“Nobody knows what I look like or sound like,” says musician Gary Portnoy, who was 26 when he recorded the song that would become one of the most iconic and recognizable TV themes of all time. Starting with his simple piano intro, da da-da-da-da da-da, then Portnoy’s delicate serenade: “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…” the Cheers theme was birthed.
“You’re probably exhausted talking about this song,” I tell Portnoy, who recorded it for the TV show 32 years ago.
“Pretty much, yeah.” he says, then adds, “But I’m flattered that there is continued interest.”
Portnoy’s voice is heard everyday (I’d say it’s safe to assume that somewhere, right now, someone must be watching Cheers) and the song undoubtedly has a legacy, infiltrating its way into other TV shows (Friends, The Simpsons, Ally McBeal, Saturday Night Live, How I Met Your Mother…) and being the ultimate earworm of multiple generations.
So, naturally, people want to know: Portnoy, how did you come up with this? Do you like what you’ve created? This song that you and the world will never escape.
“I am lucky that the song, for whatever reason, rose to the top of the mountain. I am lucky that it is one of my favorite things I ever wrote.” Portnoy says. “I do have songs on my shelf that will never see the light of day that I have fondness for, [but] nothing comes near the spotlight of the Cheers juggernaut, as I call it.”
Portnoy and his co-writer Judy Hart Angelo were commissioned to write the song based on the producers of Cheers‘ fondness for their Broadway song “People Like Us” for the musical Preppies. After a few months of trying out about four different songs, the Cheers theme we know today—”where everybody knows your name, and you’re always glad they came”—came to be.