Thicke described what it was like to compose theme songs during their heyday: “The challenge was, you have 24 seconds to do something catchy and memorable and sum up the entire premise of the show in case somebody had never seen it before. You had to do it with an internal rhyme scheme and a perky little ditty. So it was an interesting challenge.”
Thicke’s original theme to the long-running game show Wheel of Fortune introduced the show from 1975 to 1983. Entitled Big Wheel after the game’s roulette wheel, Thicke’s theme was a jazzy instrumental featuring horns and percussion, and appears on the album “The Best of TV Quiz and Game Show Themes.”
The happy theme song (It Takes) Diff’rent Strokes for the TV sit-com Diff’rent Strokes was written by Thicke with American co-writers Gloria Loring (his first wife) and TV producer Al Burton. The show, about a blended family of orphaned Black children from Harlem and the Caucasian “man of means” who adopts them, aired weekly from 1978 to 1986. The lyrics, for which Thicke sang backing vocals, open with “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum,” and feature the chorus “It takes different strokes to move the world.”
Thicke described the inclusive process by which this theme was incorporated into the show from the start: “There were … instances, and Diff’rent Strokes was one of them, where you … were included from day one and page one. From the notion ‘Well, we’re developing this idea, and we kind of have an idea that it’s a couple of young black guys with an older white guy.’ And then you would get a copy of the script a month later … and then you’re invited to the taping, and then you do your own editing right through their editing, so that hopefully you all come together at the end when it’s time to deliver.”
The sit-com Facts of Life was a Diff’rent Strokes spin-off. Its upbeat, contagious theme song, written by the Thicke-Loring-Burton trio, hooked viewers in until the show became NBC’s No. 1 TV comedy, running for nine seasons from 1979 to 1988. The song, performed by Loring, opens with “You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have the facts of life.” The original song was revised for later seasons.
Thicke explained, “The Facts Of Life internal rhyme scheme was intricate and one that I remember finishing and saying ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good. That all rhymes.’ I got a lot of rhyming words in 24 seconds.”
Upon Thicke’s death in 2016, Loring told Billboard.com: “Here we are all these years later and Facts of Life is still one of the top theme songs ever….He just had this great facility with words.”
Loring recorded a two-and-a-half minute version of Facts of Life for her “A Shot in the Dark” album. Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes can be heard on the album “All-Time Top 100 TV Themes.”
Musing about how television theme music has changed, Thicke said, “Back then, theme songs were more important. They were a part of every show…. I think that’s almost a lost art. Back then, we took it a little more seriously, and you knew that your song would be heard every episode. So yeah, you spent some time at it, and took a little pride in it, and worked hard.”
Alan Willis Jeffery Thicke (1947 - 2016) was born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. A versatile actor, writer and producer, he began his career writing for CBC television. He is best known for his role in the TV comedy “Growing Pains,” for which he was voted one of the greatest TV dads of all time. He has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.