#149 – Bonanza Television Series Theme Song
– Hearing this song during the early to mid-1960s was the signal for battle lines to be drawn on the home front. At least that’s how I feel some of us belonging to the younger edge of the baby boomer demographic would remember it. Then again, it all depended on the opponents you were battling against.
For the preteens, a good guess would be our parents.
First of all, Bonanza is one of the most recognizable and catchy television theme songs of all time. And several different versions received plenty of airplay while the show was a prime time, Sunday evening ratings hit from 1959 to 1973. Each episode opened and closed with a “ride’em cowboy” instrumental version, which is the one that landed on this Dream Song list.
But there were other instrumentals and also record releases with lyrics sung by everyone from Lorne Greene, who played the father Ben Cartright on Bonanza, to Johnny Cash who gave it more of his trademark Nashville twang than you might have heard on The Ponderosa.
And if you don’t recognize my reference to The Ponderosa Ranch, or know Ben Cartright and his three sons by three different wives, Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon)… Well, you were either doing your homework or going to bed at a decent hour because it was a school night. I knew that, but it didn’t really matter since just hearing the theme song come through the tiny speakers on our black and white television meant I was usually heading into the thick of a battle and had no time to learn much about the characters or episodes.
Wait. I wasn’t fan of Bonanza?
Honestly, I don’t remember ever wanting to watch it EXCEPT as an excuse to stay up past the bedtime my mother thought was reasonable for good-parenting. The problem was, I knew even then through my preteen wisdom that I was meant to stay up later than her 9:30 pm lights out deadline. For as long as I can remember, my body clock has always kicked into a higher gear once the sun went down. I just couldn’t get my mom and dad… and the public school system (to start classes at a later time) to realize, acknowledge and accept that fact.
So, here’s how it would go.
We would watch The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS from 8 to 9 pm. After that I was supposed to get ready for bed. But a quick (pre-remote control) turn of the dial to the NBC channel would launch the theme song from Bonanza, which as mentioned above, was not only a very catchy song, but also energetic enough to get the adrenaline running through the system of any preteen boy too wide awake to even think about going to sleep.
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My mom would lead the charge with, “Turn off the television and get ready for bed!” I would lead the resistance with, “I’m not tired!” Then the real fun would begin…
Since it was on throughout the 1960’s, here’s how it would play out:
- Pre-Beatles the 9:30 bedtime was still a battle.
- After February 9, 1964 it was all out war.
When I think of the Bonanza song, that’s where my mind goes. But honestly, as also mentioned above, I really wasn’t a fan of the show or any of the “cowboy” shows for that matter. The longest running series in the history of television was Gunsmoke and to this day I’ve never watched an episode. Sitcoms, variety and game shows – in that order – were all that interested me.
Even on the Sunday nights when I was allowed to stay up later because of snow days, holidays or summer vacation, I’d listen to the theme song and then start channel surfing (though we only had three networks) for something else to watch. For a couple years it would be The Ed Sullivan Show – again!
How did that happen?
In the mid-1960’s Ohio, where I was brought up, was divided in half by two time zones. Cleveland was in the Eastern Time Zone, while Toledo was on Central time. We lived between the two and could pick up the television signals from both markets. That meant I could watch The Beatles (and all the other British Invasion groups) at 8 pm EST out of Cleveland – then switch to the Toledo station to watch again as they were aired in the different time zone at 8 pm CST (9 pm EST).
And yeah, it was a very fab quirk!
Somewhere around that time they ironed out the differences so the entire state was on the same time. That cancelled out my every Sunday double dose of Ed Sullivan. But in early 1967, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour took over that viewing gap for me. By the time they were fired by CBS in June 1969 for catering to younger viewers like myself and other boomers, I had won the parental war and outgrown a mandatory bedtime.
Yeah, I was a teenager. How grown up… (I write dripping with sarcasm).
As for Bonanza, it was definitely a hit show and if I remember reading this correctly, it’s still the second longest running cowboy (western) show in network television history. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better cowboy show theme song.
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At least that’s how it sounded in my waking mind on November 20th. This classic theme song goes into the subliminal category of Dream Songs since I can’t remember the last time that I’ve heard it. And of course, I don’t own a copy because – let’s face it – if I did and my mom happened to be visiting and heard it, she might just instinctively tell me it was bedtime. Which come to think of it, wouldn’t be a bad idea anymore – especially since I lost the battle with my own kids many years ago, I can now appreciate a good night’s sleep.
Here’s the opening AND closing of Bonanza with the foot-tapping, “ride’em cowboy” theme song.
You can purchase seasons of Bonanza at Amazon.com.
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