Believe it or not, The Greatest American Hero theme song was a hit

Believe it or not, The Greatest American Hero theme song was a hit

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of our Best Of TV 2013 coverage, our favorite TV theme songs.

As those of us who remember “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts briefly insinuating itself into commercial radio can attest, a TV theme song seems to cross media and become a hit about once a decade. (BoDeans’ “Closer To Free” was also a hit around the same time, thanks to Party Of Five.) Neither of those did anything for me—that Rembrandts song is almost unbearably cheesy 20 years later—even though my wife likes to tell me that “Closer To Free” sounds like J Church’s “Cigarettes Kill.”

But when I was a kid, I owned a 45 of Joey Scarbury’s “Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not),” and I have a distinct memory of playing it and running around the house while pretending to fly. (The show was a big hit with me and my friends, who were 5 when it premiered.) It’s one of those songs that’s better known than the show it accompanied; I had to look up on Wikipedia what it was even about, because I only vaguely remembered a sort of nerdy guy who becomes a quasi-superhero. (Apparently aliens give a schoolteacher a red suit that gives him super powers, but he loses the instruction manual and has to figure it out on his own. It lasted three seasons!)

Scarbury was a journeyman singer-songwriter throughout the ’70s, but his work with producer Mike Post led to the gig that became The Greatest American Hero. When the show debuted in March of 1981, the song became a hit, spending an astounding 26 weeks on the Hot 100 and going all the way up to No. 2. (It also reached No. 3 on the adult-contemporary chart.)

My little 45 helped keep it on the charts for half a year, though that record is long gone. The Greatest American Hero: The Complete Series is available for less than $10 on Amazon, but I’ll just keep my memories—no need to realize that it was a terrible show 30 years later, thanks. The song lives on, sort of, and it even made a memorable appearance on Seinfeld. “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home…”

More Hear This