Alan Thicke, who died Tuesday, was reportedly as nice as the character that made him a household name, Dr. Jason Seaver, the psychiatrist dad on the 1985-92 sitcom Growing Pains. But he was famous in his native Canada before that, and he'd already been nominated for three Emmys — as a writer for a Barry Manilow talk show and as producer-writer for America 2-Night and its predecessor, the underappreciated cult hit Fernwood 2 Night. Thicke also wrote more than 40 theme songs, including two of the best from the 1970s and '80s, The Facts of Life (1979-88) and Diff'rent Strokes (1978-85).
That may not seem like a big accomplishment now, but TV themes songs used to be a big deal. Thicke called them "almost a lost art" in a 2010 interview with A.V. Club. Most of his theme songs in the '70s were jaunty intros for game shows — Billboard has a roundup of some of the better ones, including the original intro song for Wheel of Fortune — but the sitcom songs were an "interesting challenge," he told A.V. Club. Sometimes composers were brought in at the last minute and told to write 24 seconds of "something catchy and memorable and sum up the entire premise of the show in case somebody had never seen it before," but Diff'rent Strokes — which Thicke also sang background on — was different, he said. "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.'"
If the premise seems dated, the song holds up surprisingly well:
Facts of Life was co-written and sung by his first wife, Gloria Loring (the mother of singer Robin Thicke and another son, Brennan), and its "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,'" Thicke told A.V. Club.
Honestly, the song for Growing Pains — "As Long as We've Got Each Other," by John Bettis (lyrics) and Steve Dorff — probably would have been better if Thicke had written it, too. Still, Thicke knew he would be best remembered as Jason Seaver, and he was fine with that. "I share the corny family values espoused on that show," he told A.V. Club. "So if that's what goes on my tombstone, I'm perfectly comfortable with it."