In recent decades, we’ve seen several hit series’ theme songs make it big on the radio—think I’ll be There for You from Friends—but long before that became a thing, the classic TV show All in the Family’s theme made a rare and surprising appearance on radio waves.
The Norman Lear-created show had a massive following during its 1971 through 1979 run. According to Variety, it was Neilson’s No. 1 rated series for five consecutive years, and it earned 22 Primetime Emmys. All the love for the show made its theme Those Were the Days a radio hit.
Edith and Archie Bunker stars Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton sing the song while O’Conner plays the piano. The couple croons about better social times in their famously off-pitch voices. The catchy tune made it all the way to number 30 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in 1972. That same year, it hit number 43 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Songwriter Lee Adams eventually made it to the Online Film and Television Association’s Hall of Fame for theme songs in 2021.
‘All in the Family’ and Its Theme Song Dubbed Too Controversial
Those Were the Days and All in the Family made waves in the ’70s for being too controversial. The series and its theme songs covered heavy political and social topics. Because of this, Lear was constantly at war with ABC executives over censorship. In fact, the network was originally terrified to air the pilot, so it was a miracle that the show had a chance to shine.
“There was no advance publicity, no promo, as a nervous network didn’t quite know what to do with a show in which the hero is a bigot. The web expected an avalanche of protests and hired extra operators to handle them. There was an avalanche, but 99% of the callers liked the show,” he told Variety.
When the theme song gained popularity, several major labels recorded extended versions. One, released by Atlantic Records, took the controversial content even further and added the lyrics, “People seemed to be content / Fifty dollars paid the rent / Freaks were in a circus tent / Those were the days.”
Lear explained to the publication that the theme song and its remakes all circled around Archie and his inability to accept that the world was rapidly changing—in his eyes, for the worst.
“The world is changing so fast around him, attitudes on everything are changing,” Lear said. “That’s why he is lashing out at everything … He is holding on for dear life to the ’40s.”
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