Constant radio requests led to a Happy Days theme song record in mere days
There was no plan to ever record the Happy Days theme song as a single when the show premiered in 1974.
It was common that TV producers at that time didn’t really consider the theme song to be a hugely marketable part of TV shows just yet.
While there had been some early TV themes that became radio hits, like Dragnet or Hawaii Five-O, these rocking theme songs were not considered the norm — until producer Steve Barri started getting involved in the TV theme song business in 1975.
That year, Barri’s son told him that he loved the "Theme from SWAT" and wished he had a record of it.
Barri listened to the theme song and thought it sounded like the theme from Shaft. Recognizing that his son’s love of the SWAT theme might indicate a larger audience, Barri, who worked at Warner Bros. Records at the time, reached out to SWAT producers.
"The producers of the show were thrilled that we were interested, so I got some studio musicians (Rhythm Heritage) and recorded a single," Barri told the Los Angeles Times in 1976.
The SWAT theme became a hit, and Barri used it as a model for expanding other TV themes for shows like Baretta or Welcome Back, Kotter into hit radio singles.
"We had to rework and stretch all those themes," Barri said. "For instance, on the SWAT theme, we took the basic music and turned it into a disco number by doing things like adding an instrumental break. On ‘Welcome Back,’ I went to work with John Sebastian and added a chorus and a harmonica solo. All you have to do is be careful to maintain the feel of the show and not add anything that doesn’t fit the main theme music."
During all this time when Barri was perfecting the art of translating TV themes into hit records, Happy Days fans were blowing up radio request lines.
Fans called in begging to hear the Happy Days theme song in such numbers that word got around fast and eventually, it came back to Barri that Happy Days producers were leaving money on the table.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "Paul Drew, an executive in the RKO radio chain, informed a music publisher about the many requests for a Happy Days single and stated that if an adequate one were recorded, his stations would play it."
The publisher told Barri, and he responded immediately by sticking a band in the studio.
Barri already had a band in mind for the Happy Days theme, Pratt & McClain.
Within days, the band recorded the song and got it on the radio, swiftly answering fan demand.
"We were looking for a top Top-40 type song for this new group," Barri said. "The Happy Days theme was a natural for their first record. About two days after I heard about the idea, we had put together a record and had given it to the stations. They started playing it right away even though it wasn’t in the stores until nine days later."
That year, the Happy Days theme landed in the top five on the national charts, and its smash success set Barri up for even more success with the Laverne & Shirley and Starsky & Hutch theme songs.
Barri hoped this momentum would revolutionize how TV creators marketed their shows, with more producers bringing in better musicians to crank out memorable theme songs that audiences loved as much as the shows.
"What is important is that television producers now recognize that a good marketable theme can have great publicity value for a show," Barri said. "So, these producers may start hiring more quality singers and writers to come up with themes. The television theme business may become a good outlet for material and a good way to expose artists."
What’s your favorite TV theme song?