeffersons?

The Jeffersons are a few pages in -- there are links to successive pages on the bottom right of each page.

> Being british I always Put Sanford and Son being a Black Sitcom down to American producers not really seeing how poor people could be anything but.
posted by Artw at 7:49 PM


TOTALLY. It seems to me that those comedies represented some kind of American Other. There were always evening soaps like Dallas, Knots Landing and The Waltons, but the only equivalent for African-Americans were half-hour sitcoms with hipster douchebag teenagers.

Have I been patronized? I thought that I had to give my consent for that to happen.
posted by vhsiv at 6:10 PM on July 2, 2012


I thought there was going to be some sort of commentary on the theme songs rather than just a collection of videos of them.

Up next, a cultural history of my cats doing cute shit.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:11 PM on July 2, 2012


there are links to successive pages on the bottom right of each page.

Also, /archive is a great help on tumblr when people decide to get all cutesy with prior posts.
posted by cashman at 6:15 PM on July 2, 2012


OK, not a sit-com but; NA NA NA, GONNA HAVE A GOOD TIME...HEY HEY HEY!!!!!1!

Fat Albert Represent!
posted by snsranch at 6:25 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weird, I looked at all the pages but missed the Jeffersons.
posted by latkes at 6:34 PM on July 2, 2012


(The Jeffersons theme was co-written and performed by Ja'net Dubois who was one of the actors on the show.)

Ms. DuBois was on Good Times, not The Jeffersons.
posted by tristeza at 7:15 PM on July 2, 2012


It looks like The Fresh Prince is the first video on the site, so on the last page. I've seen at least one episode of most of these shows. Never seen Homeboys in Outer Space though.
posted by Danila at 7:19 PM on July 2, 2012


There was a "Sanford Arms" ??
posted by swift at 7:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


swift: "There was a "Sanford Arms" ??"

There must be a list somewhere of the most pathetic attempts to continue a series after death. "After MASH" and "Gloria" come to mind.
posted by octothorpe at 7:40 PM on July 2, 2012


Threes A Crowd FTW. There were like 3 episodes.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:42 PM on July 2, 2012


Ms. DuBois was on Good Times, not The Jeffersons.

You are so right.
posted by latkes at 7:45 PM on July 2, 2012


Between the three local NY stations I probably watched 3-4 hours of Good Times, Whats Happening, The Jeffersons and Three's Company a night for a number of years.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:52 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Threes A Crowd FTW. There were like 3 episodes.

You just sent me on the most insane wikiwalk.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:59 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You guys are missing the primary ingredient for Sanford and Sons superstar musical status: the Q factor. Imagine that, the man responsible for some of the highest selling pop hits of ALL TIME also is responsible for the best TV music. Oh, and he could play it all the instrument by himself too if he needed to.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:07 PM on July 2, 2012


oops, play it all = play all of
posted by readyfreddy at 8:07 PM on July 2, 2012


Sanford and Sons was good but obviously Taxi takes the prize for best sitcom theme music and Hill Street Blues takes best drama theme song.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:13 PM on July 2, 2012


Being british I always Put Sanford and Son being a Black Sitcom down to American producers not really seeing how poor people could be anything but.

Steptoe and Son was kinda funny. Don't recall the music.
posted by ovvl at 8:41 PM on July 2, 2012


Like so. it's a classic, or possibly just ingrained in the psyche of anyone British over 30.
posted by Artw at 8:49 PM on July 2, 2012


Hill Street Blues takes best drama theme song

It's one of the few themes to get a rare Simpsons theme homage.
posted by Talez at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2012


SHMARRRRRTINNNNN SHMARRRRRTINNNN (dammmmmn Gina)
posted by 23skidoo at 11:13 AM on July 3, 2012


Ad hominem: "Sanford and Sons was good but obviously Taxi takes the prize for best sitcom theme music"

Nuh uh. Barney Miller.
posted by Bonzai at 12:51 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ad hominem: "Sanford and Sons was good but obviously Taxi takes the prize for best sitcom theme music"

Nuh uh. Barney Miller.


My vote would go to Chico and the Man
posted by The Gooch at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2012


You just sent me on the most insane wikiwalk.

For some reason this immediately made me think of Crocodile Dundee and thus the term "wikabout" was born.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:07 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hangin' in a chow line!
posted by ostranenie at 7:07 PM on July 3, 2012


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