TV Theme Songs: The Greatest American Hero
"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale" of a time when television shows began with awesome TV Theme Songs. "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name" and sometimes you want to go back to when TV Theme songs were special. "Here's a story... of a lovely" time when TV Theme Songs served to identify, distinguish and set the stage for the television program that followed. "You take the good, take the bad, take them both and there you have" what unfortunately has become a lost artform. "Believe it or not", sadly it seems no effort or pride is taken in the TV Theme Song ever since Seinfeld proved a short synth-bass riff could be used instead. “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” This regular feature may not "make all our dreams come true", but it will remember some of the best TV Theme Songs from years past (with a focus on the '80s decade). "Come aboard, we're expecting you."
This time we will cover the "Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)". It is certainly one of my very favorite TV Theme Songs of all time, not just of the '80s. The Greatest American Hero debuted in March of 1981 and ran for three seasons until February of 1983. The theme song for the series was written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer and performed by Joey Scarbury. It is a rare example of a TV Theme Song that actually became a popular song on its own receiving regular radio airplay. “Believe It Or Not“ hit the charts in June of 1981 and would actually peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in August of 1981. The single spent 18 weeks in the Top 40 and would enjoy a long life well beyond the TV screen serving as an inspirational song for many to this day. Here are the opening credits of The Greatest American Hero featuring a shortened version of “Believe It Or Not” performed by Joey Scarbury…
I had the privilege of an interview with Stephen Geyer who was co-writer and co-arranger on "Believe It or Not" and here is a portion of what he said about writing the lyrics:
I had already talked with [show creator Stephen J.] Cannell about his notion and concept for the show and the main character, and I had the first scripts in hand when I took the cassette down to my girlfriend’s house in Costa Mesa, California for the weekend. I wrote the lyrics over the course of those two days, and by the end of the next week both Stephen and [co-writer Mike] Post had heard and approved of them. One glitch came up somewhere along the way: the publishers of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, a well-known book and franchise at the time, evidently made legal threats about the use of the phrase “believe it or not,” stating that if we used it they would sue for copyright infringement. Cannell actually called me to his office and asked me if I thought I could change that lyric without weakening the song. I realized that a possible expensive law suit as well as my standing with Cannell (and Post) might rest on my answer, but I felt Ripley’s people were overstepping their rights, as the phrase had a long history of common usage, and my reference to it had nothing to do with Ripley’s; so I stood firm on the song. Eventually, as I understand it, Cannell paid some small fee to Ripley’s, and the rest is history… BELIEVE IT OR NOT, Ripley’s!!!
You can find out more about the song and Geyer's other TV Theme Song work in that interview. It is very uncommon for a theme song to become more significant that the show it is a theme for. It is fair to say that "Believe It or Not" has gone to be more memorable and more popular than The Greatest American Hero show itself. It has appeared in other pop culture many times, but my favorite has to be the 1997 episode of Seinfeld when George sang a parody of "Believe It or Not" to use as his outgoing answering machine message. After the song became a huge success, Elektra Records signed the theme's singer, Joey Scarbury, to a solo deal. His debut for the label, America's Greatest Hero, was produced by Mike Post and featured songs written by Stephen Geyer, Bruce Hornsby and Dan Seals among others. But Scarbury's solo career never really took off after the album and he will always be remembered best for "Believe It or Not". But being remembered for singing one of the best TV Theme Songs of all-time can't be a bad thing. Believe that.
Hope you enjoyed tuning in for another "episode" of TV Theme Songs!