I’m a sucker for demos. I like to hear a great song come together. Who the Hell wants to hear dozens of static filled demo recordings and then sit through 58 takes of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’? Me. That’s who.
I love that stuff and today we’re gonna take a look at a song which is even better than ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, The Theme From “Cheers”. Or as it was originally titled, ‘My Kind Of People’. But let’s go back to before even then.
By 1981, New York songwriter Gary Portnoy had already written songs for the likes of Air Supply (“I’ll Never Get Enough”) and Dolly Parton (“Say Goodnight”). One night in the summer of that same year, his friend Judy Hart happened to be seated next to a Broadway producer at dinner. Upon finding out that Hart was working for a music publisher, he asked her if she could recommend someone to compose the score for a new musical he was producing. On a whim, Hart, who had never written a song, approached Portnoy, who had never written for the theater and, together, they set out to compose the words and music for the musical named Preppies.
In the spring of 1982, Judy (now using her full married name) Hart Angelo sent a tape of Preppies’ opening number, “People Like Us”, to a friend in California, who then passed it on to television producers Glen and Les Charles. Upon hearing it they each felt that, with a lyric re-write, “People Like Us” would be the perfect theme song for their upcoming NBC sitcom Cheers. Upon learning that “People Like Us” was legally bound to the musical Preppies, the Charles Brothers asked Portnoy and Hart Angelo to take a shot at composing a theme specifically for Cheers. The song that resulted, “My Kind of People”, was somewhat of a reworked version of “People Like Us”. It was subsequently rejected.
Portnoy and Hart Angelo then wrote and submitted two more potential themes for Cheers. One of them, entitled “Another Day” contained a lyric line “There are times when it’s fun to take the long way home” that greatly appealed to the Charles brothers. But, overall, the song missed the mark and was passed on. The fourth song began with a catchy intro followed by simple, alternating chords on a piano. The opening verse lines, both musically and lyrically, were something of a lament. The verse then transitioned into a soaring refrain that seemed to capture the essence of why people might want to go to a place like “Cheers” — a place “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”. The two songwriters recorded a simple piano/voice demo of the new song for the Cheers producers. Upon hearing it, the Charles Brothers gave it their stamp of approval and, once Portnoy and Hart Angelo had complied with a request for a few lyric changes intended to broaden the song’s appeal to a more general audience, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” was officially designated the “Theme From Cheers”. The original verse:
‘Singing the blues when the Red Sox lose,
it’s a crisis in your life.
On the run ’cause all your girlfriends
wanna be your wife.
And the laundry ticket’s in the wash.’
Was changed to:
‘Making your way in the world today
takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?’
After several months of mulling over possible outside singers, the producers eventually asked Gary Portnoy to record the vocal for the opening credits of their new series. (The chorus of the song is six of Portnoy’s vocals that he recorded one on top of the other to create the “group sound” of the hook.) It was also decided to maintain the simple feel of the New York demo in the TV version by keeping the number of instruments to a minimum. The final Cheers Theme was recorded on August 13, 1982 at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, California.
I’d read that Wikipedia article before and I’d always wanted to hear the original songs and demos but could never find them. YouTube’s a great thing. Here’s the evolution of the song…